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A Journey Through Hearts And Minds

08 March 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

In a time fraught with suspicions and uncertainties between faiths, some individuals continue to challenge the notion that the twains will never meet. One of them is Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a world-renowned anthropologist, Islamic scholar and a filmmaker. Dr. Ahmed, who is currently the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington, DC, has been credited by many with contributing to the forging of better communication protocols and improving relations between the Muslim and the Western worlds. He has been called ''a communicator and conduit between East and West''.

Two months ago, the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (ISSI) hosted the official Pakistan launch of ''Journey into Europe'' a film produced by Dr. Ahmed. It was screened in front of a capacity crowd featuring elite members of Pakistan's diplomatic corps and top Pakistani scholars.

In an unprecedented study, the film explores Islam in Europe and the emergence of Islam in European history and civilization. The film was shot across the European continent in Germany, the UK, France, Spain and Bosnia. In a grueling two-year project of fieldwork and research, the film deals with relations between the Muslim world and the West. It is ''a fascinating documentary covering relations between the Muslim world and Europe spanning many centuries, starting with the period of the Muslim presence in Andalusia and Sicily, tracing the Ottoman expansion into Europe, and understanding the more recent era of colonization and immigration.''

In the film, some of Europe's most prominent figures, including presidents and prime ministers, archbishops, chief rabbis, grand muftis, heads of right-wing parties, and everyday Europeans from a variety of backgrounds, are featured in a call to discover Islam's place in Europe and to push for greater peace in our world.

Dr. Ahmed's ''Journey into Europe'' has been described as a film about Europe. ''It is about how Europe should be more cohesive, more coherent and more integrative. His captivating and gripping odyssey takes us from Andalusia to Sicily to the Balkans to Britain to France to Germany to Denmark, all places jolted periodically by the tremors of simmering religious discord.''

The film has been making its rounds through Europe and more recently the United States of America. It will be showing at the end of the month at the film festival in Williamsburg, Virginia. It received praise from some of Europe's most prominent leaders. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said: ''It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this work''; while Dr. Haris Silajdzic, the former president and prime minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, added that ''Ambassador Akbar Ahmed's latest project on Muslims in Europe is yet another illustration of his vision by offering us understanding of, commitment to, and hope and compassion for humanity.'' Paul Smith, the US director of the British Council in Washington, wrote: ''The film is a compelling, gracious, thoughtful study and we're proud to be involved in it.'' The Rev. Dr. Carol Flett, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officer for the Episcopal diocese of Washington, DC, said: ''The film points out the need for religious leaders to speak up and teach compassion, and bring inter-religious education to children and adults of all faith traditions so that everyone recognizes the other as their neighbor and a child of God, created by the one and the same God.''

The film is not a rehash of history, but about ''pressing contemporary issues of multiculturalism in Europe, cross-fertilization of the Islamic and European civilizations, stereotyping, Islamophobia, terrorism and violent extremism. The message of the documentary is not despondence but hope. It explores how Christians, Muslims and Jews can live together and promote harmony and peace.''

This is precisely the message that must resonate loud and clear. Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other beliefs must join hands and promote peace. We cannot just nod our heads and not be proactive. We must within our sphere of influence try to eliminate sowing discord and suspicion against those whose beliefs may differ from ours.

The forces against a harmonious bond between people are many. It is in our interest not to let ourselves be overcome by hatred or rejection but by the message of love and acceptance. That is the underlying theme of the film.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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