“Journey into Europe” in Troubled Times

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Written by C. Naseer Ahmad

Journeys provide us opportunities to see things that we have not seen before. Sometimes, journeys enable us to see the same things but from newer angles and different horizons. “Journey into Europe” by Professor Akbar Ahmed is a book that is illuminating as well as vast in the landscapes and time horizons.

Interestingly, my first encounter with the esteemed author actually happened at the Corner Bakery at Union Station in Washington, DC when we were both on a journey to New York. He was going to attend a dinner for then Iran’s President Khatemi and I was going to attend a dinner for then Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf.

It didn’t take long to become friends because we found a common friend whom we both admired.

In his latest book, Professor Akbar Ahmed first takes you to Greece and highlights the challenges of the immigrants, especially from Pakistan, who are not only facing economic hardships but sometimes also mistreatment. He notes the condition of the mosque where they pray.

Traveling through different countries, the author provides historical as well as contemporary information. He describes philosophical and cultural issues informing the reader about what transpired and why some things are the way we find them happening or reported in the news.

Navigating through the pages, the reader learns about the team effort that went into this project, through the narration of the stories and very interesting pictures with the people whom the team met in their travels.

From the three different parts of the book, the reader will understand the European identity based on European history and culture. Then one will learn about ethnography and the three different types of Muslim societies: immigrants, native or indigenous and converts—existing in different parts of Europe. In the final chapter, the author examines the predatory rhetoric of ethnic hate that is now sweeping across Europe.  The author, however, does not dwell on the past but instead suggests “how Europe can forge a new identity” with a “vision of a New Andalusia that could be a beacon of moral and intellectual leadership to inspire the world.”

From this remarkable book, the reader will visit different mosques—from Spain to the British Isles then Scandinavia and Germany—across Europe and get to know people who represent the hopes and future for the Muslims living in Europe.

I appreciate the author’s commentary on the “Ahmadi Experience in Germany” because I belong to this community and I have visited Germany several times and met many of the people mentioned in the book.

There are some interesting quotes that are applicable to all Muslim communities in Europe and support the hopeful vision espoused by the author. The reader will find on Page 235, “when asked to define German identity, Imam Arif replied ‘we consider ourselves German Ahmadi Muslims. We speak the language, we have grown up here…our second generation is not closer to any other nation than Germany. There is a saying of the Holy Prophet, the love for your country is part of your faith and we live that.’”

One of the most touching stories is about Bashy Quraishy—a minority rights activist in Denmark and author of “From Punjab to Copenhagen.” Quraishy was estranged from his family and to reach him, his mother wrote to the Queen of Denmark. In response, the Queen sent the Chief of Police with a pad and a golden pen to find him and make him write a letter to his mother. His letter was then sent from the Queen’s palace to Quraishy’s mom.

Quraishy’s story is also something that I can relate to because I have extended family members who have traveled from Punjab to Copenhagen. In fact, I visited them not long ago and admire my cousin Sibat Ahmad and her four wonderful children. Through education and hard work they have become productive members of Danish Society instead of depending upon public welfare—a fear leveled against, particularly Muslim, immigrants. It is something that I took pride in my own journey into Europe.

The reader will find many more interesting stories in this beautiful book that will be educating as well as informative. The education journey across Europe through the eyes and the pen of Professor Akbar Ahmed will be unforgettable just like my first journey with the author on a train to New York shortly after 9/11.