Akbar Ahmed’s book on Islam and globalisation launched
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: A meeting held here on Wednesday was told that Muslims everywhere in the world are convinced that Islam is under attack by and in the West.
The event marked the launch of Dr Akbar Ahmed’s new book - Journey into Islam: the challenge of globalisation - at the Brookings Institution, the book’s publishers. The book is based on a journey that the Pakistan-born American university professor of Islamic studies made along with two of his American students to Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Qatar, Syria and Turkey to study how Islam is practised in different Muslim countries and what the Muslims think about themselves and the world. The meeting was addressed by the author, Stephen Cohen of Brookings, Moroccan Ambassador to the US Aziz Mekakouar and Congressman Ellison, the only Muslim member of the House of Representatives.
Ahmed described his and his students’ experiences during their journey through eight Muslim countries and how they had met and interacted with Muslims of all persuasions, from those who followed the Deobandi interpretation of Islamic teachings to others who were less austere and viewed life and religion from a wider perspective. He said everywhere they went, they came across the belief that there is open season on Islam in the West. He spoke about the frustrations of the Muslim world and the widespread feeling that Muslims are the victims of injustice. He referred to the unresolved and nagging problems of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and Kosovo. He urged people in the West to understand that Muslims of the world should not be viewed as if they are all jihadis sworn to wage war against the Western civilisation.
Cohen said there is a clash of ideas within Islam today. He also asked Americans to become more sensitive to cultures that are different from theirs. He said “kinetic” solutions that the US appears to prefer do not work. He said there is need for America to reach out to the Muslim world on the cultural and educational plane. It is the young who should be talked to, he added, “if you want to know about the future”. He regretted that US libraries and cultural centres have been closed down in many countries of the world, including Pakistan. He suggested that they should be reopened.
The Moroccan ambassador agreed with the author that there is a feeling in the Muslim world that Islam is under siege and the West “does not wish us well”. What needs to be realised, he added, is that because of the march of globalisation, “we are all in the same boat”. He said there is no need to build bridges because bridges exist already. “We only have to cross them,” he added. Congressman Ellison told the meeting that America needed to show the Muslim world “cultural humility” but its current approach suggests otherwise. Muslims who live in America, he noted, know that it is a country where they can practice their religion freely. “No man holding a rosary is going to attack a woman because her ankles are bare,” he added. The US, therefore, has something to teach to the rest of the world, given the fact, that there are certain official restrictions on wearing of the hijab in country like France. He dismissed the term “moderate Muslim”, emphasising that “Islam is a religion of moderation and balance”. He regretted that the wicked deeds of a few misguided Muslims were being confused with Islam. The stereotyping of Muslims has to cease, he stressed.