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Georgiana Vines: Leading authority on Islam talks religion bridge-building at UT

Akbar Ahmed, a leading authority on Islam at American University and former Pakistani commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland, believes building bridges across religions is essential to solving global problems of war and terrorism.

Ahmed spoke Wednesday at the University of Tennessee, asking the standing-room-only crowd at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy “to get into my skin” to understand his message. While Muslim, he attended schools where he was taught by Christians, he said.

“They shaped me as much as my religion,” Ahmed said.

The naturalized U.S. citizen said he realizes he is a symbol for statements by others and actions with which he does not agree. He referred to the barbaric methods of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which is killing people, particularly targeting women and children, as it attempts to establish a foothold in the Middle East. ISIS also is known for using “the world of the internet,” he said, to promote its reactionary politics and religious fundamentalism, especially with young people.

Ahmed emphasized the need for dialogue among religious, political and community leaders that are broadly based and representing extremists on either side of the philosophical aisle. He has just published his latest book, “Journey into Europe” with a sub-title, “Islam, Immigration, and Identity,” in which he and a team of researchers spent four years throughout that continent talking to prominent figures and everyday Europeans.

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