LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Our guest for today's chapter in our summer reading series is Akbar Ahmed. In 1999 and 2000, he was Pakistan's ambassador to Great Britain. Akbar Ahmed is now a professor of international relations at American University here in Washington and an anthropologist of Islam. When he's not at the professor's lectern, Ahmed speaks about the role of religion in politics as an adviser on interfaith initiatives. This summer, he chose to read books that reflect his work. "The Dignity of Difference" by Jonathan Sacks, for example. Sacks is the chief rabbi of Great Britain's United Hebrew Congregations. Ahmed describes Sacks' book as a discussion of the critical issues creating conflict in the contemporary world.
Professor AKBAR AHMED (Professor of International Relations, American University): We are living really in a world in which consumerism, materialism is challenging some of the values that we all hold dear, whether you are Jewish, whether you're a Muslim, whether you're Christian--humility, piety, the understanding of tolerance and love of God and so on. And this is the real clash that is taking place. And we need to be conscious of that.
HANSEN: Tamara Sonn's primer "A Brief History of Islam" is another book Ahmed recommends. One of his favorite chapters describes how Muslim rulers encouraged innovations in science, art, architecture and literature. Ahmed also spent time this summer with Bruce Feiler's book "Where God was Born." He had already read Feiler's earlier ones--"Abraham: A Biography of the Man Who Unites Christianity, Islam and Judaism," and "Walking the Bible" about the author's 10,000-mile trek from Mt. Ararat in Turkey to Mt. Nebo in Jordan.
Prof. AHMED: Bruce Feiler is a young American who wants to begin the exploration, the discovery, of his own faith. He is Jewish. And he goes back to the Middle East and begins to explore the roots of his own faith. And this in a sense opens up all kinds of questions for him and poses all kinds of challenges. And from there comes the story of Abraham. And from Abraham comes his present book "Where God was Born." So in a sense, I see this as a very interesting personal journey, and yet he's really a guide to all of us. He's also helping us understand our own faiths and allowing us to come closer to each other.
HANSEN: Ahmed's favorite novel is "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, a semi-autobiographical depiction of a childhood in 1970s Afghanistan. It's the story of Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman who flees Kabul with his father soon after the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Prof. AHMED: What drives him is a memory that he had with his best friend who he felt he let down, and so he goes back to Afghanistan. And by that time, of course, his friend is no longer alive. So he looks for his friend's son to try to reconnect and help him as much as he can. So in that sense, what's driving him is a very personal compulsion almost, and that gives it a much more psychological dimension than just a straightforward novel about heroes and villains.
HANSEN: Akbar Ahmed is a professor of international relations at American University, as well as an anthropologist, filmmaker and author. He's the co-editor of a forthcoming collection of essays called "After Terror," promoting the dialogue of civilizations.
To learn more about our summer reading series, please visit our Web site npr.org.
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