It is a bit embarrassing to have respond to the paranoid (perhaps diagnostic) ramblings found in the Laura Rubenfeld’s article entitled “Caught in the Act? Akbar Ahmed, the ‘Islamization of Knowledge,’ and the Muslim Brotherhood”. Of course, this is not the first time that a blogger has attacked Akbar Ahmed (after all, he has committed the unforgivable sin of being born a Muslim) and probably will not be the last.
In this one especially, the arguments are so weak and the research so sophomoric, any impartial reader would be left shaking their heads in confusion. Alas, the “Pajamas Media” campaign against Islam is neither impartial nor factual, nor known for making logical arguments. In Rubenfeld’s previous attack of Ahmed’s work, post she casually dismisses facts in favor of propaganda (example: she quotes a satirical article by Benjamin Franklin as evidence that he does not like Islam and a forward to John Adams’ Quran as evidence that he himself hated the religion. More on that here).
It is unclear whether she actually believes what she is writing or whether she is just assuming the reader will accept her writing as fact. It is probably somewhere between the two. As a subordinate to a larger and well-funded campaign, Rubenfeld is a mercenary whose charter is to write negatively about Islam, truth be damned. The reader is expected to buy it, send it chain letter style to all of their contacts, donate, buy books and come back for more. Many so-called experts, including her predatory boss Steve Emerson, have made quite a career off of this charade.
But this, unfortunately, means we have to spend our time responding to this nonsense.
The first point, and the thrust of the entire article, is that Akbar Ahmed is concealing his work with a “global Islamist movement known as the Islamization of knowledge.” Her evidence is that an article that Ahmed wrote in the 1980’s which was originally published by IIIT is not found on his bio. She cites two bios from the American University website to prove this. We have various bios in the office of various lengths. Ahmed has spent the past 40 years working in the discipline and the full CV with everything listed is over 30 pages with all of his 25+ books, hundreds of articles, Forewords, book chapters, etc. listed. Most often, when asked, we provide a condensed version with a ”Selected Books” and “Selected Recent Articles” as in the CV that Rubenfeld cites. “Selected Recent Articles” means we choose only the most recent articles. The bio even leaves off some of his best known works including his dissertation which broke him in to the field in the first place. The other is a one paragraph brief bio. Surely I don’t have to explain what that means.
Rubenfeld goes on to state that Ahmed published a paper entitled “Toward Islamic Anthropology : Definition, Dogma and Directions”. The paper was part of a series by IIIT where they asked leading scholars in many disciplines to examine the concept of Islamic knowledge. The question was to be if there could be “Islamic” sciences, math, history, etc… in part an effort to attempt to rediscover the concept of knowledge in Islam. Not being a scholar of Islam, Rubenfeld is apparently unaware that Muslims were once at the forefront of world civilization in every field, and their achievements played a central role in establishing Western civilization as we know it, providing the foundations for the Renaissance. It is Ahmed’s thesis that Muslim societies must rediscover this value if they are to progress in the 21st century.
Had Rubenfeld actually read the article she bases her attack on Ahmed around (we’d be happy to send a copy), she would have realized that he came out against the “Islamization” of anthropology, concluding that knowledge is knowledge and there is either good anthropology or bad anthropology, and therefore no such thing as Islamic anthropology. To again reach new frontiers in the arts and sciences and change the world, Muslims did not have to see these subjects through the lens of Islam as some believed, but rather should see them as subjects in and of themselves.
Far from hiding this work as Rubenfeld suggests, Ahmed has been proud of the paper since it was published, In fact, the paper will be republished in an academic book entitled “Anthropology of Islam” by Routledge.
With strong innuendo, Rubenfeld suggests that Ahmed is forever linked with IIIT, who is linked by her to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, therefore Ahmed is guilty by association to the Muslim Brotherhood. Ahmed was asked, in 1980-81 while he was at Princeton, to write on the subject, given no royalties, only tasked with furthering knowledge. At that time, IIIT was not on any list of threatening organizations, nor did he or anyone else know of any link to the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, despite what you read from the mainstream press, the Muslim Brotherhood has denounced violence since the 1970’s, was not and is still not on U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list per the Department of State.
How ridiculous are these links? Here an example: Laura Rubenfeld speaks Russian and went to College in Russia where she surely interacted with someone who was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. She must be a Communist. These kind of ridiculous claims are comical but dangerous because people start to believe them.
Furthermore, throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Ahmed was a member of the Civil Service Pakistan and strictly forbidden to join any political parties. He never did and never has. Further, he spent much of that time writing a book, producing a documentary, feature film and comic book promoting Mohammed Ali Jinnnah, the founder of Pakistan who believed in Human Rights, Civil Rights, women’s rights and minority rights. Jinnah’s life and Professor Ahmed’s work have both been in direct opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups like it.
Rubenfeld also make the claim that Ahmed is on the boards of various institutions not to her liking. He is constantly asked to be on boards and lends his name to many boards and institutions but has neither attended any meetings nor interacting in any way with IIIT or any of the other institutions Rubenfeld mentions. Again, the full CV mentions all of the boards he is on.
We consulted both the Dean of the school and Ambassador Ahmed and colleagues and all said that it was beneath his dignity; however he wanted to offer a brief statement to set the record straight.
Here is Ambassador Ahmed’s response:
Some notorious bloggers who spread hatred against and fear of Muslims have recently raised questions about my work after the publication of my book Journey into America last summer. As the book was widely discussed in the media and I was even invited by John Stewart on the Daily Show, these bloggers seem to have gone into a frenzy. They did what they do best—spread smear and slander. They accused me of “lying” and “hiding” facts about my scholarship. Recently, they picked my small book—really an essay—on Islamic Anthropology, accusing me of “hiding” it. I was persuaded by Muslim scholars in 1980 when I was at Princeton to examine my discipline, Anthropology, in the frame of a global project called “The Islamization of Knowledge”. In my little book, I concluded that the quality of knowledge can only be based on scholarship, research and observation, not by attaching labels such as Islamic. I also emphasized, as I have throughout my writing, the importance of knowledge.
Far from hiding it—in spite of having to deal with the fate of about two dozen books—I noted with pride that it has been reprinted several times and even translated. It is mentioned in my full CV and references to it are given in two of my most popular books, Discovering Islam (see new edition 2002) and Postmodernism and Islam (see new edition 2004). I worked on it last year for yet another reprint to be published this year. The book is also widely available in bookstores and frequently checked out at the library here at American University.
As for the question of indirect support of the book by the Muslim Brotherhood through its publishers, I have no dealings whatsoever with the Brotherhood and have no idea what is on their website but if the book is being read by their members, I am confident they will benefit from the importance of knowledge in Islam—something which my blogger critics would also do if only they read it.
As a Muslim living in an atmosphere of poisonous hatred against Muslims, I expect to be attacked by this kind of Islamophobic nonsense, but to attack two world class scholars like Professors Lawrence Rosen and Tamara Sonn and accuse them of being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood is a disgrace, and these bloggers and their paymasters should feel ashamed about it.
These critics neither discourage nor intimidate me or the patriotic, brilliant young Americans who have been working with me. They do amuse us. However, we need to get on with our work spreading knowledge, light and compassion—clearly desperately needed in the dark quarters inhabited by these bloggers—and not be distracted by their fear and hate mongering.
Rubenfeld’s piece is a good example of what is currently occurring in the United States, where any Muslim can be targeted on the flimsiest of evidence and smeared as a terrorist. Rubenfeld’s dishonest game of guilt by association can be played with anyone about anything. Rubenfeld’s twisted logic is commonplace in our civil and media discourse. If someone who is reputed by obscure “counterterrorism” analysts to have some link with organizations they describe as terrorist speaks at a conference, anyone at that conference is also a terrorist. If an organization deemed terrorist features or links to writing by someone, than that person is a terrorist.
The end point of this line of thinking is dark and frightening. Its goal is to link Islam inherently with terrorism, and to smear any Muslim who commits the crime of practicing their religion. Rubenfeld’s goal is to make Americans terrified of Islam. For Rubenfeld, simply speaking the words “Islamization of knowledge”—a phrase Rubenfeld simply invents a meaning for—Is enough to get someone thrown in Guantanamo Bay.
All Americans who believe in the pluralist vision of America need to challenge this kind of dangerous and hateful thinking. The worth of an American should not be judged by their religion—or skin color or any other similarly meaningless criteria—but by the content of their character. The more Americans that do, the less influential people like Rubenfeld and her bosses will be.
We will not continue to waste our time with these responses, especially considering the fact that Rubenfeld fails to engage with any of the points that we refute.