Book Review

Journey into America:
The Challenge of Islam

by Dr. Akbar Ahmed

There are many reasons that one should read Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam by Dr. Akbar Ahmed. The book will open your eyes and hearts into the lives of Muslim Americans. You will learn aspects of American history you may not have known before and aspects of present American society of which you are probably not aware. In his first book, Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, Dr. Ahmed gave us a global perspective on Muslim understandings of America from his travels with a team of American University students in majority Muslim countries. Now his team has completed another journey into America to give us a perspective on America from Muslim Americans. Dr. Ahmed is a proud American who contributes to the higher education of some of America’s brightest students and future leaders. No matter your occupation or religious tradition, this book is a testament to the mission of the United States of America and its desire, and struggle, to welcome all who are “tired, poor,…yearning to breathe free” (Statue of Liberty quote).

If we are truly to learn to love our neighbors, we must start by simply trying to understand each other.

As a child of the fifties and sixties, I was taught the American dream: that the USA should be a haven and new home for those seeking the free exercise of religion, speech, and assembly, as permitted by law. Journey into America provides an anthropological perspective on the American history of immigration and the search for American identity, through the lives of Muslim Americans. Most non-Muslim Americans are unaware of the early history of Islam in America and the challenges faced by immigrants between the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act and changes in immigration policies since September 11, 2001. Dr. Ahmed and his team visited and interviewed Muslims living all over the United States, and listened to their stories of discrimination, losing jobs and friends in post 9/11 America, as well as their desire to be productive and contributing members of American society.

As the Interfaith Programs Coordinator at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., I read his book because Dr. Ahmed is a friend and colleague, and I was genuinely interested in what he and his team learned on their journey into America, where they visited, whom they met and what they learned from Muslims about their lives in America. The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation, and Dr. Ahmed were the founding members of the Abrahamic Roundtable, which I facilitate by their invitation. Their friendship is described in the book, which is a model of interfaith relations. As Dr. Ahmed wrote, “Of wide concern at present are the stresses that have arisen with the growth of America’s Muslim community and its unfortunate association with 9/11. Increased and intense dialogue that leads to understanding seems the obvious way to reduce these stresses, but it can only be achieved through mutual appreciation, beginning perhaps with a deeper understanding of the founders of both the United States and Pakistan, a major Muslim nation.” Readers will benefit from learning more about Thomas Jefferson and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

As an Episcopal priest, I have been officially engaged in interfaith dialogues for twelve years, primarily because I wanted to learn about the lives of my non-Christian neighbors and to build local interfaith community. Through the varied interfaith dialogues that I coordinate at Washington National Cathedral, I have heard similar stories of hope and struggle from Muslims visiting from Muslim majority nations or living in this country wanting to clarify the misinformation about Islam that the public media has disseminated. I have also heard Jews and Christians express their desire to understand and appreciate the true religion of Islam and the lives of their Muslim neighbors and co-workers. If we are truly to learn to love our neighbors, we must start by simply trying to understand each other. I highly recommend that you read Journey to America: The Challenge of Islam in order to understand your neighbor, your community, and this country’s present struggles.

The Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett, Interfaith Programs Coordinator Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.