Pressing Need for Interfaith Dialogue
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui

 

Tustin, CA: Dr Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, who has been described as “probably the world’s best known scholar on contemporary Islam” by the BBC, furnished convincing proof of his erudition on October 23 when he gave a scintillating talk at the spacious Tustin residence of Javeeda and Hamid Malik, President COPAA. Prominent community members listened in hushed silence the learned professor’s insightful and illuminating observations on post-9/11 United States and challenges of contemporary times. Among the guests was Mr. Javed Jabbar, who has served as a Federal Minister in Pakistan with singular distinction.


L to R :Akbar Ahmad,Javed Jabbar and Hamid Malik

During the course of his talk, Dr Ahmed made a spirited exhortation to the gathering to initiate a dialogue with members of other communities and faiths in the United States. It was a pressing necessity to dispel misperceptions about Islam and to counter the theory of ‘clash of civilizations propounded by Professor Samuel Huntington which has already served to mislead various strata of American and European society.

“Eighty percent Americans don’t know much about Islam. Muslims are mistaken for ‘idol worshippers’ and ‘Satan worshippers’,” Professor Ahmed informed. There is ignorance and hostility about Islam in America and ignorance and hostility about America in the Muslim world. The misperceptions that divide the two worlds warrant an urgent dialogue to avoid a clash of civilizations, Dr Ahmed explained.

He mentioned the oft-quoted introductory lines from Dicken’s classic ‘A Tale of Two Cities:’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to describe the plight of Muslims today. They face the ‘worst of times’ because of the tragic fallout of the 9/11 tragedy and could well experience the ‘best of times’ if they rose to the occasion and ook advantage of the interest in Islam generated among mainstream Americans following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in September 2001. “Your role today is crucial. Americans are watching you with puzzlement, you have to reach out and explain to them what you are.” The need for a dialogue is paramount today.


Rahim Sabadia and Safi Qureshey

He mentioned his own efforts in this regard. He had several rounds of well-meaning discussions with eminent Rabbis and Reverends in different forums of the US and Europe to convince them and the attendees present in the interfaith meetings that Islam, Christianity and Judaism have a lot in common. That the three Abrahamic religions are on a coalition rather than a collision course. Thanks to Professor Akbar Ahmed’s sustained strivings, Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK, recently wrote to him: “First of all - my most sincere thanks for your wonderful contribution to the television program: it made a huge impact here, and your words brought healing to a very troubled world.

“Second- thanks also for your many communications: do forgive me for being so slow in replying, but these are busiest times of the Jewish year.

“But third and most important: thank you for the wisdom and generosity of spirit you are constantly showing through your spoken and written words. I cannot tell you how important your voice is right now. These are fateful times - and in you classic Islam has a spokesman and role model of supreme grace and dignity. May God/Allah be with you in all you do - and I thank you from the depth of my heart…” To be called a spokesman of “classic Islam” by the Chief Rabbi of the UK is indeed a well-deserved accolade, one e that Dr Akbar Ahmed richly deserves for his earnest and sustained strivings to promote his dialogue of civilizations for better interfaith harmony.


Two groups of the audience at Dr.Akbar Ahmed ’s lecture

He cited the shining example of Muslim saints who had engaged in dialogue with adherents of other faiths and reminded the audience of the tolerance shown by Muslim rulers during their 1000-year rule in India. They had set the traditions for tolerance and dialogue and could pride on the genius of Ghalib and the architectural beauty of the Taj Mahal.

He profusely thanked COPAA President Hamid Malik “who has been with me through thick and thin.”

In his brief remarks on the occasion, Mr Javed Jabbar lauded COPAA’s role in “nourishing Pakistanis.” He also paid glowing tributes to Dr Akbar Ahmed and described him as a distinguished “civil servant who was not checked by the fetters of civil service” in his professional and academic pursuits. “Today there is a great need to articulate the essence of Islam and we need people like Dr Akbar,” he said.

In his remarks, Mr. Hamid Malik accorded a hearty welcome to Dr Ahmed and the guests. “If I were to cover all the contributions of our distinguished guest tonight, it will become an ‘Evening with Hamid Malik’ and I will still not get done. So, I will be very brief, as Dr. Ahmed needs no introduction…” He went on to delineate the distinguished career of Prof Ahmed. “My special thanks are for Javeeda and my children who have worked very hard to make this evening possible for us. And for those who still believe in fairy tales, I did all the cooking tonight,” he claimed on a lighter note.

 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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