Date of Meeting: 02 Feb 2016

Meeting Organizer: 1001 Inventions, the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the UN, UNESCO

ISJC Staff Present: Luke Cozens

Reporter: Luke Cozens

Which SDG does this topic cover? 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17,

Type of meeting: Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum Side Event 

Brief summary of presentation of information made

The panel consisted of the following:

  • H.E. Abdallah bin Yahya Al-Moallimi, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations in New York,
  • Mr. Ahmed Salim, Managing Director of 1001 Inventions
  • Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth,
  • Ms. Marie-Paule Roudil, Director of UNESCO Office in New York;
  • Ms. Nihal Saad, Chief of Cabinet and Spokesperson for the High-Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

The main topics discussed were as follows:

  • Inspiring Young People: Young people are seen as a key driver to help nations reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Young people in Arabic/Muslim countries in particular face many challenges. Examples given were difficulties because of war and a lack of scientific education - 50million people are illiterate in the Arabic Region. The hope is that young people can build a better future through science and the inspiration of historical scientists. More scientific education is needed to achieve this aim.
  • Appreciation of Muslim Scientific Heritage: Approximately 1000 years ago the Arabic and Muslim world had its “Golden Age” largely based on the development of science. The embracing of science by a multitude of faith communities lead to many intercultural exchanges between Western and Arabic Cultures and scientists of many faiths contributed to what is now thought of as ancient Muslim civilization. However many scientific textbooks and curriculae, particularly in the west, skip this important period of scientific development going straight from Archimedes to Gutenberg. This misses entirely the great work of Indian, Chinese, Arabic and African cultures. Many on the panel suggested that we need to “go out of our way” to ensure that these cultures are properly appreciated. It was suggested that a lack of knowledge about this history of Islam can lead both to its vilification and to a radicalization of those who believe a “Golden Age” is characterized by violence rather than education and tolerance.
  • Ibn Al-Haytham: Ibn Al-Haytham was an Arabic scientist born in the year 965AD. He has been called both “the first true scientist” and “the father of optics”. He took on the greatest scientific challenge of the time – attempting to dam the river Nile – but failed and was placed under house arrest. It was during this time that he made some of his discoveries about optics. Ahmed Salim form 1001 Inventions spoke of the importance of his context suggesting that if Ibn Al-Haytham was the father of optics, Chinese scientists were the grandfathers of optics and the Ancient Greeks its great-grandfathers, while the scientists of the European Renaissance were the children of optics and the contemporary scientific community it’s grandchildren. 1001 Inventions use a transmedia strategy (videos, books, workshops, theatre etc.) to communicate the work of lesser known scientists such as Ibn Al-Haytham. They helped publish the first National Geographic book recognising a scientist from the Middle East and brought Ibn Al-Haytham to a Chinese science festival for which he was made the mascot. At the end of the session they released a short film explaining the life of Ibn Al-Haytham. The film was the last one starring the late Omar Sharif and included a commemoration of his work.
  • The International Year of Light: 2015 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Year of Light. It was a celebration consisting of 5000 events in 148 countries in recognition of the common good of light. Effectively it was a PR campaign for education and science, with a particular hope to bring scientists “out of the lab” and onto the public stage. The themes of the year were the origins of life (the panel noted that light and photosynthesis were the basis of all life), innovative lighting, healthcare, basic science, architecture, development and culture and art. The panel noted some new technologies concerning light including $1 adjustable spectacles, the use of UV light for water purification, measurement of climate change using optics, and mobile telephone technology. It was noted that for the 1.3billion people without access to electricity it is very hard to study in the dark.

What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

  • Young people are key in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. They are seen as having a role in persuading their national governments to take action.

  • The scientific heritage of faith communities is often underplayed. Christianity, as well as Islam, has great claims to the foundations of scientific enquiry. Science and faith are not at odds.

  • Islam, and its heritage in particular, must be properly understood to avoid either the vilification of people of faith or the radicalization of those who believe that violence can achieve their aims.

Web links for more information

International Year of Light:

1001 Inventions:

Ibn Al-Haytham:

Tags: United Nations, SDG10: Reduced Inequalities, SDG4: Quality Education, SDG14: Life Below Water, SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG13: Climate Action, SDG15: Life on Land, SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals