The 2021 Ibn Rushd Lecture was given by the anthropologist and diplomat Akbar Ahmed, with the title ‘Waziristan to Washington: Nurturing understanding between East and West’. Professor Ahmed drew on his rich and diverse career in both academia and public service – from Pakistani High Commissioner in London to Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC – to present his perspectives on what American and the Muslim world need to understand about each other.
Professor Ahmed focused on three aspects of Islam which he wished more Americans knew about: that the religion’s highest value is ihsan – making things beautiful; the huge cultural and religious diversity of the Muslim world; and Islam’s emphasis on knowledge, which not only resulted in a rich intellectual legacy from the Middle Ages but also carries potential for future development. He also emphasised three aspects of America which he hoped more in the Muslim world would appreciate: the role of the country’s founding documents in establishing freedom of expression and freedom of worship; the socio-economic and intellectual diversity across different parts of the USA; and the many success stories of immigrants and members of minority groups.
Recounting anecdotes from his time as a civil servant on the North West Frontier and his efforts to build bridges across faith communities in post-9/11 America, as well as quoting from the Qur’an and the US Constitution, Professor Ahmed’s talk provided unique insights which engaged all in attendance. In addition to pupils, teachers and parents, we were also joined by guests from as far afield as Florida, New York, Tunis and Islamabad.
The lecture’s conclusion emphasised the need for different communities and civilisations to focus on their shared values, an idea re-emphasised during the question and answer session. Questions came from pupils and external guests, and their diversity was testament to the powerful inclusivity of Professor Ahmed’s message.