King Faisal Foundation and Its Awards

King Faisal, the man and his Mission

King Faisal bin Abd Al Aziz was born in Saudi Arabia in 1906.  Due to his unique abilities he started playing a significant role in public affairs at a very early age.  In 1919 at the age of thirteen, he made state visits to the European capitals and attended the “Peace Conference” in Versailles, held soon after the World War-I. This conference was organized to discuss the Ottoman domain in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).  In 1925 Prince Faisal commanded the army.  He was appointed as the first Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1932.  He led the Saudi delegation to the 1939 “London Conference on Palestine”. He signed the UN Charter in 1945. In 1958 he became the Prime Minister and started directly conducting the Saudi Government Affairs. He ruled Saudi Arabia as the third king starting in 1964.

Apart from an interest in diplomacy, he had a keen interest in scholarly pursuits: poetry and literature.  He had a determination to improve the economic and social standards in Saudi Arabia and to this end advocated the development of human resources for prosperity.  He further asserted that education is the very starting point for development and expanded the general and higher education.  He was responsible for: the Kingdom’s first girls’ school; scholarships for studying abroad; literacy drive for senior citizens.  Along with education he made efforts for establishing ‘universal’ health care.  He instituted agricultural projects and the search for water sources.  He also established a corporation for exploring petroleum and mineral deposits in the Kingdom. In the year 2002 the place of King Faisal palace was used to house the first private university of the Kingdom, the, “Dar Al-Faisal University”. Much earlier in 1975, the King Faisal University (KFU), was founded and functions from the two campuses in Dammam and Hofuf respectively.

King Faisal’s vision had an influence far beyond the Kingdom’s borders.  He made unique contributions in the arena of international politics.  In 1973 he initiated the Oil Embargo, by the OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries). This was to curb the sale of oil to all those countries, which were supporting Israel. The USA was most affected by the oil embargo and the U.S. government went to desperate measures to improve the situation that America found itself in.

King Faisal was assassinated on 25 March 1975. His death brought an end to an era. Had this era lasted longer, the Middle East would have had a very different political landscape today. King Faisal was assassinated on the eve of the “Islamic Solidarity Conference in Science and Technology”, held at the University of Riyadh, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. King Faisal had called this conference to develop a commonwealth of Islamic States. The conference was indeed held, but there was no follow up. One of the papers by an Indian delegate was on the renaissance of science in Islamic countries urging the creation of a database of Muslim scientists. King Faisal had called for the establishment of “World Muslim League”. His vision of Islamic Solidarity is yet to be put in action. With such solidarity, the Muslim countries and their citizens can lead a life full of dignity in the comity of nations.

 

King Faisal Foundation

In the year 1976, the sons of late King Faisal established a large-scale philanthropic organization based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and named it after their father as King Faisal Foundation. The KFF is involved in numerous philanthropic educational activities in and outside the Kingdom. One of the most widely known activities of the KFF is the King Faisal International Prize (KFIP). Merit alone governs the rigorous selection procedures, earning the King Faisal International Prize the distinction of being among the most prestigious of international awards to scholars and scientists, who have made the most significant advances to benefit humanity and enrich human knowledge. There are currently prizes in each of the five broad categories.  Prizes for Arabic Literature; Islamic Studies; and Services to Islam; were first given in 1979.  Science and Medicine were introduced in 1982 and 1983 respectively.  Each year the selection committee designates subjects or subcategories to each of the above five. The science subcategories cover a broad scope: physics; mathematics; chemistry; and biology.  For the year 2005 the science prize was given in physics. Nominations for the prizes are accepted only from international institutions and organizations. The prizes can be shared. This year’s awards bring the total number of laureates to 161 distinguished individuals from 37 countries. Each of the five Prizes consists of a certificate, hand-written in Diwani calligraphy, summarizing the laureate’s work; a commemorative 24 carat, 200 gram gold medal, uniquely cast for each Prize; and a cash endowment of Saudi Riyal 750,000 (about US$200,000). This amount is very similar to what used to be the amount for the Nobel Prizes a decade back. The current figure for the Nobel Prize money is about 1.3million US$. Co-winners in any category share the monetary grant. The Prizes are awarded during a ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the King of Saudi Arabia. This year’s awards bring the total number of laureates to 161 distinguished individuals from 37 countries. Within two decades the KFIP was ranked among the most prestigious of awards. Several of the KFIP Laureates in Science and Medicine have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize. For example, Egyptian-born (1946) Ahmed Zewail received the KFIP for Chemistry in 1989 followed by the Nobel Prize in 1999, both unshared!

 

Winners of King Faisal International Prize for 2005

The Prize for Service to Islam has been awarded jointly to H.E. Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Ali (Saudi Arabia), and the Al-Hariri Foundation of Lebanon. Dr. Ali is awarded the Prize in recognition of his achievements in the field of Islamic banking. As president of the Islamic Development Bank since its inception thirty years ago, he has not only consolidated the conformity of banking transactions with Islamic Laws but has also set an example of successful and modern Islamic banking. His endeavours to strengthen economic ties between Islamic countries coupled with his strong support of research and training in the field of Islamic economics bear witness to his unrelenting commitment to the Service of Islam and Muslims. Al-Hariri Foundation, a leading philanthropic institution in Lebanon, is renowned for its commitment to education and culture. So far, it has supported college education for nearly 30,000 male and female students, in addition to 835 Ph.D. candidates. It has also built schools and colleges throughout Lebanon and, in its efforts to preserve Islamic architecture, refurbished ancient mosques in that country and is also actively involved in the construction of new ones. In addition, it fostered numerous social and health care centres and facilities for the elderly and the disabled, particularly in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, and contributed generously to educational efforts and relief operations in other Arab and Muslim Countries.

The Prize for Islamic Studies (Muslims’ Defence of their Homeland During the 5th and 6th Centuries AH) has been awarded to Professor Carole Hillenbrand (U.K.), Professor of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh, UK, in recognition of her unique pioneering research of this year’s prize topic.  Professor Hillenbrand’s revolutionary approach to the largely one-sided subject of the Crusades has sought to redress several of the misconceptions shrouding them. Employing objectivity, preciseness and clarity of thinking, she has located several original texts, written in different languages and previously un-translated, in support of her refreshing examination of the many stereotypes that have pervaded western literature on this subject. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, the culmination of her relentless endeavours, has been the first work of its kind to address this era through Muslim eyes, thereby making it possible for history to be viewed from a more balanced and impartial perspective.

The Prize for Arabic Language and Literature (Arabic Prose in the 4th and 5th Centuries AH: its genres, authors and books) is withheld this year due to the fact that the works presented were unqualified for the awarding of the Prize.

The Prize for Medicine (Topic: Tobacco Risks on Human Health) is awarded to Professors Sir Richard Doll and Sir Richard Peto of the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU) at Oxford University, UK, for their pioneering and profoundly valuable epidemiologic research that has unequivocally established the link between tobacco and various diseases, such as vascular diseases and cancers, and has, in addition, served to propagate further research elucidating the molecular mechanisms of tobacco mediated cellular damage and DNA mutations.  Indeed, so great has the impact of their studies been that several national health policies have been modified as a result of these findings. The World Health Organization (WHO) itself changed its position on smoking, which culminated in a demonstrable decline in deaths related to cancer and atherosclerotic vascular diseases in several developed countries.  Such significant benefits have transcended to large populations of developing countries as well, proffering an immeasurable contribution to mankind.

This year the prize for Science was given for the subcategory of Physics jointly to Professors Federico Capasso (USA), Frank Wilczek (USA) and Anton Zeilinger (Austria).  Professor Capasso of Harvard University is one of the most creative and influential physicists in the world having achieved international recognition through his design and demonstration of the Quantum Cascade Laser.  Capasso’s work has enabled remarkable contributions to laser physics with new solid-state technology. Professor Wilczek is well-known for contributions to several areas including Quantum Chromo dynamics, which enables us in understanding the basic structure of matter. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 along with David J. Gross and H David Politzer. Professor Zeilinger of the University of Vienna has served and advanced mankind in both the cultural and technological domains.  He has contributed to quantum mechanics and successfully identified Quantum Cryptography as the only current method guaranteeing the confidentiality of a transmitted message.

*The author can be reached at sakhan@mecit.edu.om, http://www.pd.infn.it/~khan/. He works at Middle East College of Information Technology (MECIT), Knowledge Oasis, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

References

  1. King Faisal Foundation Website: http://www.kff.com/
  2. Nobel Prizes Website: http://www.nobel.se/
  3. Sameen Ahmed Khan, King Faisal Palace to become a University, Radiance Viewsweekly, Vol. XXXVII, No. 49, pp. 26 (23 February to 1 March 2003); AAPPS Bulletin, 13 (2), pp. 34-35 (April 2003); Pakistan Link, (Friday the 11 April 2003).