A team of five mostly 20-something Americans, led by esteemed Muslim scholar Akbar Ahmed, are crisscrossing the nation on an anthropological mission to discuss American identity, Muslim identity, and find out how well the US upholds its ideals in a post-September 11 world.
“As a social scientist … as a Muslim, it was almost my moral duty … to be involved in some way in the exercise of talking about, explaining, debating [and] discussing Islam,” explained Ahmed, 65, who took a year’s sabbatical to focus his energies. “After 9/11, Islam became the most talked-about, controversial, debated, hated and, really, mystified religion in America. I just couldn’t sit it out.”
The team has hung out with a black Muslim rapper in Buffalo, New York; met with Latino Muslims in Miami, Florida; and swapped stories with refugees, dotting the country, from places as diverse as Bosnia, Afghanistan and Somalia. Along the way, they’ve weighed in with academics, other religious leaders, law enforcement officials and activists. Many of the group’s meetings and visits are chronicled in their blog.
Sheikh Salahadin Wazir, who had dinner with the group and invited its members to his Atlanta-area mosque for Friday afternoon prayers, praised the project: “It’s important to hear what Muslims are all about from a Muslim perspective. We are law-abiding citizens. We are professionals,” said Wazir, as he stood outside Masjid Al-Momineen in Clarkston, Georgia. “A lot of our children are going to school, getting a higher education, and the future is bright.”
The group’s central goal is to highlight the need to understand Islam, something they hope to further accomplish through a book Ahmed will write and a documentary they hope to produce.