Journey into Islam:
the crisis of globalization
In response to the question as to who was their model for life, the overwhelming majority of the young people of four Arab countries referred to ‘Amr Khaled, a popular Egyptian television preacher, thought to be able to present a modern image and at the same time an appropriate image of Islam. But in these same countries and in other centres of Islam in Asia there are by no means a few young people who have as their heroes the incendiary Islam preacher Yusuf Qaradawi or the President of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, or even the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. The answers as to who are the figures that the new generations of Muslims esteem form some of the most interesting contents of Journey into Islam, a book that presents a journey that investigates how the globalised world is changing Islam in certain key States: India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria and Turkey. These models emerged from the questionnaires given to hundreds of young people and adults in eight countries and they offer an unprecedented photograph of the contemporary Muslim world.
This volume is the outcome of a research project co-ordinated by Akbar Ahmed, Professor of Islamic Studies at the American University of Washington, who also works as an expert for the American think tank, the American Brookings Institution, and is considered to be an international authority on Islam. Ahmed, on behalf of the Brookings Institution, led a group of his own young students in a study village in order to explore the moods, forms of rancour, dreams and expectations in the Muslim world a few years after 11 September 2001 and in the wake of the states of mind provoked by the war in Iraq. This Muslim American professor and his students interviewed students, lecturers, presidents, prime ministers, religious personalities, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and ordinary people in eight countries. But above all they listened, seeking to explore how Internet and the mass media are changing Islam, the effects of the conflict in Iraq, people’s vision of America, and possible pathways for dialogue. On returning home, the conclusions entrusted to Journey into Islam offer many grounds for concern and also some rays of hope.
This book tries to go beyond the traditional stereotype of the comparison between moderates and radicals in Islam and identifies the three principal religious models that are today dominant in the Muslim world: modernisers, mystics, and orthodox traditionalists, For each of these three models, Ahmed and his team carried out studies and visited the principal centres of thought. One of the unexpected results came from Deoband in India, the most orthodox and best known Islamic school in southern Asia. Here the Americans met Aijaz Qasmi, one of the most important ideologues of Deoband, a figure obsessed with the need to fight American and Israeli ‘barbarity’. His popular volume Jihad and Terrorism justifies the killing of defenceless civilians in Western countries, holding them responsible for underpinning democracies that are the enemies of Islam. For Qasmi, Ahmed and his students were the first Americans he had met and after a week spent together not only did many misunderstanding disappear but this ideologue of Deoband offered to translate one of the books of this professor of the American University into Urdu, a book which emphasises dialogue between the West and the Muslim world and is dedicated to a Jewish scholar.
Specifically beginning with this example, in weighing up his journey Ahmed points to dialogue, however difficult and full of obstacles it might be, as being the true hope for the future of relations between the Western world and the Islamic world. ‘I would not waste my time talking to Osama bin Laden’, said Ahmed at one of the many presentations of his book that he gave during the summer of 2007 in the United States of America, ‘but for someone who knows very little about America, who may never have travelled abroad during his life and who shows that he is open to dialogue, for someone of this type I am ready to spend time and money in discussion. In the end I might convert someone into thinking in