The Journey into Europe team met former MTV presenter Kristiane Backer, a convert to Islam and author of the book From MTV to Mecca: How Islam Inspired My Life. Backer was among the most popular television personalities in Europe in the 1990s and won several television awards in her native Germany. In 1995, she converted to Islam and is currently a television presenter, journalist, author and a prominent activist in the field of interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
While in Munich, Germany, the Journey into Europe team traveled just outside the city to visit Dachau Concentration Camp. Opened in March 1933 just after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, this was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi Party in Germany. Originally established for political prisoners, Dachau became a model for later concentration camps used to exterminate the Jewish population as well as other communities targeted by the this genocide such as Gypsies and homosexuals. This somber visit reminds us that the Holocaust is not just a Jewish tragedy but a human tragedy and all people, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh, should remember its many victims and say “Never again.”
In Cologne, Germany, Ambassador Ahmed visited the Cologne Central Mosque, currently under construction. It was commissioned by DITIB, Germany’s largest Muslim organization. When completed, it will be one of the largest mosques in Europe. Its architectural design is a blend of traditional Ottoman and modern styles.
In Berlin, Germany, Ambassador Ahmed visited the German Foreign Ministry where he sat down with Ambassador Dr. Heinrich Kreft, the Ambassador for Dialogue Among Civilizations and Director of Public Diplomacy in the German Foreign Office, in order to discuss Islam in Germany. Dr. Kreft has been a strong friend and supporter of the Journey into Europe project.
Dr. Kreft’s position, created in 2002, works with all levels of the German Foreign Office on issues related to intercultural dialogue and works to promote understanding between the West and the Islamic world.
The Journey into Europe team arrived in Berlin, Germany in time to watch the German national team win the 2014 World Cup Final in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Up to 500,000 Germans gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to watch the final match between Germany and Argentina, with Germany securing the World Cup trophy with a 1-0 victory in extra time. It is Germany’s fourth World Cup title overall and its first since German reunification in 1990.
Dr. Amineh Hoti of the Journey into Europe team sat down with female members of the Muslim community in Granada, Spain at the Mayor Mezquita de Granada. Constructed in 2003, it was the first mosque built in Granada since 1492 when the Muslim Nasrid dynasty, which built the Alhambra Palace, fell.
Professor Ahmed and the Journey into Europe team were in Granada, Spain where they visited the beautiful Alhambra Palace, the top tourist destination of Spain today.
Originally built as a fortress in 889 and converted into a royal palace in 1333, the Alhambra was the palace of the Muslim rulers in Granada under the Nasrid Dynasty. The Nasrid Dynasty ruled Granada until 1492 when it was defeated by the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. This brought to an end the era of La Convivencia where Jews, Christians, and Muslims were able to co-exist with one another.
In The Thistle and the Drone, Professor Ahmed draws on 40 case studies of tribal societies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other nations across the Muslim world to reveal a tremendously important yet largely unrecognized adverse effect of campaigns on the war against terror. Ahmed argues that in the aftermath of 9/11, the use of drones as a leading military counterinsurgency weapon has morphed into a campaign against tribal peoples that has actually exacerbated the already-broken relationship between central governments and the tribal societies on their periphery. Although al Qaeda has been decimated, the U.S. is drifting into a global war against tribal societies on the periphery of nations.
Ambassador Ahmed and the Journey into Europe team arrived in the autonomous city of Melilla as part of their travels through Spain.
Melilla, alongside Ceuta, is one of two Spanish cities situated on the North African coast bordering Morocco. This small city, comprising 12 square kilometers of territory, has been part of Spain since 1497. The city’s population numbers 78,000, about half of which are Muslim, consisting mainly of Berbers of the Rif. The rest of the population is mainly Christian, and also includes Jews and Hindus.
In Melilla, Ambassador Ahmed met with and interviewed a number of leading dignitaries of the city including: the President of Melilla, Juan Jose Imbroda Ortiz; the Spanish government delegate Abdelmalik el Barkani; and Fadela Mohatar Maanan, the President of Melilla’s Institute of Cultures and the Assistant Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs. Being both a Berber and female, the dynamic Ms. Maanan is in the perfect position to act as a true ambassador between the faiths and communities in Melilla. Ahmed and his team also met the leadership of the various religious communities in Melilla and visited all the major houses of worship representing the different faiths. They were honored to be guests at a special interfaith dinner hosted by Ms. Maanan and attended by the heads of the different religious communities.
During the interview with the President, he spoke of the importance of the city of Melilla as a living example of la convivencia, or coexistence, between various faith communities. He also discussed the importance of education and knowledge for instilling this respect for other peoples and faiths from a young age. Appreciating the importance of the Journey into Europe project, the president wished Ambassador Ahmed and his team much “exito” or success on their journey.
Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity
Europe today confronts complicated and controversial issues surrounding its Muslim population including Sharia law, terrorism, the building of mosques, female dress, and the pressures of immigration and multiculturalism.
Akbar Ahmed, the world renowned Muslim anthropologist, is now embarking on a new study of Islam in Europe which will take him and his international team across the continent.
Journey into Europe is the fourth part of an unprecedented quartet of award-winning books exploring relations between the West and the world of Islam after 9/11.