Prof John Esposito, an eminent Islamic scholar, was honoured at the Pakistan embassy on Monday evening when Ambassador Jehangir Karamat pinned the Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam on him.
The citation read out on the occasion said the award was in recognition of his scholarship and his contribution to the promotion of greater understanding about Islam in the West. Author of 30 books, including a four-volume encyclopaedia of the modern Islamic world, he is a professor of Islamic studies and international relations at the Georgetown University, Washington DC.
In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Karamat praised Prof Esposito's outstanding work on Islam and his role in promoting greater understanding between Islam and Christianity. He had also worked to mitigate the unfortunate tendency of linking Islam with violence and terrorism, the envoy, who described himself learnt from the professor's writing, added.
In his acceptance speech, Prof Esposito said it was Prof Hafiz Malik of Villanova University who encouraged him to go to Pakistan in 1973, a trip that was to change the academic direction in which he was at the time headed. He spent three months in Pakistan and made many visits later, in between advising the Pakistan government during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's tenure on a number of issues, including education. He pointed out that until the Iranian Revolution, Islam was "invisible" to the West. The hostage crisis at Tehran affected the American view of Islam. Regrettably, Islam came to be seen through headline events, which were often traumatic ones. The line between Islam and Islamic extremism had also become blurred. After 9/11, the challenge facing the United States was how to fight extremism without appearing to be redrawing the map in the Middle East. This remains the challenge facing President Bush in his second term as well, he added. It was also not clear to many in the Islamic world if democracy meant self-determination or if it was only an American configuration of democracy. The Islamic world also faced the challenge of moving from autocracy to democracy, while the West needed to learn to distinguish between mainstream Islam and extremism. Muslim societies had to promote pluralism and tolerance, he suggested.
Prof Esposito also paid tribute to the late Dr Fazlur Rehman of the University of Chicago. He told the gathering that when President Pervez Musharraf went to the World Economic Forum at Davos last year, he was told that in Dr Fazlur Rehman – who was hounded out of Pakistani by the Mullahcracy in Ayub Khan's last days – Islam has a great scholar whose enlightened and progressive ideas could act as guideposts for Muslim countries.