28.03.2017 - ODG

Presenting UNESCO’s “Different Aspects of Islamic Culture” at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies

© UNESCO -Director-General Irina Bokova, and Dr Farhan Nizami, Founder-Director of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies (OCIS).

On 27 March, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, was a keynote speaker in a special promotional event of the Collection “The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture”, which was completed in 2016 with the last two volumes and following decades of intense work from scholars of diverse countries. This Collection brought together 150 scholars from all over the world.

The event, hosted by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS), in Oxford, United Kingdom, was opened by Dr Farhan Nizami, Founder-Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. In his welcoming remarks, Dr Nizami, after recalling Director-General Bokova's commitment to the protection of cultural heritage, put emphasis on the "need to be aware of the extraordinary contribution Islamic societies have made to the world". 

Ms Bokova recalled the adoption, of the United Nations Security Council milestone resolution 2347 on the protection of cultural heritage, highlighting the " direct link between security, peace, development and the protection of heritage”.

“This Collection is testimony to the power of knowledge and culture to bring people together in the search of truth,” declared the Director-General, highlighting that this groundbreaking Collection brings together Muslim and non-Muslim scholars from all backgrounds and perspectives. “This sends a powerful message of respect and mutual understanding, facilitating intercultural and interreligious dialogue,” she said.   

Quoting the words of His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who has long been instrumental in promoting mutual understanding, the Director-General stated: “Human beings were created as equals and partners on this planet. Either they live together in peace and harmony or they will inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred”.

“This statement has never been more relevant,” she said. “When extremists seek to distort religion and manipulate faith to spread hatred and prejudice, we must respond with more knowledge, more culture, more science. This is the purpose of this collection.”

The event brought together notable experts on Islamic studies, including editors and authors of the volumes, in a panel discussion on the theme "Common Heritage and Cultural Diversity in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past, Building the Future".

"The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture" is the latest collection of UNESCO's General and Regional Histories Project, a project de-compartmentalizing historical narratives and placing emphasis on the values and links between populations on a regional and global scale.

Dr Abdulrahim Ali, Editor of the last Volume of the Collection, commended "UNESCO and OXCIS for contributing together to the launch of the Collection, and for promoting the messages at the core of this unique endeavour". "This joint noble and complex work has a great symbolic value to many", he added. 

Professor Marcia Hermansen, from Loyola University (Chicago, United States), focused her presentation on bridging the two themes of common heritage and cultural diversity in Muslim societies.

She recalled that "in the face of the theory of a clash of civilisations, emphasized by Samuel Huntington, UNESCO and the United Nations have promoted the dialogue of civilisations since the early 2000s." She called "to continue all the work to disseminate further this Collection, which sets a benchmark of intellectual engagement." "This profound humanist work should be pursued", she declared.

Professor Carole Hillenbrand, from St Andrews University, recalled that "common heritage means common ground shared by all Muslims". "Understanding the past", she said, "means recalling that Islam appeared first as a religion and as a community". It is unfortunate, she said, that "so many Muslim achievements were more known in the pre-modern era than today". Referring, as a tangible example, to Muslim Spain and the practical concept of "convivencia", she reminded that "peaceful religious coexistence occurred for about 300 years, or more, between the three religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity". She underlined the "urgency to foster deeper understanding of Islamic culture’s contributions to world history, while always avoiding the danger of scapegoating an entire community for a few of its members".

Professor Bruce Lawrence, from Duke University (North Carolina, United States) stated: "There is a tension between the very notions of civilisation and culture". “Over the years,” said Bruce Lawrence, "discussions took place on a normative Islam and a practical Islam".

Similar promotional events of the UNESCO Collection "The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture" are expected to take place in the framework of the forthcoming Baku Forum on Intercultural Dialogue (5 and 6 May 2017, Baku, Azerbaijan), as well as on the occasion of the closing of Expo-2017 Astana, in Kazakhstan, next September.

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