Journey into America a Hit at the World Parliament of Religions
By Melody Fox Ahmed
Director of Programs and Operations
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
Washington , DC
Dr Akbar Ahmed with his ‘Journey into America’ team
Ambassador Akbar Ahmed's documentary "Journey into America" was recently screened at the World Parliament of Religions, the "Olympics of interfaith dialogue" begun in Chicago in 1893 and now held every 4-5 years. There are thousands of people here from around the globe and an incredibly diverse array of beliefs and cultures. The schedule of events is truly overwhelming - the program book is hundreds of pages long - and it is a challenge to get to every session you want to see, with so many interesting programs and speakers scheduled.
Ambassador Ahmed unfortunately wasn't able to make it to Melbourne, and the organization of the Parliament was chaotic, so I was a bit worried that with no promotion no one would know about the film to show up for it. Sure enough my fears were confirmed when I arrived at the room designated in the program to find some other session showing on the room display. I quickly ran to the information desk and got someone to help me sort it out - ten minutes before the film was scheduled to start we had the correct name on the display, and the DVD was ready to go.
There were only a few people in the room, but I introduced the film and talked about the project and its predecessor, Journey into Islam. Happily, people soon began streaming in. Within a few minutes the room was nearly full, with a diverse crowd - happily, there were a lot of young people there, something I found missing in other Parliament sessions. The film started and the crowd was totally engaged throughout - laughing at the funny parts, gasping at the stories of discrimination, smiling at the antics of the team, moved and thoughtful. Although we were supposed to leave the room at 11, the film had about 15 more minutes to go, and I invited people to stay if they were able. Nearly the whole room stayed until the end, and clapped enthusiastically at the end.
After the film many people came up to me to say how much they'd enjoyed it (I'm sitting in a cafe now and a young Australian girl just came by to say thank you for showing it and that she was really moved by it). An American here told me it made her homesick.
Some special guests who I met after the film were Prof. Fred Woods, Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University and his colleague Prof. Daniel Peterson, Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU. Prof. Woods met Ambassador Ahmed and team when they were in Utah, and was delighted he'd been able to see the film - he had not been able to make it to the DC screening and we joked that he had to come all the way to Australia to see it! They both appreciated the portrayal of Mormons in the film and do work to promote religious understanding about Mormons - and Muslims - in the US. A not so obvious link to most, and one of the really interesting parts of the film. Prof. Douglas Pratt of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Waikato in New Zealand also was excited to see the film - he knows Ambassador Ahmed through his BBC series, which he uses for his courses - and will be in DC soon, where he hopes to meet the Journey into America team.
Directly following the film, another film started, fittingly on Islam and Muslims in Australia.
Dr. Ahmed's film is a creative, insightful, engaging, and wise addition to the much needed global discourse on Muslims and Islam that is the hot topic here at the Parliament and around the globe. It was great to see the film brought across the world to start dialogue with a new group of people dedicated to promoting peace and understanding, in this lovely site overlooking the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia.