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Chancellor Calls to integrate Arab intellectual history into modern higher learning
Dr. Peter Heath, Chancellor of American University of Sharjah (AUS) has called for reintegrating Arab intellectual history into modern Arab higher learning after providing modern interpretation to it as he addressed a conference on Islamic education in Germany earlier this month.
According to Dr. Heath, "Neglect of sophisticated investigation and intellectual discussion of past thinkers and events impoverishes our present. "In this sense, the dearth of prominence of these fields as a standard component of study in modern Arab universities is an opportunity lost," he added.
Chancellor Heath was addressing the "International Conference on Knowledge and Education in Classical Islam" which was held at the University of Gottingen, in Germany on Sunday, October 2. It was originally scheduled to be held in Cairo, but relocated to Germany following the political changes in Egypt.
The conference was the first of its kind that Al Azhar University, the world's oldest Islamic University, organized in cooperation with the German university. It was attended by over 100 scholars specialized in this field of knowledge and education in classical Islam from Middle and Far East, Europe and North America, as well as interested faculty members, scholars and politicians from all over the world.
In his plenary session presentation titled The Role of Classical Knowledge and Education in Modern Arab Higher Education, Dr. Heath described as "ambiguous," the role that the legacy of classical Arab/Islamic knowledge plays in modern Arab higher education. Prior to his presentation, Dr. Heath was introduced by Tod Lawson, a well-known scholar from the University of Toronto. His presentation was well received by the participants including those from al-Azhar University.
As he scrutinized the role of Arab/Islamic legacy in modern Arab higher education, he argued that, "Lip-service is frequently given to its importance for the early development of both Arab and Western science and philosophy. Notes of mourning are evoked as to the current lack of creativity and innovation of science and knowledge in the Arab world compared to the prior epoch of creativity, innovation, and knowledge." "The dominant themes represented are therefore pride in and nostalgia for the past, and sadness and disappointment about the present state of affairs," he added.
Dr. Heath pointed out that by examining the vision and mission statements of many Arab national universities, one can conclude that these major regional universities are not capitalizing on their rich intellectual and cultural heritage in their programs. "This means that many students who go through these universities may have no higher education exposure to Arab/Islamic culture at all," said Dr. Heath.
"These modern Arab national universities seemingly do not believe that their students need or would benefit from direct exposure to the thinkers of the classical Islamic heritage," he said.
On the contrary, these universities thrive to prepare their students to be competitive in the global workplace by offering more secular academic programs.
Dr. Heath then concluded that this departure of modern Arab higher learning institutions from classical Islamic knowledge does not mean that the modern Arab culture is doomed and will lose its identity. "What it does mean, however, is that the immensely rich intellectual and sophisticated cultural legacy of the writers and thinkers of this tradition are being sidelined; they are not being mobilized as resources to solve tensions and conflicts of present," Dr. Heath concluded.
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