Vol. 2  Issue  1-15 May 2007
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    Cultural Capitals of the Islamic World     A Proposal to the OIC
IOS Research Network

The European Union (or EC, as it was then known) approved a resolution on June 13, 1985 to designate every year a city in the continent as the Cultural Capital of Europe. The objective was to showcase the cultural, architectural, artistic and scientific heritage of particular cities and thereby to bring the citizens of the European Union closer together. The European Commission granted a subsidy to the selected city each year. The following provides a list of cities designated as Cultural Capitals of Europe from 1985 to 2006.

From 2007 onwards, two cities will share each year the status of Cultural Capitals of Europe. In the current year, Luxembourg and Sibiu (Romania) have been selected as Cultural Capitals. In 2010, Essen (Germany), Istanbul (Turkey) and Pecs (Hungary) will share this status.

The idea of Cultural Capitals of Europe has received an enthusiastic response from member countries of the EU. It has provided a great boost to international tourism which, in turn, has generated an enormous interest in local cultural traditions. The move has facilitated greater understanding among the citizens of the European Union about the cultural diversity of Europe as well as about its shared history and traditions.

Cities in the Islamic World

Islamic civilization has made a pioneering and highly significant contribution to urbanization and to the founding of towns and cities. In earlier times, towns and cities served as nerve centres of administration, transportation and communication and provided key networks of linkages and integration in the Islamic world. The efflorescence of Islamic civilization in respect of science and medicine, technology and engineering, trade and commerce, architecture, arts ad crafts, literature and scholarship took place in the context of cities.

In earlier times, cities such as Madina, Fez, Isfahan, Tashkent, Marrakesh, Samarqand, Delhi, Cordoba, Tabriz, Cairo, Istanbul, Lahore, Mashhad, Granada, Tripoli, Damascus, Baghdad, Shiraz, Bukhara, Saville, Xativa, Herat, Qayrawan, Basra and Sana’a were the envy of the world. Many of these cities have experienced decline and disintegration due to the vicissitudes of time. A few of them, such as Istanbul, Cairo, Tabriz and Isfahan, have retained some of their pristine glory.

Cultural Capitals of the Islamic World

In view of the great historical role and cultural significance of cities in the Islamic world, it will be fruitful to adopt the model of the European Union and to select each year a specific city as the Cultural Capital of the Islamic World. The move will serve several important purposes.

  • It will showcase and highlight the city’s cultural, architectural, artistic, scientific and religious heritage. Furthermore, it will bring out the fascinating interface between diversity and unity in Islamic civilization.
  • It will stimulate international tourism which, in turn, will boost the region’s economy. It will also build bridges of understanding and goodwill between Muslims and others.
  • It will help in projecting a positive image of Islamic civilization and of Muslims. It will also highlight the role of Islamic civilization in the enrichment of human civilization.
  • It will help focus attention on the preservation of the city’s heritage and on cultural policy. Furthermore, it will stimulate the revival of traditional arts and crafts. It may also pave the way for the creation of an Islamic Heritage Fund aimed at the preservation and restoration of the cultural and architectural heritage of the Islamic world.

It will be in the fitness of things if the Organization of Islamic Conference takes the initiative in this direction. A beginning may be made by holding an exhibition, along the lines of the hugely popular World of Islam Festival, on Cultural Capitals of the Islamic World in one of the famed cities of the Muslim world. The OIC may also join hands with the European Union in 2010 when Istanbul will be one of the Cultural Capitals of Europe. The support and cooperation of Unesco, museums in Europe and North America and the media can be solicited for this purpose.

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