Category Archives: Articles

“Non-Fiction: Europe’s Islam ‘Problem'” – Amb. Touqir Hussain, Dawn

Much of the Islamic world is resource rich, has been under Western domination for most of its modern history, and is struggling to come to terms with a seemingly unjust international system and issues of national identities and nationalism, ethnicity, tribalism, feudalism, social change, political reform and modernisation. This struggle is taking place simultaneously on two fronts — at home and abroad — causing domestic disorder and global tensions.

In most societies, populations living under a Western-oriented but illiberal ruling elite have been seeking justice and self-fulfilment through different, but confused, ways — through democracy, Islam and nationalism. But their struggle has collided with America’s post 9/11 wars, enabling the extremists to hijack the agenda.

Two controversial wars and an ill-defined ‘war on terrorism’ that portrayed the enemy in such abstract terms, and the conflict as a war of ideas, ended up magnifying the enemy and enlarging the scope and meaning of the conflict, making it look like a war against Islam. This sharpened tensions between Islam and the West, boosting the agenda and popularity of extremists both at home and abroad. At home, the political and economic failure of leadership in Islamic societies has ceded ground to the better organised and motivated extremists; abroad, especially in Europe, immigrant communities are falling back on extremists not only as defenders of a faith under siege, but also for protection against injustices, discrimination and intolerance.

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Journey into Europe: A Review

By Ejaz Rahim

As far back as 1996, the distinguished scholar W. Montgomery Watt described Dr Akbar Ahmed as ‘a contemporary spokesman for Islam’. That epithet remains apt even now but, based on the sum total of his writings and work, he is widely respected today as an anthropologist, teacher, researcher, scholar in comparative religion, a committed public intellectual promoting interfaith harmony and a leading authority on contemporary Islam.

Dr Akbar Ahmed’s new book Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity is a monumental work by all standards of scholarship. Its appearance in January 2018 completes the quartet envisioned by him in the wake of 9/11’s cataclysm that shook both the field of religion and the arena of global politics. The earlier three tomes – Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Civilisation (2007), Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (2010), The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013) – constituted an exploration of relations between the West and Islam from the perspectives of the world’s most powerful state; weaker Muslim societies generally struggling against increasing odds; and specifically of tribal Muslim entities feeling beleaguered and threatened internally and externally. JIE not only explores the European encounter with Islam to complete the picture but attains added significance inasmuch as the threads of methodology, concepts, themes and lessons of the other three studies are brought together in this paradigm-creating enterprise. In my view Dr Ahmed’s quartet will be ranked as a landmark in the literature of relations between the West and the Islamic world.

A notable feature of this book is its accessibility for the ordinary reader.  Reading this book, one is  struck by its reader-friendly approach, its organic structure and the architectonics of a research process incorporating interdisciplinary literature survey, case studies, site visits, face-to-face interviews and heart-to-heart interactions with individuals and groups holding divergent viewpoints.

As for the reader-friendly character of the book, Dr. Ahmed makes an important statement that explains its striking ambience: ‘JIE is part autobiography, part anthropology, part travelogue’. One is reminded of Professor O.K. Bouwsma of Nebraska University who emphasises the much-needed epistemological complementarity between ‘the world of the philosopher’ and ‘the world of the traveller’. While the philosopher ‘stays at home’, the traveller ‘goes far away’, in the spirit of Eliot’s Prufrock:

O do not ask, ‘what is it?’

Let us go and make our visit.

Dr Ahmed’s book aims to bring together the conceptual and the physical in an organic frame of knowledge and experience. My personal impression in reading the book is like experiencing a flow of narrative that combines the ‘external’ exploration mode found in Homer’s Odyssey and the exposure from ‘inside’ a la  James Joyce’s Ulysses. The lesson one gleans from this approach is that for a fuller view of reality, it is important to embrace both dimensions, the ‘inner’ as well as the ‘outer’.

Dr Ahmed avowedly goes beyond the standard text book approach to anthropological studies found in the work of his illustrious predecessors like Malinovsky, Fortes, Evans Pritchard, Leach et al. His focus indeed is on ‘the ongoing and unfinished business of life itself’. For him anthropology is as much about the observed past and the empirical present as about the potential complexion and configuration of future human society. Significantly, he sees a similarity between this anthropological approach and poetry. He believes in crossing the conventional boundaries of the discipline for a fuller and more kinetic perspective. ‘Boundaries’, he declares ‘merely attempt to freeze and halt a process that can be neither frozen nor stopped’. This approach not only adds another dimension to his work but also enables common citizens, the non-specialist readers to accompany the scholar on the book’s intellectual journey. It also helps its readers to relate both the journey and its underlying framework to their own lives.

The intellectual framework of this study, it must be stressed, is one of enormous relevance to every citizen of the planet, whether in the East or the West. In the words of the author, it is ‘ a conceptual framework to discover a paradigm as a method for the future that would allow Europe’s different people and cultures to understand one another in order to live together in harmony’. Such an undertaking has special relevance for a continent that stands between the American hemisphere and the East. Again, Islam being ‘the great dynamic agitating Europe’ today, her mindset will be critical for the future of humanism and pluralism in our badly fractured world. For those therefore who wish for a dispassionate analysis of the future ramifications of this dynamic, Dr Ahmed’s book is a must read.

As for the structure of the book, it is divided into three parts. Part I describes two interpretations of European identity; Part II, three types of Muslim societies – the indigenous, the immigrant and the converts; and Part III delves into the issue of Islamophobia in Europe and underscores the imperative of Convivencia or Coexistence.

I wish to identify here some vantage points in the JIE that were a source of learning for me personally as one travelled through the book. The narrative begins with an encounter with a dispirited group of Muslim immigrants in a shabby basement mosque in Athens who find it strange that Dr Ahmed and his team should be so well received by high functionaries of the Church of Greece and leading Greek scholars. One also hears accusatory echoes among Europeans of ‘the third invasion of Europe’ by today’s immigrants like the Arab and Ottoman invasions of the past. Later in the book, a second version of ‘this third invasion’ against European civilisation will be found following on the heels of Nazism and Fascism. In the background of this tension and ambivalence, we are introduced to Ibn Khuldun’s description of tribal Arab groups centred on Asabiya or ethnic group consciousness, and the account of Tacitus (1st century AD) describing Germanic tribesmen who ultimately brought down Rome and formed Visigothic dynasties in Europe. Dr Ahmed sees this primordial element found in Germanic tribes as a part of the ‘deep structure’ of European society which takes two forms in Europe’s history – the basic primordial tribal identity and its morphing into a predatory form.

Dr Ahmed sees the primordial German tribal consciousness prevailing even over religion in various periods of Europe’s history. He cites the defiance against Rome by the Germanic Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire (13th Century AD). The Protestant revolt against the Church of Rome in the 16th Century is also mentioned in support of this view.

The primordial element has deeply influenced Europe’s intellectual and cultural leadership over the centuries. It is fascinating to follow the trail recounted in this book from the German poet-philosopher Herder’s (1744-1803) Volk philosophy based on ‘Blut unt Boden’ (Blood and Soil); Fichte’s ‘Address to the German Nation’ (1916) which describes Volk as ‘the Original People’; the Grimm Brothers’ emotional appeal to notions of race and blood; Schlengel’s concept of ‘Aryan People’; Heidegger’s ‘Heimat’ or Homeland, where alone in his view, authentic existence is possible; and a general tilt towards glorified Germanic consciousness in her philosophy and literature. Hegel’s remark ‘is Judea the Teuton’s Fatherland?’ mirrors this frame of mind. The book sees the rise of Nazism and Hitler’s Final Solution as a logical outcome of this thought process which permeates Europe’s culture, philosophy and literature. Indeed the predatory form of primordial tribal identity that Europe witnessed has been constantly at work in her treatment of Jews and other minorities. The ominous words of Otto Thiepack, Justice Minister in the Third Reich, are recalled: ‘We must free the German nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies’.

Dr Ahmed’s book does not shy away from recounting unpleasant facts like Holocaust’s savagery against five million Jews, and another five million belonging to other minorities. We learn that between 1941-1945, 12,500 Camps with six Extermination Centres modelled on the notorious Dachau Camp were set up. The book also reminds us about earlier versions of the Final Solution practised in Europe’s history. Thus the 7th Century Visigoth rulers of Toledo (Spain) had officially proclaimed that ‘The King will tolerate no one in the Kingdom who is not a Catholic’. The exclusionary policy echoes again in Catholic Spain after Granada’s fall in 1492 and reflected by the Inquisition and the mass expulsions of the Jews and Muslims. The book identifies a trail of ethnic violence from the Rhineland massacres of 11th Century to the 13th Century killings in Bavaria and Austria; the 17th Century Pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe; and the recurrent deportation of Jews from the 13th to the 15th centuries from England, France, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland. It is important to understand the deeper context of this phenomenon recurring in Europe. This is one face of Europe that the book attempts to capture.

But this, according to Dr Ahmed’s study, does not convey the whole truth about Europe. While the author is fearless in exposing the dark side of the equation, he is eminently fair in highlighting Europe’s record of pluralism and universalism. He calls it the ‘other Europe’ which has provided outstanding examples of coexistence and religious tolerance. Dr. Ahmed’s work in highlighting such instances is a high point of his scholarship.

The period of La Convivencia in Spain which extended for 800 years is held out as an example of enlightened rationalism and religious harmony in Europe. The author believes that the Andalusian example is ‘an alternative to the monolithic tribal society model’. The book also provides credible examples of Christian-led Andalusia-like models. Dr Ahmed is at pains to celebrate Europe’s outstanding heroes practising pluralism. King Alfonso VI of Lyon and Castille, for example, took pride in being called ‘Emperor of Three Religions’ and instituted liberal and enlightened policies after conquering Toledo in 1085 AD. Likewise King Alfonso X who conquered Cordoba in 1236 AD promoted ‘Convivencia and Ilm’ as twin pillars of his rule. Again Roger III of Sicily in the 12th Century was a tolerant ruler who maintained excellent relations with the Fatimids of Egypt. One of the most persuasive examples of pluralism in practice is provided by Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire. One is amazed to learn of this European Emperor officially celebrating the Holy Prophet’s Hegira. Among the monarch’s memorable achievements were the patronship he gave to Averoes’ translation of Aristotle’s works and despatching the same to the universities of Naples, Paris and Padua with a letter which said: ‘One should accept as truth only that which is proved by the force of reason and nature.’ By the Treaty of Jaffa (1229 AD) he made a historic agreement with Egypt’s ruler which guaranteed access to Jerusalem’s holy sites to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike – a feat which later statesmen have failed to achieve in the succeeding centuries.

Dr Akbar Ahmed goes on to describe this ‘Other Europe’ in terms of her literature and learning, her intellectual and cultural heritage. He documents this view by referring to Shakespeare, Goethe, Da Vinci and Cervantes. Goethe’s universal humanism in particular is highlighted and conveyed in the following verse of Schiller: ‘Forget O Germans your hope of becoming a Nation …. Educate yourself instead to be human beings.’ Goethe’s East Western Divan is a unique bridge of understanding between East and West. The author discusses Wagner’s Percival and Mozart’s Abduction from Seraglio (1702) pointing out their devotion to universal values. Wagner’s vision is reflected in the hope that ‘one day Christians and Muslims will be brothers’ expressed in his opera The Saracen Woman.  Likewise the following quote from Mozart’s work is worth recalling: ‘It is a greater pleasure to repay with good deeds an injustice suffered rather than punish evil with evil’. (Abduction from Seraglio).

In the backdrop of historical knowledge and personal wisdom found in the author’s quiver, his journey into contemporary Europe assumes great significance. For one, it provides a snapshot of Muslim presence in Europe today ranging from five million Muslims in France, mainly immigrants, to substantial indigenous Muslim populations like Bosnians, Pamuks, Turks, Albanians, Tartars, the Roma and the Chams. The presence and historical role of Tartars in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Finland, but especially in Poland and Crimea, makes for a fascinating reading. Likewise the ups and downs faced by Bosnians vis-a-vis Kosovo and Serbia, sheds light on the existential threats still lurking in the Balkans. The presence of the Roma people spread out in Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Greece and Macedonia, is a reminder of the complex ethnic challenges in Europe of today. The fate of the Chams in Greece also raises many concerns.

This book provides a view of the mindset of the majority populations in different parts of Europe and the responses and reactions of the migrant, indigenous and convert Muslims of Europe. Every site visit recounted brings out region-specific challenges. Every community or individual encounter throws up open or hidden tensions and passions. However two interviews recorded by the author remain etched in my mind. Both are memorable in terms of the message emanating from them. The first relates to a meeting with Dr. Haris Sailaidzi, Prime Minister of Bosnia, who referred to the query raised by Bernard Lewis about Muslims (‘What went wrong?’) and proffered a profound reply: ‘Muslims must turn to themselves’. The other memorable comment is ascribed to the Reverend Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabi of UK: ‘In Heaven, there is Truth. On earth there are truths. God is greater than religion. He is only partially comprehended by our faiths.’ This thought constitutes the very bible of pluralism and universality in our times.

Europe too needs to turn to herself to respond to the inter-racial and inter-religious challenges she faces. Lapsing into primordial tribalism in response to Muslim presence is not an option. Europe will have to choose between the possibility of a primordial response morphing into unending ethnic conflict and social instability as already reflected in the ideologies of the Far Right. This is going to be an acid test for Europe’s current leadership. Indeed Europe needs to examine the roots of her own modernity to forge a credible answer.

Dr Akbar Ahmed’s view of the underlying challenge is clear-headed and forthright. ‘Europe’ he says ‘needs a synthesis between the thesis of tribalism and ethnicity and the antithesis of the Andalusian model that is genuinely pluralistic and universal’. He goes on to say: ‘We suggest how Europe can forge a new identity out of its two main traditions – exclusionary tribal and Andalusian, to create a synthesis for the Europe of the 21st Century. The vision of a New Andalusia could be a beacon of moral and intellectual leadership to the world’.

Before concluding I wish to briefly comment on two other related aspects of this book. In my view it is a significant addition to the contemporary literature on leadership and the role and responsibility of a public intellectual in our times.

Leadership today involves an existential choice between exclusionism and universalism, between ethnic appeasement and pluralistic values, and between populist expediency and democratic ethics. This book captures the current leadership challenge with great clarity and provides a basic framework for exercising choice.

On the related issue of a public intellectual’s role today, it may be profitable to mention the great 20th Century debate between two Italian scholars, Croce and Gramsci on the subject. Dr Ahmed clearly chooses to go beyond a role that merely ‘interprets’ the world; it is equally important to work for ‘change’ and reform the world. A public intellectual today is obligated not only to address the intellect but also the hearts and minds of the people.

For any reader of this book, it will be easy to understand the part played by its author in proactively promoting harmony and goodwill among the great religions of the world. His commitment to interfaith harmony is both consistent and inspiring.

Judging from the reviews appearing on the book, one can see that it has received plaudits from all quarters, including Jews, Christians and Muslims. In fact the reformist message of the book is relevant not only for Europe but equally for the Muslim world. Both West and East need to imbibe the lessons of this book regarding inclusive democracy, sustainable peace and steady progress. The pages of this book hold out a candle of hope against the gathering storms we see around us. Bertrand Russell’s parting thought in his Autobiography appears to be very relevant here: ‘Maintaining a sense of hope can be hard work…. To preserve hope in our world makes calls on our intelligence and our energy. In those who despair, it is frequently the energy that is lacking.’

In sum, Dr Akbar Ahmed’s book Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity is a mine of information on inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations over centuries in Europe; it is also a treasury of wisdom accruing from an analytical approach to history and society; it is indeed an inspiring document that aims to pierce through our thick walls of prejudice and iron curtains of race and blood. Like any great book it transmits knowledge, imparts wisdom and serves as a source of inspiration.


Ejaz Rahim, one of the leading public intellectuals of Pakistan, is a prominent poet and author. He has served in such prominent posts as chief secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and Cabinet Secretary for the Government of Pakistan.

“Hope Amid Europe’s Ticking Time Bomb” – Amb. Akbar Ahmed, The Islamic Monthly

Greece was dying in the summer of 2013, and the drama around the event was as poignant as anything Sophocles has written. I was in Athens to deliver some lectures, but I was witnessing, if press reports were to be believed, what appeared to be the imminent downfall of the cradle of Western civilization and the disturbing inertia toward its plight displayed by the rest of the European family of nations. The pillars of a functioning state were shaking: inflation, unemployment, and the national debt were out of control, and law and order on the verge of collapse. The dying process was confirmed when one day state TV was abruptly and indefinitely suspended as employees could no longer receive their salaries.

The last straw was the steady trickle of desperate refugees arriving from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia swelling the ranks of those impoverished migrants already present. Squeezed by the economic crisis, the traditionally hospitable Greeks vented their frustrations at the unending numbers of refugees and immigrants as they sought aid and refuge; and the greater the economic woes, the greater the popularity of the Far Right parties and the more extreme their rhetoric of hate. Groups like the Golden Dawn, with their swastika-like emblem, were parading about dressed up as faux-Nazis, giving Nazi salutes, and even displaying pictures of Adolf Hitler. Their target this time around was the mainly Muslim refugee and immigrant community. Their message was simple and effective, and it was influencing how people thought about the subject: Muslims were not part of European identity, nor had they contributed anything to Western civilization. In short, Muslims had no right to be in Europe. Clearly, the cherished European ideals of humanism and multiculturalism that allowed for the accommodation and integration of immigrant communities were being challenged.

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A Review by Professor Todd Green in Reading Religion

Writing any type of survey book on Islam in Europe is not a task for the faint of heart. Islam’s long-term presence in Europe, combined with its myriad expressions and trajectories across the continent in modern history, makes such a project a daunting one. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland and the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, takes up this challenge and produces a masterpiece in Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Institution Press, 2018). The book is a magisterial examination of Islam’s place in Europe’s historical, cultural, and political landscape.

The book is the last of a four-volume series from Ahmed devised and written after the September 11 attacks to address the relationship between Islam and the West. Of the four, this is the only one specifically devoted to Islam in Europe. Ahmed’s methodological approach can best be described as anthropological, though he readily acknowledges the book does not reflect “standard textbook anthropology” (34). Ahmed weaves participant observation, ethnographic descriptions, case studies, and personal interviews into a larger narrative amply informed by historical research.

Journey into Europe is both descriptive and prescriptive. What Ahmed describes is a continent at a crossroads as it struggles to determine how, or whether, Islam factors into its own identity formation. Ahmed illuminates this struggle by arguing Europe is best characterized by three competing identities. The first is its primordial identity, a type of tribalism in which Europeans come to value their own unique culture and traditions. The second is its predator identity, an aggressive, exclusivist, and even militaristic form of expression that defines what it means to be European in narrow religious, ethnic, or racial terms. The third is its pluralist identity. This identity moves away from tribe and blood by drawing on the shared history of diverse peoples in Europe. Ahmed uses the Spanish term la convivencia to capture this strand of European identity and lifts up Jewish, Muslim, and Christian co-existence and cooperation in historic Andalusia as an example of this pluralist model.

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Discussing Islam in East Tennessee – Frankie Martin, Pakistan Link

How best to deal with Islamophobia in the US today?

I glimpsed the answer on February 7, 2018, when I accompanied Ambassador
Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, to
Knoxville, Tennessee, where he became the first Muslim to deliver the prestigious Ashe Lecture at the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee. The center is named after Howard Baker, who served as a US Senator from Tennessee, President Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff, and US Ambassador to Japan. The talk was arranged by my good friend Harrison Akins, a doctoral student and researcher at the Baker Center who previously worked with Ahmed. Understanding the current negative climate concerning Muslims, the widespread common misperceptions of Islam and Muslims, and the fear evident in the Muslim community with rising incidents of violence and intimidation, I was curious how an East Tennessee audience would react to a Muslim scholar.

To continue reading, please click the following link: PL – Pakistan Link – February 16, 2018 – PAGE 19

“‘Journey into Europe’: Reversing the paradigm” – Shadab Zeest Hashmi, Daily Times

In a silent and quite grainy black and white film clip showing members of the extended British royal family lined up for a photograph, one is struck by the overpowering dazzle and opulence of the jewels worn by the women. The scene is from the early part of the last century and the jewels are undoubtedly the spoils of empire. Another scene, one that Anthropologists and popular-culture buffs alike are familiar with, and one that is illustrative of why Akbar Ahmed’s Journey into Europe is an absolute must-read, appears in chapter one of his book: “Decked out in khaki shorts, knee socks, and solar topees, clutching binoculars, notebooks, and tape recorders, and suitably inoculated against deadly tropical diseases, they (Anthropologists of the colonial era) disembarked on the Pacific Islands or headed into the Amazon rainforest or the African hinterland. We, too, ventured forth to do our fieldwork; only our destination was Europe itself.”

As Noam Chomsky has noted, Ahmed’s study, which takes into account things such as Europe’s ‘primordial tribal identity’ as well as the deep-rooted effects of Western imperialism, in addition to the flux of immigrants from former colonies- in order to study contemporary dynamics between communities of Muslims and the European countries they call home, reverses the traditional paradigm in the social sciences (“in this case, not Europeans studying African and Asian societies but an Asian author examining Europe”). This, in my view, provides the long-awaited necessary corrective, the radical shift in connotations derived from Imperialist attitudes and agendas, coining, finally, a language without which neither academic discourse nor artistic representation can be fair or go far, one that may finally make it possible to have balanced, nuanced perspectives on subjects relevant to Islam and the West.

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“The twain shall meet” – Aijaz Zaka Syed, The News

“The current dynamic agitating Europe is Islam,” writes Akbar S Ahmed in his new book, ‘Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity’, of which he has kindly sent me an advance copy.

“The long-drawn-out wars between Catholics and Protestants, the struggle against the Ottomans, the steady and large-scale migrations to America, the world wars, and the confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union are no longer centre stage. On philosophic, political, and cultural levels, Islam is central to the discussion about Europe,” notes Professor Ahmed in the opening chapter of perhaps the most important book of his illustrious career dedicated to studying Islam and its engagement with the modern world.

“Islam affects a wide range of people, from young Muslims unsure of what to make of their faith and its place in Europe to the leaders of the Far Right who project their political philosophy and strategy as a war against it.”

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My Heart Moves to See Befitting Farewell to Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, Dr. Ruth Pfau

By Dr. Cllr. James Shera (Sitara-e-Pakistan, MBE)

The coffin, wrapped in Pakistani flag, carried by Pakistani soldiers. Nineteen cannon shots fired to pay salute. Live coverage on all the TV channels of Pakistan. This was the scene of a recent funeral ceremony attended by nobody less than President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman and Vice Admiral Zafar Mahmood, along with thousands of mourners from all walks of life, including Muslim religious leaders, gathered at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi.

These may appear to be glimpses of a funeral of a head of state but they are not. This was the befitting farewell given by the people of Islamic Republic of Pakistan to their heroine Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German Christian missionary who passed away on 10th August after serving people for nearly 57 years. The state funeral of Dr. Ruth Pfau on Saturday proved that the people of Pakistan value those who care for them. As I watched on television, as the state-run and private television networks of Pakistan broadcast live footage of her funeral, this sight of an exceptional measure for a foreign Christian in this Muslim country overwhelmed my heart and soul.

Seeing thousands of mourners along with the President of Pakistan gathered at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi to honor her memory and top brass of all three armed forces of Pakistan saluting the casket of Dr. Pfau as it proceeded through the Christian grave yard, I thanked God for making the Pakistani people thankful to those who cared about them, irrespective of their religion and nationality

Every Pakistani has paid tributes to this person who was not born on this soil and practiced a religion different from the majority of population. Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also paid rich tributes to Dr. Pfau stating “Although she was born in Germany, her heart has always been in Pakistan”. The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nafees Zakaria emphasized, “The entire Pakistani nation is paying tribute to the extraordinary work of Dr. Pfau, and we will always remember her with fondness. We lost a national heroin.”

The respect and love of people of Pakistan for Sister Pfau was very well deserved. She had devoted her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan for nearly six decades. She arrived in Karachi in 1960 and complications with her visa to India forced her to stay in Pakistan. After visiting lepers, she decided to stay and for almost 50 years she took care, as a doctor, of the sickest and poorest of the city.

In collaboration with the government of Pakistan, Ruth Pfau had helped open leprosy centers in nearly 150 cities in Pakistan, trained physicians, assisted thousands of victims, and helped develop a national program in order to control the epidemic, which had earned her high distinctions in Pakistan.

I feel happy that it is not after her death she earned the recognition; she was decorated with highest honors and awards of Pakistan in her lifetime. The awards and medals earned by sister Pfau include Sitara-e-Quaid-i-Azam, Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Pakistan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Jinnah Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Science (DSc) by Aga Khan University, Karachi, Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service, and the renaming of Civil Hospital, Karachi to Dr. Ruth K.M. Pfau Hospital. For her dedicated work on leprosy Dr. Pfau was awarded Hilal-i-Pakistan on 23 March 1989. The award was presented by the then-President of Pakistan Ghulam Ishaq Khan at the President’s House.

On 30th January 2000, while speaking at a function in Islamabad to mark the 47th World Leprosy Day, the then-President of Pakistan Rafiq Tarar praised Dr. Pfau for building up the National Leprosy Control Program in Pakistan. Dr. Pfau helped not only those afflicted with leprosy, but also patients of tuberculosis. In 2006, radio station The City FM89 honored Dr. Pfau as the “Woman of the Year.”

On 14th August 2010, on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day, the then-President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari conferred Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam on Dr. Pfau in recognition of her public service. After her work towards helping people displaced by the 2010 floods, she was hailed as Pakistan’s “Mother Teresa” Dr. Pfau also received the highest award of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the Staufer Medal, in 2015.

As an acknowledgment of “selfless services” of Dr. Pfau, on 19 August 2017, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has announced that the Civil Hospital Karachi would be renamed to Dr. Ruth Pfau Hospital.

Her wish was that the different “religions work together and the biggest religion was humanity.” asserted Dr. Claudia Vilani, an expatriate and colleague of Ruth Pfau. No doubt the way her funeral has been conducted manifests that the bonding of humanity is above religion, nationality, culture, cast and creed and the people of Pakistan do understand this.

(The writer is a British Pakistani politician, educationist and councillor for the last ten years and first Asian to become Mayor of Rugby in 1981)

Going inside the two worlds of European Muslims – Harrison Akins, The Tennessean

Much of the news coverage of the British terrorist attacks in Manchester and London over the last few months has focused on whether the attackers had links with or were influenced by the Islamic State.

The question that has unfortunately received less attention is why European citizens would be attracted to the hateful and violent message of ISIS and be willing to commit terrorist attacks against their fellow Europeans.

To investigate this question and to gain better insights into the various challenges facing the Muslim communities in Europe, I was privileged to serve as an associate producer and researcher for the documentary film and book project, “Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity” (forthcoming Brookings Press 2018), by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University’s School of International Service and former Pakistani Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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Bill Maher, You Should Have Been at the Pakistan Embassy This Week



Ambassador Akbar Ahmed sits to the right of host Ambassador Chaudhry at the high table of the interfaith Iftar. To the Ambassador’s left sat Ambassador Ahmed’s friend, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and Rabbi Batya Steinlauf. Photo credit: Zeenat Ahmed

Political commentator Bill Maher, his voice dripping with the vitriol which he reserves for Islam, made the claim last week when interviewing Breitbart Editor Alex Marlow on his HBO program, Real Time with Bill Maher, that interfaith dialogue and tolerance of other religions is not possible in the Muslim world. He particularly singled out Pakistan, going so far as to say, “I don’t think the idea that ‘Oh, you know what, there are many ways to God, they’re all valid, let’s agree to disagree’ —  I don’t think that’s a thing you find in Pakistan a lot.”

I found it ironic then that on June 20, a mere four days after Maher’s program aired, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and one of the nation’s senior most diplomats, hosted an interfaith Iftar at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC, welcoming some of Washington’s most prominent interfaith leaders. As an embassy abroad is considered to be the terrain of the nation it represents, we were on Pakistani territory.

The 250 prominent Muslim and non-Muslims in attendance—ambassadors, senior State Department officials, journalists, and community and religious leaders—filled the hall to capacity. Distinguished speakers representing the major faiths addressed the gathering and emphasized the need to build bridges between religions.


Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry welcomes Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to the Embassy of Pakistan’s interfaith Iftar. Photo Credit: Embassy of Pakistan

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Catholic Archbishop of Washington and an active player in global peace and humanitarian initiatives, traveling often on behalf of Catholic Relief Services around the globe, gave a remarkable speech emphasizing the closeness of Islam and Christianity. In particular, he noted how both faiths love and revere the Virgin Mary. Cardinal McCarrick also said he was thrilled to announce that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is preparing to visit Pakistan soon, saying how His Holiness is particularly excited about his visit. Cardinal McCarrick believes His Holiness will fall in love with Pakistan.

Representing Hinduism was Nanik Lahori, a member of the Boards of Directors of both the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, DC and the United Hindu and Jain Temples Association. He discussed how Allah and Brahma, the names of God in Islam and Hinduism, represent the same reality, and how as such, it is of the utmost importance that we as Muslims and Hindus treat each other as part of a common humanity.

Dr. Rajwant Singh, the Founder and Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and the former president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, as well as a prolific interfaith leader on the national stage on behalf of the Sikh community, spoke about how close Islam is to Sikhism and how the sacred scripture of the Sikhs is replete with sayings and verses of Baba Farid, the great Sufi saint. Dr. Singh, drawing parallels between Islam and Sikhism and noting how peace, love, and humility lie at the heart of both traditions, also quoted several verses of Baba Farid, a Sufi saint, and Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion who is known for such quotes as, “Even Kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.”

Also speaking were Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, a Conservative rabbi who serves both as the Director of Social Justice and Intergroup Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and as Vice President of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, who gave the Jewish perspective, and Jo Reed, a Director at Soka Gakkai International-USA, representing the Buddhist faith. Both cited their respective sacred scriptures.

I was honored to once again be requested to speak on behalf of Islam as part of the Iftar. I opened my remarks by discussing how the Bismillah cites the two greatest names of God, Rahman and Rahim, or the Compassionate and Merciful, out of the 99 beautiful names in the holy Quran. It is repeated all day throughout the world by millions of Muslims.

I also shared with the audience several insightful verses from the Quran which I believe are not cited often enough, particularly in these times of great turmoil around the globe. I first read aloud, “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know” (30:22). Next, I read to the audience, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other))” (49:13). I concluded this portion of my remarks with the verse, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things” (2:256).

I additionally discussed the importance of ilm, or knowledge, which is the second most-used word in the Quran and went on to conclude with my favorite saying of the Prophet (PBUH): “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”


From Top: Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, Nanik Lahori, and Ambassador Akbar Ahmed deliver remarks on behalf of their respective faith traditions at the Embassy of Pakistan’s annual interfaith Iftar. Photo credit: Embassy of Pakistan


Following the remarks of myself and the other speakers, Ambassador Chaudhry spoke about the importance of religious tolerance in our diverse and conflicted world today and about countering the ongoing threat and inherent closed-mindedness of terrorism. He also emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace – a sentiment often forgotten in the West. To underline his points, the Ambassador quoted the famous speech of Mr M.A.Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, delivered before the Constituent  Assembly in 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” (For more on Mr. Jinnah, please see my documentary, Mr. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan, linked below.)

The Ambassador also quoted the Farewell Sermon of the holy Prophet (PBUH): “O people! Indeed, your Lord is one and your father is one. Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor a black over a white, except by taqwa (piety).”

When I mentioned to Ambassador Chaudhry the irony of Bill Maher’s remarks in the context of the interfaith conviviality around us as we broke our fast, the Ambassador smiled broadly. Perhaps he was thinking that Bill Maher should have joined us for this year’s interfaith iftar and seen for himself how Pakistan and other Muslim countries, in spite of the serious challenges they face, such as terrorism, can be great centers of bridge building and dialogue between faiths.