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.
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
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.
was followed by a lively question and answer