2019: A golden year for Islamic culture

Serving as symbols of the Islamic faith, mosques serve communities, provide marginalized populations with opportunities to gain sufficient knowledge about Islam, and can constitute religious institutions. (Shutterstock)
Updated 03 January 2019
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2019: A golden year for Islamic culture

  • Four cities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will be celebrated for their historical significance

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.


UK PM May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

Updated 26 min 42 sec ago
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UK PM May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May scrambled to put together a new Brexit strategy on Thursday with cross-party talks after MPs sparked political turmoil by rejecting her previous agreement with the EU.
May reached out to rival parties on Wednesday night shortly after surviving a no-confidence vote, hoping to hammer out a Brexit fix that she could present to parliament on Monday.
Just over two months remain before the world’s fifth-largest economy is due to leave the EU, its closest trading partner, after 46 years.
But the island nation is still embroiled in many of the same arguments that were raging when voters defied government warnings and voted to leave in a 2016 referendum.
May’s olive branch offer came after a hectic 24 hours that saw her Brexit deal defeated by a historic margin in one vote and her government then cling on to power in a second one, by a narrow margin of 325 to 306.
May conceded in a Wednesday night television address to the nation that Britons might find the political upheaval “unsettling.”
She called on the opposition Labour party and its smaller pro-EU allies “to put self-interest aside” and attempt to find a solution to end the deadlock.
“The government approaches these meetings in a constructive spirit and I urge others to do the same,” she said.


But May ran into immediate hurdles as top MPs set out demands and conditions contradictory to the government’s current stance.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would only sit down with May if she ruled out the possibility of a “no-deal Brexit.”
That scenario would see trade barriers go up overnight as existing agreements between Britain and the EU expire on March 29.
May’s meetings late Wednesday with top MPs from the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties also yielded fresh demands.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is trying to rule out “no-deal” and secure a second referendum, which could only be held if Brexit is postponed.
“For any discussion between your government and the SNP to be meaningful, these options must be on the table,” SNP parliament leader Ian Blackford said in a letter to May released after their meeting.
But Liberal Democrat chief Vince Cable said May showed a strong desire to engage with her parliamentary foes.
“I think in the current state of crisis that is a positive,” Cable told BBC Radio.


May herself hinted on Wednesday that Brexit might be postponed if London rallies around a single set of proposals that it could present to the other 27 EU leaders.
She told parliament that Brussels would allow this “if it was clear that there was a plan toward moving toward an agreed deal.”
The British pound has rallied over the course of the week on expectations of a delay to Brexit.
Such a postponement would stop the UK immediately crashing out of the world’s largest single market.
But May has so far stuck to two Brexit principles that — if broken — could see more members of her own Conservative party revolt: limiting EU migration and pursuing an independent trade policy.
Both of those red lines are at odds with opposition hopes for membership of an EU customs union or its single market.
“We can’t stay in the current EU customs union,” Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis told BBC Radio.