Pak-Saudi cultural co-operation; the road to harmony
Pakistan’s Minister for Information, Shibli Faraz, recently said the ministries of information of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would soon revamp a joint working group to encourage projects of Muslim history, heritage and culture. Both countries signed a cultural agreement in 1992 which covers all cultural fields like media, sports and education. Cultural cooperation is a proven method for promoting people-to-people links and understanding. In this case, the two countries have a great reservoir of shared faith and common heroes in history.
In this age of science and technology, the quality of education is very important. Pakistan has institutions of international standard, like the Aga Khan Medical University in Karachi, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad. Similarly, the Kingdom has the world renowned University of Petroleum and Minerals. Students from both countries could benefit from these facilities under an exchange program. The two countries are keen to develop their human resources and higher education is the key towards that goal. Pakistan, being an Islamic country, is a good place for Arab students to live and study.
Pakistanis love Arabic language-- it being the language of the Holy Quran. They are keen to learn it, in order to know their religion better. In my opinion, it is desirable that a majority of literate Pakistanis should have working knowledge of Arabic so they can understand the principles of their religion on their own.
Quranic calligraphy, art exhibitions, the exchange of television serials and films and sports exchanges are some other promising fields. Pakistan is strong in field hockey and cricket while the Kingdom has a formidable team of soccer. Joint training sessions and sporting events could be organized at regular intervals. The Kingdom has a keen interest in equestrian sports as well, while Pakistanis too are keen horsemen and quite familiar with show jumping and tent pegging. In the last two years, Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has performed in Riyadh and a Pakistani TV serial was telecast in the Kingdom with Arabic subtitles. Last year, a Pakistani movie, depicting the heroic life an air force pilot was also shown in cinemas in the Kingdom.
However, the bilateral cultural co-operation has much more potential to achieve. Films could be made on the lives and achievements of historic figures like Ibn-e-Batuta, Ibn-e-Khaldun, Tariq bin Ziyad and poet Mohammad Iqbal. These are just a few examples. Cultural conferences, focusing on art, prose and poetic works could be held by rotation. Cultural troupes depicting folk dances could be exchanged. Luckily, the Kingdom has a cultural office in Islamabad and that would make implementation of these proposals possible. Likewise, Pakistan should also have a cultural attache in its embassy in Riyadh.
Pakistanis love Arabic language-- it being the language of the Holy Quran. They are keen to learn it, in order to know their religion better. In my opinion, it is desirable that a majority of literate Pakistanis should have working knowledge of Arabic so they can understand the principles of their religion on their own. In this regard, the cultural office of the Kingdom could play a leading role. It is pertinent to point out here that recently, some Arabic-speaking Pakistanis have established a social media group which recently held its first online session in the classical language. This evinced keen interest from many Arabs in various countries, and the discussion was sober and focused.
Children and youth should have a special place in any cultural exchange program. Child theatre groups and the exchange of youth delegations could be useful. Pakistan’s National Council of Arts has vast experience in organizing drama, folklore, painting exhibitions etc. It could interact with similar institutions in the Kingdom to organize joint training workshops for budding artists. King Abdul Aziz and Mohammad Ali Jinnah chairs could be established in the two top universities of both countries. Research is an essential first step to knowledge creation. Higher seats of learning in the two countries should regularly share the results of their latest research in various fields.
Translation of prominent books of Arabic and Urdu could lead to a better understanding of literary trends, past and present. The poetry of Mohammad Iqbal reached our Arab brothers through translations by Dr. Abdul Wahab Azzam, Sawi Ali Shalan and the melodious voice of Umm-Kulthum. This was the finest introduction that Pakistan ever had in the Arab world. The best translations should be given awards for recognition and encouragement.
The promotion of culture, knowledge of languages and literature can open the doors for co-operation in other fields like banking, commerce, tourism and agriculture. When it comes to cultural co-operation, the sky is the limit. Nurturing an understanding between the two people through arts and crafts, languages and literature, films and drama serials will be constructive steps towards the promotion of peace and security.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.