Aspects of Islamic Cultures

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Description of Project

At its nineteenth session, the General Conference of UNESCO authorized the Director –General to take the necessary measures to prepare and publish a work on the different aspects of Islamic culture. The aim was to show these various aspects both from a historical standpoint and with reference to the present relevance of a civilization whose role and brilliance in the future are expected to equal what they were in the past.

In the Middle Ages, the influence of Islamic civilization was felt throughout the world. For the peoples who, from the China Sea to the Atlantic coast of Africa, embraced Islam, it provided a set of cultural references and values that served to fashion their unity while preserving their own specific characteristics. What is more, this civilization, which aspired to universality from its beginnings exercised an undeniable influence on neighbouring peoples in several fields.

In the early Middle Ages, Muslim thinkers and scientists, drawing on the rich heritage of Greece, developed their own world-views and sowed in the subsoil of the Latin Middle Ages the seeds from which the first shoots of the European Renaissance were to grow. They served as an essential link in the transmission of learning and knowledge which constitutes the most moving illustration of the many-stranded continuity of the epic of humanity.

Muslim philosophers, geographers, physicists, mathematicians, botanists and doctors made their contributions to the adventure of science, which paid no heed to borders. Knowledge flowed in from Sicily and Andalusia. Perhaps the apocryphal story of AverroŽs in Italy, whose teaching at the University of Padua was to find an echo in Dante’s Inferno, is emblematic of this itinerancy of knowledge, carried like pollen by the bracing winds of human commerce.

Islamic culture, whose roots plunge deep into the past but which is still alive today, simultaneously developed a conception of the individual and the universe, a philosophy of life and an art of living still attested in the prestigious vestiges of its heritage, which form an integral part of the heritage of humanity.

But that culture, momentarily checked in its development by opposing historical trends, has found in its reserves the strength to spring back. Faithfulness to its roots by no means prevents it from wanting to take up position in the present century, participating in the contemporary debate and being open to the stimulating dialogue of cultures.

This six-volume work is intended to trace a dual portrait -historical and present-day- of a society that expects its future to be in every sense on a par with its past. It sets out to acuaint the widest possible readership with the different facets of this living culture: (1) the pillar of faith and the foundations on which Islam rests, (2) the status of the individual and society in Islam, (3) the spread of Islam since the Revelation: the Arab, Asian, African and European areas opened up before the new profession of faith and the way in which the rights of the converted peoples were preserved, (4) the fundamental contribution, in the scientific and technical fields, of Islamic civilization to the adventure of human knowledge, (5) the educational and cultural environments -in literature, art and architecture-, and (6) Islam today, between fidelity to its past and the necessary conquest of modernity.

Neither a learned compilation nor an attempt at popularization, these volumes are none the less written to the most exacting standards with contributions by scholars from all over the world.

In seeking to show the authenticity of Islamic culture, and its considerable relevance today, UNESCO is undertaking a long and arduous task. In so doing, the Organization remains true to its mission to preserve and promote the values of all the world's culture and so strengthen intercultural dialogue as a vital source of itnernational understanding.