Found in Curiosity
By Alex Olson
American University
Washington , DC

 

“I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see the same alter and the same spirit.”

These were the last words that Ambassador Akbar Ahmed pronounced to an audience of intrigued international students on Wednesday, August 11 at John Hopkins University (SAIS). The quote was that of Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the most well-known poets within the United States. Rumi’s words have been repeated throughout the globe, covering an incredible range of contexts. Dr. Ahmed could not have picked a better occasion to give such a beautiful quote.

A continual effort to bridge the gap between the Muslim and Western worlds has been made by Dr. Ahmed and his team of young Americans. On Wednesday, I had my first experience as a member of such an important team. Just a semester ago, I had been a student of Professor Ahmed’s at American University. Now, I am standing alongside him, giving my own opinions and encouragements. The reason that I mention this is to emphasize the potentiality of joining such an honorable project. It begins with curiosity and intrigue. That is exactly what our team had witnessed at John Hopkins University.

Around one hundred young international students were gathered in a classroom to hear the words of Dr. Ahmed. These students arrived from a plethora of nations, including China, Germany, Turkey, and Canada, to name a few. The group participates in a two-week program titled Summer Symposium on US Foreign Policy hosted by the Osgood Center for International Studies. The students reside within the Washington area. These individuals have participated in a number of debates, discussions, and lectures. In addition, they have been visiting various embassies, including the Egyptian and Turkish Embassies. Clearly, the international students are receiving quite a tremendous experience. Dr. Ahmed helped contribute to the enriching experience.

As we entered the classroom, we were greeted by eager students and professors. I saw the passion that they had for learning, as well as for helping the deep wound of cultural misconception. We quickly became aware of the eleven represented nationalities that filled the room before us. The language barrier was not an issue. Instead, curiosity acted as the driving force to comprehension.

The main premise of the presentation was the message of Dr. Ahmed’s new book, Journey into America: the Challenge of Islam. To begin his discussion, Dr. Ahmed excused himself for delaying his visit to the university. He quite humorlessly apologized for the setback due to the fact that he was obliged to appear before national television on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The audience laughed, understanding the importance of Dr. Ahmed’s words, whether it be on national television or within a small classroom. Follow the initial lecture, each member of the team gave a small amount of insight to the class, thus creating a personal atmosphere. We then followed the presentation by giving answers to the students’ questions. I sat in amazement while I listened to such developed questions despite the students’ unnatural form of English. For me, this reemphasized my belief in the importance of intrigue and curiosity. It does not matter what language one speaks, nor does it matter from where they come. All that matters is the passion that one holds in order to help bridge the gap between two worlds filled with miscommunication. The questions that were asked highly exemplified that passion. And it was from the least expected crowd.

Dr. Ahmed’s parting words were written down by the majority of the class. Using Rumi’s quote of religious tolerance is one that all should write down. One that all should remember. That is what I was encouraged to do when I took Dr. Ahmed’s course. Now, I urge others to do the same. Maintain curiosity. Hold onto your passion. Enter the world of religious tolerance and peaceful comprehension. “I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see the same altar and the same spirit.”

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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