KARACHI: One of the eagerly awaited post-lunch sessions on Saturday, the second day of the 10th Karachi Literature Festival at a local hotel was a discussion on Akbar S. Ahmed's book Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity.
Writer Bina Shah engaged in a conversation with scholar and a former minister Shafqat Ali Shah Jamote, on the finer points of the book and its author's personal and professional trajectories.
Prior to the chitchat, a documentary was screened on the topic. The video begins by showing harrowing footage of Muslim fundamentalists wreaking havoc on European cities. Then a question is raised whether Islam is compatible with Western civilisation. Some agree, some do not. The narrator tells the viewer that the film intends to investigate the issue by analysing three phases in history: Andalusia (Muslim Spain), the Ottoman expansion and European colonisation.
The first question that Ms Shah put to Mr Jamote after the screening was about the author of the book Akbar Ahmed. Mr Jamote said he had known Mr Ahmed since 1988 when the latter was commissioner of Quetta. During their first meeting, Gen Ziaul Haq dissolved the assemblies, so it was during the meeting that Mr Jamote, who was working for the government at the time, was out of a job. Ever since, both Mr Jamote and Mr Ahmed have been very good friends, and whenever they run into each other, they talk at length on subjects of mutual interest. "Ahmed is a spiritual person," he said.
Mr Jamote added that Mr Ahmed is an anthropologist who later in his life became an Islamic scholar. He was a professor at Cambridge University, and while he was in the UK he was offered a chair (Ibn-i-Khuldun) at a university in America, which he accepted. "He has flourished in America," he said.
Mr Jamote said the book being highlighted is part of a quartet of books that the author has written. It's a timely work which has come out at a juncture when Muslims are being persecuted in Europe. The dilemma is profound. Muslim immigrants are having a difficult time. Immigrants have also worked as a catalyst for the rise of the ultra right forces in Europe. The author has tried to take a look at the root cause of the problem. Europeans feel that Muslims don't belong in their region, and that they have no link to Europe, but Mr Ahmed has attempted to prove otherwise. In his book he has underlined that there was a time when Muslims were a role model for harmony [in Spain]. They facilitated Europe's transfer from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance. But somehow that fact is swept under the rug by those who examine Muslims' connection with Europe.