Former Ambassador from Pakistan to the United Kingdom Akbar Ahmed discussed the growing gap between American culture and the Islamic world at an event organized by the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program last night in Tsai Auditorium.
Ahmed, who serves as an Islamic studies professor at American University, recently published “Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam,” which examines modern American perspectives on the religion.
In his introduction of Ambassador Ahmed, Associate Director of the Harvard Islamic Studies Program Ali S. Asani ’77 said that the author is “combating this clash of ignorance by educating people.”
In his lecture, Ahmed said that after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, he knew that “the gap which would open between Muslims and non-Muslims would not be easily closed.”
When Ahmed was asked what issues he thought faced young Muslims in modern society, he cited the “Four D’s: Drinking, Drugs, Dating, and Dancing” as issues that highlight the disconnect between traditional Muslim beliefs and American cultural norms.
Nonetheless, Ahmed said that “America is still the best place in the world to be a Muslim.” The nation’s religious freedom, he said, provides Muslims with the opportunity to succeed.
Commenting on his recent trip across the U.S. interviewing Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Ahmed said that it was not surprising to find that some Americans had never interacted with a Muslim before meeting him.
He also called on several of his research assistants to relay their own experiences interviewing Americans about the Islamic world. The assistants spoke of participants who mistakenly believed that non-Muslims are forbidden from entering mosques, and one who inquired if “Pakistanis loved their children.”
Ahmed said that he was disheartened in the course of his research to realize that many Americans were unaware of the close ties between the sacred texts of Christianity and Islam.
“What saddened me the most in this noise of ignorance was the overlooking of the deep bonds that exist between us,” he said.
Briahna J. Gray ’07, a Harvard Law School student in attendance, said she was impressed by Ahmed’s talk.
“He clearly did a lot of a extensive field work and I’d love to hear all of the stories that he has,” she said.
In an interview at the end of the lecture, Ahmed said that he is continuing his research and his next book will seek to answer 20 of the most pressing issues that Americans have regarding Islam.
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