Journeying through minds and hearts


Akbar Ahmed’s documentary holds clue to peaceful existence of multiple faiths

In times when debates surrounding intolerance rages from India to the United States and heated debates over the status of refugees and Islamophobia in Europe continue unabated, the need for developing a cohesive narrative which promotes coexistence and tolerance is required. When presidential candidates such as Donald Trump mercilessly target immigrants and Muslims and the Middle East as a region continues to be torn apart by proxy warfare, sectarian violence and loss of human life, former Ambassador and Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University, Akbar Ahmed’s message of love and tolerance could prove to be the best way of moulding mindsets and promoting humanism.

Having met Professor Ahmed on my recent tour to the United States as a Visiting Fellow for the Stimson Centre, he briefed me on his latest documentary, ‘A Journey into Europe: The Spectre of Islam, Immigration and Empire’, which explored concepts such as Islam, immigration and identity. The documentary is based upon an ethnographic study and opens the viewers to the attitudes and perceptions about Muslims from their European counterparts as well as harks back into history where the 12th century king of Sicily as well as the role of rulers in the Ottoman Empire in Europe was featured. The in-depth analysis and vivid description of various shades which ranges from the youth being lured into the ideology of ISIS to how Muslim culture has had an impact on the lives of various Sicilians by Ambassador Ahmed provides a voice for peace mongers in turbulent times. While Muslims having a profound impact on the architecture, philosophy, music, culture and traditions of Europe is illuminated upon, the film provides one with the other reality of tensions taking place in places such as Andalusia after events such as the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Jews by the Spanish Christian regime which makes it a truly illustrative and captivating documentary.

According to former ambassador Ahmed, multiple faiths can coexist with one another through interfaith dialogue, promotion of harmony through a very simple message which is of love. Acting as a conduit between the East and the West, he makes one of the most appealing arguments to Muslims around the world which is to value education as well as disseminate knowledge to challenge the jihadists which wage violence against communities with the objective of dividing them on religious lines across Europe and sow the seeds of hatred. The importance of ‘humanistic’ tendencies in replacing the widely held divisions amongst societies helps in reigniting hope for those who wish to see interfaith and intercultural harmony between various communities.

This powerful message can resonate in a country such as Pakistan with almost 65% of the population consisting of the youth and where the role of religion in defining one’s affiliations and identities as a key role to play. Screening a documentary such as a ‘Journey into Europe’ which helps provide definitions of what constitutes tolerance and how the message of love could appeal to everyone regardless of religion, caste, creed or ethnicity can mould mindsets for the better. This holds true in a country which has rendered innumerable sacrifices in the war against terrorism and where conspiracy theories often thrive as justifications instead of elements of rationality. Through the Journey into Europe’s sound historical reflections and how it relates to current realities such as the refugee crisis, elements of rationality can certainly instill critical thinking for the collective good of everyone.