Irshad Salim — Pakistani-American Professor Dr. Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University (AU), has been honored with an award by the American University School of International Service (SIS) at its End-of-Year Celebration held in Washington, DC on May 10.
The 2016-17 SIS Scholar/Teacher of the Year award to Ambassador Dr. Akbar Ahmed in US capital represents bright spots within the contours of the American society and reflects affirmative actions by its civil body, in particular — specially as Muslims continue to face attacks from all directions in today’s America.
Dubbed “Islamophobia”, the phenomenon makes Mr. Ahmed’s scholarly writings and lectures on Islam being a religion of peace both in the West and the East a must read; the urgent need for interfaith harmony, coexistence, tolerance for dissent, multiple competing narratives, etc. across the divide a challenging task which the Pakistani Muslim scholar of repute and esteem residing in the US. loves to face with his 500-watt magic smile contagious enough to make critics either agree or respectfully agree to disagree with promise to read more on the fastest growing religion in the world.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently released their annual report on Islamophobia in the US, finding a 57 percent increase in attacks on Muslims in 2016 from the prior year. The trend does not appear to be abating in 2017. Just last week, a video of a Muslim woman being harassed in line at a Northern Virginia Trader Joe’s went viral, showcasing how some now feel comfortable casually harassing Muslims over their faith in the middle of a grocery store, wrote Patrick Burnett.
Meanwhile, an Oregon man was just arrested after threatening to kill worshipers at a mosque, and a Muslim family on a beach in Texas was recently subjected to an Islamophobic tirade by a self-proclaimed Trump supporter. To say it is a challenging time for Muslims in America would be an understatement, Burnett mentioned in his article.
In such a toxic environment, Burnett notes, Mr. Ahmed’s recognition of service toward interfaith harmony within the American communities and by extension worldwide, is a welcome sign.
As a leading faculty member of SIS, one of the top ten schools of international affairs in the US, Mr. Ahmed received this award in recognition of his “innovative and important scholarship as well as [his] dedicated, rigorous, and inspiring mentoring of our students and [his] service to our community.”
Joined by several members of his family, including his wife, Zeenat, his two sons, Babar and Umar, his daughter-in-law Melody, and two of his grandsons, Alexander and Gabriel, along with two key members of his research team, Frankie Martin and myself, for the ceremony, Ahmed received this prestigious award before a full house and a standing ovation of SIS staff and faculty, Burnett wrote.
The BBC named Mr. Ahmed “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam”. His quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the Muslim world, and his forthcoming book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Press) are significant studies well-kept by most contemporary scholars in their libraries.
The first book of the quartet, Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (Brookings Press, 2007) is a must read if one wishes to understand so-called “clash of civilization” and Islamic renaissance.
Ahmed’s credentials, resume, global exposure, reinforce his writings and observations.
He has served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, Iqbal Chair at the University of Cambridge, and Commissioner in the Pakistani regions of Baluchistan and Waziristan, and first arrived at AU in Fall 2001.
Initially thinking his tenure at AU would be fairly routine, Ahmed was in the midst of teaching his second-ever class at AU when that fateful plane flew into the Pentagon, just a few miles down the road, on 9/11. It was then that he knew that the rest of his life and career would need to be dedicated to bridging the divide between the West and the Muslim world, as it had just ruptured wide open. Over the past sixteen years, Ahmed has written a number of books, including his quartet of studies exploring relations between the West and the Muslim world, three plays, and a collection of poetry, as well as countless articles, Burnett commented.
To understand Ahmed’s position today, Burnett points out, one must understand that he only came to the US in 2000, at which point he suddenly had to navigate a complex cultural environment and integrate his own cultural background as a Pakistani Muslim who has also worked extensively in the UK with the norms and expectations of American culture. “Yet, because of current affairs in the US, Ahmed never had the privilege of simply becoming a neutral observer of American society. As a Muslim scholar, he has come to the US right as much of the public discourse is about Islam and is swirling with misconceptions about the faith. He has come to the US in a time when Muslims are constantly on the defensive about their faith and culture. He has come in a time when Muslims will actually deny their religiosity and claim to not practice Islam just to protect themselves in the public eye. Despite these challenges, Ahmed never sought to hide his faith or culture, but rather to use his unique perspective and his Islamic faith as the basis for building bridges. He has worked hard to bring people together and foster understanding across faith and cultural boundaries in the US and abroad, seeking to foster peace on a global scale while also teaching his fellow Americans about his faith and culture.”
Dr. Ahmed has also produced two films, regularly appeared in media outlets spanning the globe, and delivered countless lectures to churches, mosques, synagogues, universities, government agencies, political bodies, and more around the world.
Burnett, who was a student of Ahmed prior to becoming his Chief of Staff, wrote, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” “I am proud to say that I have been inspired by Ahmed. This great teacher has inspired me to aim high in life and look past the challenges of today in working to help create a more peaceful and prosperous world tomorrow. He has helped me uncover my hidden strengths and has inspired my ideas and actions through example.”