Michelle: Thank you so much for being here as she said I’m reporter at the Washington Post. And I have the pleasure of speaking today with Ambassador Akbar Ahmed. He is the chair of Islamic Studies at American University his biography is very long it would take me a long time to explain everything he’s done. But he also is chair of Middle Eastern Islamic studies at the US Naval Academy and is a non residency senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. He has come out recently which is why we are here today just this summer with an amazingly timed book it’s helping us through this period of discussion about Islam in America. The book is called Journey into America the Challenge of Islam. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the details of the book it is part anthropological part travelogue. He and his team traveled from the fall of 2008 to 2009 around the country visited about 75 cities and I think over 100 of the approximately 1,200. I think there’s some people believe there’s more mosques even than that today.
So one of the things that I was interested in as a religion reporter is this project that you undertook and the lack of this kind of information underscores the sort of dearth information. Very solid information about American Muslims. A byproduct it seems to me is that a time like this, this summer when we have so much public discussion about Islam, that it calls for people to speak on behalf of the American Muslim community. So I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit about that if that’s a pressing issue. Who speaks for this very diverse community and how is that being answered?
Akbar Ahmed: But Michelle this question who speaks for Islam is something that I raised when several years back I was asked by Brookings to conduct a project in the Muslim world. And I was very interested in exploring the whole idea of Muslim leadership which has always fascinated me. I have been writing about it for decades. But about five six years back I went to the Muslim world with my members of my team. Some of them are here Jonathan is here Frank is here. We went to the Middle East south Asia Far East Asia precisely to try to answer this question. When we got back I assumed like many people that there was leadership structure in place in America. After all this is a very advanced society it’s a democratic society. So one assumed that a leadership had grown organically and was in place and we saw various organizations [Isnar] [IB] and so on very active in the public square. But when we undertook the study and the field trip we very quickly realized that there were divisions in the community in the Muslim community divisions based on ethnicity, on sect on regional background.
So there were Muslim immigrants from the Middle East or South Asia and within that national differences. So while Pakistanis and Bangladeshis may have a lot in common the may go to the same mosque. Nonetheless on that one stage they were the same people same country there have been developments which have moved them apart. Then within the countries the differences between say Punjabis or Puritans are also in a sense carried over into America certainly with the older generation it’s just different with the younger generation. Now when you put all this together in terms of a tiny community 2% or 7 million in number in America, you discover that it does not present a very coherent leadership. So while you would assume that it’s a tiny community it’s going to produce a dozen or two dozen really coherent sharp wise intelligent leaders who can guide the community, you on the ground discover that in fact the community is driven with these different features which do not lend to unity easily to unity.