On May 14th, the Journey into Europe project which had brought us to London, our first stop, was launched successfully at the House of Lords in a standing room only event with Lord Bhikhu Parekh chairing and hosting the discussion. In attendance were prominent figures including two additional lords, senior representatives from the Pakistani High Commission, Dr. Richard Stone, one of the most important Jewish leaders and pioneers of interfaith dialogue in Britain and a philanthropist, Malise Ruthven, the well known author of books on Islam, the noted scholar John Hutchinson of the LSE, Mohsin Akhtar, owner of the Heydon Grange Golf course who had come down from Cambridge, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain, and Dr. Jafer Qureshi of Muslim Aid, UK. Additionally, a large contingent from the Bradford Muslim community had especially come down for the event in anticipation of our visit to Bradford. It was also an interfaith gathering, with prominent members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths represented.
Lord Parekh welcomed Professor Ahmed with great personal warmth and acknowledged Professor Ahmed’s contribution to the social sciences and interfaith dialogue decades ago as a pioneer. Next, the UK partners of the project, Professor Peter Morey and Dr. Amina Yaqin, spoke to welcome Professor Ahmed and the project team and wished them well on their important study. Professor Morey and Dr. Yaqin, both prominent academics, have initiated important studies on Muslims in the UK and have teamed up with Professor Ahmed and his team for this particular project.
Professor Ahmed then outlined the main ideas of the project in the context of his quartet of studies examining relations between the west and Islamic world after 9/11. He identified issues of multiculturalism, immigration, interfaith understanding and dealing with the “other” as some of the areas of his academic interest in this project. Ahmed described the rich Muslim contribution to European history a thousand years ago at a time known as the golden age. It was a time when Muslim scholars were at the cutting edge of science, philosophy, art, and architecture. He said it was a challenge for Muslims to raise themselves to the standards they had once set. Non-Muslims, he argued, needed to understand that though certain groups accused Muslims of being non-Europeans and “barbarians,” these examples proved they were neither. But, he added, because he was embarking on a research project, he could not present any foregone conclusions. His conclusions will be driven by the research findings which his tried and tested team, were already busy compiling.
The audience then had a chance to ask questions and make comments. Several useful suggestions were made to enhance the quality of the research and expressions of support were also tabled. Jew, Christian, and Hindu—everyone wished us bon voyage and Lord Parekh offered to host an event at the same venue on our return at which we would share our findings. The meeting ended with many expressions of goodwill and warmth. As someone said afterwards, rarely have so many people of so many faiths been able to come together with such unanimity and good will. It was a good omen for our long and difficult project. We went away feeling buoyed and encouraged.