A Different Morning
By Alexandra Olson
American University
Washington , DC

 

For many Americans, Sunday morning begins with peaceful sermons at the neighborhood church. It is the beginning of the new week, and it is the moment to feel closer to the divine. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC, however, wakes up in a different manner.

After the traditional Episcopalian worship, a number of church members make their way to the neighboring chapel in order to participate in a designated forum. The church is not only open to the Christian religion, but also invites others to interfaith dialogue through weekly forums.

On Sunday, November 21, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, renowned scholar of Islam, spoke to the St. Alban’s weekly forum. Ahmed was the first Muslim to speak to the members of St. Alban’s Church . He was warmly received - intrigue and curiosity of Islam replaced the fear and mistrust t hat cloud s all discussions of Islam in the media.

Ahmed immediately attempted to reach a connection with the Christian audience with some humor. He began his speech with, “I have some idea of Jesus Christ” and continually emphasized the idea that “Jesus is the one who links Christianity and Islam”. Reaching this level of comprehension was important for the audience to appreciate the duration of the speech.

When an individual sits in the audience while Ahmed speaks, it instantly becomes a learning experience. With Ahmed’s profound background of being a professor in various well-known universities, the speech converts into a lecture like that of a classroom. Ahmed analyzes his audience and adjusts to the level of understanding in the room.

  • As a Professor, he encourages note taking and would be remiss not to leave the audience with some data . A quick list of “check points” in understanding Islam and why Americans must participate in dialogue with their Muslim neighbors:
  • Seven million Muslims reside within the United States. Islam is an American religion.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of American soldiers all over the Middle Eastern and Muslim countries.
  • United States politics have been progressively incorporating all faiths: there are currently two Muslim congressional representatives .
  • The Founding Fathers of the United States have always emphasized pluralism and religious freedom and have welcomed people from all faiths, including Muslims from the beginning.
  • It is truly impressive to witness how easily the audience changed from uncertainty to certain comprehension. This is further evident with the incorporation of the question and answer session. Voice of America, a news broadcasting company, had set up cameras as well as microphones so that audience members could ask Ahmed questions pertaining to the speech or simply individual curiosity . I t is clear that Ahmed does not want to simply present facts or theses. Instead, he encourages his audience in conversational style — a human discussion between members of different faiths.

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed leaves the audience by saying that “the debate of Islam is not only about the debate of Islam. It is a debate on American identity.” We must win the hearts and mind of the populations. Together, this is possible.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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