SIS professor’s documentary explores history of Islam in Europe

A screening of film “Journey into Europe,” by anthropologist, Islamic scholar and current School of International Service professor Akbar Ahmed, was held on Oct. 22.

The screening was held in the Abramson Family Founders Room, which was filled to capacity with students and supporters. The documentary, filmed across Europe, explores the role of Islam in the continent’s history and looks at the lives of European Muslims today and the way they are perceived by non-Muslim Europeans.

Ambassador Ahmed said in his opening remarks that he wants viewers to feel an overall sense of hope from the film.

“In the midst of violence and chaos, you will see humanity shine through,” he said. “I was ruthless about making sure everyone’s point-of-view was heard.”

His passion for the project comes from the belief that participation and commitment to solving difficult issues will make a difference in the world, Ahmed said. Ahmed also revealed he is planning a major book project that runs parallel to the documentary, set to be published late spring or summer 2016. This is his fourth study in a quartet of books published with Brookings Press examining the post-Sept. 11, 2001 relationship between the West and the Islamic world.

The documentary opens with the question: “Are we seeing a clash of civilizations?” Ahmed’s journey is then divided into three phases: the exploration of past Islamic colonization of Andalusia, Spain and Sicily; the Ottoman expansion in Europe and subsequent resistance and European colonization and immigration.

Among the people Ahmed meets in the film is a boy who traveled across the Sahara to Europe with the motivation and determination to find a better life. The boy spent his journey eating anything others had thrown away to avoid starvation. Another man Ahmed sees simply comes and hugs him, practicing the Pope's message: “Every time you meet a Muslim, give him a hug and tell him it’s from the Pope.”

After the screening, Ambassador Ahmed said documentaries like “Journey into Europe” need to be compulsory for Muslims in America and Europe to avoid the isolation of Muslims.

“The most dangerous thing is the lack of knowledge Muslims have of their own history and Europeans’ lack of knowledge of their own history,” he said.

As a professor today, he hopes to “educate our students and help them educate the world in turn,” Ahmed said.

Priyanka Srinivasa, a member of Ambassador Ahmed’s team and a 2014 graduate of the School of International Studies who currently studies at Cambridge University, told The Eagle she was happy to see the final product.

“To see this narrative fit into the narrative about Islam was very important. These are our brothers, this is the young generation, they are the Muslims, they are the ones who are going to represent us,” Srinivasa said. “And so it is very important that we have their narrative. In the media they are spoken for, and it's unfair for any person anywhere in the world, for their voice to be misrepresented or unheard.”

After the event, Ambassador Ahmed spoke with The Eagle about the message he hopes to convey to his audience through the documentary.

“What I’d like people to take away from this film is the importance of understanding, the importance of reaching out to the ‘other’, whether the ‘other’ is a religious other, or racial ‘other’, or ethnic ‘other,’” Ahmed said. “Because we are living in a globalized world where all societies, different societies, are juxtaposed, overlapped, and mixed up. It is critical we understand each other. Otherwise there is often misunderstanding and often dangers of violence.”

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