JEDDAH: Three cities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are chosen every year as capitals of Islamic culture by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) for enriching the culture of their regions.
This year, Jerusalem, Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, and Guinea-Bissau’s capital Bissau have been recognized for their historical significance in the areas of culture, art, social sciences and architecture.
As an exception for 2019, Tunis was included as a fourth capital since it hosted an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in December.
Comprised of 54 member states, along with three observer states, ISESCO’s charter stipulates that every OIC member state is officially a member of ISESCO upon signing the charter.
The Capitals of Islamic Culture program was born through an OIC resolution in 2002.
The main criteria for selection is outstanding contribution to both Islamic and universal culture, confirmed through the scientific, cultural, literary and artistic works of scholars.
ISESCO inaugurated the program in 2005, with Makkah named the first capital.
The program aims to foster cultural enrichment, encourage dialogue between states and build global bridges.
Preparations for celebrations in the four capitals are under way.
Jerusalem, or Al-Quds in Arabic, is one of the oldest cities in the world, and bears many scars from ancient times.
It is the cradle of Christianity, and Muslims first turned toward Jerusalem for prayer before then turning toward Makkah.
Jerusalem’s name is derived from the word “maqdis,” Arabic for sacred.
It was declared a permanent capital of culture upon the proposition of ISESCO Director General Abdulaziz Al-Twaijri during a conference in Bahrain last November.
“Jerusalem faces a systematic policy of Judaization and alteration of its Islamic cultural and civilizational landmarks, which necessitates that OIC members and the international community unite efforts to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and safeguard the city’s identity,” said Al-Twaijri.
Tunis was once the capital of the Muslim caliphate in North Africa.
It was renowned for its unrivalled prosperity and economic, cultural and social growth.
The city is home to a blend of Arab-Islamic culture dating back to the 7th century.
Built around an ancient quarter with towering minarets overlooking the Mediterranean, the city’s numerous Islamic architectural structures, some in ruins but others well-preserved, are a testament to its ancient significance.
Tunisian Culture Minister Mohamed Zine El-Abidine asserted the importance of reinforcing culture as the “driving force for development and a bulwark against extremism and terrorism.”
As this year’s Asian capital of Islamic culture, Brunei is considered the longest-standing Malay state since its embrace of Islam more than six centuries ago.
The small nation has played a central role in reinforcing the Islamic faith in the region.
Activities celebrating the declaration of Bandar Seri Begawan as a culture capital will kick off on Jan. 17.
“Islamic teachings are rooted in the country’s political culture and history, as well as in daily practices,” said Maj. Gen. Dato Paduka Abidin, Brunei’s culture minister.
Representing the African continent, the capital of Guinea-Bissau is a rich mix of Islamic and Christian cultures enriched by traditional African beliefs.
Islam arrived in Guinea-Bissau before the 12th century, and expanded considerably in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Every year, Bissau hosts a cultural and artistic event, and several neighborhoods showcase their vibrant cultural heritage.
ISESCO proclaimed 2019 the year of heritage in the Islamic world.
In a statement released on the occasion, ISESCO invited member states to plan celebrations, and underscored the importance of cultural heritage in preserving memory and identity.