“Journey into Islam”
By Craig Considine
Washington, DC

On January 28th, 2007, the Hebrew Congregation of Washington, DC welcomed Professor Akbar Ahmed to participate in the Amram Scholar series to discuss his forthcoming book Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization. The morning’s event was attended by ambassadors, rabbi’s, priests, and other diplomats and distinguished guest to learn more about Islam in the 21st century.
Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Congregation welcomed Professor Ahmed and emphasized the necessity to build bridges to reconstruct a functional and peaceful relationship between members of the Abrahamic tradition.
Professor Ahmed stated that this event “was like coming to his own congregation” because of his many friends there. He said that a spiritual and pragmatic awakening was essential to heal the wounds between both Jews and Muslims. In his extraordinary journey throughout the Islamic world, Professor Ahmed met with many Muslims, including religious leaders and presidents, from all walks of life to discover how globalization has shaped the Islamic world.
Journey into Islam resulted from a study cosponsored by the Brooking Institute, the Pew Forum, and American University. Professor Ahmed and his team took a global approach in figuring out how globalization has impacted numerous Islamic societies around the world. He journeyed to nine countries that were comprised of Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and Syria.
This examination of Islam in the 21st century involved meeting President Musharraf of Pakistan, several Prime Ministers, Muslim students, Muslim religious leaders, along with other regular Muslims from around the world. Professor Ahmed and his team got a first-hand look at the views that Muslims are sharing surrounding ideas like the relationship with the West, globalization, contemporary role models, greatest problems within the Muslim world, and solutions to help end conflicts and to build bridges to ensure a safe and prosperous future. The study also examined ways in which it has changed the West and the growing importance for political, social and religious leaders to have dialogue to mend these exacerbated differences.
Professor Ahmed began this discussion by reflecting upon his own personal recollection of the events on 9/11. While teaching a class at the American University, the enormity of the morning sunk in on Professor Ahmed as he realized that what had transpired was a forbidden act within the Islamic faith. The result of the events of 9/11 made it ever more important for the world’s religions to better understand each other. As the events of 9/11 unfolded, Professor Ahmed realized that he was facing the greatest challenge of his illustrious career: to create understanding between Islam and the rest of the world.
On this vast research trip, Professor Ahmed saw anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism at the highest level that he had ever seen. In attending different mosques and madrassahs, Professor Ahmed and his team heard Muslims in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia blame non-Muslims for the occurrence of 9/11. On the contrary, Professor Ahmed believes that Islam was hijacked and that 9/11 was “an event by people who defaced Islam.” He pointed out that much of the world feels simultaneously under siege including the Muslim world — in Palestine, in Chechnya, in Iraq and Afghanistan. He concluded that Islam is a religion that is tolerant and compassionate by nature and is a religion that emphasizes the search for knowledge more so than it does with the use of violence. Professor Ahmed noted a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” Islam is a religion that emphasizes knowledge and justice, not violence and hatred of Jews and Christians.
Professor Ahmed returned from his journey with a fresh sense of hope. Through his unique experiences with citizens of various Muslim countries, he believed that the common ground for dialogue indeed exists. The importance of this dialogue, however, will play an ever growing role on the world stage. The Muslim population, as Professor Ahmed noted, “is not going anywhere – understanding is not a luxury.” Professor Ahmed told the crowd of Jewish practitioners at the Congregation that “each one of us must address and accept the invitation and challenge to heal the fractured world.”
A frequent statement issued by Professor Ahmed at the discussion was “if not now, when?” The building of relationships with Jews and Christians is a first step in healing the problems of the world. Building relationships, as Rabbi Lustig made note of, is the stepping stone for peace between members of the Abrahamic tradition. Both Professor Ahmed and Rabbi Lustig emphasized the necessity for Jews and Muslims to convey the message that there is hope to heal the wounds. Rabbi Lustig concluded the morning’s events by suggesting that all who attended the scholar series event should take with them the ideas of tolerance and compassion. He specifically asked the Jewish community that he represents to understand the necessity for dialogue and understanding to take place. He believes that it is the obligation of Jews, Muslims and Christians to reverse the negative relationship between some members of the Abrahamic tradition that lies in the minds of the people. Many scholars and practitioners alike have concluded that the clash of civilizations within the Abrahamic tradition is “one solely in our minds” as Professor Ahmed noted. The future is now and we can shape its course only if we work together. The clash of civilizations occurs only if we allow it to do so, Rabbi Lustig concluded.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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