Akbar S. Ahmed

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Akbar Salahuddin Ahmed, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, or Akbar Ahmed, is currently the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, D.C. and was the First Distinguished Chair of Middle East and Islamic Studies at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis,[1] and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.[2] He has served as a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and has taught at Princeton and Harvard Universities. He was the Iqbal Fellow (Chair of Pakistan Studies) and Fellow of Selywn College at the University of Cambridge. In the Fall of 2012, Ahmed was the Diane Middlebrook and Carl Djerassi Visiting Professor of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Ahmed is regularly interviewed by CNN, CBS, BBC, and Fox News and has appeared several times on the Oprah Winfrey Show and has appeared on the Daily Show. He has been called "the world's leading authority on contemporary Islam" by the BBC. He is the author of over a dozen award-winning books, including Discovering Islam (the basis for the BBC six-part TV series entitled “Living Islam”) and Journey into Islam, Journey into America, and The Thistle and the Drone; his books have been translated into many languages, including Chinese and Indonesian. His many articles have appeared in, among many others, the New York Times, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the LA Times, National Geographic, and Christian Science Monitor.

He joined the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP), the elite cadre of the Central Superior Services of Pakistan in 1966, and held senior level posts in Pakistan and Bangladesh—including Commissioner, Quetta; and Political Agent, South Waziristan Agency. He also served as the High Commissioner from Pakistan to the UK.[3]

A prolific author, he is also a poet and a playwright. Three of his plays were staged in the DC area: "Noor", "The Trial of Dara Shikoh", and "From Waziristan to Washington: A Muslim at the Crossroads" and a collection of his poetry Suspended Somewhere Between was published by Busboys and Poets (2011).

Ahmed has also been a leader in interfaith dialogue among both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths. Along with Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl he has had public dialogues in an effort to dispel hate and ignorance. For their efforts they were awarded the Purpose Prize in 2007. Ambassador Ahmed was also the recipient of the first Gandhi Center Fellowship of Peace Award in 2004.[4]


Ahmed received his PhD in Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where he is listed as a "notable alumnus". He has his MA and Diploma in Education from the University of Cambridge, and Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honors) from the University of Birmingham. Ahmed received an Honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Liverpool in 2007 and an Honorary Doctorate from Forman Christian College of Lahore, Pakistan in 2013.

Major Projects[edit]

During the 1990s while at the University of Cambridge, Akbar Ahmed completed the Jinnah Quartet to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Pakistan by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam. The Jinnah Quartet includes the academic study Jinnah, Pakistan, and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin; the feature film Jinnah starring Sir Christopher Lee; the documentary film Mr. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan; and the graphic novel The Quaid: Jinnah and the Story of Pakistan.

After 9/11 and coming to American University, Ahmed has undertaken a quartet of studies with Brookings Institution Press examining the relations between the West and the world of Islam after 9/11. These include: Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization; Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (the 2011 American Book Award winner and subject of the documentary film Journey into America); The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Named a "Book of the Year" in the Times Literary Supplement, November 29, 2013); and the forthcoming Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Empire.


  • Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Empire (forthcoming)
  • The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings Press, 2013).
  • Suspended Somewhere Between: A Book of Verse (Busboys and Poets, 2011).
  • Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (Brookings Press, 2010).
  • Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization Brookings Press, 2007).
  • After Terror: Promoting Dialogue Among Civilizations Co-Edited by Brian Forst, (Polity Press, 2005).
  • Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World (Polity Press, 2003).
  • The Future of Anthropology: Its Relevance to the Contemporary World; Co-Edited by Chris Shore, (Athlone Press, 1999).
  • Islam Today: A Short Introduction to The Muslim World; (I.B. Tauris, 1998).
  • Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin; (Routledge, 1997).
  • Islam, Globalization and Postmodernity with Hastings Donnan; (Routledge, 1994).
  • Living Islam: From Samarkand and Stornoway (BBC Books, 1993).
  • Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society; (Routledge, 1988).
  • Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise; (Routledge, 1992).
  • Resistance and Control in Pakistan; (Routledge, 1991).
  • Pakistan: The Social Sciences' Perspective; (Oxford University Press, 1990).
  • Toward Islamic Anthropology: Definition, Dogma, and Directions; (Vanguard Books, 1987).
  • Religion and Politics in Muslim Society: Order and Conflict in Pakistan; (Royal Book Co., 1987).
  • Pukhtun Economy and Society: Traditional structure and economic development in a tribal society (Routledge, 1980).
  • Pieces of Green, the Sociology of Change in Pakistan, 1964-1974; (Royal Book Co., 1977).
  • Social and Economic change in the Tribal Areas, 1972-1976; (Oxford University Press, 1977).
  • Millennium and Charisma Among Pathans: A Critical Essay in Social Anthropology (Routledge, 1976)
  • Mataloona: Pukhto Proverbs, (Oxford University Press, 1975).
  • Mansehra: A Journey, (Ferozsons, 1973).


  • Noor (play), Saqi Books, London, 2009. Part of the summer Festival at Theater J in Washington, DC in 2007
  • The Trial of Dara Shikoh, The Buxton Initiative, Washington DC, Pakistan Link, 2008 and Saqi Books, London, 2009
  • Waziristan to Washington: A Muslim at the Crossroads, a “memoire monologue” performed by Akbar Ahmed at the Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC, American University's Katzen Arts Center, and Theater J of Washington, DC. [5][6]


  • Presented and narrated “Living Islam”, the six-part BBC television series, in 1993.
  • Presented “The Glories of Islamic Art”, the three-part television series for Channel 5, UK, broadcast in 2006.
  • Consultant and interviewed for “Rumi Returning”, a major television film on the mystic poet.
  • “Encountering Islam”, Audio CD series, NowYouKnow Media, Washington DC.
  • Interviewed for Unmanned: America's Drone Wars Directed by Robert Greenwald and Produced by Brave New Films, 2013.

Distinctions and Distinguished Lectures[edit]

  • Awarded the Star of Excellence, one of Pakistan’s highest honors.
  • Awarded Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs in London.
  • Delivered a Special Lecture on Islam to HRH the Princess of Wales at the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1990
  • Elected member of the Council of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1991
  • The Inaugural Scholar's Annual Lecture at Rugby School, 1996
  • The Distinguished Scholar's Annual Lecture at Queen's University, Belfast, 1998
  • The President's Distinguished Annual Lecture at the University of Victoria, Canada, 2002
  • The Professor of the Year Award for Washington DC by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (2004)
  • The Miliband Lecture on Culture in the Age of Global Communications, London School of Economics, 2004
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Speaker's Lecture, U.S. Pentagon, 2005
  • The first Gandhi Center Fellowship of Peace Award.
  • Delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions at Monterrey, Mexico, September 23, 2007.
  • 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).
  • Founding member of the First Abrahamic Summit, Washington DC, and continues to be a member of the Abrahamic Roundtable, organized by the National Cathedral.
  • Board of Directors, Hollings Center, and member, Abrahamic Program Advisory Committee, Chautauqua Institution.
  • Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Hasan Family Foundation
  • Senior Fellow of The Case Foundation.
  • Inaugural lectures for the first Chair in Jewish-Muslim Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
  • First Muslim to lecture at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.
  • Special lecture at the London School of Economics and invited as an expert to address the All-Parties Committee on Terrorism at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in the summer of 2007.
  • Awarded the first ever Purpose Prize Award in 2006 (with Judea Pearl).
  • The Inaugural Annual Lecture of American Friends of SOAS, New York University, 2013
  • Public Lecture sponsored by the British Council, Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens, Greece, 2013

Book Testimonials[edit]

Journey into Islam:

"Akbar Ahmed's voice needs to be heard, and his courage strengthened." Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Laureate

"This book is a breakthrough in our understanding of the complex relationships between globalization and Islam...an essential resource for anyone interested in some of the key questions of our times, concerning not just the role of Islam in world society, but differing concepts of religiosity." Lord Anthony Giddens, House of Lords and former Director of the London School of Economics

"Akbar Ahmed is one of contemporary Islam's outstanding exponents: a role-model of reason in an age of anxiety, tolerance at a time of tension, and hope when all too many are tempted by despair. Journey into Islam is essential reading--wise, literate, insightful, optimistic, honest and humane, the work of one of the great religious sages of our time." Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth

Journey into America:

"A timely and stimulating contribution to a critically important issue: the West's (and especially America's) relationship to Islam." Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser

"In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville, Akbar Ahmed has had a conversation with and about America which illuminates an important part of our national identity." Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate

"Journey into America is an essential pillar in the effort to build the interfaith bridge of understanding. It will inform, provoke, and inspire Americans of all colors, cultures, and faiths." U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

The Thistle and the Drone:

"This is a book of genuinely global importance; by offering a fresh and entirely persuasive analysis of what the West habitually and superficially treats as 'religiously motivated' violence or terror, it demands an urgent rethinking of the disastrous strategies that have been used in the last decade to combat the threat of terrorist activity. Professor Ahmed combines a clear professional anthropological expertise with an equally clear, critical and humane moral perspective. This is an unusual and groundbreaking book, which should be compulsory reading for Western governments." Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

"In the end, I was close to tears. 'Lagrimas caudales' or 'flowing tears,' to use the apposite phrase of Blas de Otero, seems to be what the book's conclusions lead to...Thus lagrimas for the tribes, for the soldiers, and for the United States...Akbar Ahmed gives us the only way out of this dangerous dilemma, a way to coexist with the thistle without the drone." Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary

"I am moved, horrified, and encouraged all at once. Above all, Professor Ahmed makes me proud to be an anthropologist!" Professor Marilyn Strathern, DBE, former William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

"Ahmed's years of field experience and study, as a government official in tribal Pakistan, as an anthropologist, and as a leading authority on traditional Islam, make him uniquely qualified to offer this timely, balanced, and well-argued analysis of the interaction between modern drone warfare and the tribal peoples it targets. This book should be required reading for any policymaker, student, or military officer seeking to understand the risks and dilemmas of today's conflict." Colonel David Kilcullen, author of "The Accidental Guerrilla"

"From Akbar Ahmed, one of the wises Muslim heads I know, a brilliant deconstruction of America's drone attacks on targets in Pakistan and other Muslim societies across the world. His cogent account of how each attack detonates tribal threads, alienating and radicalizing whole communities still further, is a must-read." Jon Snow, presenter Channel 4/ITN News

See also[edit]


  1. ^ / U.S. Naval Academy
  2. ^ / Brookings Institute
  3. ^ / website link.
  4. ^ http://www.gandhimemorialcenter.org/fellowship_of_peace
  5. ^ / Waziristan to Washington: A Muslim at the Crossroads, by Elise Alexander
  6. ^ Waziristan to Washington

External links[edit]