A Transforming Force in the Life of American University
By Jonathan Hayden
Washington, DC


Dr. Akbar Ahmed addresses the gathering

President Cornelius Kerwin welcomed guests into the President’s house Wednesday evening for an elegant reception in honor of American University Professor and recipient of the 2006 Purpose Prize, Dr. Akbar Ahmed. American University faculty, ambassadors, religious leaders and others came to pay tribute to what President Kerwin called “a transforming force in the life of our University”. Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies.
Dean Louis Goodman opened the proceedings by introducing the assembly to the “inspiring” work of Ahmed, “a wonderful colleague and a wonderful friend”.

The Purpose Prize has been created by think tank Civic Ventures to honor seniors over the age of 60 who take on "society's biggest challenge”. The prize was shared By Dr Ahmed and Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl, for their Jewish-Muslim work on interfaith relations and their inspiring public dialogues. Pearl and Ahmed have appeared before multi-faith audiences in the United States and overseas in discussions on emotional and divisive issues. The response has been largely acclamatory. The professors were among the five recipients out of 1,200 nominees of the newly established Purpose Prize. Ahmed was the only Muslim among the recipients.
Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Washing Hebrew Congregation, the largest in the Washington metropolitan area, said that the award is “incredibly just and incredibly appropriate. What he and Judea Pearl have done is truly magnificent”. He added, “Their mere presence together gives a message that is so powerful even beyond the words that they so beautifully craft”. Lustig called Ahmed a “teacher and a friend”.


A section of the gathering

Among the speakers were Dr. Ahmed’s students who traveled with him on an extensive tour of the Muslim world as part of a project sponsored by American University, The Brookings Institution and The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Hailey Woldt and Frankie Martin spoke of their experiences beginning in Ahmed’s classroom. “He inspired each and every one of his students. It’s not just about dialogue and learning about different religions…it’s about action, it’s about doing something with this knowledge”, Woldt said.
Martin thanked Ahmed for including him in his work and inspiring him to continue building bridges between the West and the Muslim world, calling him “an inspiration not just in my academic life, but in my whole life”. Ahmed said of the students, “They represent public diplomacy in action and are the star students and the best ambassadors for the US.”
Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani of Pakistan spoke of his relationship with Ahmed dating back to when the two were in school together stating that “Akbar was head and shoulders above his class”. He commended Ahmed for “presenting Islam in its true light”, offering an alternative to those “who we called terrorists who have defamed Islam…We are proud of you.”
When Ahmed was asked to say a few words, he graciously thanked the speakers and those who have supported him and his work. “Celebrating an award is simply putting on record the number of people you have to thank”. “This is the cumulative work of so many people, not merely the work of one individual”, Ahmed added.


Ambassador Durrani makes his observations

American University’s School of International Service prides itself on providing a unique opportunity for scholars as we well as students to inspire and be inspired. The University is generous with its Professors and students in order that they engage in the extraordinary opportunities for service that Washington has to offer. Lustig addressed President Kerwin and Dean Goodman specifically while thanking the University for sharing Ahmed with the community.

The event was a beautiful intersection of Ahmed’s life - top level administrators, ambassadors, the University President, religious leaders, students, family and friends joining together to recognize the inspiration imparted on to each. People of different age, gender, nationality and religions permeated the evening with a sense of hope in these troubled times.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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