The King Fahd Mosque in Gibraltar, seen above,
is one of the many mosques and Islamic Centers established with Saudi funds
outside the Islamic world.
"We shall make every effort to strengthen our relations with our brothers in Muslim and Arab countries, and we shall do our utmost for the Muslim community."
This statement, made by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz, reflects the depth of Saudi Arabia's dedication to Islam and to the service of Muslims worldwide.
Saudi Arabia's commitment to serve the Muslim community takes many forms. The Kingdom has provided tens of billions of dollars in aid throughout the world. To allow Muslims to make the annual pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Makkah in safety and comfort, it has built a vast network of airports, seaports, roads and other facilities, and it has invested huge sums on the expansion of the Holy Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. It is active in ventures to promote the interests of Muslims everywhere.
Saudi Arabia has also undertaken a range of other, albeit less visible, programs. One of these is the effort to serve Muslim minority communities in non-Muslim countries.
Tens of millions of Muslims have settled outside the historic Islamic world. Over time, their communities have prospered and grown and have been supplemented by the conversion to Islam of large numbers of people. As the birthplace of Islam and its heartland, Saudi Arabia feels a special responsibility not only to the Islamic world, but also to Muslims living outside of it. To fulfill that responsibility, Saudi Arabia has over the past few decades undertaken to meet the spiritual needs of this vast and growing community of believers and to strengthen its ties with the Islamic world.
To best realize this objective, the Kingdom has approached it from several angles. The primary channel has been to establish mosques and Islamic centers in areas with large Muslim communities. Although begun much earlier, this effort was accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s, with the result that today 210 Islamic centers have been built throughout the world with funds from Saudi Arabia.
These centers are complexes designed to meet not only the spiritual requirements, but also the cultural and social needs of Muslim communities. Generally, they include a large mosque, classrooms for students, a library, and auditoriums and halls for conferences, exhibitions and cultural seminars.
Once established, these centers attract Muslims from miles around who gather to pray, especially on the Muslim sabbath, Friday. The centers also perform important educational, social and cultural functions. They provide courses in Islamic studies, extremely popular offerings for Muslim families who want their children to receive proper religious training. Additionally, these complexes are important gathering places where Muslims of different backgrounds get together for exhibitions and cultural events, thus bridging cultural differences for Muslims of varying origins.
These centers range in size from vast complexes capable of accommodating thousands of visitors to those designed for small groups of Muslims. The most significant are located in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Madrid, London, Rome, Paris, Bonn, Brussels, Geneva, Tokyo, Toronto, Vienna, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
The two newest of these complexes were opened in July in suburban Los Angeles and Edinburgh, Scotland, both gifts of King Fahd to the Muslim communities in these two cities. The focal point of each of the new facilities is a large mosque built according to traditional Islamic architectural designs. Standing out as attractive landmarks, these mosques are designed in a way to ensure that they are in harmony with their neighborhoods. Both of these complexes have large Islamic centers equipped with all the necessary modern facilities.
In areas where the Muslim community is not as large, yet still in need of a spiritual center, smaller mosques have been built with Saudi Arabian funds. Such mosques have been established at 1,500 locations in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and North and South America.
In addition to directly funding the establishment of Islamic centers and mosques throughout the world, Saudi Arabia has either formed or supports the activities of a large number of specialized organizations dedicated to serving Muslims inside and outside the Islamic world. These include the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Muslim World League, the King Faisal Foundation, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and other entities dedicated to serving Muslims throughout the world. The Kingdom has also formed special organizations, such as the International Islamic Relief Organization and the Higher Committee for the Collection of Donations for Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as numerous social and cultural institutions.
These bodies are active throughout the world, supporting religious, political and social causes that impact the Muslim community. They were in the forefront of the international effort to condemn and then halt the Serbian atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and are working to do the same for the Muslims of Kosovo. They collect funds to alleviate the sufferings of disaster victims worldwide, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and to rehabilitate societies hurt by manmade and natural calamities.
These organizations are dedicated to serving the needy throughout the world, regardless of their religion. They provide funding and technical assistance to build dams and irrigation networks, dig wells and set up farming communities in regions devastated by famine. They set up health clinics and conduct campaigns to vaccinate children and conduct a range of other humanitarian services.
Saudi Arabia and the Islamic organizations it supports were galvanized into action after the fall of the Soviet Union, which had sought to isolate from the Islamic world tens of millions of Muslims in the Central Asian republics, subjecting them to religious persecution for more than seven decades. Although Islam had survived the communist years, most mosques had been closed and there was a dire need for copies of the Holy Qur'an. Moving quickly, the Kingdom established large Islamic centers in the capitals of all six independent republics and mosques in their smaller cities. At the same time it began airlifting to the republics millions of copies of the Holy Qur'an printed in local languages at the King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex in Madinah for free distribution at mosques and Islamic centers. The printing complex has been a particularly useful tool in Saudi Arabia's effort to serve Muslim communities. Established in 1985, it has printed more than 100 million copies of the Holy Qur'an, as well as recorded millions of audio cassettes of the Holy Book in eight major languages. These are distributed free of charge to pilgrims at the Holy Mosque in Makkah, as well as in mosques throughout the world.
Another aspect of Saudi Arabia's national effort to serve Muslim minorities involves education for young Muslims. As Muslim communities outside the Islamic world have continued to grow, a real need has emerged for Islamic and Arabic educational facilities for children. In most cases, Islamic centers and mosques in the community adequately fulfill this need. However, in some areas the Muslim community numbers in the tens of thousands, large enough to require proper schools. Some two decades ago, Saudi Arabia began establishing Islamic academies in North America and Europe. These full-fledged schools, offering a complete curriculum in Arabic and the local language with emphasis on Islamic studies, are located near Washington, DC, and in London, Bonn and Moscow. Studies have already been initiated to establish others, including in southern California and Scotland.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is involved in a major effort to provide scholarships for outstanding students from Muslim minority communities to study at Saudi universities. Currently, thousands of such students from across the world are studying at universities in Makkah and Madinah.
Speaking at the opening ceremony for the new mosque and Islamic center in suburban Los Angeles in July, Minister of State and Cabinet Member Prince Abdul Aziz Ibn Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz said that although the primary function of such centers is to serve the local Muslim community, they also perform an important secondary role in helping non-Muslims acquire a better understanding of Islam and its message of peace and brotherhood. Indeed, helping non-Muslims better understand Islam and Muslims is another main objective of Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic centers and mosques established across the world serve this purpose well by engendering close contacts between Muslims and the leaders and members of the community at large. As in the case of the Los Angeles complex, which is located across the street from a church, many of these Islamic centers and mosques engage in inter-faith charity work and activities that promote understanding.
To further serve this objective, Saudi Arabia has also provided the necessary funds and support for the establishment of departments of Islamic studies at major universities in the United States and Europe. The best known of these departments are at Harvard University's Law School, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of London and Moscow University. These departments are intended to advance knowledge and understanding of Islam, to promote the objectivity and accuracy of teaching in Islamic courses and to provide resources to scholars and institutions involved in research on Islam and the Muslim world.
Through these and other means, Saudi Arabia strives to meet the needs of Muslims, including those living outside the Islamic world, and to foster a better understanding of Islam, essential for mutual understanding and a more harmonious interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims.