My country is facing many challenges. It now stands literally at an unprecedented and dangerous crossroads. America is being torn this way and that by those on the left and the right; by older, more settled families and new immigrants; by Democrats and Republicans. The very livelihood and health of my country is in danger. I wonder constantly, which roads will my country go down? Will it head down roads that promote inclusivity or exclusivity; listening or ignoring; respect or disrespect?
It is in light of these questions that Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, a book authored by my mentor and teacher, American University Professor Akbar Ahmed, is so significant. Ahmed and his team of young American researchers, of which I am a part, travelled the length and breadth of the United States, visiting over 75 mosques and 100 cities in an unprecedented journey to discover America through the hearts and minds of Muslims, and through the lens of all ethnic groups in America.
The team discussed American identity with a wide variety of people, from recent immigrants to descendents of the Mayflower, the ship that brought some of the first Europeans to America in 1620. The book touches on every layer of American society and identity that one can imagine. It paints, in my opinion, the most holistic and integrated picture of the ”American experiment” to date.
America’s potential, Ahmed suggests, cannot flourish unless Americans quickly forge, through their own hearts and minds, a fresh American identity, one which ultimately stresses the principles laid out by the Founding Fathers but does not neglect the identities that have been forged in recent history. Americans today must remember the democratic vision of the Founding Fathers, especially in their current potentially hostile and catastrophic relationship with the Muslim world.
In the post 9/11 era, Americans have forgotten that Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century welcomed Muslim clerics to preach Islam in Philadelphia and cited the Prophet Muhammad as a "model of compassion". They have forgotten that Thomas Jefferson owned, read and learned from the Qur'an; that John Adams called the Prophet Muhammad one of the world's "sober inquirers after truth" alongside such figures as Confucius and Socrates; and that George Washington welcomed people from all walks of life, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.
Whether you agree with Ahmed and his team’s theories, concepts, methodological tools, viewpoints, beliefs and opinions or not, Journey into America concerns itself with issues that affect all Americans. And while Americans are facing unprecedented challenges, not only on their own soil but also throughout the world, for many Americans there is no greater challenge to their vision of America than its Muslim minority and their Islamic faith.
Reading this book, however, can help Americans acquire a new and greater appreciation for the diverse, vibrant and patriotic Muslim community in America as well as for both the universal principles of the Islamic faith and the honourable leadership of the Prophet Muhammad. Most importantly, the book also reminds Americans that their country is supposed to serve as a ”beacon of hope” that appreciates and adheres to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence both at home and abroad.
Journey into America is a quintessential read for those Americans who are trying to make America and the world a healthier and safer place — one that emphasises the peaceful, humane, egalitarian and universal vision once put forth by Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams.
* Craig Considine was a member of the team that conducted the Journey into America project and Director of the film Journey into America. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author. The full text can be found at www.theamericanmuslim.org.