|Soft voice, strong message
world leaders seek UD professor's thought-provoking views on Muslim
politics, religious extremism
The News Journal
BBC wanted a free-thinking Muslim to talk about the implications of the
life-threatening stroke of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
they called Muqtedar Khan at the University of Delaware.
BBC reached Khan, an assistant professor in the department of political
science and international relations, in the midst of a winter-session
class in Gore Hall. Khan called a five-minute break, did an interview
over his cell phone, and then reconvened class.
dresser with a trim beard, the soft-spoken Khan caught the world media's
attention after Sept. 11, 2001. About a month after the attacks, he
posted on his Web site, www.ijtihad.org,
an impassioned essay about why the Muslim faith should not be considered
a license for terror.
then, the essay has been reprinted in more than 100 publications,
including USA Today. He's dashed about the world to conferences, written
op-ed pieces, spoken to reporters, collaborated on books, published his
own journal (Muslim Public Affairs Journal) and taught classes about his
shaken hands with Prince Charles, who was so impressed by Khan's remarks
at a Georgetown University conference on religion and politics that he
came over to say so.
is now such a sought-out voice on Islam and international affairs that
he's been anointed "one of the 40 most influential Muslims in
America" by Majalla, an Arab weekly news magazine in London.
certainly not afraid of giving his opinion -- and he's not afraid of
speak my mind and later run into people who want to kiss me or break my
legs," he jokes.
in open dialogue sparks debates
helps others understand his faith and its connection to world politics,
says John Esposito, founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian
Understanding at Georgetown University. Khan was his student.
belief in open dialogue, rather than unthinking submission, is like that
of parishioners in many Protestant traditions.
don't take other people's opinions as divine. They are opinions, and
reasoning can be faulty," Khan says. "I say, let's have a
debate. I'm not afraid of offending God by using my mind."
as he likes to say: "I think, therefore, I am a Muslim."
the name of his Web site, Ijtihad, is a word that speaks of the need for
independent thinking on Islamic law.
childhood I realized that he who is afraid of God is afraid of no one
else," Khan said. "Submission to Allah gave me complete
freedom from everything."
rise to fame began in the wee hours of the morning Oct. 5, 2001, when he
rose from his bed in Adrian, Mich., where he was teaching at Adrian
College, to write about the terrorist attacks.
Muslims were still arguing that it was far from clear that Islamic
extremists had hijacked the planes that brought down the World Trade
Towers. Khan felt extremist involvement was clear, and he was offended
by the silence of so many.
saw that silence as denial, and he wanted to tell Muslims that the
values of American democracy are aligned with the highest values in
Islam -- peace and tolerance.
he sat at his computer and banged out "Memo to American
Muslims" and posted it on his Web site. It was soon read by
the memo, Khan chastised Muslims for failing to stand as a moral force
to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks. He demanded that they reclaim Islam's
he accused Muslims of hypocrisy.
love to live in the U.S. but also love to hate it," he wrote.
"Many openly claim that the U.S. is a terrorist state, but they
continue to live in it. Their decision to live here is testimony that
they would rather live here than anywhere else."
the United States is such a terrorist state, he added, then go back to
where you came from and see how you are treated.
wasn't long before the world's papers -- from The New York Times to The
Daily Times in Pakistan to the Nagasaki Post in Japan -- wanted him to
write op-ed columns. In April, his new book "Islamic Democratic
Discourse: Theory, Debates, and Philosophical Perspectives" will be
released by Lexington Books.
Miller, a fellow professor in UD's department of political science and
international relations, marvels at the pace of Khan's life. One day
he's talking to Prince Charles, the next it's the former prime minister
of Pakistan, Miller notes.
Khan insists that he was not the most popular person in the Muslim world
after he wrote the open memo.
longtime friends would not speak to him. Others urged him to keep his
thoughts to himself.
had threats on my life from overseas," he says. "But after six
or seven months things had changed so much that prominent American
Muslim organizations were saying what I had said.
has helped me to see that I am grounded in my thinking. Though I am a
liberal, I am in the mainstream."
he worries about the lasting impact of the war in Iraq.
look at the U.S. as going back to its old ways, using it as an
opportunity to dominate and destroy," he says. "The sympathy
for the U.S. that followed 9/11 has vanished.
while President Bush thinks he's brought freedom and democracy to people
in Iraq, others see chaos."
politics, seasoned with humor
9:05 a.m. in the amphitheater of Gore 103. Khan is about to start a
class in comparative politics, an introductory class that compares
different forms of governments and politics.
looks the part of a successful immigrant, in his gray slacks and
buttoned black jacket. He tends to speak softly, causing some students
to lean in to hear.
accent is Indian. One of three children, Khan grew up speaking English.
His father was in the military, stationed in Hyderabad, the capital city
of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Khan attended a Catholic school,
where he was taught well and sometimes caned. He also was tutored in
Islamic studies, mostly at home.
his UD class, as Khan talks about the history of India, he weaves in
personal history, too. Typically, he says, a colonial power imposes
culture on people.
at me," he jokes. "I'm a Kmart Englishman. I think in English,
drink tea and play cricket."
students say they like the mix of history, modern politics, personal
revelation -- all leavened with humor.
Osborn, a UD senior and evangelical Christian, says that Khan is also
open and engaging.
feel like he's a kindred spirit," Osborn says. "Both our
religions talk about a true follower of the faith being like a voice
crying in the wilderness.
me, Professor Khan is one of those voices."
starts lead to true calling
of Khan's first jobs was in marketing and advertising with Procter &
Gamble. But he hated working in marketing, and he felt an existential
anxiety that reminded him of Camus' novel "The Stranger."
"I kept asking, what is the meaning of life?" he says.
the meantime, Khan met a Hindu woman, Reshma Mohile, while teaching a
seminar in hospitality management. She found him charismatic.
joke that he could sell fleas to a dog," she says.
converted to Islam. Khan says his family did not approve. And, to the
consternation of his mother and father, Khan gave up a comfortable life
in India's corporate world and moved to the United States with his wife.
he studied business management at Florida International University. But
after a year, that course of study ended, too. He found it unstimulating.
were trained as technicians to maximize the profit," he said.
if wildly successful, he realized, he would not be happy as a Lee
course in political science shifted his focus to international affairs.
choose it because it's like a garbage can," he jokes. "You can
do what you like and call it international studies."
full scholarship and a stipend to Georgetown University helped make it
possible for him to change his course of study and, now, his life. At
Georgetown, he studied with one of the most respected American experts
on Islam -- Esposito.
he's so enthused by the opportunities to make his voice heard that his
wife worries about him sleeping only four hours a night and wearing
himself out. He does, however, make it a point to make time for
activities, such as crafts and reading, with their children -- Rumi, 7,
and Ruhi, 3. The family also watches movies together. One favorite is
"Water World," Kevin Costner's futuristic "Mad Max"
family's house is in Frenchtown Woods in Glasgow, only a few minutes'
commute to the UD campus. And Khan likes that he can take the train to
New York or drive to Washington, where he's a fellow at the Brookings
Institute, and be back the same day.
so many blessings, Khan says, he's intent on giving back to his adopted
I want to have a good life, America has to be a good place," he
says. "That's why I work so hard at telling truth."
Gary Soulsman at 324-2893 or firstname.lastname@example.org.