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Akbar Ahmed: In class with Tamara Sonn

Members of the Women in the Muslim World class led by Tamara Sonn, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary, got a rare treat when distinguished Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, led discussion during a recent session.

Ahmed, who recently has received national exposure due to his Journey into America initiative that has been featured by CNN, talked about the complexities of Islamic society and the need to resist stereotyping members of the Muslim community. He also spent several moments distancing reported cases of honor killings of females from Islam.

“If there is a case of shame and honor, and a woman is involved, it will be tribal law that will prevail,” Ahmed said. “Tribal law even trumps Islamic law. Tribal law is swift. It often is brutal, and it’s often anti-female.”

Ahmed spoke to the class concerning his own experiences documenting cases of tribal brutality against women, yet he pointed out that women seem to be the greatest supporter of traditions in which their individual honor reflects upon their community. He also reflected upon the strides that Islamic women have made in urban spheres, where their histories of political and humanitarian achievements rival those of women in the West.

Ahmed was accompanied by members of his widely touted “Journey into America” team, which filmed part of the class discussion for that project. The question he posed to the class was, “Is the American male relevant at all, or has he been phased-out of a post-industrial society?”

Students were quick to take up the discussion. Matt Tobin suggested that males continue to bear the self-ascribed stigma of serving as primary providers. Irene Mathieu said that the African-American male already had been “emasculated.” Ainab Rahman countered that society continues to place an “important emphasis on masculinity.”

The previous evening, Ahmed presented the 2009 McSwain-Walker Lecture at the College titled “American Identity and the Challenge of Islam,” which was sponsored by the Reves Center for International Studies.