Warm Pakistani-American gathering launches Akbar Ahmed’s latest project
by Patrick Burnett
Warm company, kebabs and jalebi set the mood for a launch of Ambassador Akbar Ahmed’s latest book project, “Journey into Europe.”
Kosar Aftab and her husband Aftab Qureshi of the World Bank graciously hosted a dinner and launch event for Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and the former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK, in their McLean, Va. home on Sunday, March 24, attracting a diverse crowd of Pakistani-Americans, Indian-Americans, and other prominent members of the D.C. and Northern Virginia community.
An evening of mingling amongst this accomplished crowd representing such prominent organizations as the World Bank and the Embassies of Pakistan and India in Washington provided an incredible window into the life and vigor that defines the Pakistani-American and Indian-American communities. However, the prestigious company was not the only highlight this celebration; this evening was a chance to pause and take a moment to celebrate Ambassador Ahmed’s accomplishments and his work to build bridges on an international scale.
“[Ambassador Ahmed] is an iconic figure throughout my beloved motherland Pakistan, and the Embassy in DC supports him fully,” said Commodore Adnan Ahmed, naval attaché to the Embassy of Pakistan, who went on to celebrate Ambassador Ahmed’s interfaith work and projects bridging Islam and the West. Commodore Ahmed has long been a dedicated supporter or Ambassador Ahmed’s work and his team, bringing a very personal context to the crowd. Mr. Qureshi certainly made a very wise choice in asking Commodore Ahmed to make the introductions.
Ambassador Ahmed’s latest project is diving into the centuries-long ties Islam has held with European society, focusing on such historical bridges as the interfaith political system and society of Andalucia, Spain. This study will be the fourth part of his award-winning quartet of books with Brookings Press, which include Journey into Islam Journey into America, and The Thistle and the Drone, studies that have been celebrated by scholars and American foreign policy and defense officials alike.
Numerous prominent academics and members of the interfaith community have endorsed Ambassador Ahmed’s upcoming work. Dr. Edward Kessler, the founder and director of the Woolf Institute, writes, “Akbar and his team have the ability to come up with honest and forward-thinking comparative perspectives of modern global society even, perhaps especially, if they are uncomfortable and shatter stereotypes.”
Jonathan Benthall, the former director of the Royal Anthropological Institute, also writes, “Professor Ahmed has an impressive track record in producing substantial outputs as a result of his research, carried out with great energy both in the field and in libraries, and he is also highly regarded internationally as a courageous independent thinker on all issues relating to Islam.”
During remarks on the latest project and its importance for humanity and civilizational advancement, Ahmed went on to honor his team, stating, “Never ever doubt the next generation,” going on to discuss his team’s commitment to “the American values of patriotism, compassion and humanism” in their work and their everyday lives.
Ambassador Ahmed’s chief of staff, Harrison Akins, also opened the evening by discussing the impact of the trilogy and our methodology, stating, “It’s been a tremendous honor to work with Ambassador Ahmed on his series of important studies, which have had such a major impact, not only in policy circles in Washington, DC, but also in building bridges between different faiths and cultures across the world—something so desperately needed today.”
Frankie Martin, senior researcher for Ambassador Ahmed who holds a special place on the team as the most senior member, further commented, “The research team is like a family, and Ambassador Ahmed is our father figure.”
Journey into Europe will be the fourth project on which Frankie has assisted Ambassador Ahmed, making him the only team member to have played an active role in producing the entire quartet.
Frankie’s comments definitely said it all on what it means to be a part of this enthusiastic research team. As the youngest member of the team, I felt very honored being asked to briefly speak and close the presentation. But even more so, I felt very honored to be amongst such wonderful people celebrating the work of a man who truly lives by what he preaches and uses his keen intellect and energy to make the world a place of greater understanding and compassion through knowledge.
Not only was the evening my first time speaking as a representative of the research team, but also, as a young American from Ohio, my first time in a Pakistani home. I was immediately blown away by the tremendous hospitality and warmth with which I was received.
I felt so honored by compliments and best wishes from the attendees on our work, but even more so, I felt at home with the ladies’ kind, motherly insistence that the team and I get in the front of the line for the buffet-style dinner so that we would all have enough food to eat. It was like being at my own family gatherings and hearing my grandma ensure the grandkids all have more than enough food to eat. The food was remarkable in and of itself too—including the Kosars’ spectacular eggplant dip, kebabs, pilau rice, and jalebi, amongst many others in a smorgasbord of Pakistani cuisine. Food really is the best way to the heart.
Just to add to the hearty hospitality, the Kosars’ young grandson was able to join the celebration too. We could all hear him playing with his toys in the background of the discussion, which served not to distract but rather to lighten the evening and comfort with the feeling of a true family gathering.
The evening also provided a window for me into the Pakistani-American community, and the care and warmth with which the members all treat one another. Seeing such accomplished individuals as Commodore Ahmed and Mr. Qureshi greet Ambassador Ahmed with the embraces and jokes of the type only long-lost brothers could share only showed the deep ties and relationships that the Pakistani community kindles amongst itself.
Watching the lively friendships and conversations amongst Pakistanis, Indians and Americans alike, all brought together for this cause of advancing peace through research, served too as a reminder of the common humanity that channels through all of us in spite of larger conflicts and disagreements. Americans of all political persuasions and understandings of Islam enjoyed a meal directly alongside their dear Pakistani friends, and the Pakistanis all welcomed their Indian friends with open arms during the evening—images one would not expect given conventional stereotypes.
In any case, the enthusiasm of our hosts and fellow guests during this wonderful evening further convinced me of the gravity of our project and the support of our fellow Americans of all backgrounds. As Begum Kosar Aftab exclaimed, “I think what you all are doing is great. I wish I could do more.”
It is this sort of support that drives all of us on the team to keep journeying into what brings our common humanity together. Next stop: Europe.
Patrick Burnett, American University Class of 2015, and Research Assistant to Amb. Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University