Saray Yildiz.. From the Ottoman Caliphate`s Palace to an Islamic Cultural Center

Saray Yildiz.. From the Ottoman Caliphate`s Palace to an Islamic Cultural Center

The idea of establishing a research center for Islamic history, arts and culture (IRCICA) began during the holding of the Seventh Islamic Foreign Ministers' Conference in Istanbul in 1967. Dr. Ekmeluttin Ihsanoglu, the Director-General of the center, said that what the ministers saw in the capital of the Ottoman state, the wealth of its libraries with the rare Arabic, Turkish, Persian and other manuscripts in various branches of science and knowledge which they contained, the priceless objects of Islamic art collected in its museums and the magnificent architectural remains in its territory, are some of the things which were incentives which encouraged the idea of establishing a center subject to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This center would be concerned with conducting researches and original studies in the fields of Islamic history, arts and culture, and through these researches would contribute to supporting closer ties between peoples of the Islamic world and effectively strengthening the links of friendship between them. Celebrating with the Research Center the beginning of the 25th year of its establishment, Al Arabi magazine turns over the pages of quarter of a century of effort and fruitful giving.

In Saray Yildiz, the palace of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamit II (1876-1909), who completed its construction in the nineteenth century, in the city of Istanbul, is the headquarters of the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture. We were received by its Director-General, whose name is so linked with the center that they have become one entity which embodies a human being's love for his history, his passion for his civilization and his faith in the importance of cultural memory in the evelopment of his country. A full day in which Dr. Ekmeluttin Ihsanoglu stopped between two journeys. The day before he had been invited by the Iranian capital, and the following day the German capital would welcome him.

I asked Dr. Ihsanoglu: With the center about to celebrate the silver jubilee of its foundation, there are projects which have been completed and others which are waiting for the future. What is the method that the center has chosen to link the past with the present and the future, and what is its basic idea?

The basic idea, he replied, is to introduce Islamic peoples to each other, and introduce them to the common heritage. In the first context, one party gets to know another, as the question is about different worlds: the Arab world, the Malayan world, the worlds of the Turks, Persians, Indians and others: what does one party know about the other? Can they read directly, without a third party as intermediary for themselves and their culture, status in the world today and their status in Islamic history? Or does the knowledge reach them through a European or Orientalist quarter? And we ask how we can get to know about the histories of these peoples, is it through what they have written about themselves, or through what others have written about them? And this is one of the main aims of the continuous activity of the center: introducing peoples to each other an d trying at the same time to make an opportunity available to come truly to know Islamic civilization in the different parts of the world. For one of the tasks of the center is to carry out researches which pave the way for producing accurate, dependable writings about the history and cultures of the Islamic peoples, to correct misconceptions and preconceived judgements about the Muslims and their civilization. We now have dozens of publications: books about the history of Islam in South-East Asia, histories of the Turks and Central Asia, the Caucasus, East and West Africa, and Islam in the Balkans. We also try to produce these books in more than one language, so that people can read them. In this framework, in December 2003 we are holding a conference in Uganda about the history of Islamic civilization in East Africa. We included the Sultanate of Oman and Yemen within the scope of the research, because they are geographically and historically linked with East Africa. This comes afte r we covered Islam in West Africa in a seminar held in 1996. The center has another conference in future, which will be held in the Albanian capital Tirana about Islamic civilization in the Balkans. This is the second seminar.

The other side of the center's activity," Dr. Ekmeluttin continued, is in-depth research about the history of Islamic civilization. I think that if we reveal two main aspects of it, we will thereby have shed light on two neglected aspects, namely science in Islam and art in Islam. Science in Islam has not received its due share of international studies. True, there are some pioneering academic institutions, but their effort is limited. We try to cover the distances that have been missed, and reveal the neglected periods of time, because it is customary when talking about science in Islam to deal with the golden age, namely the first Islamic centuries, as if everything after the first five centuries were not gold! The fact is, it is a heritage extending from the dawn of Islam up to this day, and we must be interested in all of it. The later periods and the subsequent centuries are more worthy of attention, because they represent the roots closest to us. This is also our concern, and so we have published Science in the Ottoman Era, which covers the period from the fourteenth century to the twentieth century. We have published two volumes about astronomy, two others about mathematics, two volumes about geography and one volume about music. These commemorative studies are continuing.

The neglected Islamic heritage, threatened with the danger of oblivion at times, and the danger of destruction at other times, is regarded as one of the most important tasks the center is undertaking, in an endeavor to preserve it. The first example of this effort was what we achieved with regard to the heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Every year, from 1994 to the present day, workshops have been held in Mostar. 2004 will be the year of the tenth of these workshops. The goal which has been achieved was to repair the Islamic institutions and antiquities. Ihsanoglu hopes that the center will in the same way be allowed to repair what has been destroyed of the great heritage in Baghdad and other Islamic cities.

Treasures of the Palace and the Library of the Center

Saray Yildiz is made up of several wings. Sultan Abdulhamit II increased them, and then added to it a rest house and an awning (a tent), which he erected specially so that his guest the German Emperor could watch the celebrations for his reception from it. He also added several kiosks to the palace, before he adopted it as a permanent headquarters for his rule. I asked Dr. Ekmeluttin Ihsanoglu about the spirit of the place, that relationship which strengthened the link between Saray Yildiz, Sultan Abdulhamit II s palace, and the center. It is now an unbreakable relationship, he answered with a smile, and explained: This is a beautiful question, and I am glad that you asked it, because this is the first time I ve heard it. What you have spoken about, in fact, is important. Several choices were put before the center, the last of which was Saray Yildiz. It w as not offered in this form, but I don t want to go into these details, as they have become history. But I can assure you that the character of the center has become interwoven with this place. Saray Yildiz, which was praised by the Prince of Poets Ahmad Shawqi, was the residence of the Ottoman Caliphs, and became famous as the residence of Sultan Abdulhamit II. The two were associated with each other when mentioned. At the beginning of the twentieth century the name of Yildiz was resplendent everywhere. The generation that preceded us was aware that hearing the name of Yildiz was similar to hearing the name of the White House, the Elysée or Buckingham Palace today. Indeed, the word Yildiz had a greater impact than all that. These historical memories of the headquarters of the Islamic Caliphate have linked the associations of ideas of the past with the present, in view of the fact that the Organization of the Islamic Conference is now the Islamic league, the symbol of the unity and solidarity of the Islamic peoples. Thus the flag of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to which the center is subject, represents a value in itself. The books of the center, the palace archives and the memory of the Saray have returned to the service of the Islamic world and researchers of Islamic civilization.

Sultan Abdulhamit II was known as an amateur carpenter, indeed he practised carpentry with skill and precision. Accordingly he added some workshops, a theater and a rich library to Yildiz Palace. One of the most important workshops he devoted to the manufacture of porcelain, indeed the production of Ottoman porcelain only came to life after the establishment of the Yildiz factory for porcelain in 1892, in the garden of the Saray. Sultan Abdulhamit expanded the wings of the palace onto the heights overlooking Dolmabahce Palace, and beautified Saray Yildiz in order to use it as a residence for the royal family. He added spacious gardens and artificial lakes to it, and forests surrounding his separate palaces. He commissioned a French expert to run the porcelain factory, in which foreigners and local people worked together. He set aside the production of the factory for the Saray only. Hence, in two museums attached to the palace and as part of the Sultan s collection, we saw the plates which used to be hung on the walls, picture frames, stoves and various sets of tableware. The factory also produced pieces decorated with flowers, pictures of animals and scenes, real and imaginary. Indeed, some of them were decorated with pictures of Ottoman Sultans. When the Sultan was deposed in 1909, the factory was closed. But it resumed operation ten years later, until the present day. It also resumed the production of porcelain in accordance with the ancient traditions of this art.

The library of the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture in Istanbul contains about 65,000 reference works in more than 40 languages. It has become a focus of attention for students and scholars of Islamic civilization. The center has made it possible to reach this encyclopedic library via the Internet from anywhere in the world. Unfortunately the library is suffering from lack of space, but this has been dealt with temporarily by using mobile shelves. It is divided and classified according to regions and Islamic countries.

The two museums of the Saray also include Sultan Abdulhamit II's personal belongings, including the last Ottoman throne, his personal carriage (without the horses), and all the private and public objects which the palace contained, even the paintings which represented the personal taste of the lover of art and carpentry. The Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture now also contains photographic treasures consisting of more than 60,000 rare photographs dating back to the nineteenth century. Half of these photographs are Sultan Abdulhamit II's collection. They are known as the Saray Yildiz Collection. The center makes these collections available to researchers, and publishes books about them, the most important of which are: Egypt in the Lenses of the Nineteenth Century and Istanbul A View from the Past. They show the reality of Is lamic antiquities and daily life more than a century ago. The center is planning to publish similar books for the benefit of both researchers and readers.

IRCICA Publications

The center has selected several projects which have been approved by its Board of Directors, and which take into consideration the idea of strengthening the ties of friendship and brotherhood between Islamic peoples. These include the publication of a series of studies and researches about the arts of these peoples. Perhaps the two volumes of The Ottoman State: History and Civilization, which come to about 2,000 pages, may be a translation of the research effort to which the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture in Istanbul pays exceptional attention. The Turkish text of these two volumes appeared in 1994, and were received with great academic and popular acclaim, to the extent that some universities included them in their study curricula.

The non-traditional method which the center adopted in the division of the book into chapters was the big reason for this admiration and appreciation. The Ottoman Sultanate in the past had only been studied within a chronological framework, following the sequence of events in time, until the center decided, as Dr. Ekmeluttin said in his introduction, to follow an analytical approach which deals with the subjects in a framework of unity, and made an effort to define the causes and results in a general form. The aim was not to review events and describe them, but rather to attempt to understand and interpret them, so that the work became a comprehensive book that was reliable scholastically. The chapters of The Ottoman State: History and Civilization represent books in themselves, particularly since their authors are people well known for their specializ ation in their fields, which they have researched for many years.

While Volume I of The Ottoman State: History and Civilization deals with the political history of the Ottomans and the Ottoman regulations for the palace, as well as administrative, scientific and legal systems. It tells about Ottoman society in Turkey and the nature of the family and its daily life, until it comes to the economic structure, which included the financial structure, monetary policy, the price structure, commercial activities, the postal services and industrial aspects. Volume Two casts light on aspects of Ottoman civilization like language, literature, religion, thought, the sciences and literature about them, education and its establishments, architecture and its specific features, Arabic calligraphy and its uniqueness, decoration and gold inlaying. The Arabic Edition of Volume One was published during the international conference which the center organized on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the establishment of the Ottoman tate. The theme of the conference, which was held in April 1999, was Scholarly and Educational Life in the Ottoman World .

In addition to the fluency of his language, the translator of this reference work who has filled a gap in the Arabic library, Dr. Salih Saadawi, has made a great effort to translate a complex, rich text overflowing with varied expressions and technical terms. The documents and pictures in the book are also testimonies to the effort made by the writers and editors of the book. The reader of this book can look at pictures of whole anthologies written in Ottoman calligraphy by poets of the Sultanate, feast his gaze on the decorations of red anemones and other things, with rare pictures of architectural antiquities and the minutiae of their details. Add to that also among dozens of pictures the illustrated story of Khosro and Shirin which the Topkapi Palace Museum contains.

It may be useful for us to refer to one of the extracts in the researches which these writers have presented. Dr. Asin Atil says about Ottoman arts: The Ottoman Empire did not stop at unifying continents with diverse cultures, it was also made magnanimous at the same time, without a prior decision, by its senior figures, its traditions and its orderliness within its administrative, social and cultural system. This is demonstrated by the generous welcome for the greatness of a state confident in its identity and in the forms of its expression of its arts. On the other hand, the Ottoman arts of ornamentation, for example, had become widely known among ordinary people in Europe since the sixteenth century, so that there was a craze for it, particularly during the nineteenth century. They used to copy it in France, England, Germany, Italy, Austria and Russia. Th e French, who are more than infatuated with such arts, even established factories to copy the Ottomans, both carpet factories in Gobelin and ceramic factories in Sevres, in addition to the Lyon factory which included a museum of the different types of satin and Ottoman velvet. The Europeans, from London to Saint Petersburg, built palaces in Ottoman style, or their palaces contained Turkish Rooms which were decorated and furnished in Ottoman style.

The Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture in Istanbul devoted another book to The Arts and Architecture of the Turks bearing that title, which took three years to complete. It was translated from English into Arabic by Ahmad Muhammad Easa. The author of the book, Oktay Aslan Aba tried in thirty chapters to give Turkish Islamic art the research and status that it deserves, correcting a great deal of misconceptions and misinformation. He began with the Turks before Islam and their arts, dividing the phases of the arts and architecture between the Karahanis, the Ghaznavis, the Zengis and the many Turkoman principalities (of which only very little is known). After that he allocated many pages to the architect Sinan and the antiquities of Sulayman the Magnificent, u ntil he arrived at the later phases of Ottoman architecture. He makes a tour of mosques, tombs, palaces, baths, fortifications and public fountains. He reads the inscriptions, carvings, porcelain, earthenware and textiles. After that he goes into the arts of gold inlaying and bookbinding, even the industries of weapons, shields, helmets, water flasks, mirrors, utensils and miniatures. The author takes pains to include in The Arts and Architecture of the Turks plans, drawings and pictures of most of the buildings which he mentions. This makes this book a reference work of quality in the Arabic library. The translator has added to the list of annexes, to include a general glossary which gives the Arabic and English meanings of 600 technical terms, all the expressions from architecture and the plastic arts mentioned in the book. There is also a map, which shows the most famous of these architectural antiquities in Istanbul.

In the publications corner also, Ahmad Al-Ujaimi, the Director of the Administrative Office of the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture, introduced us to a great landmark, namely the data bank of all the academic, government and private establishments which work in the sphere of Islamic culture. It is updated regularly, through an electronic application form on the Internet. The center has taken great steps to document the publications with translations of the Holy Quran. Everything that was done from the time that the printing press appeared until 1980 has been completed, as a first stage. An annex is now being prepared for what is after that date. Then comes the second phase of documenting the various manuscript translations which have not been printed except in Persian, Turkish and Urdu, before reaching the oral translations as a third pha se. These translations are widespread in West Africa in their local languages. In these regions, teachers during the blessed month of Ramadan are accustomed to reading the verses of the Holy Quran in Arabic, and then their commentary or meaning is conveyed verbally to local ears. It has been agreed with a number of quarters (in a total of 14 countries) to make audio recordings of these translations, in which the dialect of each Imam is different from the others, even in the same language.

The Handicrafts Development Program

Just as handicrafts were an important signpost for Islamic arts during the fourteen centuries which are the age of Islamic civilization, so the development of these handicrafts has become one of the priorities of the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture. It is devoting a massive development project to them called the Handicrafts Development Program, headed by Dr. Nazeih Maarouf. It began in 1990, concentrating its attention on reviving some artisan sectors which are facing difficulties and obstacles that prevent their growth, and are almost destroying a large part of them in many Islamic countries. These include the prevalence of the use of modern machines, the frequent appearance of mechanically designed products, traditional craftsmen leaving their professions in search of better paid work in modern factories, the difficulty of financing th ese crafts. They are also difficult to market, in addition to the fact that methods of training are deteriorating and an absence of the fundamental principles of teaching, whereby the skills of a craft are passed on from one generation to another.

All that is happening although these arts and crafts are regarded as part of the cultural identity of Islamic countries, as is emphasized by Dr.Maarouf, who considers the economic side as well. The material value of the export of these handicrafts from 15 countries in 1998 came to $11 billion, and they employed 20 million artisans, some of them full-time and others part-time. Dr. Maarouf, who is an expert researcher, expects that these figures may have trebled at least by now, which means that they are of considerable economic value. As an example he cited the Kingdom of Morocco, in which this artisan aspect of the economy represents 20% of Gross Domestic Product. Iran in 1998 exported carpets worth $2 billion. These figures translate into economic data which include providing jobs. They also translate into aspects of civilization and culture. Maarouf urged t hat the locations and products of artisan crafts should be included in the tourist agenda in Islamic countries.

In this context, the Research Center in 1991 organized an international seminar on Horizons of Development of Traditional Industries in the Islamic World . It was hosted by Rabat in co-operation with the Moroccan Rabat Al-Fath Association and the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah. In 1994 the center honored the artisans of the Islamic countries as they are in their locations in Islamabad. After that the center organized an international seminar on Inventiveness in Islamic Handicrafts, and on that occasion sponsored the IRCICA Prizes for creative handicraft artisans. The following year in Cairo it held the first international seminar on Oriel Windows and Stained Glass in the Islamic World.

Dr. Nazeih Maarouf says that preparation for a seminar, like the one hosted by Cairo and organized by the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture in co-operation with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture on Oriel Windows and Stained Glass in the Islamic World, takes a year and a half. It began by determining an appropriate subject, which had been proposed by Professor of Folklore Safwat Kamal, at a meeting arranged by the singer Safwat Hilmi Hussein. The importance of the subject was that it described important functions which brought new life to the fine arts. It dealt with one of the creative aspects of the Islamic heritage, and the function these oriel windows performed in providing privacy to members of the household, with cool air in hot regions. This is in addition to aesthetic qualities which have made their impression on the traditional pers onal architecture of the Islamic world. Then the importance of extensive research on the subjects is determined, and in-depth research provides sufficient pictures of oriel windows and stained glass in the Islamic world. After that comes correspondence with a number of specialists who give the subject its due in debate and discussion. These researches are published within the covers of a volume at the end of the seminar, and we now have a reference work that is unparalleled in its objectivity.

In fact, the book on Oriel Windows and Stained Glass in the Islamic World combined the gist of the days of the seminar held in the Opera House in Cairo and its 16 sessions, and the forty papers of its researchers, in order to become such a reference work. The applied studies which the book contains include a study about oriel windows and stained glass in the Arabian Peninsula, and the research of Sami Muhsin Anqawi about skylights and the experiment of developing them as a main element in Hijazi architecture. And Abdullah Al-Hadrami discussed oriel windows and glass skylights in the old city of Sanaa. Ghada Rida Al-Hajjawi dealt with oriel windows and stained glass in Kuwait, Nawaf Hamed reviewed this art in Palestine, and Bassam Adnan Daghestani read papers of oriel windows and stained glass in the architecture of the United Arab Emirates. This art in Lebanon was dealt with in three studies by Abdulrahim Ghalib, Faiqa Awaida and Hisham Bakdash. Sawsan Amer, Izzeddin Najib, Fahmi Abdulalim, Muhammad Ali Hasan Zainahum, Mustafa Abdulrahim, Muhammad Said, Abdulghani Al-Nabawi Al-Shal, Wasifa Hilmi Hussein, Abdulrauf Ali Yusuf and others spoke about it in Egypt.

In addition to studies about plastic arts and historical studies, or those which dealt with operations to restore antiquities like oriel windows, stained glass, skylights and gypsum work, creative studies include those by the researcher Omar Al-Khalidi, who works with the Aga Khan Project for Islamic Architecture, the Massachusetts Institute and Harvard University. He outlined the importance of marketing oriel windows and stained glass in Europe and North America, showed the problems of marketing and the search for new opportunities. Marketing begins by introducing these societies to the characteristics of these arts, using direct marketing to consumers, and linking the places where they are produced with the handicraft sales centers throughout the Western world. The classes of people interested in acquiring works of art should be attracted, by publishing dir ectories to introduce these products to them.

In Damascus the efforts of the center, UNESCO and the Syrian Ministry of Culture came together to hold the first international seminar on the arts of decoration in the handicrafts of the Islamic world, in 1997. The program of this seminar included arranging field visits to the Takiya Sulaimaniya (the handicrafts market), Al-Azm Palace (the museum of folk traditions) and following up the skills of artisans. Two years after that, the Tunisian capital hosted the First International Seminar on Traditional Carpets and Rugs in the Islamic World . A record number of papers were presented, a total of 70 researches, whose themes dealt with the development of traditional carpets and rugs, the different schools, the designs used, the renovation of old ones, the raw materials used, the search for ways to develop and market them, and economic aspects.

In the context of the projects which the Handicrafts Development Program has adopted are those mentioned in the comprehensive conference that was held in Isfahan (Iran) last year on Islamic Arts and Crafts. The papers at the conference did not confine themselves to preoccupation with the well-known Islamic arts and crafts like miniatures, decorations, engravings, Arabic calligraphy, carving, costumes, mosaic and pottery, they also dealt with jewelry, gold inlay, water color drawings, the manufacture of seals and beads, even Afghan women s embroidery, weaving garments and traditional Iranian furniture had their place in this conference. Some of the studies dealt with the effect of these Islamic arts and crafts on European art, like the paper of Dr. Ghada Al-Hajjawi Al-Qaddoumi who considered, for example, that the a rt of the book in Europe, particularly in the realm of bookbinding, imitated Islamic examples to a great extent, in terms of methods of workmanship and decorative forms. The proceedings of this conference, in addition to its days of researches, an international procession of participants under the slogan Revive and Protect the Traditional Heritage of the Islamic World , with exhibitions of a collection of masterpieces of Islamic arts and crafts, display areas for artisans at work, field visits to local artisans and another exhibition of publications and cultural materials.

Reviving the Arts of Arabic Calligraphy

Since its foundation the center has adopted the idea of preserving the values and methods of the arts of Islamic calligraphy, and reviving it by encouraging new generations of modern calligraphers, and whoever comes after them. Consequently, the center established the International Competition for the Art of Calligraphy. Its first round began with the idea in 1986, to perpetuate the memory of a calligrapher, the late Hamed Al-Amidi and to carry out the recommendation of the Istanbul communique which ended the proceedings of the 1983 International Scholastic Seminar on the Principles, Forms and Subjects Common to the Islamic Arts, which concluded by affirming the importance of holding such a competition. Today the competition, as Dr. Ihsanoglu, has become the basic touchstone and the criterion for excellence in the art of Arabic calligraphy in the whole world. The center has also become the focus of attention of young calligraphers who come to study from Brunei in the East to Morocco in the West, and also from Europe and the United States. Thus the revival of Arabic calligraphy is regarded as one of the brilliant spheres of activity which the Research Center has entered.

Muhammad Al-Tamimi, the co-ordinator of this competition, says: Its first round was held in the name of the calligrapher Al-Amidi (1891-1982), and subsequent competitions were linked with the names of great calligraphers: Yaqout Al-Mustaasimi (who died in 698 AH), Ibn Al-Bawwab (on the thousandth anniversary of his death in 413 AH), Hamadallah Al-Amasi, known as Ibn Al-Sheikh (who died in 926 AH), Sayyid Ibrahim (1897-1994), until the sixth competition which was called after the calligrapher Mir Imad Al-Husni (961-102 AH), which was organized this year, 2003. Al-Husni was the leading calligrapher of the Nastaaliq script, from the Safavid era up to the present day. He traveled between his home town, the city of Qazwin, Tabriz, where he studied the sciences of his age, India, Herat, Khorasan and as far as Damascus, before returning to Isfahan , which attracted many scholars and artists. The names of calligraphers are chosen according to many considerations, the most important of which are geographical distribution and distribution in time.

Al-Tamimi adds that there is co-operation with the cultural institutions concerned to publish the conditions of the competition, in which about 350 calligraphers have participated. The conditions include the choice of types of calligraphic script. In the sixth competition, Clear Thulth, Ordinary Thulth,, Naskh, Clear Taaliq (Nastaaliq), Taaliq, Clear Diwani, Diwani and other types were chosen, including Kufis, Muhaqqaq, Raihani, Ijaza, Maghribi and Precise Taaliq. Another condition is authenticity in execution, by following the method of eminent calligraphers even in the use of traditional ink. Evaluation of the work takes the calligraphy as the criterion, and does not take into consideration gilding on the panels, or their frames. Also, in order to ensure equality between the competitors, the committee provides them with the texts that they are required to w rite, written in the required scripts. These are verses from the Holy Quran, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) and religious poems. The total value of the prizes is US $50,000. The center has fixed February 2004 as the deadline to hand in works taking part in the competition this year.

The plan of the center to document the arts of Arabic calligraphy includes publishing volumes that contain panels by great calligraphers and their biographies, as well as publishing the works of the winners of the annual competitions. The center also publishes a series of writing models, which are exercise books to teach young people the different scripts of Arabic calligraphy. As I examined these exercise books, I wished that the Ministries of Education in our Arab world would use them to train students on them, in order to spread their benefit publicly. Al-Tamimi suggested that Al-Arabi magazine adopt this appeal.

The Future

Before saying goodbye, I asked the Director-General of the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture about the aspirations which the center hopes to achieve in future. We want to complete the spectrum of programs on which we are working, he replied. We are aware that there are fields to which we have not given their full due. And we hope to renew the system of study leaves and educational grants for young scholars so that they come to the center to study and research. So far we have not been able to bear the cost of this aspiration, as it requires material coverage and a legal arrangement. This will meet a lot of demands which come to us from different parts of the world for young scholars who want to work here in researches of Islamic history, arts and culture. Also there are many countries which want the center to have regional branches in th em, and this is something beyond our capabilities. But we hope that the future will permit that, and we will have at least some regional branches, as these regions have the character of cultural diversity. In the near future we have a seminar to be held in Sharjah under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Sultan Al-Qasimi about Islam as a Civilization which has Contributed to Building World Civilization . With regard to the IRCICA Prize of the Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture, it was established on the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the center, and it is awarded for excellence in researches on Islamic civilization. From the scholastic point of view, it is the highest prize in this field. It has been awarded during these years to an elite of leading researchers in the world, like Professor Hamidullah, the late Dr. Abdulrahman Badawi, the well-known orientalist Annemarie Schimmel and many outstanding scholars who have worked in Islamic culture. On the tw entieth anniversary of the foundation of the center we began to honor the great personalities who had served our Islamic culture. At the forefront of these personalities is Sheikha Hussa Al-Sabah, Sheikh Sultan Al-Qasimi and Dr. Ahmad Zaki Al-Yamani. This year we will announce the names of five of the personalities and institutions to be honored, who have rendered service to Islamic culture.

Dr. Ekmeluttin spoke about the Saray, the center and the future, but he did not want to talk about himself. It is he who has given himself, his energy, time and learning, to work there for a quarter of a century, because he believes in an Arabic proverb which he repeated to me: Love of ostentation is back-breaking. But the center and his achievement in it will speak about him for a long time. Ihsanoglu and his colleagues in the center have been able to put the problems behind them, not stop, and solve whatever they could of them as they went along. At the weekly meeting, the employees water the tree of life at the center with their expertise, and solutions are searched for jointly, not individually. Honesty is necessary in experimentation, and achieves ingenuity in solutions. Their hope remains that the next generations will be aware of the mission of the ce nter and will contribute to making it a success, so that this living edifice may move on to new horizons.


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


Print Article