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A forum for ideas
Khaled Al Maeena, senior columnist, Arab News
February 10, 1998, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
I have written many times about the need for dialogue in Arab society. I believe that societies with a forum for evaluating and disseminating ideas are progressive. This is true not only in western countries with a long history of tolerance and dissent but also in south-east Asian countries which were devastated in World War II. Those Asian countries rose from the ashes, progressed and prospered. As they rebuilt, various ideas and opinions were expressed. Like the wheat and the chaff, the useful ones were utilized and the kernel of truth extracted from the chaff before casting aside what was useless. Nobody, however, was pushed aside because of his beliefs.
Islam emphasizes the importance of education for men and women. Our Holy Prophet's (peace be upon him) injunction: "Seek knowledge, even from China" gives support to the pursuit of learning as well as to the expansion and increase of knowledge. The Golden Age of Islam was a time when education, ideas and discussion prevailed. Students traveled great distances to visit scholars, to sit and discuss with them not only Islamic teachings and ideas but also those of Socrates, Aristotle, Ptolemy and others. As a result of this discussion and contact with the whole world of thought and ideas, the Arabs from Baghdad to Cordova, from Kabul to Aden, from India to Morocco produced the likes of Al Farabi, Al Kindi and Al Khwarizimi, to name but three. Algebra, a new mathematical system, was given to mankind in consequence of these thinkers; medicine and chemistry also received benefits. My question is: Where are those Arabs who discuss ideas today? What are today's Arabs known for?
It is imperative that the Arab world create a climate in which we can express ideas and thoughts within the framework of an Islamic ideology that is itself humane, progressive and aims at social betterment and advantages for all. Time waits for no one. Instead of concentrating on the abstract, we must focus on the concrete. We must move from the form to the essence and cooperate with one another in order to create a better world and a better tomorrow.
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