Category Archives: Articles

A Press Roundup of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s Washington visit last week

Washington Hebrew Congregation, co-sponsor of our Dialogue event with Rabbi Sacks, writes on their blog:

To combat the pattern of marginalization, Ambassador Ahmed emphasized the role organized religious communities and religious leaders can play in facilitating conversation between faith communities.

As an example, he pointed to the first Abrahamic summit, an initiative he launched with Rabbi Lustig and Bishop John Chane at Washington Hebrew Congregation following the attacks on September 11. Having representatives from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam together on one stage changed the direction of the conversation in Washington, DC and laid the groundwork for the strong interfaith relationships that exist in our community today.

Maureen Fiedler, host of Interfaith Radio, makes this contribution to the National Catholic Reporter based on her interview with Rabbi Sacks on her program following the dialogue:

In his book, Sacks finds a message of peace in the “sibling rivalries” of the Hebrew Scriptures: Cain and Abel, Ismael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. But he looks at the pattern over time, from the violence of Cain toward Abel, to the ever more peaceful resolutions of later rivalries. For Sacks, herein lies a message: Peace and reconciliation are the will of God, not conflict and murder. And that is the message of Genesis as it moves along.

When it comes to confronting violence, he says each side in a conflict must put himself or herself into the shoes of the other and try to see the world as he/she sees it. When I asked him how that applied to Israel and Palestine, his answer was the same, with descriptions of what each needs to do to stand in the other’s shoes.

And finally, Patrick Burnett writes the following based on our Dialogue Event in the Huffington Post:

For two senior rabbis to hold a devout Muslim scholar in such high regard indicates true fraternity among these broader faith traditions can and does exist. Sadly, such cordiality between Jews and Muslims has become something unusual and noteworthy. In a somber world where Jews and Muslims are killing each other daily in the Middle East, and terrorist groups attack their brothers and sisters in Abraham globally, such rich interfaith friendships must deepen, proliferate, and be shared with the world if Abrahamic peace is to once again prevail. Jewish-Muslim friendships can become the norm, rather than the exception.

We Can Avoid Another Paris and Defeat ISIS If We Remember This History – Akbar Ahmed, Huffington Post

The terrible and tragic violence in Paris is France’s 9/11, commentators are saying. The reaction must ensure that the many precious lives lost and the suffering of the injured are not in vain. The scale of the tragedy should concentrate the mind to find a strategy to check and defeat the Islamic State. The first step is to understand the roots of the crisis, which lie both in the soil of France and far from it in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East and North Africa.

Behind the current uneasy relationship between Muslim immigrants in Europe and the host countries looms the history of European imperialism — a fact that is often overlooked in the analysis. Imperial Britain and imperial France between them ruled much of Africa and Asia and thus dominated three great civilizations: Indian, Chinese and the predominantly Muslim. Imperial attitudes reflected the racism of the era and the belief in Western superiority. Take the example of Winston Churchill, the “grand old man” of British imperialism in its most unrepentant form. Churchill made no secret of his racial opinions — the Hindus were a “foul race” for him — especially those who would challenge the world order. He reserved his choicest phrases for none other than the great Mahatma Gandhi himself. He called Gandhi the “half naked fakir,” and once said notoriously that Gandhi, “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant. ”

Churchill, a European of the late 19th and early half of the 20th century, was echoing the supreme arrogance of his time, which saw Europe as the mother continent of civilization itself. Yet a mere half-century after his passing another British prime minister, also of Churchill’s Conservative Party, expressed a dramatic reversal in the relationship between Britain and India. Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on his first official visit to Britain on Nov. 12. The two made a trip to a new statue of Gandhi in London. Cameron followed Modi exactly in paying homage to Gandhi by walking up to the statue with his hands joined in the Hindu sign of supplication and bowed his head deeply, almost touching Gandhi’s feet, while he scattered flowers in tribute. Churchill would have been turning in his grave.

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Jewish-Muslim Relations: For European Peace, the Siblings Can and Must Make Amends – Patrick Burnett, The Huffington Post

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Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, left, and Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, right, join hands in a moment of true admiration during their November 12 dialogue at American University on countering religious violence. Photo by Joseph Marcus, American University School of International Service.

This past week, Paris, one of the great Western capitals, was rocked by a terrible tragedy. On a Friday night, 129 innocent people simply enjoying an evening out died at the hands of extremists who believed they were killing in the fight to avenge their people and “their” God. It was the worst attack in France since World War II, and it has left Europe feeling under siege.

As we across the pond stand in solidarity with Paris and mourn the innocent victims of such hatred, how can such ruthless violence even begin to be checked? Thanks to a recent high-profile Jewish-Muslim dialogue though, a top Jewish scholar and a top Muslim scholar may have given us just the lesson or two needed to help humanity move forward.

On November 12, American University (AU) had the honor of welcoming Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the U.K., for a dialogue with Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at AU and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland, for a dialogue on countering religious violence. Named “two of the leading scholars of religions, two of the most exciting thinkers of our days and also two amazing spiritual leaders,” by moderator Professor Michael Brenner, the Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies at AU, this dialogue not only talked the talk of Jewish-Muslim relations, but walked the walk.

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Ataques en París: “La mayoría son criminales de poca monta, no tienen nada que ver con el Islam” — BBC Mundo

Ambassador Ahmed responds to the 11/13 Paris attacks in this exclusive BBC interview here.

Please note the interview has been translated into Spanish, and the original English interview is currently not available–we recommend using the Translate feature of your web browser.

A wake-up call – Joseph Marcus, The Friday Times

Islamophobia and xenophobia are on the rise in the West. Joseph Marcus reviews a film that tries to explain why

Bernie Sanders recently offered the most frank explanation for the spread of racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. We are pitted against each other, he said, when most people really just want the same things. I have seen the rise in racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia, and I am forced to ask myself how have I helped stem its tide?

On October 22, 2015, nearly 200 people crammed into the School of International Service on the American University (AU) campus to watch Ambassador Akbar S. Ahmed’s last film. Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, spent months with his research team traversing Europe to understand the complex role and influences Islam has had in both historic and contemporary Europe.  The efforts of their research resulted in an extraordinary film, “Journey into Europe”.

The film screening on the AU campus brought together distinguished community members, academics, and students from around the Washington DC area. James Goldgeier, Dean of the School of International Service at AU, introduced and praised the film for its interdisciplinary approach, acknowledging that the film will help people understand the dynamics in Europe. Even diplomats from the Spanish and German embassies in Washington attended the screening.

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Islam in Europe: Time to sit down with your neighbor and talk – Pawan Bali, The American Bazaar

Check out the latest review of the film from Pawan Bali here.

Akbar S Ahmed’s Journey into Europe: A call for dialogue among civilizations – Naseem Rizvi, TheNews Blog Pakistan

Check out the latest review of Journey into Europe here at TheNews Blog Pakistan.

L’Europe musulmane, un documentaire de l’Historien Akbar Ahmed – Samia Hathroubi, Huffington Post

For our French-speaking readers, Samia Hathroubi has published a review of Journey Into Europe in Le Huffington Post. You can read the full review here.

SIS professor’s documentary explores history of Islam in Europe – Riddhi Sarkar, The Eagle

American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, has posted a piece about Journey Into Europe and the screening here at American University last week. Click here to read.

Upholding America’s pluralist traditions – Brianna Curran, The Express Tribune

By Brianna Curran

As an American millennial, most of my generation is fairly pessimistic about the direction our society is taking. Once a country whose most famous beacon of freedom read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, Americans seem to have lost these ideals somewhere along the path to modernity. Republican presidential debates are littered with Islamophobic rhetoric, intolerance towards immigrants, and statements that contrast with those very ideals so proudly displayed on the Statue of Liberty. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” stated presidential candidate Ben Carson when asked about America’s religious pluralism and its relation to government. Donald Trump, in his call for a nationwide celebration of Christmas, ignored American diversity yet again and instead tried to force upon society a cookie-cutter monolith of what being ‘American’ means.

Islam regularly receives harsh criticisms from politicians, civilians, and the media alike. But a religion whose doctrine calls for peace, tolerance and love should never be the subject of controversy. Often, the criticisms directed at Islam shed light on the West’s lack of understanding of the religion and its followers. As the US and Europe have been called upon to provide refuge for hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing unrestrained terror in their homeland, it is imperative that these regions begin a conversation about Muslim identity, true Islam, and its compatibility with the West.

I attended one such event on October 15 at St Alban’s Parish, a prestigious organ of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. As one of the most prominent symbols of Christianity in the US, it is unusual to associate DC’s architectural tribute to European Christianity with Islam. However, as I learned last week, the Cathedral’s leadership and parishioners have made it a priority to extend their hand to the Muslim community and enrich their understanding of Muslim identity in the West. They advanced this mission through screening Akbar S Ahmed’s most recent cinematic venture, Journey Into Europe. In the film, Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, and his team travel through Europe’s most historic regions, explore the intricacies of European identity, seeking to answer the question, “Is Islam compatible with the West?” The answer, as the documentary shows, is overwhelmingly, yes.

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