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Oxford scientific symposium focuses on al-Farabi’s legacy

20 July 2020 15:37

OXFORD. KAZINFORM - ‘Al-Farabi: life and legacy’ was the title of the international scientific symposium hosted at the premises of the University of Oxford to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Abu Nasr al-Farabi, the great scholar of the East. Leading researchers of al-Farabi’s legacy from the UK, Kazakhstan, the USA and Germany took part in the online symposium, Kazinform has learnt from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Leading researchers of al-Farabi’s legacy from the UK, Kazakhstan, the USA and Germany took part in the online symposium. The event was moderated by Dr Talal Al-Azem, the Mohammed Noah Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, whose research focuses on social and intellectual history of the Muslim world.

The event was co-hosted by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the UK and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in a ‘hybrid format’ – the Ambassador of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov, the Director of the Centre Dr Farhan Nizami, the moderator, technical specialists and other members of the support team gathered in Oxford, while all other speakers and audience joined the discussions online. More than 200 attendees from different countries of the world took part in the symposium, and the organisers recognised the ‘hybrid mode’ as a fairly effective method of conducting events during a global pandemic.

Opening the symposium, the Ambassador Idrissov noted that al-Farabi is a scholar who belongs to the world, which is proved by the fact that such an authoritative organisation as UNESCO is also commemorating his anniversary this year.

The Kazakh Ambassador also stressed the importance of making use of al-Farabi’s spiritual heritage not only in the context of modernising Kazakhstan’s identity and shaping moral values of the younger generation, but also on a global scale, including in the context of the pandemic and the profound shifts in the economy, politics and people’s consciousness.

Dr Farhan Nizami, the Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, stressed the relevance of al-Farabi’s intellectual legacy to the modern world. «One of the Centre’s core academic objectives is to facilitate a partnership between Islamic and Western worlds of learning – an idea so strikingly symbolised in the life and legacy of al-Farabi. Al-Farabi, as we all know, travelled extensively in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and is remembered as the Second Teacher after Aristotle. His impact has been deep and his relevance enduring,» he said.

Dr Nizami also expressed hope that the symposium will be the beginning of a long-term academic cooperation with Kazakhstan, and the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (Al-Farabi KazNU) in particular.

It is noteworthy that the Rector of Al-Farabi KazNU Professor Galimkair Mutanov, who was the keynote speaker of the symposium, stressed the historical value of al-Farabi’s spiritual and humanitarian heritage for the global civilisation and for the people of Kazakhstan in particular.

Guided by al-Farabi’s ideas and being the Global Hub of the United Nations Academic Impact initiative on sustainable development, Al-Farabi KazNU has developed and is implementing the Al-Farabi University Smart City project, which allowed to introduce a model of a new generation of a university – University 4.0.

«The main goal of this model is to demonstrate that the global mission of modern universities should not be limited to the training of highly qualified professionals. It involves the formation of citizens of the world with high spiritual and moral values who are able to contribute to the sustainable development of the modern society and are responsible not only for their personal fate, but for the fate of the entire humankind,» Professor Mutanov stressed.

Dr Feriel Bouhafa of the University of Cambridge, who specialises in Arabic philosophical ideas and concepts, spoke about the ontology of good and evil in the philosophy of the great scientist. She elaborated on al-Farabi’s systematic research on the nature of good and evil, based on the distinction between cosmic and moral concepts of good and evil.

Professor Peter Adamson, an expert in late ancient and Arabic philosophy and Professor of Philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, presented an overview of al-Farabi’s treatise On the Perfect State. Al-Farabi drew parallels between the human body, where the heart plays the central role, overseeing all other organs, and without which the body cannot survive, and the perfect state, where such is the role of the philosopher-king who conveys his wisdom, justice and goodness to all the residents of the state.

The symposium also focused on al-Farabi’s contribution to the study of music, which the scholar considered as one of the important branches of science.

Professor Saida Daukeyeva, ethnographer and historian of music in Central Asia, scholar of Arabic music theory, and Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University, stressed the profound influence of al-Farabi’s fundamental scientific works on the development of music and musicology in West and Central Asia.

She elaborated on al-Farabi’s views on the theoretical foundations of music, as well as the influence of the philosopher’s works on the revival of Kazakh music, which began in the 1960s. According to Professor Daukeyeva, the study of his works helped revive ancient and forgotten Kazakh musical instruments, such as sybyzghy and jetigen. To conclude her presentation, Professor Daukeyeva demonstrated a video of a bright performance by the HasSak Kazakh ethno-folk ensemble.

The symposium ended with a dynamic Q&A session, during which the speakers and participants shared additional information about al-Farabi’s life and ideas.