Journey Into Europe : Another Magnum Opus by Akbar Ahmad On Muslim Identity

I will join Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, authors of ‘Untold History of the United States in saying that ‘Ambassador Akbar S Ahmed is a treasure.’‘His insight, wisdom,and experience are desperately needed right now when so much US and European policy towards Muslim world is guided by fear, ignorance,and greed.’

Those, who have been reading him;  one of topmost  anthropologist of modern times will appreciate that for over many years he has been doing a commendable job, not only in removing cobwebs about Islam from the minds of people in the West and other parts of the world but also striving hard  to create harmony in the society. In a ‘dominant global discourse’ of ‘Islamophobia’ or to use the Scandinavian term “Muslimhat” literally meaning “hatred of Muslims,” the task undertaken by Professor Akbar  Ahmed of portraying Islam in its rights perspective before the global community is stupendous and highly challenging.

In the mid-nineties, a journalist friend Sajad Ansari then working for Iran news agency presented me a dubbed copy of video cassette of ‘Living Islam’ a series of documentaries telecast by BBC presented by Akbar S Ahmed. In fact, it was my first introduction to this Islamic scholar of international repute. The documentary provided a rare insight into the history of Islam. For a novice like me, it had provided a new vista for looking at the history of Islam and reading his works.

Akbar Salahuddin Ahmed popularly known to the world of academia as Akbar Ahmed is Professor of International Relations at the American University, Washington D.C and currently holds the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies in this University. The former High Commissioner of Pakistan in the United Kingdom is many things in one; poet, playwright, filmmaker, academia, author, and anthropologist. To a large number of people in the sub-continent, he is known for his epic film ‘Jinnah’ with  Christopher Lee in the lead role.That continues to be watched even many years after its making.

In the past, I wrote about three of his books in this column.  ‘Journey into Islam: the Crisis of Globalization’ published in 2007. This book was a total departure from many books written about the contemporary Islam in as much as it endeavored to bridge the West and the Islamic world. ‘Journey into America: The challenges of Islam’ published in 2010. Akbar and his team of dedicated researchers in this book give us a kaleidoscopic view of arrival in Islam in America- something that perhaps no other scholar had done before. ‘In America, the Muslim community’ he tells us, ‘represents the entire spectrum of the world, because it, too, is not defined through any one racial and ethnic group. But accustomed to categorizing people by race, Americans are befuddled by a great variety of Muslim ethnic background and skin color.’ ‘The Thistle and Drone:  How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam’ published in 2013, is the third book by Akbar Ahmad, I wrote about in this column. The book is a virgin study about tribal societies across the globe.  It sends a strong message of ‘how America is fighting a wrong war in Afghanistan with wrong methods against the wrong people.’ The book though briefly yet eloquently talks about the relations between Kashmir and tribes of Waziristan. “Pukhtuns felt a special affinity with Kashmir. When they heard of atrocities committed against the majority Muslim population by the Hindu ruler’s troops, emotion ran high. Groups from Waziristan travelled hundreds of miles with their own weapons to prevent the massacre”.  Even decades later tribal chiefs told the author of the book, “We have lost lives in our struggle to free our brethren in Kashmir.” The book also tells us how New Delhi  in 2002 had conjured story that ‘Bin Laden’ was hiding in Kashmir to link Kashmir resistance to global terrorism.’ In examining relations between America and the Muslim World, it isa path breaking research work based on tens ofcase studies conducted by him and his team.Besides, the important trilogy looking at the genesis of the Islamophobia and its impact on the Muslims across the globe, I had also written about his poetic collection ‘Suspended Somewhere Between’ published in 2011 by Busyboys and Poets Press.

journey into europe‘Journey into Europe,’ Islam, Immigration,and Identity’, is another magnum opus by Akbar Ahmed on the Muslim world published by Brookings Institution press, Washington D.C   that hit the book stand in the first quarter of 2018. The 573 pages of study divided into three parts, one, ‘European Dialect,’ two, ‘Islam in Europe’ and third, ‘Lessons from Europe.’ In fact, all three sections need to be talked and written about in detail in another column. The book, as observed by one of the most important contemporary intellectual Noam Chomsky, enriches ‘our understanding of Islam.’ ‘It is sure to be yet another influential contribution, one greatly needed in a world riven by conflicts and misunderstanding.’

The book starts with a poignant note in Athens, where the author is invited to join Friday prayers and address the congregation not in a mosque but in a ‘dark and dank parking garage of a particularly sinister aspect.’ ‘In a major European capital that has a population of several hundred thousand Muslims, there was not a single mosque.’ The Muslims and other immigrants were targets of neo-Nazi thugs. They blocked the entrances to similar makeshift mosques and firebombed them. They also pasted notices outside such mosques threatening to slaughter them like chickens. There was a terse message in this persecution that Muslims were not part of European identity, nor had they contributed anything to Western civilization. In short, Muslims had no right to be in Europe. The sordid scenario makes, the author to see Europe as a ticking time bomb. Akbar is disappointed to see that even in Europe as destitute refugees who had lost everything, Muslims were not learning lessons. They had brought their sectarian and ethnic rivalries with them.

The book, which is work of a devoted team of young scholars under the leadership of Akbar Ahmad isa unique blend of travelogue and research.In fact, it has been the methodology for his earlier works also, instead of sitting in closets and cubicles, the author and his team have travelled across Europe to meet Muslims in nook and cranny of every country. Besides, Muslims he meets, talks and interviews priests, politician, Rabbis, scholars and academics from other faiths, and gives a holistic picture of European societies and place of Muslims in these societies.

The book is one of the best scholarly works on the Muslim world, I have read in the recent past.It in fact needs to read by the Muslim leadership, across the globe.

Columnist and Writer





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