For over 35 years, we at Alwaleed Philanthropies (AP) have used our unique position in the world to convene the brightest minds and address some of the greatest challenges of our time. Since our beginning, no challenge has come closer to my heart than that of bridging cultures around the world.
Education is the key to building these bridges, and to fostering a greater sense of understanding between people of different countries, cultures, and religions. This is why education is at the very core of AP’s work.
In our home nation of Saudi Arabia, we partner with countless educational programs, helping children get the best possible head start in life.
Further afield, we connect with locally run groups across the Middle East and North Africa to help young people, especially women, get graduate jobs.
And at the other end of the spectrum, we are providing over US$70 million worth of funding to six centers of Islamic Studies. These centers are located in prestigious seats of learning across the world: the University of Cambridge, Georgetown University, Harvard University, the American University of Beirut, the American University in Cairo, and the University of Edinburgh.
These centers are united by one common goal: to promote Muslim-Christian understanding through academic research, public policy engagement, and community outreach.
Collaboration is at the heart of everything that the centers do, which is why I am delighted that they are convening their third meeting at Cambridge University today. They will speak with one voice about the critically important issue of Muslim engagement with the Western world.
The centers tackle some of the most important issues in their field: How do we prevent the scourge of hate crime against Muslims around the world? What difficulties do Muslims face in their attempts to integrate into Western institutions? Do Muslim women face more barriers to integration than Muslim men?
Many Muslim women live in the shadow of fear and intimidation. As the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge found in a report published today, Islamophobia remains a daily ordeal for many Muslims in the West. The report makes the point that statistics alone are insufficient to quantify the suffering of these victims, since the abuse sustained can take both mental and physical forms.
Of course, integration is a two-way street, and it is not only Muslims who face discrimination around the world. But the research does point to a particular barrier to Muslim integration in the West, and we cannot shy away from that.
Rather than seek to place blame, we must lean in and confront the problem head on. Education is the single best way to do this. It is central to bridging the difference between our wonderful and diverse cultures. While the challenge is steep, I believe that what unites us is stronger than what divides us.
By breaking down the barriers between East and West, we may finally unlock the real potential of our societies. The world will be a richer place because of it.