An Institute of Islamic Civilisations is to be launched by the Karachi-based Aga Khan University as its first significant international initiative.
The institute, which will be sited in London, aims to "engender a critical humanistic approach to the study of Islamic civilisations", said the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Ismaeli Muslims.
Initial activities will include indexing and creating an electronic archive of published works on Islamic civilisations in various languages. It will also sponsor thematic research in fields that have so far escaped academic attention, as well as provide full and part-time academic programmes.
Plans to set up the institute surfaced in the early 1990s, when prejudice against Islam, in the face of the spread of fundamentalism, was at its height. At that time, the Aga Khan recalled the role of Islamic scholars in developing medieval universities from Cairo to Andalusia.
A commission set up to examine how the university should develop over the next 25 years recommended siting the institute in a western capital. It said this should be a priority in the Pakistan-based institution's international expansion plans, which include outposts in Canada, East Africa and a "sibling" University of Central Asia in the Pamirs.
Opened in 1984 with an endowment from its namesake, the private Aga Khan University quickly established itself as a teaching hospital, offering first-world health care in a third-world country. It also pioneered degree-level nursing education in Pakistan and has launched a schools-based in-service teacher education programme to improve standards in the country's schools.