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Akbar Ahmed

Professor School of International Service

Additional Positions at AU

  • Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies
Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland. Named “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” by the BBC and “perhaps the most influential living authority on contemporary Muslim societies” in the Saudi Gazette, Ahmed is a member of the Washington Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. He also serves as a trustee for the World Faiths Development Dialogue, chaired by Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and is a member of the International Advisory Board for The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at The Queen’s University of Belfast. Previously, Ahmed has served as a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, the First Distinguished Chair of Middle East and Islamic Studies at the U.S Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and the Iqbal Fellow (Chair of Pakistan Studies) and Fellow of Selwyn College at the University of Cambridge. Ahmed has taught as well at Harvard and Princeton Universities. Ahmed belonged to the senior civil service cadre of Pakistan and has served as Commissioner in Baluchistan and Political Agent in the Tribal Areas, including Waziristan. Ahmed has produced a number of noteworthy films and authored more than a dozen award-winning books. In the aftermath of 9/11, Ahmed conceived a quartet of studies published by Brookings Press examining relations between the West and the World of Islam, which includes Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (2007), Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (2010), The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013), and Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (2018). Journey into America and Journey into Europe were accompanied by documentaries of the same name (2009 and 2015). The Journey into Europe documentary was featured on Maryland Public Television in November 2017. Prior to the Brookings quartet of studies, Ahmed conceived and in the 1990s completed the Jinnah Quartet, which was comprised of the feature film, Jinnah (1998), with Christopher Lee in the title role; the documentary, Mr. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan (1997); the graphic novel, The Quaid: Jinnah and the Story of Pakistan (1997); and the biographical study, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (1997). Jinnah was featured on Turner Classic Movies in October 2016. A critically acclaimed playwright, Ahmed has written and staged the plays Noor and The Trial of Dara Shikoh around the world. A poet, Ahmed’s poems were broadcast from the Library of Congress in “The Poet and the Poem” podcast series. Ahmed consistently writes for a number of popular news publications around the globe, including a weekly column in the Daily Times, a leading English-language Pakistani newspaper. He is currently working on his latest play, Gandhi and Jinnah Return Home. Ahmed is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Government of Pakistan’s Star of Excellence (Sitara-i-Imtiaz) for academic distinction and Medal of Excellence (Tamgha-i-Imtiaz), the first-ever Purpose Prize alongside Judea Pearl, and the inaugural Gandhi Memorial Center Peace Award. Ahmed has been consistently featured in The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims and was named a 2015 Global Thought Leader by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute and The Huffington Post’s WorldPost. He is acknowledged as a “Notable Alumnus” of SOAS, University of London, was awarded the 2017 Sir Syed Day Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in Poetry, Literature, Arts or the Sciences by the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and declared the 2017 Scholar/Teacher of the Year of the American University School of International Service, one of the top-ten international relations programs in the U.S. In July 2017, he returned to the Chautauqua Institution to deliver a lecture titled “Being Muslim Today: Building Bridges in an Age of Uncertainty.” In December 2017, Ahmed spoke at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. In February 2018, Ahmed delivered the Ashe Lecture at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. In spring 2018, he will be speaking about Journey into Europe in such venues as Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Sonoma Valley Authors’ Festival in Northern California, SOAS and Chatham House in London, the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, the Senate of Canada, and the Senate of Pakistan. Publishers Weekly describes Journey into Europe as “… this sweeping ethnographic exploration of Islam and its multiple narratives across the continent....this highly instructive work deserves careful and critical attention as people across the world wrestle with how to balance community with difference in an age of reinvigorated tribalism.”

Degrees

PhD, University of London; MA/Diploma in Education, Cambridge University; BSS (Honors), Birmingham University

Favorite Spot on Campus
Mary Graydon Center
Book Currently Reading
A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster
Languages Spoken
Urdu, French, English

Download Resume (PDF)

Download CV (PDF)

Office
SIS-School of Intl Service
SIS - 200G
Please contact Frankie Martin at 202-885-1641 or fmartin@american.edu for office hours, to request recommendations, or to set up an interview or meeting.
Contact Info
(202) 885-1641

Send email to Akbar Ahmed

For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.
See Also
Journey Into Europe
Journey into America

Partnerships & Affiliations

Teaching

  • Spring 2018

    • SIS-676 Sel Topics in Cross-Natl Study: Bridging the Great Divide
    • Description
    • SISU-306 Adv Int'l Studies Research: Researching Islam
    • Description

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

Selected Publications

  • Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Institution Press 2018)
  • The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings Institution Press 2013)
  • Journey into America: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Institution Press 2010)
  • Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (Brookings Institution Press 2007)

Films/Documentaries

  • "Journey Into Europe" [producer, narrator, script-writer, director], 2015
  • "Journey Into America" [producer, narrator, script-writer], 2010
  • "The Glories of Islamic Art" [narrator, Channel 5 (UK)], 2006
  • "Living Islam" [narrator] BBC, 1993

Recordings

  • “Encountering Islam” (lecturer, NowYouKnow Media), 2006

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • The Heschel-King Award for Interfaith Activism from the Park Avenue Christian Church  and the Temple of Universal Judaism in New York City   
  • Centennial Honorary Chair of the Washington National Cathedral Centennial Celebration (along with Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor)  
  • Inaugural Purpose Prize winner, with Judea Pearl. The Purpose Prize is a major new initiative to invest in Americans over 60 who are leading a new age of social innovation   
  • Star of Excellence, one of Pakistan’s highest honors   
  • First Annual Bridge Builders Award from the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington   
  • Humanitarian Award, the highest honor of the Chapel of Four Chaplains
  • Professor of the Year Award, 2004 for Washington DC by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education  
  • Gandhi Center Fellowship of Peace Award  
  • Appointed Senior Distinguished Fellow for the Hassan Family Foundation

Media Appearances

Dr. Ahmed is often interviewed on CNN, CBC, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, NPR, and has appeared several times on “Oprah” and “Nightline.” He presented and narrated "Living Islam," the six-part BBC television series, in 1993 and "The Glories of Islamic Art," the three-part television series for Channel 5, UK, broadcast in 2006.

View/Hear recent interviews:

Multimedia

  • "Jinnah," (executive producer, co-writer)
  • "Noor," (playwright)
  • "The Trial of Dara Shikoh" (playwright)
  • "Waziristan to Washington", (writer, performer)

Congressional Testimony

  • Congressional hearing to discuss U.S. policy towards Iran (December 2007)

AU Expert

Area of Expertise:

Islam in Europe, Islam in America, Mosques, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Asia, anthropology, comparative and regional studies, terrorism, ISIL, ISIS, drones, tribal culture

Additional Information:

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is a diplomat, anthropologist, writer, and filmmaker. Ahmed has held important posts in Pakistan—including Pakistan's high commissioner (ambassador) to the United Kingdom; commissioner, Quetta; political agent, South Waziristan Agency; and founder-director general of the National Center for Rural Development, Islamabad. He has been involved in interfaith dialogue and the study of global Islam and its impact on contemporary society, and has been called "the world's leading authority on contemporary Islam" by the BBC. Ahmed is the author of more than a dozen award-winning books on contemporary Islam, including a quartet of studies published by Brookings Press examining relations between the West and the World of Islam after 9/11. The four studies include: Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (2007), which chronicles Ahmed's experiences leading a team of young Americans on a tour of the Muslim world to seek understanding between Western and Islamic cultures; Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (2010), in which Ahmed traveled with his team of young Americans across the U.S. to more than 75 cities and 100 mosques to understand the largely unknown American Muslim community; The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013), which draws on forty case studies to evaluate the relationship between central governments and largely rural Muslim tribal societies living on the periphery of Muslim and non-Muslim nations; and Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (2018), in which Ahmed and his team traveled the length and breadth of Europe to gain an inside look at Islam in Europe and European civilization. Ahmed’s documentary, Journey into Europe, based on his European fieldwork, was released in 2015 and has been shown at film festivals and universities across the U.S. and throughout the world. Ahmed also produced the documentary film Journey into America (2009) based on his fieldwork spanning the U.S. Ahmed served as the First Distinguished Chair of Middle East and Islamic Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy and was a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In the 2000s, he embarked on a speaker series with Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Ahmed is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Government of Pakistan’s Star of Excellence (Sitara-i-Imtiaz) for academic distinction and Medal of Excellence (Tamgha-i-Imtiaz), and the first-ever Purpose Prize alongside Judea Pearl. Ahmed has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with John Stewart, CNN, NBC Nightly News, and the BBC, and has been interviewed by numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post. Ahmed consistently writes for a number of popular news publications around the globe, including a weekly column in the Daily Times, a leading English-language Pakistani newspaper.

Media Relations
To request an interview please call AU Media Relations at 202-885-5950 or submit an interview request form.