I have almost lost my voice considering the number of meetings I have held with university directors and school principals, either in Egypt or elsewhere in the Arab world, about the need to promote education and tourism. In every Arab country I visited, I met with officials in charge of education and culture and I urged them to promote pan-Arab educational tourism. This policy would provide considerable benefits. Most notably, our children would understand the meaning of history and civilization, instead of sitting inside classrooms where a history teacher talks about the ancient Egyptian civilization, the Mesopotamian civilization, or Islamic civilization, without any aides or props to illustrate the facts he is explaining to his students.
What does it actually mean, for example, when a teacher says that Islamic civilization contributed greatly to the development of all fields in the arts and sciences, and that it served as a key factor in the Western renaissance?
Would it not be more beneficial for this lesson to be taught in a museum, such as the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, so that students can witness the chronology and history of the Islamic period, from its inception until now, for themselves? By studying the arts of the Islamic period, a visitor can gain a true insight into Islamic civilization. This era was not merely characterised by cavalry and warfare, but also by the pursuit of knowledge, art, and science.
I am aware that an elite category of schools and universities, in some Arab countries can afford overseas educational programs as such. There is no problem with this, for these schools and universities can help to initiate the idea, and allow the proposal to be assessed, after it has yielded successful results. Then we can urge financial corporations and businessmen in every Arab country to sponsor a school or a university or even a certain class so that they can travel and visit museums overseas. This initiative should also receive government support, in a variety of ways and means. For example, the government could grant tax breaks to comparnies or corporations that sponsor schools or universities.
Education in our society requirs sponsorship, and we should not let the government shoulder the whole burden. History shows that science and the arts advanced through the ages with the assistance of sponsors. We also know that Islam considers expenditure on students as a form of almsgiving, for which one will be rewarded, whether in this lifetime or the next.
This idea came to me whilst I was walking through the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo, which was the first museum for Islamic antiquities and art in the world. In every part of the museum – there are sections representing the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods – I imagined school and university students, accompanied by their teachers, sitting on the floor in front of these treasures from different Islamic periods and learning the finest lessons about history and civilization.
I still maintain that we could change many things in our society if we abandoned our sense of individualism and selfishness and look at all issues in a comprehensive manner with the intention of changing things for the better. A number of societies have preceded us in doing so; however we still have the opportunity to do this [as well].
This is an open invitation to all our schools and universities in the Arab world to visit Egypt’s museums free of charge. Just send us the name of your school or university and the expected number of students and teachers who will be attending this trip and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities will make the arrangements for your visit free of charge.
This is our Eid gift to you. Happy Eid to everybody!