To be “a house of wisdom and a beacon of tolerance,” is how King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz described one of the goals of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to which he invited heads of states and important international figures.
As part of a double Saudi celebration, Saudi Arabia’s 79th National Day coincided with the launch of the new “house of wisdom” that is based on the Red Sea. The location is important as the university overlooks the vast sea that opens up to the wider world and the secrets and cultures of travellers from all over the globe.
The king called it the house of wisdom – a title that is reminiscent of the past. This term has a number of meanings; the university is nothing strange or odd to Islamic civilization, rather it represents the resumption of scientific and intellectual activity that has staggered throughout the course of Islamic history despite the major contributions of its great scientists such as Ibn al-Nafis in medicine, al Khwarizmi in Algebra and Ibn Khaldoun in sociology. The new Saudi house of wisdom represents the continuation down an old pathway that was blocked by the “highway robbers of civilization!”
When studies begin at the university, it will be “resuming” [scientific research] rather than creating something new and foreign. It is a message of reassurance or rather one of rebuke to those who have associated Islam to lack of [scientific] knowledge and terror of civilisation. It is a message to those who thought that our best option was to keep ourselves in a state ignorance and inactivity under the pretexts of identity, protection and resisting the so-called “cultural invasion.” Therefore, the new house of wisdom is the “restoration” project of the old house that was established by our ancestors and neglected, or rather fought against, by their grandsons.
There is no hostility between science and “faith” or at least there should not be, as some misguided people who see themselves as protecting faith, as the essence of religion, believe. The religious ceremonies and rites that many people cling to are nothing more than an embodiment of faith; but what’s more important than this is the faith itself. If the faith disappears then everything else will disappear with it. Therefore, it is wrong and foolish of some people to put the great human practice of science in a position where it clashes with religion, as this would be committing a crime against both science and religion.
The establishment of the “new Saudi house of wisdom” is the greatest and most powerful answer to those people who hate dialogue and spread fanaticism and extremism. And by the way, I do not only mean terrorists! The establishment of this “international” and “scientific” Saudi university – which will be attended by only 100 local Saudis and the head of which is Singaporean – is evidence that Saudi discourse with the world is better than it used to be.
Long ago, Al Mamoon al Abbasi, who created the first house of wisdom, had enemies against him and his project from various social classes. Unfortunately, the first house of wisdom project was struck down, even though it was an important point of our history scientifically, according to historians. Hopefully, the second house of wisdom will not be struck down and will not be fruitless.