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Raheel Raza

DOHA EDUCATES AND INTER-FAITHS

By Raheel Raza (Writing from Doha, Qatar)

What happens when you bring six US Ivy league universities and set them up in the desert? You get Education City – new frontiers in higher education for the Gulf region located in Qatar. You also get students and faculty from all over the world and a mixture of faiths and nationalities that Doha cutely calls MULTI-VERSITY.

What’s unusual about this Emirate in the Gulf region is that they’ve used their gas and oil resources to invest in education and interfaith dialogue at a very high level. Interfaith dialogue as a first in a Gulf country was initiated by the Emir of Qatar 6 years ago because he felt that religious conflicts around the world made it necessary for followers of religions to be involved in interfaith dialogue. About 86 delegates from all over the world attended the first conference and today they are preparing for the 7th conference of interfaith dialogue later this year. There is a Patriarch in Doha as well as other churches including St. Peter and St. Pauls Coptic Orthodox church in a Gulf nation. Last year the first Catholic Church opened its doors. On a visit to the Islamic Cultural Centre, I was amazed to hear that the sermon was in English and the two Imams were Canadian and American! The walls were covered by writings about the inter-connections between the Abrahamic faiths plus tours of the mosque. This is a huge move in that part of the world and very welcoming.
Education is the biggie in the State of Qatar which is using 2.8% of its GDP towards research and education – a first for a Gulf nation that was quite unknown to the global community until the establishment of The Qatar Foundation. The Doha Debates, a Qatar Foundation initiative, brought Doha into media limelight and are filmed at Education City and broadcast worldwide by the BBC. In March The Doha Debates come to Washington.

Also unique is that fact that the patron for higher education and knowledge in the region is Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, wife of the ruler and a supporter of education for all – especially women. Her motto is "Through education, thorough the pursuit of knowledge, all things becomes possible." Breaking all stereotypes about Arab/Muslim women, Shaikha Mozah supports progress through education, science and research for community and health issues, and has brought about major changes in the secondary school system of Qatar.

To implement the vision of higher education, The Qatar Foundation was formed in 1995 with Sheikha Mozah as Chair. Under the umbrella of this Foundation, Education City took birth. Education City is the physical location of 2,500 acres housing 6 US campuses: Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown School of Foreign Service and Northwestern University. 2008 witnessed the first graduates from Texas A & M and Weill Cornell Medical College. The curriculum is a duplicate of USA, with high tech facilities at the Doha campuses using video streaming and state of the art computer technology. 49% of the students are Qatari, the rest of the students and staff represent 45 nationalities. Almost 38% of the students are women and in some classes women outnumber the men.

Sheikha Mozah is a visionary and realizes that education and research go hand in hand. So along with the US campuses, Education City is building an enormous hospital and research Center as well as Qatar Science and Technology Park with a vision for ongoing research facilities. Education City also houses The Learning Centre, Qatar Leadership academy, Faculty of Islamic Studies and the Academic Bridge program.

To further the education agenda, The Qatar Foundation is launching WISE – World Innovation Summit for Education in September 2009. WISE Chairman Dr.Abdullah bin Ali al-Thani said that this is the first major global summit of its kind in the Gulf region and will bring together Opinion leaders and decision makers from all over the world. WISE is supported by many international partners including The Association of Commonwealth Universities, Institute of International Education and The Rand Corporation.

The theme of the education summit is "Global Education: Working Together for Sustainable Achievements" and the purpose is to create a new international multi-disciplinary platform to shape educational models of the 21st. Century. To make this innovative and interesting, WISE has implemented a distinctive "action-oriented" approach by offering a Forum for renowned education experts and a call for projects to reward and promote global cutting-edge initiatives in the education field. Qatar Foundation’s Associate Vice-President for higher education Dr. Ahmad Hasnah said "the Forum will address three sub-themes: Pluralism, Sustainability and Innovation" Invitations will be sent out to policy makers, NGO’s, academics, private sector representatives and media. Dr. Allan Goodman, President and CEO of International Institute of Education said "this forum is unique in the fact that it will not end at this summit but continue to provide participants the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the current and emerging issues affecting the global education agenda."

The Qatar Foundation is currently in talks with other global partners including McGill University in Canada to see if a viable partnership for higher education can be formed. Rumors are that the physical campus for McGill is under construction, to be ready in July this year.

Qatar is a small country that has staked its future on education but it seems that this important initiative is paying off as they welcome their first batch of doctors who graduated from Weill Cornell Medical Centre last May and are already practicing in Qatar.