Aisha Ahmad: Knowledge Without Action Is Injustice
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Author: Dominic Contreras
As a child, Aisha Ahmad remembers vividly the arms bazaars in Peshawar and the throngs of bearded mujahedeen commanders as they passed through her grandfather’s smoke-laden offices in the Pakistani frontier province.
Though she was born in the UK and grew up in Canada, her family retained strong ties with their native community, and during her youth Ahmad regularly traveled to the unruly Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
Ahmad, who is Pashtun and from a long line of merchants and traders, credits these early childhood experiences as fueling her interest in researching political Islam and underground economies.
“I first came to this topic by witnessing it in my own family, in both the Soviet-Afghan War and then in the Afghan Civil War...a lot of my insights started when I was quite young and able to witness this first hand,” she said.
Currently a research fellow with the Belfer Center’s International Security Program and Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, Ahmad, who will receive her Ph.D. from McGill University later this year, is not simply content with understanding her area of expertise. “There’s no question that I’m the kind of academic who is in this to change the world and do something practical,” she said, believing that “knowledge without action is an injustice.”
In addition to her academic pursuits and accomplishments, which include writing numerous articles on Afghan, Pakistani, and Somali politics and recently accepting a tenure-track position at the University of Toronto, Ahmad is the Chief Operating Officer for the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation.
Founded in 1983, the Foundation is one of the few medical facilities still operating in Somalia, providing medical treatment and water to those affected by the country’s 20-year civil war. Since its inception, it has provided services to over 90,000 refugees and internally displaced persons.
While at the Belfer Center, Ahmad has continued to work on her dissertation, which looks at the role of underground economies in state formation and has begun working on her next project, which examines the international relations of Islamic states and the importance of Islamic identity in their development.
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