Monday, November 1, 2010

Daily Diary: Sultan's Chair's Contributions to the Development of Human Knowledge

Today was the Symposium on the Academic Chairs of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and their contribution to the Development of Human Knowledge in the conference hall of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) [continuing also tomorrow, and the next day] and the subjects were fascinating to me.

All the chairs were selected because of their works' support of cultural, scientific and economic development for world civilizations, and as Chairs, received funding from His Majesty to better carry out the endeavors of their academic disciplines.

This morning started with Professor Francis Robinson of Oxford University (UK) bringing all those in the hall from the 13th century to the present in an Islamic history lecture about security, resources, and influence for West and South Asia, his concluding thought that as China vies globally in trade, the GCC will become increasingly important to India, and this will affect future politics, and maybe even Islamic scholars and their works.

Afterwards, I confess, due to excessive socialising [I love my chai and samboosas] and a tour of the art department to inquire for a friend if she can attend the Arabic-only classes if she hires a translator, I missed the beginning of the next speaker's work, which was a short history of Arabic as a language and of Islam in China by Professor Xie Zhirong from Peking University [China]. This lecture was entirely in Arabic (though we had headsets and a translator) as this man created the first complete Chinese-Arabic dictionary. Fact alot of Omani MIGHT NOT know about their history, China and Oman have been ancient trading partners, up until the Ming dynasty.

The last lecture was Professor Mauritus S. Berger of Leiden University [the Netherlands] on the subject of religious tolerance as a rule or a virtue. Of course the Danish Mohamed cartoons were brought up. Prof. Berger explained the difference between the Muslim and Western concept of freedom to be that for Muslims, freedom is communal, and for the West, freedom is individual, and thus each approaches the idea of what makes an identity differently, and thus comes to head over tolerance. He had come to the historical conclusion that tolerance is either a pragmatic necessity, or a higher principle, that agreeing to disagree was too passive and solved nothing, but that learning how to change abusive criticism [the limit of tolerance] into positive dialogue by avoiding taking offense an essential to tolerance with a forseeable result in eventuality. I liked that he noted, that tolerance is only the option of those of the majority, who also have the option not to tolerate.

Tomorrow's lectures include Professor Abdullah Saeed of Melbourne University [Australia] on Islamic Scholarship with Australia as a case in point [how scholarship in the religion began with a focuss on history, litterature, and language, and is now more focussed on political and social concerns], Professor Barbara F. Stowaser of Georgetown University [USA] on Time in Islam [about how a Muslim society organizes their civilization around the five daily prayers], and Professor Yaser Suleiman of Cambridge University [UK] on the subject of Language, Inter-cultural Communication and Conflict.

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