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Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization Hardcover – May 7, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In response to the events of September 11, 2001, Ahmed, Islamic studies professor at American University in Washington, D.C., set out last year to visit Muslim nations in the Middle East, South Asia and Far East Asia. Accompanied the entire way by two non-Islamic American students and occasionally by others—including one American student who was Islamic—the Pakistani-born professor hoped to improve his understanding of the contemporary Muslim realm in all its diversity. Not so incidentally, Ahmed also wanted to shatter the stereotype of the U.S. as a warmongering, Islam-hating nation. The result is a fascinating account of how he and his students braved danger to build mutual understanding in Pakistan, India, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia and Indonesia. As academics, they administered detailed questionnaires to Muslims in each nation, while as social creatures, they sat through seminars, luncheons, dinners and casual conversations looking for a candid exchange of ideas about religious, political and cultural differences. Occasionally Ahmed lapses into academese, loses his humility or generalizes beyond what the evidence seems to support. But mostly he comes across as an honorable man who believes that the future of the human race depends on international dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. (June)
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"Akbar Ahmed's voice needs to be heard, and his courage strengthened." Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Laureate
"In Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization [Ahmed] invites us to listen to the many voices of Muslims today as they face a confusing and often threatening world. It is essential reading, wise, literate, insightful, optimistic, honest and humane, the work of one of the great religious sages of our time." Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth
"A fascinating personal account of his travels last year into the heart of Islam, spanning the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. Through in-depth discussions with high-level officials and religious figures as well as ordinary people, Ahmed offers a nuanced picture of a complex world that alternatively fears and misunderstands America." Juliana Geran Pilon, World Politics Review, 5/31/2007
"Akbar Ahmed's Journey into Islam is, no doubt, a labour of love. Akbar has made a sterling contribution to the inescapable need for a rational, cool and un-phlegmatic dialogue between the denizens of the Islamic world and their western detractors. His is a voice of reason and rationality." Karamatullah K. Ghori, DAWN Books & Authors, 5/13/2007
"A deeply moral work, informed by profound commitment to universal values of knowledge, justice, and compassion, all of which work to confirm Ahmed's position as preeminent Muslim public intellectual. Ultimately, a generous and empowering work which allows the kind of understanding that is transformative, Journey into Islam is as an extraordinary venture for its readers as it was for the students involved in its making." Tamara Sonn, College of William & Mary, Emel Magazine
" Journey into Islam is not only a treasure chest of information for the specialist and non-specialist alike: it is also a how-to manual on fostering peace and mutual respect...a penetrating analysis of relations between America and the Islamic world." Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service, 6/19/2007
"A deep and penetrating look at the Islamic world through the prism of history, both current and remote." S. Amjad Hussain, Toledo Blade, 7/8/2007
" Journey into Islam is not only a treasure chest of information for the specialist and non-specialist alike: it is also a how-to manual on fostering peace and mutual respect. The book stands in a category by itself. It is refreshingly devoid of specialist terminology, eloquently written, and should be essential reading for anyone interested in making the world a better place." Khaleel Mohammed, The Star, 6/30/2007
"An insightful book." Ziauddin Sardar, The Independent, 6/1/2007
"Washington policy-makers and journalists should read this book." Tony Blankley, Washington Times, 6/20/2007
"Professor Akbar Ahmed has written a book of extraordinary insight. There are few people in the world with such an intimate understanding of America, Europe and Islam. Equally there are few who have the experience and knowledge to interpret the one to the other. This is a book which exposes the full seriousness of current tensions but one which is full of hope because it not only deepens understanding but charts a better way. I am delighted that he will be in the United Kingdom sharing his wisdom. Politicians, Faith, and Community Leaders will benefit greatly from his perceptive analysis and his constructive proposals." Lord Bishop James Jones, 5/1/2007
"I started reading Dr. Akbar Ahmed's new book Journey into Islam yesterday and have not been able to put it down! The book is so eloquently written and beautifully explained...it brought tears to my eyes." Blair Mersinger, Pakistan Link, 6/5/2007
" Journey into Islam is an incredible book with an incredible experiment that you under[took] with a group of students you [took] around the world." Leon Harris, Capital Sunday, 6/1/2007
"Pull[s] together history, politics, religious scholarship and personal narrative into a coherent framework which can counter the force of inevitability with the power of possibility." Eboo Patel, On Faith, blog from Washington Post & Newsweek, 6/4/2007
"Akbar Ahmed takes us on a passionate and ambitious journey towards understanding the contemporary Muslim world." Tasleem Shakur, Times Higher Education Supplement, 9/21/2007
"This book is a break-through in our understanding of the complex relationship between globalization and Islam... an essential resource for anyone interested in some of the key questions of our time, concerning not just the role of Islam in world society, but differing concepts of religiosity." Lord Anthony Giddens, House of Lords and former director, London School of Economics
"A fascinating account of how he and his students braved danger to build mutual understanding in Pakistan, India, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia and Indonesia." Publishers Weekly, 2/12/2007
"the most important book published this year on the topic of avoiding a clash of civilizations....This is an important book about the possibility of building bridges and the hope that change is possible with dialogue and mutual understanding....This book should be in the library of every mosque in the U.S. and a dialogue topic in every interfaith dialogue group. It should also be read and carefully and acted upon by politicians and diplomats." Sheila Musaji, The American Muslim, 6/28/2007
"When I finished Akbar Ahmed's Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, I wanted to shout from the San Juan mountaintops that everyone has to read this book. I can't remember when I learned so much about a topic that I thought, mistakenly, I already knew about." Barbara Meade, 8/10/2007
"This book is an indispensable source for those who want to learn about new trends impacting the Muslim world." The Financial Express, 10/28/2007
"Imbued with extraordinary wisdom and compassion." Biblio: A Review of Books (India), 9/1/2007
" Journey into Islam offers a role each one of us can personally play to catalyze peace, understanding and hope in the world. Listen to his voice today. Read this book!" OurVoicesTogether.com, 4/26/2007
" Journey into Islam is an informative primer on Islamic history, an astute diplomatic analysis of US-Islamic relations over the last century and a deeply personal journal." Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
"Ahmed's latest work takes a deep and penetrating look at the Islamic world through the prism of history, both current and remote." Decan Herald, 11/18/2007
"A marvellous, moving, sobering, troubling, and compelling insight into a religion which is scarcely out of the media limelight." Alan Race, Pakistan Link, 11/9/2007
"Intellectually engaging and passionately written... Journey into Islam is an informative primer on Islamic history, an astute analysis of U.S. relations with the Islamic world over the last century and the deeply personal journal of the man the BBC calls 'the world's best-known scholar on contemporary Islam'." The Christian Century
"A profoundly personal and moving analysis of the anguish and ideological deformations through which the Islamic world is currently passing. Journey into Islam is a spiritual Odyssey reaching far back into Professor Ahmed's own past while detailing his dreams for the Muslim world of today and tomorrow." Middle East Policy
"Should be a must read for any person wishing to get a deep understanding of the current confrontation between the Islamic and Western worlds.... Ahmed's book is not just a treasure chest of information; it is also a how-to manual of fostering peace and mutual respect. Would that Journey into Islam were essential reading for every government official, every university researcher, and every person interested in learning about Islam and finding a recipe for peaceful coexistence." Khaleel Mohammed, Islamic Studies
"In this day and age, with alliances between countries constantly being built only to be broken, with the waging of wars in dozens of nations, and most importantly with the spread of globalization, there has arisen a dire need for understanding and resolution across the globe and Akbar Ahmed provides just such a solution for the tensions between the United States and the Middle East in his book Journey into Islam.... [It] is informative and thought provoking no matter what one's race, religion, nationality, or political views." Reason & Respect: A Journal of Civil Discourse
"[An] excellent book. Highly recommended." Elizabeth Agnvall, Star-Telegram
"Those seeking an illustrative examination of the relationship between Islam and globalization in an international milieu often beset by misunderstandings will find this book a useful tool in examining important questions as well as answers about Islam today." Round Table
"A fascinating personal account of his travels last year into the heart of Islam, spanning the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. Through in-depth discussions with high-level officials and religious figures as well as ordinary people, Ahmed offers a nuanced picture of a complex world that alternately fears and misunderstands America, yet seems eager to engage with us if give a chance." World Politics Review
"Grounded in history, inclusive in its understanding of volatile interfaith religious issues, Journey into Islam is a cornerstone book, a reflective, economically written work for those who would engage in the interfaith journey." Frederick Quinn, Anglican Theological Review
Top customer reviews
Why are we, people of the western countries, making such a confusion between politics and religion and why, anyhow, religion appears to be the key to peace within the people referring to the three Abrahamic religions?
As modern people, living in a western democracy, we should be bound to separate Church and State. Which is not exactly achieved in too many of the western countries, USA included, and surely, despite the presence of Ahmed's Aligarh model, is not the case in the Islamic countries. Thus it appears that using a language to be appreciated by our Islamic travel mates means speaking a language that is not properly our own, although it is becoming increasingly popular in some countries having a Christian tradition.
There is a contradiction that needs been solved. I hope that our Author and other serious scholars show us how.
The main thesis of Ahmed's book is that the Muslim world is facing the onslaught of globalization in a way that much of it is unprepared for and that in turn this is causing great consternation. Most of the book revolves around this theme and Ahmed's classification of three major responses/reactions toward this clash of cultural, religious, and economic values. The models Ahmed proposes are named after three cities within India where each response is centered; Deoband (Orthodox ), Aligarh (Modernist), and Ajmer (Mystical).
In this survey of Muslim views and opinions Ahmed and his graduate researchers travel to these three cities for a firsthand account of their overarching ideologies. What surprised me most in this part of the book were the reactions of those in the three cities toward Ahmed and his students. I don't want to spoil too much but the reaction of the Sufis in Ajmer was fairly predictable; they were inclusive of Ahmed and his students. But surprisingly so were the Orthodox Professors and students in Deoband. The Deobandis were not the stereotypical anti-Westerners that some might expect. The most surprising reception though was in Aligarh where the researchers expected to find modern thinking, progressive university students and professors seeking to integrate modernity and Islam; instead they found many frustrated students including some very vocal, angry students. To understand why the researchers found what they did and what Ahmed thinks about each model (its strengths and weaknesses) you will need to read the book.
As the researchers continue on through other parts of the Muslim world (they visited 7 additional countries) they talked to everyone who would talk with them including politicians and religious figures to the everyday citizenry. There is a nice summary of how the survey responses they gathered broke down in an appendix. The results of the surveys are also discusses interspersed through the book.
In the chapter titled Who Is Defining Islam After 9/11 and Why? Ahmed expands beyond his three model view and discusses how the media in the West and Western political scientists are defining Islam. One highlight in this chapter is his telling of a lecture he gave speaking before men like Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Bernard Lewis, and Francis Fukuyama; he was the only Muslim speaker that night! Needless to say, he was very nervous. Also in this section Ahmed does a pretty thorough slamming of the decision to invade Iraq. While there are certainly those who would disagree with Ahmed's view that it was a bad decision I think it is worth reading anyways (if you disagree with him). He makes very good points about it and the way the Muslim world viewed the invasion (and is still viewing it in hindsight). Unfortunately this book was published before the major turnaround in Iraq as I would like to know how different the opinions of those surveyed might be now. Nonetheless the chapter is full of interesting points about media coverage and political ideology.
One other chapter merits specific mention. The third chapter is titled Women, Tribes, and Honor and in it Ahmed discusses Islam and tribalism. The chapter is quite through and really drives home the point of how many Muslims who have never had to interact with other cultures with different values are struggling with globalization. Ahmed does not shy away from the sometimes barbaric acts of these tribes and he discusses them frankly, including their treatment of women. If the entire rest of the book stunk I would still recommend people read this chapter.
So, overall I think what I came away with from this book is that Islam is not monolithic. There is a wide range of beliefs and opinions throughout the Muslim world. I certainly thought that some of the views expressed were misguided but I could also appreciate many of what the interviewees had to say, especially many of their concerns. I found Ahmed fair and pretty straightforward. I think most reading the book will pick up pretty quick that Ahmed is a huge fan of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In part of the book Ahmed even revisits his own spiritual journey as a young administrator in the newly formed Pakistan and a stringent follower of the Aligarh model to his introduction via his dad to the Ajmer model and his embracing of the inclusive spirit of the Sufis.
I think this book is worth reading. I think it is important to understand how Muslims think and what they think about given much of the unreliable reporting occurring today. I won't promise that you will come away satisfied with every attitude expressed. I disagreed heavily with what some people in the book had to say. But, I also gained a new perspective on how others in the world think and I guarantee you will too if you read Journey Into Islam.