His Excellency Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of the
Islamic Conference (OIC), called on Islamic countries to reform the higher education sector and
increase their focus on science and technology, at the opening ceremony of the Middle East’s
first Belief in Dialogue: ‘Science, Culture and Modernity’ conference, organised by the British
Council in conjunction with American University of Sharjah (AUS) and held under the patronage
of Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassimi, Supreme Council Member, Ruler of
Sharjah and Founder and President of AUS.
Professor Ihsanoglu urged member-states of the OIC—an inter-governmental organization
comprising 57 states— to commit to becoming a community that values knowledge and is
competent in advancing science and technology to enhance the socio-economic well-being of
the Muslim world.
“With the advent of the 21st century, the position of Islam towards science has developed more
in the direction of achieving advance knowledge and know-how in a rather pragmatic way.
The importance of scientific enterprise became more prominent and the need for excellence in
research is felt in more advanced Muslim countries,” said Professor Ihsanoglu.
Professor Ihsanoglu added that “from the perspective of the OIC, there is a need to reform the
higher education sector and priority given to science and technology while emphasising the
tolerant and moderate understanding of the religion of Islam. We have urged member states
to strive for quality education that promotes creativity and innovation and to increase their
expenditure of research and development.”
Professor Ihsanoglu personally proposed that the leading countries of the OIC should reach
1% of their expenditure of GDP on research and development. As a result of the OIC’s efforts,
average expenditure on research and development among member states has recently doubled
—growing from 0.2% of GDP in 2005 to 0.41% of GDP today.
Professor Ihsanoglu’s speech opened the ‘Science, Culture and Modernity’ conference,
organised as part of the by the British Council’s global Belief in Dialogue programme that
explores how people all over the world can live peacefully amidst growing diversity. He travelled
to Sharjah immediately from an official visit to the U.K. where he had held meetings with Prime
Minister David Cameron, and Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Dr. Peter Heath, Chancellor of American University of Sharjah, speaking at the opening
ceremony said, “It is fitting that this conference on ‘Belief in Dialogue: Science, Culture and
Modernity’ be held at AUS not only because it concurs with our university’s vision and mission,
but also because there are few universities in the world where one encounters such social,
national, and religious diversity. The 5,250 students of this university represent over 80
nationalities; its faculty and staff comprise over 40 nationalities. AUS is coeducational, with its
student body almost equally divided between women and men.
“It is an essential part of the mission of AUS, as with any great university, to offer opportunities
for its own community and for members of the general public to consider, discuss, and
investigate the great issues of the day,” he added.
“In the region of the Middle East, there are certainly enough events occurring currently for us
to observe and discuss. In many of the countries of North Africa and the Levant, historic social
and political changes are taking place, changes whose nature and implications we still see
unfolding,” he said. “Whatever course such transformations take in countries such as Egypt,
Tunisia, Yemen, or Syria, the issues that this conference raises will still be of great relevance. In
the long term, they may be even more pertinent than some of the short-term political tides that
ebb and flow during the next few years.”
Patrick Brazier, Regional Director, MENA, British Council, addressed the opening ceremony on
behalf of the British Council, “It is important that the discussions that take place here in Sharjah
do not end here. That is why we at the British Council, with our international networks, are
committed to ensure that the dialogue continues.”
“We will be running further events in different places around the world. And with our partners
from the BBC World Service, we will be making sure that the conversations continue, over the
airwaves and over the internet.”
A debate hosted by the BBC World Service on Wednesday, June 22nd is set to be a conference
highlight and will invite a global audience to participate in the spirited exchange that will take
place over the course of the event.
Dr. Mark Rush, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at AUS, said AUS and the UAE,
provide an ideal venue to discuss themes of science, culture, and modernity. “This region is also
the epicentre of a civilization that stretched from the Atlantic to India. One of the shining lights of
the civilization was the culture of Al Andalus which boasted an intimate, intense, and peaceful
intermingling of cultures and philosophies that gave rise to astonishing advances in science and
learning. The spirit of common inquiry that characterized Al Andalus brings us together today,”
said Dr. Rush.
“The themes and issues we will discuss over the next three days all address the intersection of
science, religion, ethics, public policy and the extent to which the development and accumulation
of more knowledge about these topics will promote common cause amidst diversity or simply fan
the flames of disagreement and division,” he added.
Over 40 of the world’s leading thinkers from across 10 countries have convened at AUS for the
conference, which is part of the British Council’s global Belief in Dialogue programme.
The confirmed line-up of speakers at the conference include Patricia Fara: a historian of science
at the University of Cambridge; Tariq Ramadan: Swiss Muslim intellectual, philosopher, and
writer, currently Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University; Qanta Ahmed:
author and Associate Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York; Ziauddin
Sardar: writer and cultural-critic who specializes in the future of Islam, science and cultural
relations and Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, Professor of Physics, AUS
The Middle East’s first Belief in Dialogue: Science, Culture and Modernity Conference runs
June 21st–23rd, 2011 at American University of Sharjah. For more information on the programme
and speakers please visit: www.britishcouncil.org/new/society/belief-in-dialogue.