Four students at Washington, D.C.'s American University, among them three non-Muslims and one Muslim, have accompanied Prof. Akbar Ahmed on an "anthropological excursion" around nine countries with large Muslim populations, from Egypt to Indonesia.
Ahmed (a former Pakistani diplomat) and the students met Muslim students, preachers and political activists, some of them with anti-Western views. They were surprised to find even the Muslims opposed to Western policies to be warm and welcoming on a personal level, and open to discussion and debate. For their part, many of the Muslims they met were astounded at the visitors' descriptions of the freedom of worship Muslims enjoy in the United States (Christian Science Monitor).
Of course, this tour was not entirely unique: a substantial number of American students go on study abroad programmes in Muslim countries; other young Americans work as interns with local NGOs with these countries, or serve with organisations such as the Peace Corps. However, this "excursion" was rather unique in its scope: nine countries visited, a large number of Muslims encountered, a large number of meaningful conversations and exchanges entered into.
I hope more such exchanges take place, in both directions. Muslim students would also have a great deal to learn from touring Western countries and having discussions of this sort with Western students, as well as political and civil society leaders.