“America’s Youth are Best Ambassadors in Engaging with Muslim World”
By Craig Considine
Washington, DC

 


Frankie Martin meets with Muslim students in Deoband

This year’s DC Daughters and Sons Event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC invited Ambassador Akbar Ahmed and his team of young Americans to discuss his recent journey to the Muslim world along with his new book Journey Into Islam. The evening was attended by some of Washington’s most prominent figures from the most important institutions, including representatives from the US Department of State, the Department of Commerce, the Aspen Institute, the World Bank, and Georgetown University along with representatives from Harvard and Princeton Universities.
The event can best be summarized as an in-depth analysis of Islam in the age of Globalization through the experiences of the team’s anthropological journey into the Muslim world. The young Americans that followed Ahmed contributed significantly in building potential bridges for America’s youth and Muslims around the world. The key to a peaceful and tolerant future between the West and Islam lies in the hands of our children, for it is our children who will inherit the problems that have arisen today.
Journey Into Islam is a book published by the Brookings Institution Press, based on a research project sponsored by The Brookings Institution, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and the American University. The project’s goal was to travel throughout the Muslim world, interviewing people from all walks of life and listening to their views on culture, religion, attitudes about the West and globalization. On the journey, the team found that the American media is a destructive force with their focus on Muslim extremists as the individuals representing Islam. This biased stereotype has greatly tarnished the image of Islam in America and has also greatly frustrated Muslims around the world. The Muslims that they encountered felt that the American media has focused their reports and coverage on terrorism and extremism and have never tried to shed light on the beauty and true essence of Islam.
Ambassador Ahmed believes that the greatest challenge arising from the journey into nine Muslim countries is the necessity to build bridges and to seek understanding. The time is riper now than ever before for Americans to engage in understanding Islamic culture. The experiences of the Ambassador’s young team of Americans encouraged the American youth in the audience to take action and build bridges with their Muslim contemporaries and to also have a sense of hope. Young Americans must use their innate ability to use freedom of speech and press to branch out and make their voice heard to the Muslim world so that Muslims can understand that we are their friend, not their enemy. In essence, the youth are the greatest ambassadors in the relationship between America and the Islamic world and vice versa.
Today more so than ever, America is joined at the hip with the Islamic world. The global war on terror is an ever growing concern for the future of America, along with the fact that one-fourth of the planet will be Muslim by the middle of this century. The American youth cannot afford to be ignorant of Islam. Trends like calling Muslim “Satan worshipers” must end today because lies only lead to confusion and hostility. As the Ambassador pointed out, Jesus is mentioned more in the Qur’an than the Prophet Muhammad is. Facts like these must be the norm, not the exception for young Americans and the American media when portraying and coming to better understand Islam.
What Ambassador Ahmed and his team found on the journey was that the likes of Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah are gaining popularity and interest around the Muslim world. Individuals like Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and a great contributor to democracy worldwide, are not in the minds of Muslims when dealing with the question of “who speaks for Islam?” Bin Laden and Hizzbollah were not the most popular role models in any particular place, but they are rising on the radar screen, especially among the youth. The rage of bin Laden and Hezbollah towards America should not be responded with American violence and anger. Tranquility is perhaps the greatest counter-move towards anger and violence. This idea was profound and is something that all of the young Americans went home with to hopefully share with their peers.
Alongside Ahmed through this journey was his team of young Americans. Among them were Jonathan Hayden – the project coordinator, Hadia Mubarak – Data Researcher, and Hailey Woldt and Frankie Martin – both research assistants. Ms. Woldt in particular saw extreme cultural differences but at the same point in time found much respect for America. This is a bright sign of hope for the American youth and an unlikely fact that many Americans may not believe. On the other hand, Mr. Martin distinctly noted that the one desire that Muslims around the world seek is justice. Many of the Muslims that he came into contact with felt confused, dishonored and humiliated. In regards to justice, Muslims are confused as to how to go about gaining justice within the Muslim world and from America. In turn, confusion has reduced Muslims to using means such as violence and terrorism. Violence, as some Muslims see it, is the only way to catch the attention of the Americans as to the great injustices of the world. Perhaps most importantly, the journey showed Mr. Martin that the desire for understanding within the Muslim world is vibrant and it is the role of people like the American youth to spark the dialogue.
One of the most important contributors to the project was coordinator Mr. Hayden. One of the most influential aspects of the event was his statement surrounding his two distinct realizations. The first was the clear disconnect between American and Islamic culture and the failure of understanding one another. The second, and more important, was the great sense of hope that Mr. Hayden felt at the end of the journey. This was an enlightening and extremely optimistic comment to the audience, in particular the young Americans. At the conclusion of the journey, the team believed that the solution to these discrepancies is dialogue and understanding to help rid the Muslim world of their worry that Islam is under attack by the Americans.
In concluding the discussion, Ambassador Ahmed noted that the world today is in a difficult scenario because of the so-called “clash of civilizations.” The controversy is not recognizing the problems that Muslims and Americans face because most of them are evident – the media, extremism, the war on terror, prisoner scandals. The controversy is the challenge that is currently facing all of us, mainly the American youth. This challenge is how do we find the solutions to these problems and how do we go forth and build a peaceful and coexistent future between the West and the Islamic world. In examining the Islamic civilization by going out in the field, America can rid itself of stereotypes and base its policy and attitudes on real world feelings from Muslims worldwide.
The essence of the evening was that the real hope for a peaceful future between the West and Islam is to teach our children and youth now that Islam is not inherently violent and extreme. We must teach the youth in both civilizations that understanding and learning about one another is the most crucial initiative in strengthening humanity as a whole. As Ambassador Ahmed noted, the West and Islam are tied to the hip, so the only way to make sure the bond is strengthened rather than broken is to engage the youth in dialogue, for it is they who will inherit the problems of today.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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