We can heal our world of “terror” by valuing diversity, says Muslim scholar
By Eileen Gale Kugler
Dr. Amineh Ahmed Hoti knows well the stereotypes that keep us from valuing “the other,” particularly after 9/11. As a Muslim scholar, an educator, and a mother, she believes strongly that we must foster dialogue among people of different faith traditions, beginning with academic programs for youth worldwide.
“Although we remain essentially ourselves, our encounters with others change us. We must be willing to participate – to listen as well as speak our point of view,” she stated at a recent community Iftar Dinner at Busboys and Poets in Arlington, on a rare visit to the United States.
Hoti served as the first director of the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations in the United Kingdom, the first of its kind in the world. She helped to create the University of Cambridge’s Muslim-Jewish course, and, with her Muslim, Jewish and Christian colleagues, created “Valuing Diversity: Towards Mutual Respect and Understanding.” This learning resource for adolescents has been distributed to 2500 schools of the 5000 schools in the U.K., is influencing schools in Pakistan, and has been discussed at interfaith programs across the United States.
Hoti described the creation of the school resource in Healing a World of “Terror” by “Valuing Diversity,” her chapter Innovative Voices in Education: Engaging Diverse Communities (©2012 Rowman & Littlefield Education). “Valuing Diversity explores encounters between people of different faith and cultural groups. It is based on the principle that we are all uniquely different as individuals and communities, but we are also all connected and have shared values,” she wrote.
Hoti’s vision for change is truly worldwide. Now living in Pakistan, the place of her birth, she is working to introduce the first interfaith academic program ever offered in that country, through a new Centre for Dialogue and Action which was founded at Cambridge. In January, students at Forman Christian College in the ancient city of Lahore will take a required course on valuing diversity. “We’ll be focusing on finding common ground, but also on the dignity of difference; seeing differences in order to respect each other,” Hoti stated.
Hoti knows her work in Pakistan is challenging but she has great hope for what can happen. “The founders of Pakistan were visionaries and included rights for minorities and women in the Constitution,” Hoti said. “Imagine the future of Pakistan for global peace as thousands of students who have studied interfaith understanding become the new leaders.”
The pioneering work of Hoti was inspired by the equally ground-breaking work of her father, Professor Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies at American University. “The lesson he passed on to us in more than one hundred ways during the course of his enlightened shamma-like life is: hatred and violence continually create further circles of destruction but the values of love and compassion are far higher, and the only way to heal our fractured world,” Hoti wrote in Innovative Voices in Education.
Hoti’s efforts to foster interfaith understanding and respect are multi-pronged. Development of a broad curriculum on diversity, dialogue and conflict resolution is underway. These courses will also be offered to academic institutions, policy makers, the media, and law enforcement. Courses will be developed especially for women, a particular passion of Hoti’s. She has broken ground and is raising funds for a new center in Islamabad.
Her vision of the future Pakistan is where “people of different cultures and religions can understand and empathise with the Other as well opening their homes to share meals and as “brothers” and “sisters” celebrate the diversity and richness of one another, regardless differences,” Hoti said as she finished her talk at Busboys and Poets. On that summer evening, you could catch a glimpse of the future. As the sun set, Muslims and non-Muslims shared dates to mark the end of the daily Ramadan fast and together enjoyed an Iftar meal.
Eileen Gale Kugler is a global speaker and consultant working with schools and businesses to create inclusive high-achieving cultures. She is executive editor of Innovative Voices in Education: Engaging Diverse Communities and author of the award-winning Debunking the Middle Class Myth: Why Diverse Schools are Good for All Kids. Follow her on Twitter @embracediversiT