Prof Akbar Ahmed: An Antidote to Fanaticism
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Advances in communications were supposed to create deeper understanding amongst people - across nations, cultures and continents. Instead, it seems that the gaps are widening – creating deeper rifts, suspicions and misrepresentations of even slightly different views.
Learned people and those with some authority were generally expected to have a moderating influence to clear any air of confusion. Unfortunately, people like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have been leading the charge in inflaming passions in the needlessly heated debate over the idea of Islamic Cultural Center in New York.
Financial Times Columnist Clive Crook, rightly called out President Obama in his August 23, 2010, Op-Ed piece “A missed chance to quell the fanatics”. It is a worrisome picture. Perhaps, that is why “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?” is the lead story in New York Times, September 5, 2010 edition. I am sure that most US Muslims like myself not only feel welcome but consider ourselves to be an integral part of the beauty of America.
In these challenging times, Prof Akbar Ahmed’s reasoned voice has been a timely antidote to fanaticism, both here in the United States as well as overseas. It is simply marvelous that this academic is literally leaving no stones unturned. What is amazing is the energy and commitment this scholar has demonstrated. It might take a sophisticated computer program or a spreadsheet just to catch up with the schedule and the number of media events of Professor Ahmed.
One day he will passionately present the compassionate image of Islam on the popular Diane Rheem radio show. On another day, he will have a piece on CNN about why the idea of Qur’an Burning is destructive and reprehensible because the Holy Qur’an shows glowing respect to Jesus, Moses and all other prophets that came before. And, yet on another day he might be the champion of Jinnah – vigorously advocating the Quaid’s character and statesmanship – to a world that could be both unfamiliar and at the same time fatigued about hearing bad news from Pakistan.
Professor Akbar has been one of the pillars behind the annual “Unity Walk” – a response to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. On Sunday, I saw the enthusiasm of the people involved in this effort that has united many faiths and people. And, just yesterday – September 14, 2010, Professor Akbar was featured in “On Point” – a radio show hosted by Tom Ashbrook.
With the energy of a teenager – he can be seen all over town explaining both the beauties of the teachings of Islam or the true graces in Pakistani culture. He has demonstrated the courage by writing to the Iranian Supreme Leader asking for the release of American students - in response to a request by their parents. And, the list of his initiatives keeps growing longer and longer.
He might not be the only spokesman for Pakistan or Islam but he surely does it with ease and without using any invectives or innuendos. There is a certain grace in his presentation. It is a sheer joy to participate in the events in which Prof Ahmed is a speaker. From some of the mail sent by the readers of his books, it seems that his voice of reason is being well received. And, when a professor can make fun of the funny guys – like his August 5 th appearance on the Daily Show – it is a home run for US sports fans or shall we say a “sixer” for a cricket match that is not “fixed”?