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The University of Potsdam is presenting the “Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences” at its January 16, 2019. In the final analysis, the jury decided to award the “The Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences” to Prof. Dr. Milad Karimi, a philosopher of religion and scholar of Islam studies from Afghanistan. Karimi, who fled to Germany with his family at the age of 13, is now a world-renowned translator of the Koran, a poet, publisher and co-editor of a journal for literature and art. He is being honored as one of Europe’s most prominent scholars of Islam, who fights in his journalistic and scholarly work against prejudicial attitudes towards Islam. The Voltaire Prize signifies our hope that award recipients can serve as role models, upholding the ideals of the Enlightenment for which Voltaire’s name stands, both in the future and especially in difficult political times. We want this prize to send a public signal for tolerance, international understanding and respect for differences.
Today, the University of Potsdam is presenting the Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding, and Respect for Differences for the third time. The Voltaire Prize is funded by the Friede Springer Foundation and has been awarded annually since 2017 to scholars who have demonstrated a commitment to freedom in research and teaching, as well as the right of free expression.
I am pleased to give the commendation speech for this year’s recipient of the Voltaire Prize: the Afghani philosopher, Prof. Dr. Ahmad Milad Karimi. By awarding him this year’s Voltaire Prize, we honor and recognize the extraordinary diversity of his work and his achievements in mediating between cultures.
Karimi is a religious philosopher, a scholar of Islam, a translator of the Koran, a poet, a publisher, and a co-editor of a journal for literature and art. Karimi was born in Kabul in 1979. As a young boy, he and his family fled from the mujahideen, escaping from their home in Afghanistan to India. When he was thirteen, he traveled through Russia to Germany, where he initially lived in a refugee shelter. Karimi described his flight in his autobiographical work, “Osama bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes.” In his capacity as a philosopher, Karimi has made language his profession, publishing volumes of poetry and issuing a new German translation of the Koran.
Karimi completed his doctoral studies at the University of Freiburg, with a dissertation on the philosophers Hegel and Heidegger. Since 2012 he has been the Professor for Kaläm, Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism at the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster.
Today, Karimi is one of the most distinguished and best-known voices on the subject of Islam in Germany. Karimi, who feels equally at home in Islam as well as in European and German culture, is a member of a group of intellectuals who are focusing on such subjects in newly founded faculties of Islamic Theology. Karimi heads the Kalam publishing house, which publishes books by these young thinkers. He also publishes Islamic children’s books with another publisher. He believes that it is important for children to understand their religion, Islam, and German as their language. For Karimi, who once lost everything, books are the most important thing in life. His commitment and dedication led to Karimi receiving the Rumi Prize for Islamic Studies.
In 2009, Karimi published a complete new translation of the Koran. The purpose of this project was to create a translation that was as authentic and true to the original as possible. He focused on philological precision and the purveyance of an aesthetic and poetic experience.
As an important thinker about Islam in Germany, Karimi also confronts the questions of our time: Why do devout Muslims and Christians live next to, instead of with, each other, within the same society? How can we open up lines of communication between them? Karimi sees one answer in the observation that religion should be a space where you can breathe freely, a space free of any sort of triumphalism. Without the notion of triumph, the coexistence of religions can arise and stand fast.
Karimi, himself a wanderer between worlds, seeks answers to these questions through discussion and discourse with others who exist in the spaces in-between, who are connected to their homeland. With expertise and passion, he creates understanding for others and takes up central subjects, such as religious practice, tolerance and testimony or understanding of others.
Karimi has said, in a vitally important statement, that “it is not the Muslims who protect God and rescue Islam; it is God who protects them, and Islam gives them freedom and guarantees them peace.” It is particularly in times marked by propaganda, change and uncertainty that such thoughts, encounters and conversations play a crucial supportive role; they make it possible for us to approach one another, to get to know each other, and to understand each other.
In this spirit, we would like to thank Prof. Dr. Ahmad Milad Karimi for his extraordinary and wide-ranging dedication, and to honor him as the recipient of the The Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences in 2019.
Potsdam, January 16, 2019
Ahmad Milad Karimi