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For almost a quarter of a century the Islamic Culture Foundation has accomplished its cultural agenda through international symposiums, pedagogical projects aimed at actively involving children and students, educational exhibitions, musical performances, gastronomical seminars, lectures, courses for volunteers and teachers, and publications (both academic and generalist).
In 1987, the Foundation (back then still called Western Institute of Islamic Culture), organised the I Congress of Islamic Culture, “Al-Andalus, Eight Centuries of History”. Toledo was chosen as the ideal location for these sessions, because it was at the time considered that the city’s great Muslim influence and traditions had not always enjoyed the attention they deserved; this also served the¬† purpose of challenging the popular assumption that identifies al-Andalus with Andalusia, ignoring in many occasions the rich Hispanic-Muslim heritage so evident in other regions of the Iberian Peninsula.
As happened in medieval times at the Toledo School of Translators, during these days the multidisciplinary contents of lectures and colloquia delivered during the congress revived the intense¬† Hispanic-Muslim intellectual exchanges of yore on science, philosophy and art.
Along with the lectures and debates, a gastronomical program, a musical recital and an exhibition also took place simultaneously to the main event.
World-class specialists from diverse countries participated in the sessions, (to name just a few: Julio Caro Baroja, Mahmud Ali Makki, Mohammed Arkoun, Juan Vernet, Christian Ewert and Antonio Vallejo, among others). The seminars were sponsored by the local government, La Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha, the Toledo City Council and the Spanish Culture Ministry, among other organizations.
In 1988, the Foundation organised the 2nd Seminar on Islamic Culture, under the motto “Arag√≥n lives its History”. The choice of the picturesque city of Teruel to host this event was amply justified, as the president of the Foundation, Cherif Abderrahman Jah pointed out, because “Very few places can boast as much wealth of Andalusian legacy as the Islamic Arag√≥n, with its Arab lexicographic heritage, its ethnic diversity, its cultivated orchards, the still extant Arab and mud√©jar art on its streets…”. Furthermore, as Julio Caro Baroja explained in his inaugural speech: “It is not fortuitous that precisely in Arag√≥n so many peculiar antique Arab and ‚Äúaljamia‚ÄĚ manuscripts (written in Arab with Western characters) have been found, or that so many relics of the Muslim artisans’ crafts and their own agricultural techniques have been so lovingly preserved in this region.”
Subjects debated during the seminar were the history of Muslim Arag√≥n, the local mud√©jar art style, the Morisque presence and agriculture in al-Andalus, etc. These sessions were complemented by several musical performances, a gastronomical cycle, and an exhibition. Numerous prestigious academics and specialists participated in the sessions, such as Mar√≠a Jesus Viguera, Amhed Ali Morsi, Joaquin Lomba, Enrique Nuere, Federico Galm√©s and Reinhold Kontzi.
The main sponsors were the local government (Diputaci√≥n General de Arag√≥n), the Teruel City Council and the Spanish Arab Bank.
This international congress took place in Paris in 1991, at the UNESCO and the Institut du Monde Arabe, under the epigraph “Contributions of Islamic Civilisation to European Culture”. The congress was organised with the collaboration of the Council of Europe and the European Communities Commission (now, the European Union).
The primary target of this multi-cultural encounter was to inform European MPs about the importance of the influence of Islamic culture in Europe throughout history, and to sensitise them about the necessity to take concrete measures to help solve the inter-cultural problems which affect our present day communities. Noted experts in Islamic culture like Louis Baeck, Sherif Mardin, Oleg Grabar, Mohammed Arkoun and R√©mi Leveau participated in the colloquia. The European Communities Commission granted the Islamic Culture Foundation the Distinction “European Platform 1991″ for this project.
Also, and most importantly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved Recommendation 1162, a clause advising its members to promote the knowledge and study of Islamic culture in European countries to increase awareness and understanding of common cultural roots and encourage the development of well-adjusted, muti-cultural communities.
In addition to international congresses and colloquia, the Foundation promotes debates and lectures on a wide range of socio-cultural subjects.
Amongst these high-profile events, the celebration of the 750 anniversary of the great poet and Turkish mystic Yunus Emre, organised in 1991 at the C√≠rculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, with the collaboration of the Embassy of Turkey. On this occasion, lectures were delivered by Cherif Abderrahman Jah, writer Clara Jan√©s and Spanish Poet Laureate Jose Hierro.
Also organised by the Foundation was the presentation at the Spanish National Library of two facsimiles published by Afinsa: The Book on the Utility of Animals, by the 14Th century polygraph Ben al-Duraybim, and the Ars Magna, by Spanish medieval scholar Raimon Llul.
In 1993, the Foundation coordinated (in collaboration with the Gregorio S√°nchez Foundation), the debate “Bosnia: We All Lose”, in which Julio Fuentes and Gervasio S√°nchez, from the newspaper El Mundo, Hermann Tersch, from the newspaper El Pa√≠s, and Jose Mar√≠a Mendiluce, from the United Nations, discussed the implications and consequences of the war in Bosnia.
In addition to these, the Foundation has participated in the summer courses of the University of Buenos Aires in 1996, in the fall courses of the University of C√°diz in 2001, in the Forum de Pol√≠tica Feminista in 2001, and in an act organised in 2002 by the Asociaci√≥n Mujeres por la Paz Mundial (Women for World Peace). It also participates annually in the activities of the Faculty of Pharmacy, at¬† the Complutense University of Madrid, programming lectures for students.
As part of its regular cultural activities, the Islamic Culture Foundation has coordinated different musical recitals. Among them, a performance of Medieval and Renaissance music by the Sema group at the church of San Rom√°n, in Toledo; A recital of Andalusian music interpreted by the orchestra of al-Balabil Fez, and a program of dances executed by the group Kelaa M’Gouna, from the Moroccan Atlas; A Dabkeh, or traditional Palestine dance, performed by the Jerusalem Children Ensemble; and a recital of qanun by the Syrian musician Saadalla Agha el-Kalaa.
Also, in the assembly hall of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Foundation organised during the international symposium “Contributions of Islamic Civilization to European Culture”, the recital “A Musical Trip Through the Mediterranean”, the interpreters of which, members of the French group Concert dans l’Oeuf, demonstrated the strong Arabic-Islamic roots that characterize part of the music of the Mediterranean region.
The Foundation considers diverse gastronomic traditions and culinary idiosyncrasies as an important part of the present daily life (and historic heritage) of the Islamic world.
Henceforth, coinciding with the celebration of the Foundation’s various international colloquia about Islamic culture, several public demonstrations and tastings of the rich medieval Hispanic-Magrebi cuisine have taken place. Paradores de Turismo (the Spanish National Tourism Board’s network of restored medieval hotels and castles) have been in charge of putting into delicious practice ancient recipes, based on meticulous research carried out by the Foundation.
The demonstrations were accompanied by lectures given by experts Margarita Serrano, Esperanza Torija and Manuel Mart√≠nez Llopis.
Also, to promote the local openings of the exhibition “Aromas of al-Andalus” (which is still on tour in Spain), the Foundation organises occasional lectures on, and practical demonstrations and tastings of, the cuisine of al-Andalus.
The Foundation owns a small publishing house, al-Fadila, devoted to publishing diverse titles related to Islamic culture in general, and Andalusian heritage in particular.