Akbar Ahmed &
Judea Pearl Stress Need for Dialogue
By Rebecca Byerly
Pittsburgh: In an unprecedented event,
Professor Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl the journalist
who was killed in Pakistan, engaged in a dialogue with
Muslim scholar Dr. Akbar Ahmed at the University of
Pittsburgh, Bellefield Auditorium on October 23.
It was Pearl’s first dialogue and some members
of the Jewish and Muslim community in Pittsburgh had
expressed apprehension about such an effort. The two
men were uncertain of who would show up for the event
and what would unfold in the dialogue but Ahmed and
Pearl were received by more than 400 audience members,
including President of the Islamic Council of Pittsburgh,
Umar Slator, and President of the American Jewish Association
in Pittsburgh, Mark Frank, curious to know and learn
what the speakers would share with one another.
“In Pearl I saw great compassion, here is a man
whose son has been killed, in the most brutal of ways
and through this tragedy he saw a need for the bridges
of dialogue,” Ahmed said, who is a former high
commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain and chair
of Islamic Studies at American University.
Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation,
established in 2002, to “continue Danny’s
mission of dialogue and friendship, and to address the
root causes of his murder.” Pearl is also a professor
of computer science and director of the Cognitive Systems
Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Hatred took the life of my son and hatred I
will fight till the end of my life,” said Pearl
acknowledging his son’s death as a reason for
dialogue. He also revealed one of the key reasons he
agreed to come to Pittsburgh and talk with Dr. Akbar
Ahmed. “Ahmed was the only Muslim author I read
who has expressed empathy for the sense of siege Israelis
feel,” Pearl said. “Empathy is the essence
of understanding and prerequisite to dialogue.”
Ahmed connects the statement in his book ‘Islam
Under Siege’ with the two most frequently repeated
of God’s 99 names, Rahman and Rahim, (Beneficent
and Merciful) to express the compassionate nature of
Members of the audience spoke out against religious
Faizan Haq, offered his apologies for not being there
as a Pakistani and a human being to speak out against
Pearl’s murder. Haq is the Secretary General of
the Pakistani American Congress. Haq also pointed to
the violence perpetuated toward Muslims in the United
“On behalf of the people of Pakistan I beg for
forgiveness for the murder of your son Danny Pearl,”
said Umar Ghuman, a member of the National Parliament
Ghuman and Haq encouraged Pakistanis and Americans
to move forward in dialogue towards a greater understanding
of each other.
According to Dr Akbar Ahmed, the apologies, an unprecedented
effort on such a momentous occasion, speaks of the true
nature of Islam, compassion and justice.
In a personal interview Pearl shared his thoughts about
the apologies of Ghuman and Haq.
Pearl appreciated Ghuman and Haq’s apologies.
He said, “I am grateful to these brave officials
for making public statements which to me represent sincere
commitment to educate the people toward tolerance and
acceptance.” However, he wanted the clerics to
speak out against the murder of his son.
Ahmed said, the murder of innocent people like Danny
Pearl is never acceptable in Islam. The Qur’an
states that “Killing a single innocent person
is like killing all of humanity,(Surah:Verse 32).
“You have the freedom to interpret your religion
any way you want but you have an obligation to interpret
it in a way that would benefit mankind,” said
“People had a chance to speak but also listen,
people heard each other through Akbar and Judea in a
way they normally are unable to hear one another,”
said David Shtulman, Executive Director of The American
Jewish Committee and organizer of the event.
Eleanor Loftis, an audience member, apologized on behalf
of the Catholic Church stating that the slaughter of
Jews and Muslims in the name of God and religion throughout
history was wrong.
Ahmed and Pearl had a follow-up discussion on at the
Pittsburgh Press Club the following morning. Though
Pearl and Ahmed are advocates for a two-state solution
in Israel they do no not believe it will significantly
decrease the violence in the Muslim World. Ahmed asked
the audience to consider the situation in Israel and
how it will affect the Muslim world.
“Though peace in Israel is important, let’s
say today both societies are at peace, do you think
that will make any difference in the violence and murders
in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and other Muslim
According to Ahmed the answer is obviously no, the
violence will continue and the only way to quail it
is through dialogue and the growing need for all people
to seek compassion and provide justice to the dispossessed.
Interest in this type of dialogue has been shown from
cities across the United States such as, Washington
D.C., Detroit and San Francisco. There has been talk
of continuing this dialogue in countries such as Pakistan
In response to the question, why dialogue now, Shtulman
responded, “Some things take a long time to accomplish
but just because they will not be completed in your
lifetime does not mean that you don’t start the
South Asia Tribune
Issue No 66, Nov 9-15, 2003