A Transforming Force in
the Life of American University
By Jonathan Hayden
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”.
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”,
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.
Durrani makes his observations
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.