Washington Post Magazine article on Akbar Ahmed and Judea Pearl

From Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine:

Five years ago, American University professor Akbar Ahmed and UCLA professor Judea Pearl were traveling the country, “two grandfathers on a stage,” trying to promote understanding between Jews and Muslims.

Their dialogues, which were detailed by Paula Span in a 2004 Magazine story, earned them the 2006 Purpose Prize, a $100,000 award that recognizes social innovators older than 60. The two have since taken a break from the events, but the Daniel Pearl Foundation — named after the slain journalist, who was Judea Pearl’s son — would like to schedule more next year.

Ahmed realized that although getting Jews and Muslims talking in one room was a big step, more needed to be done to understand the Muslim experience in America.

“We assumed here in America that as long as we reach out to the Muslim world … all will be well,” Ahmed said. He thinks that American efforts need to go beyond forging connections to trying to fully understand Muslims here and abroad.

From September 2008 through this summer, he and a team of students explored Muslim culture across America, resulting in a newly released documentary, “Journey Into America.” A companion book is set to be published in 2010.

Read the rest here.

And a nice commentary from a student of Professor Ahmed’s, David Greenberg:

I really enjoyed this article. The friendship between Professor Akbar Ahmed and Professor Judea Pearl represents more than a shared commitment to understanding and tolerance.  Their bond is the partnership of two individuals who have known hardship and adversity in their personal lives but who have each maintained a path of integrity and compassion.

After Daniel Pearl was killed, his father’s despair and grief resonated in a world shocked by the appalling event. But instead of seeking revenge for Daniel’s murder, Judea Pearl sought purpose, guided by the vision of a world where such tragedy could be prevented. He was not stopped by traditional religious or cultural boundaries in spreading his message of peace. When language became a barrier, he reverted to the universal language: music.  Today, the Daniel Pearl World Music days are the largest interfaith symphony, which last October saw 1,558 concerts in 79 countries, four of which were in Pakistan, where Daniel Pearl was killed.

Meanwhile, Professor Ahmed’s life tells a similar tale of courage in the face of adversity. I was recently able to attend his dramatic production, “From Waziristan to Washington: A Muslim at the Crossroads.”  Professor Ahmed discussed his time in the Civil Service of Pakistan where he encountered an environment of corruption and dishonesty but never sacrificed his principles of integrity.   And despite an atmosphere of hostility towards academics, Professor Ahmed advocated ilm, knowledge, and its significance for the religion of Islam. He has maintained his own pursuit of knowledge and understanding through his scholarship and teaching.

Thus, the bond between Judea Pearl and Akbar Ahmed is a union of two men of different faiths guided by the same fundamental principles.  In their unique message to the world, they have as much to teach us by their examples as through their words.


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