First Muslim Speaker at AARP Convention

By Josh Hayden
American University

On Friday, October 15 at the Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas, Dr. Akbar Ahmed of American University made the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) history by becoming the first Muslim speaker ever to address an audience.

The AARP is one of the largest organizations in the world boasting of over 36 million members. The national convention witnessed a substantial attendance including 25,000 delegates and distinguished guests, First Lady Laura Bush and Democratic Presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry as well as actors Jerry Lewis and Cybill Shepherd.

Dr. Ahmed’s session on “An Introduction to Islam: What Everyone Needs to Know” generated great interest and elicited enthusiastic questions from the standing room only crowd. As a religion of approximately 1.3 billion Muslims, the AARP recognized the enormous need for education and understanding of Islam and invited Akbar Ahmed who, according to the BBC, is “probably the world’s best-known scholar on contemporary Islam.”

During his lecture, Dr. Akbar Ahmed posed three timely questions and then answered by providing a basic outline of comprehension. His three questions were: “Why should AARP delegates know about Islam?” “What is Islam?” and “How do we proceed?” Ahmed reiterated that there are over 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today and 57 Muslim states. The most wanted in America do claim to be Muslims, he said, but the most important international proponents against terrorism are also Muslims. Dr. Ahmed cited the statistic in a recent poll that claimed that eighty percent of Americans concede that they know very little about the Islamic faith.

The growing population of Muslims necessitates the crucial need for understanding Islam and establishing theright relationship between Americans and Muslims. To the second question, he scoffed at the activities of violent militant factions and stated that Islam is a religion committed to the idea of peace. Muslim intellectual mystics called “Sufis” are the commonly forgotten but distinctive element of this Abrahamic faith, he said. We can proceed by engaging in an open dialogue about our faiths and cultures as we begin to initiate friendships across these lines. We must read about and know each other in gaining a greater understanding and listening to each other, Dr. Ahmed concluded.

The lecture was followed by a lively question and answer session.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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