Category Archives: Articles

Longing for Sharjah in Trump’s America – Elisa Frost, The Huffington Post

It’s been two weeks since I learned definitively that I would be a woman living in Trump’s America. I had known in my heart for a longtime that this was a possibility, though I fiercely hoped that I was wrong. I wanted my friends’ confidence that Hilary would “break the glass ceiling” to prove itself well founded. But as the election results began trickling in on Tuesday evening, my fears quickly shifted from possible to inevitable. As a woman, I began to feel sick to my stomach.

Even as I struggled to accept these election results I recognized how lucky I was – as a well educated white woman, I would remain more or less untouched. Still, I found myself deeply hurt by the direction America had decided to turn. When Americans elected Donald Trump as President of the United States, they sent me a powerful message: they told me that because I was a woman my health, safety, and humanity were negotiable.

No matter how many times Donald Trump publicly claimed that no one loved women more than him, his actions and statements about and to women have proven his deep rooted misogyny. He openly bragged that because of his fame he could get away with doing anything to women without waiting for consent, even “grab them by the pussy.” And even after multiple women confirmed that they had been sexually assaulted by Trump, he and his campaign dismissed his despicable conversation as “locker room talk” and “boy talk”. He has said that pregnancy is an inconvenience. He has regularly demeaned women for their biology – attacking Megyn Kelly after she challenged him during the first Republican Presidential Debate, derogatorily implying that she must have been menstruating. The list seems endless. When Americans elected Donald Trump, they told me that they agreed with or could at least overlook these demeaning words and actions and accept Trump as the top representative of America.

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Islam, Europe and the West – Yasser Latif Hamdani, The Daily Times

The Spanish term La Covivencia means the coexistence and refers to the period of Muslim rule in Spain when it is postulated that Jews, Christians and Muslims lived peacefully and borrowed from each other’s traditions liberally, thus laying the foundations for religious tolerance.

As a historical idea, it is not without criticisms. Some critics argue that this is merely a hypothesis and that things were far from ideal in Muslim Spain when it came to intercommunal relations. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Muslim Spain produced some of the greatest examples of the creative genius of plural societies. Averroes, the great Muslim philosopher and Maimonides the great Jewish philosopher emerged out of this great confluence of the three Abrahamic faiths. This is what the great poet Iqbal probably referred to when wrote in ode to the mosque at Cordoba or Masjid-e-Qurtaba:

To Love, you owe your being, O, Harem of Cordoba,

To Love, that is eternal; Never waning, never fading.

An appeal for the revival of La Covivencia is central to Dr Akbar S Ahmed’s latest documentary film “Journey into Europe,” where the veteran anthropologist and one of the foremost authorities on modern Islam in the world today ventures into Europe exploring Islam on the continent.

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Steadying the Pluralist Ship in the Choppy Waters of Today’s America – Patrick Burnett, The Huffington Post

Five days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and five days after hate crimes against minorities began to skyrocket, a church in Fredericksburg, Va. welcomed a Muslim speaker to the pulpit to speak for an hour and a half.

Let us unpack that sentence a bit. Donald Trump, the man behind the Muslim ban proposal, was elected president on Nov. 8. In the ten days since his election, there have been hundreds of reports of “hateful harassment or intimidation” reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yet, in light of these tensions, a mere five days after the election, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, spoke to a full house from the pulpit at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, VA, a community which has faced great interfaith tension in recent months, on the importance of building interfaith bridges in a time of great division. And the program ended in not one, but two standing ovations.

Ahmed’s talk in Fredericksburg, first proposed in June, was a direct response to a local conflictthat broke out in November 2015. The thirty-year-old Islamic Center of Fredericksburg had sought to build a new mosque to address the needs of a growing congregation. But the Spotsylvania County zoning board meeting convened to discuss the mosque’s construction plans quickly turned heated. The meeting, which took place in the days following the terrorist attacks in Paris, concluded with shouts and taunts towards the Muslim community, with one man even going on to yell, “Nobody, nobody, nobody wants your evil cult in this county.” The Islamic Center rescinded its proposal in August.

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The Spread Hummus not Hate rally bridges gaping interfaith divides, soothes election season tensions – Patrick Burnett

The 2016 presidential campaign has left many Americans shaken to their very core. More than half of Americans have reported this election being, at minimum, “a somewhat significant source of stress.” Meanwhile, women who have come forth recounting sexual assaults committed by one of the candidates are now being both insulted and threatened with lawsuits in retaliation. Young Muslims children have even suffered nightmares about one of the candidates taking them and their families away. The tension across America is simply palpable.

The U.S. is experiencing a dark, challenging phase of history, with our pluralist core facing existential threats the likes of which have not been seen in generations. It is amidst these great trials and tribulations though that we as American pluralists must fight harder than ever for the vision of the Founding Fathers.

Channeling this fighting spirit, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC, in conjunction with his partners at the Spread Hummus not Hate tour, convened an interfaith rally on the Quad of American University on October 20, with the goal of inspiring all Americans to fight vigorously for our neighbors of all faiths and stand up against the ear-piercing voices of hatred and bigotry. And while the rally may not have drawn the numbers of a Trump or Clinton rally, its statements about America today may be just as impactful as what is said in an Ohio arena filled to capacity.

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“Lights, Camera, Action!” – The University of Tennessee Department of Political Science

Although he just completed his first year in our PhD program, Harrison Akins is already having a significant impact on a very timely issue: Muslim communities of Europe.
Graduate Student spotlight: Harrison Akins (right) with Ambassador Ahmed (left) and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (center) in Cambridge during fieldwork in the UK.

 Harrison Akins, a PhD student in our department, served as the associate producer and director of cinematography for the documentary film, Journey into Europe, which he presented to the Southeast Regional Middle East and Islamic Studies Seminar Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy April 16, 2016.

The film, which has also been screened worldwide, is part of a larger project by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and former Pakistan Ambassador to the UK and Ireland, examining the history and contemporary challenges of the Muslim communities of Europe. Relying on fieldwork in ten European countries over a two-year period, Ambassador Ahmed and his research team, including Akins, who served as the Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow prior to beginning his PhD, examined controversial issues surrounding the European Muslim communities including Sharia law, terrorism, the building of mosques, female dress, and the pressures of immigration and multiculturalism. The Stiftung Mercator Foundation of Germany, the British Council USA, and American University’s School of International Service provided support and funding for the project.

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Omran Daqneesh and Aylan Kurdi – Ambassador Ahmed, Express Tribune

The waves of migrants who have arrived in Europe, hoping to escape horrors in their home countries, have evoked a broad range of emotions in Europe and around the globe. Throughout the crisis, desperate refugees, after initial goodwill, have faced unparalleled hate and dehumanisation, but two photographs, in particular, have created empathy for the impossible choices faced by those fleeing their home nation. The world responded in outrage when the photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a young Syrian boy who was face down on the Turkish shore after drowning in his family’s attempt to reach Greece went viral in September 2015. It seemed that the world finally understood the dangers that refugees faced as they attempted to make their way across Europe. But all too quickly, as the backlash began against the refugees, Aylan’s tragedy was forgotten and he was being depicted in cartoons, had he lived, as a future rapist chasing white European women. Angela Merkel, seen as the champion of the refugees, saw her political fortunes decline.

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The ink of the scholar – Aijaz Zaka Syed – Arab News

Dr. Akbar Ahmed is a man of many parts. Civil servant, diplomat, author, filmmaker (creator of biopic Jinnah) and teacher, he has also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the UK. Currently Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and Professor of International Relations at the American University in Washington, it is his extraordinary insight into Muslim societies around the world and contribution as a scholar of Islam that truly sets him apart from his tribe.
Distinguished author of such groundbreaking books as Postmodernism and Islam, Predicament and Promise (1992), Living Islam, From Samarkand to Stornoway (1993), Discovering Islam, Making Sense of Muslim History and Society (2002), and Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World (2002), he is perhaps the best living and walking encyclopedia of Islam around.
Given the unprecedented challenge of extremism and terrorism facing Islam and contemporary Muslim societies, it’s only natural that Prof Ahmed has constantly written and talked about it, analyzing often for the benefit of Western audiences the underlying causes and historical drivers of violence and radicalization, as he most recently did in The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013).

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Humza Yousaf: a Pakistani Braveheart in Scotland – Amb. Akbar Ahmed, Express Tribune

The recent referendum in the UK to leave the European Union has brought widespread xenophobia to light throughout the country. Following the June 23 vote, one Muslim schoolgirl in England was told “Get out, we voted Leave”, while a Muslim native of Wales who campaigned for Remain received a Tweet saying, “Great news…you can pack your bags, you’re (sic) going home… bye then!” Meanwhile, in the week leading up to the vote, Labour MP Jo Cox, known for her advocacy for Syrian refugees, was fatally shot and stabbed by a man shouting “Britain First”.

These examples of hatred throughout the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote are truly shocking. Yet, they are not reason to lose hope in the plight of Muslims in the West. Some of the UK’s finest young leaders today are from the British Pakistani community, and are as British as any Anglican Englishman from Essex.

One of these top young Pakistani leaders is Scottish native Humza Yousaf, a member of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Minister for Transport and the Islands. A mere 31 years of age, Yousaf has already served for four years as Scotland’s first minister for Europe and International Development. During his rapid ascent to power he has faced racist attacks.

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Team member Elisa Frost featured as St. Helens, OR success story

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Team member Elisa Frost (center left) gathers with Amb. Ahmed and the Journey into Europe team in the lobby of the State Department prior to a screening of the film on February 24. Frost was recently named a “St. Helens [Oregon] success [story]” by the St. Helens Chronicle.

Elisa Frost, a member of the Journey into Europe research team, was featured in the St. Helens (OR) Chronicle as a “St. Helens Success [Story]” for her incredible work  as an undergraduate student and masters candidate at American University and on the Journey into Europe team.  Warm congrats, Elisa! We are all very proud!

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Bradford comes of age – Amb. Akbar Ahmed, The Friday Times

Akbar Ahmed on the many faces of Bradford – including the ones that are conveniently ignored.


Amb. Akbar Ahmed with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and her husband Iftikhar Azam at the Zoya Pakistani restaurant in Bradford. 


For several decades, the image of the Muslim community of Bradford, and the region around it, has been depicted in the media as that of angry-looking, white-bearded Pakistani men dressed in shalwar-kameez demanding the death of Salman Rushdie. Today, however, it is that of educated, intelligent smart women – also with a Pakistani background.

Bradford in the popular British imagination has long meant Islamic fanaticism and fundamentalism, urban crime, drugs and poverty. It has also more recently been associated with such phenomena as “grooming”, terrorism and the shariah-dominated “no-go zones” – defined by Islamophobes as places where non-Muslims ‘fear to tread’. Feeding in to these perceptions was the news last year that three Bradford sisters and their nine children had traveled to Syria to join ISIS together. Terrorism experts tend to look at dense communities like Bradford as hubs of terrorism producing an endless stream of recruits. It is for this reason that the government is constantly placed in the awkward position of implementing extreme measures only to come up with embarrassing results, such as the case of the young schoolboy who was arrested and taken for interrogation when he wrote in a school assignment that he lived in a “terrorist” house when he meant “terraced.” Bradford has thus been labeled a breeding ground for terrorist activity, which has made the city a particular target of the British government’s “Prevent” security strategy, a program that is increasingly being seen as coercive and unfair by the Muslim community. British Muslims use terms like “thought police” and “big brother” when discussing Prevent.

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