Akbar Ahmed : Has a Word for You



The Journey Through Islam, the Crisis of Globalization' by Prof. Akbar S Ahmed the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies of American University published by Brookings Institute of Washington D.C needs to be read both by scholars and political leaders. The book spreading over 323 pages divided into six chapters is a "product of journey through the Muslim World with a team of assistants dedicated to the complexities of Islam" for a period of six months. The author along with his assistant, Hadia Mubarak, and two of his American students, Hailey Wodt and Frankie Martin, traveled to South Asia where they were in India and Pakistan, but he has not made it to Kashmir which is confluence of various streams of Islamic culture and which has after the advent of Islam evolved its own tradition known as Reshi tradition that highlights humanism as taught by Prophet in its pristine form, the Middle East where they spent time in Jordan, Syria and Qatar; and South East Asia where they went to Indonesia and Malaysia. The author had access to heads of states and leaders of various Islamic thoughts, the people subscribing to Sufi way of life and other prominent people. The book as the author titled first chapter of the book is an 'anthropological excursion' it delves deep into the issues confronting the Muslims in the world. He has made an impassioned attempt at understanding the impact of globalization and 9/11 on Muslim minds around the world. The author has had the first hand experience of the day when twin towers symbolizing economic strength of USA crumbled. Recounting his experiences he writes, "As I tried to continue my discussions of Us-Muslim relations, little did I realize that most climatic moment of American history in twenty first century was taking place right outside our walls and a few hundred miles to the north. – Whatever had happened and whoever was responsible, Muslims everywhere would be tainted by tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The world would never be same again." The authors apprehension were not unfounded the world has not been same since that fateful day. The entire Muslim community is caught up in crisis that is deepening with every passing day. This book is treatise for understanding the social, political and psychological problem confronting Muslims all over the world. The author identifying causes of Muslim frustration writes, "Muslims were equally frustrated by a number of concerns: American impotence in resolving the Palestinian and Kashmir problem, the abandonment of Afghanistan after its population was decimated in fighting against Soviet Union, and stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, home of holiest sites." The author who is engaged in blunting the sharp edges of the Western Society against Muslims and building bridges between the two civilizations and removing the friction and misunderstanding amongst them in this book has looked atglobalization from a different perspective. His analysis is not focused only on economic dimensions but how Muslims perceive this phenomenon and its impact on their culture and faith. It is not the Muslim society that has been suspicious of globalization or it is only some Muslim scholars who have been suspecting it but as aptly stated by the author, "All religions and societies to problems culminating in the crisis of globalization in different ways, some even ignoring them." In this situation when Muslims all over are caught up in a dilemma and there is no concrete and concerted approach to the problems confronting Muslim society the author sees a role for Muslim leadership.It is not only in this book that the author is concerned about the role of the Muslim leadership but he has been engaged for several years in studying leadership models in Muslim society. In his writings he has been identifying the role that could be played by Muslim leaders for directing Ummah "towards a better future". While dwelling upon the West's own definitions of Islam he uses three Indian towns as metaphors for the world view. The tree non-descript that speak about volumes about poverty deprivation of Indian Muslims viz Ajmeer, Deoband and Aligarh have come handy to the author to apply to framework of analysis for categorizing Muslim opinion. Ajmeer model he uses for defining the Sufi thinking, Deoband for the orthodox model and and Aligarh model for modernist. The author very rightly writes that as Waterloo has come to mean more than geographical location to Europe, so these three names interpret different representation of Islam." One may not agree with this kind of compartmentalization of Islamic thought in that strict sense but he has use these metaphors with great craftsmanship for putting diverse Islamic movements in the world in a perspective. The author and his team conducted interviews with 120 persons at various places such as seminaries, mosques, madressahs, universities, hotels, cafes, mosques and private homes. One of the highlighted questions was for identifying the role models of young Muslims around the world. Notwithstanding some young men finding a role model in some of today's leaders, it has been Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that provides unity to the diverse Muslim community. He writes that Muslim all over the world, regardless of age, social class, gender or sect relate to him in a special way. They see an inspiration for their own lives.' The book has a very subtle message for leaders in Ajaz Ahmed Qasmi author of Jihad and terrorism as to how a changed interface can metamorphose thinking of young men and help them in treading on a path that could deliver the Muslims out of the present chaotic situation. In the start Akbar Ahmed gives an insight into thinking of Ajaz who conducts them to Deoband as a spokesperson of the organization and towards the end he analysis his e-mail that he received after few months. What has been gratifying to the author is that Ajaz was now clearly involved in his new commitment to build bridges and foster peace. The author is rightly remorseful that he could not take his team to Iran and Saudi Arabia which could have perhaps added some other dimensions to the study. The book is otherwise based on an in-depth study across the globe and has a very important message that there was need for developing greater understanding between the West and the Muslims. It is not possible to encompass the scholarship and dynamics of every word of this marvelously written book within a few hundred words of this column. Every page of the book cascades with scholarship. The book is so gripping that it keeps one glued to its pages despite strain in eyes. I would suggest not scholars but every leader of my land to go through this book.