Imagine these scenes: a newscaster portrays grim events of a policeman being hacked to death by a Muslim, who in turn is shot by police. Riots by nationalist groups fill streets with smoke and flames as if from an apocalyptic drama. A menacing man brandishes a machete toward a screen, with a voice over retelling the terrible threats he is making. These bleak and frightening images open the film, Journey into Europe, a documentary on Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history and civilization produced by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. Meanwhile, newspapers nearly every day flash with bombings and shootings which target Christian minorities in many Muslim majority countries. Whether in London or Lahore, Muslim-Christian tension all too often violently spills onto the streets of cities throughout the world. Many in both the West and the Muslim world would say that these horrific events show that Islamic and Western identities are incompatible, and that it is impossible for Christians and Muslims to coexist with peace and mutual respect.
However, in this world of sorrow and bloodshed, I have been privileged to witness the incredible friendship between Ahmed, a Muslim Pakistani who now calls America his home, and James Shera, a British Christian Pakistani. The affection and generosity of spirit which they have extended towards one another challenges this very narrative of hostility and hatred between the Muslim world and the West, Christians and Muslims.
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Minority faith communities are undergoing great stress in today’s America. Over the past several months, Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, and even a Jewish museum have been vandalized across the country, while Jewish community centers have received a litany of bomb threats. One rabbi in Seattle, whose synagogue of 16 years was graffitied with such slogans as, “Holocaust is fake history,” remarked, “in my time, there’s been nothing like this.” Meanwhile, a number of mosques across the country, from Colorado to Michigan, have been threatened, vandalized, and even torched. Mosques across the country are now even being advised to set up security cameras and hire security guards in response to this disturbing trend. In the same vein, an active-shooter training was recently held in a suburban Baltimore mosque in response to these incidents. Clearly we are barreling down a slippery slope that can only end in disaster if it is unchecked at the highest levels of our society.
Though while the picture may be bleak for minorities across the country, not all hope is lost for our nation’s diverse faiths. In the face of this tension, fear, and angst, an interfaith spirit persists in many corners of America. It was in this light that on Friday, March 24, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, was invited to address Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. as the synagogue’s first-ever Muslim speaker. Congregation B’nai Tzedek, a prominent Montgomery County Conservative synagogue, is led by founder Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who is also the current President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, “the central address of North American Jewry.”
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Please join the CAS Department of Anthropology as it welcomes Ambassador Akbar Ahmed (SIS) for this Social Justice Colloquium event, held at a special time and place, April 5, 530pm, in MGC 2. We hope to see you there!
Akbar Ahmed’s Journey into Europe
Film Screening & Discussion
Wednesday, April 5
Mary Graydon Center 2
Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the world-renowned Islamic scholar, anthropologist, and filmmaker, explores Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history and civilization in this unprecedented study. In the film, shot across the continent in countries such as Germany, the U.K., France, Spain, and Bosnia, we meet some of Europe’s most prominent figures, including presidents and prime ministers, grand muftis, archbishops, chief rabbis, heads of right-wing parties, recently-arrived migrants, and every-day Europeans from a variety of backgrounds.
“It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this work.” – Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
Ambassador Ahmed’s students, as part of their undergraduate fieldwork course, Researching Islam, ventured today to the Gandhi Memorial Center in Bethesda, MD, among other sites around Washington, to conduct fieldwork on Islam in America and how groups such as Hindu-Americans and Jewish-Americans perceive Islam. Ambassador Ahmed’s students were warmly received and hosted by Srimati Carrie, the Director of the Gandhi Memorial Center.
Today, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed met with Senator Chris Murphy in his Capitol Hill office. Joined by Arsalan Suleman, the former Special Envoy to the OIC under President Obama, and his Chief of Staff, Patrick Burnett, Ambassador Ahmed presented Sen. Murphy with a copy of his most recent book, The Thistle and the Drone, and a copy of the Journey into Europe film.
U.S. President Donald Trump has emphasized that a central focus of his administration will be to wipe the so-called Islamic State “from the face of the Earth.” Key presidential advisers like Steve Bannon have spoken of Islam as the enemy of the United States and the West. And now Trump has signed a second Muslim-focused travel ban involving six nations ― a list that could expand ― following his campaign pledge to ban all Muslims from the United States, at least temporarily. He desperately needs to reassess his mindset if he wants to be successful.
The president is aware, as he said in his address to Congress, of the need to work with “allies in the Muslim world” in order to genuinely combat the problem of global terrorism. Yet this will be impossible if Trump continues to antagonize the world’s Muslims, including American allies. Demonizing Islam and issuing bans on citizens from Muslim-majority countries are not only ineffective ways to fight terrorism, but they also alienate valuable partners who find such Islamophobic rhetoric and actions humiliating and counter to many of their cherished cultural and tribal codes of honor, dignity and hospitality.
Instead, Trump and his administration should pursue a different tactic ― one that looks to win the hearts and minds of the larger Muslim community. Only then will he have the diverse scope to take on the threat posed by ISIS and groups like it. To do this, President Trump should draw from a relevant portion of history some eight centuries ago ― the acquisition of Jerusalem by the legendary Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II at the height of the Crusades through peaceful and diplomatic means.
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In Episode 5 of Series 2 Todd talks to Islamic expert and former Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK, Professor Akbar Ahmed from the American University in Washington DC. They discuss the post 9/11 myths that have built up around Islam, the growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics and society and the implications for people’s religious freedoms and human rights.
To listen, please visit The Rights Track website here or download to your favorite podcatcher.