International Congress on "Cultural Contacts in Building a Universal Civilisation: The Role of Islamic Contributions," under the patronage and in presence of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, organised by IRCICA in conjunction with the American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, 17-19 January 2004

Under the patronage and in presence of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, an International Congress on "Cultural Contacts in Building a Universal Civilisation: The Role of Islamic Contributions" was held in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on 17-19 January 2004. The Congress was organised by IRCICA in conjunction with the American University of Sharjah.

The congress was a unique gathering of select prominent scholars from around the world who are specialists of the history of development of Islamic civilisation in various fields of learning and culture, including philosophy, science, arts, as well as of its development in various regional contexts and its contacts with other cultures. The participants, whom IRCICA has known for many years and collaborated with on various occasions, were invited to the congress to review and evaluate the above main trends of Islamic cultural history, highlight their contributions in building universal civilization and pinpoint their implications for inter-cultural relations and dialogue in today’s world.

The opening ceremony

H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, opened the congress. The opening ceremony started with the recitation of the Holy Quran. Then, Prof. Dr. Winfred Thompson, Chancellor, American University of Sharjah gave the welcoming address, expressing his pleasure that AUS was hosting such an important scholarly congress. He underlined the missions and objectives the AUS assumed as an academic institution grounded in the Arab culture and as a contributor in the larger process of revitalization of education in the Middle East.

Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Director General of IRCICA gave an address expressing his pleasure to be in Sharjah, one of the capitals of the Muslim world marked by its excellence in learning, culture and arts, on the occasion of a conference convened under the patronage and the direction of H.H. Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, Ruler of Sharjah, President of the American University of Sharjah and the University of Sharjah who is an eminent personality of the intellectual and cultural world, a scholar in historical studies renown for his diligence and sound methodology. Prof. İhsanoğlu pointed to the pressing need for Muslims to correct the wrong image often attributed to their civilisation and to project a clear view of it reflecting the multifarious contributions it brought to human civilisation throughout history. This has to be done through joint efforts in the fields of scholarship and information aimed at highlighting the works and contributions of Muslim scholars and philosophers and making it clear to the world opinion that Muslims have been partners in the constitution of universal civilisation and not mere dependents upon others.

H.E. Ambassador Saadeddine Taieb, representative of H.E. Dr. Abdelouahed Belkéziz, Secretary General of the OIC, read the address in which H.E. the Secretary General pointed out that the participation of an impressive array of scholars and opinion-makers attested to the fact that the congress organisers had accurately judged the mood prevailing in the world at the beginning of the third millennium. Dr. Belkéziz expressed his belief that a forum such as this one was of a nature to facilitate a civilisational dynamic between the world of Islam and other civilisations and that it would create a process which is highly cultured, intellectually inclined and devoid of any conflict; "the resurgence of any notion of a clash of civilisations and the attempt by some to create a conceptual link between Islam and terrorism make such a meeting much needed and highly relevant”, he said. The Secretary General underlined that humanity is a mosaic of cultures; “each precious in its uniqueness and indivisibility, yet an integral part of the wider whole where we all connect. ... Since the dawn of humanity man has, always, feared the unknown. It is, therefore, imperative to overcome the fear by acquiring correct knowledge about other cultures and civilisations, thereby attaining harmony through respect for cultural diversity."

The opening ceremony then heard the first paper, by Prof. Dr. Abdulwahab Bouhdiba from Tunisia, entitled "The concept of man and its contribution to philosophy and culture".

At the end of the opening ceremony, H.H. Sheikh Dr. Al Qassimi received a framed work of calligraphy which was presented by Prof. İhsanoğlu, Director General of IRCICA, bearing the traditional saying "The highest rank is the rank of knowledge" written in the classical style of calligraphic art by the famous master Hasan Çelebi and gilded by his son Dr. Mustafa Çelebi.

The exhibition

Following the opening ceremony, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Al Qassimi inaugurated the exhibition of illustrations entitled "An Effort Devoted to the Study of Islamic Civilisation and the Preservation of Heritage" highlighting those aspects of the activities of IRCICA that are aimed, on one hand, at studying and making known the Islamic civilization, its historical development, its products and its contributions, and on the other, at preserving, restoring and rebuilding the assets of Islamic cultural heritage spread all over the world. Relating to the first aspect, the exhibition highlighted IRCICA’s efforts to promote Islamic studies and its acknowledgement of outstanding contributions in this regard through the awards program it instituted; in this regard, it featured pictures of the award presentation ceremonies of the IRCICA Award for Excellence in Research and the IRCICA Award for Patronage in the Preservation of Cultural Heritage and Promotion of Scholarship of the past years. H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, had graciously received IRCICA Award for Patronage in the Preservation of Cultural Heritage and Promotion of Scholarship in 2000. Some of the participants in the congress who had received the IRCICA Award for Excellence in Research were also featured (professors Roshdi Rashed (1990), Mohamad Taib Osman (1997), Géza Fehérvári (1997), and the late Annemarie Schimmel (1990))

The working sessions

The themes of the working sessions and the papers presented under each theme were as follows, each session followed by lively discussions:

I Culture Contacts in Humanities and Contributions of Islam
Chair: Nada Murtada, AUS

Festive Readings in the Islamic Tradition: A Tribute to Annemarie Schimmel, Kamal Abdel-Malek (AUS)

Two different contributions of Islam in philosophy: the so-called Paduan Averroism and Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on Aristotle, Enrico Berti (University of Padova, Italy)
Ibn Rushd and Ibn Tufayl on Universal Truth and Their Influence on Modernity, David Lea (AUS)

Islam and Byzantium: the Baghdad-Constantinople Dialogue, Irfan Shahid (Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA)

II Contacts in the Field of Arts and Contributions of Islam
Chair: Samia Rab, AUS

Arts and culture as instruments for an international language, Géza Fehérvàri (University of London, UK)

Islamic art: a two-way transfer in cultural exchange, Wijdan Ali (The University of Jordan, Jordan)

The Ottoman Empire and Europe: cultural encounters, Günsel Renda (Hacettepe University, Turkey)

III Contacts in sciences and contributions of Islam
Chair: Nidhal Guessoum, AUS

The contribution of Islam to the transmission and the development of Greek science, William Shea (University of Padova, Italy)

Mathematical modernity and Arabic mathematics, Roshdi Rashed (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France)

Scientific contacts and influences between the Islamic world and Europe: the case of astronomy, Paul Kunitzsch (University of Munich, Germany)

Cultural solidarity around the Mediterranean for the constitution of classical mathematical astronomy, Régis Morelon (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France)

The Transfer of Islamic Technology to the West: A Case Study of the Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet, Paul Chevedden (AUS)

IV Culture contacts in regional focus
Chair: James Onley, AUS

Islam and Buddhism, Ridwan al-Sayyid (Lebanese University, Beirut, Lebanon)

Islam as the foundation of the civilisation which developed in Insular Southeast Asia from 13th to 21st Century AD, Mohd Taib Osman (University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

The Importance of Islam for Hungary, Alexander Fodor (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary)

India and the Arab world, Syed Ausaf Ali (Hamdard University, New Delhi, India)

V Towards a basis of understanding
Chair: John Fox, AUS

The dialogue of civilizations: Islam and the West - a historical perspective, Majid Fakhry (Georgetown University, Washington, DC., USA)

Islam and the origins of contemporary Western civilisation, A. Helmy Mohammad (Ain Shams University, Egypt)

The globalisation of Islamic values and the future of international relations, Mohamad Abu Bakar (University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Conclusion: Synthesis/discussion

Chair: Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (Director General, IRCICA)

Ziauddin Sardar (Editor and professor, UK)

Fahmy Howeidy (Al-Ahram Newspaper, Cairo, Egypt)

Abdul-Hamid Hallab (Advisor to the President, American University of Beirut)]

At the end of the concluding session, Prof. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Director General of IRCICA, reviewed some of the views and opinions expressed during the working sessions and made concluding remarks on salient aspects of the theme. He thanked the distinguished participants for their valuable contributions and for the important joint scholarly message that came out of the congress through the papers, as well as the opinions given to information media during this period, which acknowledged the historical role that Islamic civilisation played as a component of universal civilisation and underlined the importance of recognizing the right value of all cultures and civilizations in the context of globalisation.

During the period of the congress, the participants visited the museums and cultural establishments of Sharjah, as well as the calligraphy exhibition that was being held by IRCICA in conjunction with the Tourism Department of Dubai, which coincided with the congress period. IRCICA was represented in the congress by Director General Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Ms. Zeynep Durukal (Coordinator of the congress, Head of Corporate Research Dept., IRCICA) and Mr. Mohammed Tamimi (Coordinator of the calligraphy exhibition, Head of the Heritage Preservation Dept., IRCICA).

Papers of the congress were published in the form of a book under the title Cultural Contacts in Building a Universal Civilisation: Islamic Contributions in 2005.