Talks tackle diversity

February 11, 2005

Moderate Muslim academics are to explore how their universities can be used to secure social and economic development in ways that could reconcile differences within their communities.

They want to see if the lessons from the international debate over the role of universities as drivers of development can be applied to the Islamic world.

A conference in London this month will bring together progressive thinkers from Islamic universities and British and US experts to discuss ways of accelerating the reform process without opening up a rift with fundamentalists.

The conference takes place as moderate Muslims are becoming anxious at the growth of fundamentalism and its influence on universities in developing Muslim countries.

Key speakers from the Muslim world include Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, president of the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, Pakistan, and Rafia Obaid Ghubash, president of the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain.

From the non-Islamic community, speakers include Henry Rosovsky, professor emeritus at Harvard University, who was a driving force behind the epic shift in the World Bank's recognition of the importance of universities in development. Also due to speak are Ronald Barnett of London University's Institute of Education and Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation.

The conference is the inaugural event for the AKU's London-based Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations.

Director Adbou Filali-Ansary said the aim was to shift the focus from theology to a perspective that took into account the diversity of Muslim society, and Islamic cultural and religious heritages.

"It is important to find a way to escape from medieval views of education," he said.

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