Harvard and Georgetown universities have each announced a $20 million gift from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, a businessman and member of the Saudi royal family, to support Islamic studies on their respective campuses.
The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University will be a university-wide program with an endowed chair, three senior professorships, and support for research, tuition, fees, and stipends for graduate students. The program will also encompass an Islamic Heritage Project designed to preserve and digitize historically significant Islamic materials and make the resulting images available via the Internet. "For a university with global aspirations, it is critical that Harvard have a strong program on Islam that is worldwide and interdisciplinary in scope," said Steven E. Hyman, Harvard's provost, who will coordinate the program's implementation.
Georgetown will use its gift to expand its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, part of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, with a focus on inter-religious scholarship and research; the center will be renamed the H.R.H. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. "This gift will deepen Georgetown's ability to advance education in the fields of Islamic civilization and Muslim-Christian understanding and strengthen its presence as a world leader in facilitating cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue," said Georgetown president John J. DeGioia.
Alwaleed bin Talal has a fortune estimated at $23.7 billion and a reputation for philanthropic activities. He recently agreed to finance construction of a new Islamic wing at the Louvre in Paris, gave $19 million to South East Asia's tsunami victims, and donated $5.4 million during a Saudi telethon for Pakistani earthquake victims. He also gave $5 million to establish the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Beirut and $10 million to finance the construction of the Humanities and Social Sciences building at the new campus of the American University in Cairo.
Not all of his pledges have been accepted, however. The New York Times reported that in October 2001, the prince offered to donate $10 million to the Twin Towers Fund established by then-Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani — a gift that Giuliani refused after he learned the prince, in a news release, had called on the American government to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."
In making the gifts to Harvard and Georgetown, Alwaleed bin Talal focused on the importance of uniting disparate cultures. "I hope that this program will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today's world," he said in a Harvard news release. "Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance."