Sunday, March 15, 2009

at 10:52 PM Posted by chaker

Address by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
at the launch of the celebration of
“Kairouan Capital of Islamic Culture”

Kairouan, March 8, 2009

"In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Your Excellency Dr. Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director General of ISESCO,

Your Excellency Mr. Habib Ben Yahia, Secretary General of the Arab Maghreb

Your Excellencies, Your Eminences,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

By the Grace of God, I inaugurate today the celebration of “Kairouan : Capital
of Islamic Culture” for 1430 H. / 2009 AD.

On this occasion, I wish to express my sincere thanks to the representatives of
regional cultural organizations and of Islamic scientific organizations, to
Their Excellencies and Eminences, and to the scholars and thinkers from sisterly
and friendly countries, for having accepted our invitation to attend with us
this special celebration, as a token of consideration to our country and to the
city of Kairouan which enjoys a special place in the hearts of Muslims in
particular, and in the history of world culture in general. To all of you, I
would like to extend a warm welcome.

I also wish to thank the inhabitants of Kairouan and the local administrative
and cultural elites, for the efforts they have deployed to host this major
event, and to extend, with their customary hospitality and courtesy, the warmest
welcome to their guests.

I take this opportunity to commend the fruitful cooperation between Tunisia and
ISESCO, and to pay tribute to the executive body of this Organization, and to
its Director General Dr. Abdulaziz Altwaijri, for their sustained action to
highlight the cultural and civilizational contributions of Islamic cities that
have played an active and decisive role in spreading our sublime religion,
anchoring its values, and promoting its image; Kairouan being one of the most
illustrious of these cities.

Since its foundation in 50 H / 670 AD by Oqba Ibn Nafaa, who arrived in
Ifriqiyya accompanied by 25 valorous Sahabas (Companions of the Prophet) and a
group of virtuous Muhajirin (Muslim emigrants from Mecca), Ansar (Medinan
converts to Islam) and Tabi’in, (the generation after the Sahaba), Kairouan has
been honored with especially distinguished status.

Kairouan is, in fact, the dwelling place of the Sahabas (Companions of the
Prophet, Peace and Prayer Be Upon Him). It is also the burial place of the
Companion Abu Zumaa Al-Balawi, who was among those who pledged allegiance to the
Prophet “Under the Tree”. Kairouan is the oldest stronghold of Islam and Muslims
in the countries of the Maghreb, and is the fourth holy city of Islam, after
Mecca, Medina and Al-Quds. The founder of Kairouan, Oqba Ibn Nafaa, prayed to
God “to fill this city with science and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and to
make it a symbol of glory for Islam and Muslims forever”.

Actually, it was from Kairouan that Islamic conquests started toward the
Maghreb, Andalusia, Sicily and Sub-Saharan Africa... It was in Kairouan that the
greatest school of Maliki Jurisprudence was founded, spreading the values of
moderation and golden mean, rejecting excessive and suspicious attitudes, and
shunning the factors conducive to divergence and internal strife.

It was in Kairouan that the most prestigious religious, literary, educational
and medical schools emerged, that the most fruitful intellectual debates took
place, and that the best renowned social, biographical and morality books
appeared. It was in Kairouan that coexistence, harmony and freedom of belief
prevailed between Muslims and the People of the Book.

It was in Kairouan that prominent figures and pioneers emerged in all
specialties, promoting dialogue and complementarity with others. They were
inspired by others, but they also innovated, excelled, and served as a reliable
and strong link between the Mashreq and the Maghreb.

In the town of Raqqada, near Kairouan, the Aghlabide Emir Ibrahim Ibn Ahmed
founded, in 264 H / 878 AD, the institution of Beit El-Hikma (House of Wisdom),
following the model of the Beit El-Hikma established in Baghdad by Al-Khalifa
Al-Ma’moun. Ibrahim II brought to the Aghlabide Beit El-Hikma the most prominent
doctors, astronomers, scholars and translators. He also brought there some of
the most precious books in various languages.

From Kairouan, the Capital of the Aghlabides, then of the Zirids, emerged
outstanding figures in Islamic jurisprudence, such as Assad Ibn Al-Fourat,
Suhnoun Ibn Said, and Abdallah Ibn Abi Zeyd; in literature, such as Abdelkarim
Al-Nahshali, Ibrahim Al-Husari, Ali Al-Husari, Ibn Sharaf, and Ibn Rachiq; and
in medicine, such as Is’haq Ibn Omrane, Ahmad Ibn Al-Jazzar and Zied Ibn

In Kairouan, the respect of women’s rights prevailed in matrimonial relations,
through the so-called “Kairouani Sadaq” (Kairouan marriage contract).

The education of girls was widespread, as was the case of Assad Ibn Al-Fourat
with his daughter Asma, and Al-Imam Suhnoun with his daughter Khadija. The two
girls would later be known for their narration of Hadiths (Prophet’s statements)
and the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and also for their mastery of the Arabic
language. Similarly, Princess Mahriya al-Aghlabiya was known for her erudition
and poetic creativity.

The Kairouan School of Education knew its heyday with the appearance of famous
books in this field, such as “Adab Al-Mu’alimin” (Teachers’ rules of behavior)
by Mohamed Ibn Suhnoun, “Siyasat Al-Sibyane Wa Tadbiruhom” (Children’s Education
and Management) by Ibn Al-Jazzar, and “Al-Risala Al-Mofasala Li-Ahwal
Al-Muta’alimin Wa Ahkam Al-Mu’alimin Wal-Muta’alimine” (Epistle on the state of
learners and the rules of conduct for teachers and learners) by Abul-Hassen

Kairouan also served as a major passageway, a dynamic crossroads of cultures,
and an active path toward the Machreq, the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa. It
included many mosques, diwans, markets and craftsmen’s stalls, and witnessed a
remarkable urban development, especially through the building of ramparts,
bridges, wells and basins, institutions and Ribats.

Aware of the importance of water in the development of cities, the Arabs built
reservoirs and fountains in residential areas and in religious and social
institutions, the most famous of which being the Aghlabide Basin which today
bears strong witness to the degree of progress achieved in the Islamic Maghreb
in terms of urban architectural techniques.

The Great Mosque of Kairouan, or “Sidi Oqba Mosque”, where we are meeting now,
was the first monument established by Oqba Ibn Nafaa when Kairouan was founded.
It contains skillfully-crafted architectural elements that were widely admired
in the Mashreq and in the Maghreb, thanks to their simplicity and elegance,
particularly the Minaret, which is unique of its kind, and the Minbar (Pulpit),
which is one of the oldest, most famous and most wonderful in the Islamic world.

We have chosen to make sure the cultural events scheduled for Kairouan coincide
with the eve of Al-Mawlid Al-Nabawi Al-Sharif (celebration of the Prophet’s
Birthday), so as to glorify the Great Prophet, and to perpetrate this noble
tradition that the inhabitants of Kairouan had set since a long time ago,
through which they relate and draw lessons and wisdom from Al-Sira Al-Nabawiya
(the Prophet’s life).

We have also chosen to launch the special events of Kairouan from this great
religious, educational and scientific institution which, throughout the ages,
abounded with the circles of Qurra’ (reciters of the Koran), fuqahas (scholars
of Islamic jurisprudence), Hadith specialists, linguists and experts, spreading
faith and knowledge among disciples coming from various countries and regions of
the world.

Though it remained, during five centuries, a prosperous, creative and shining
city, Kairouan did witness period of trouble and ordeals that threatened its
stability and hindered its activity, especially after the Hilalian invasion in
the 5th century H. /11th century AD.

However, thanks to its strong personality and rich history, Kairouan managed,
during the periods of weakness and decline, to stand in the face of the waves of
internal trouble and foreign invasion, and to achieve self-renewal at each
stage, without renouncing its identity or its roots.

These same traits are still deeply rooted in our social traditions and political
choices. We are, in fact, keen to make sure the Islamic spirit in this region
remains deeply anchored and durable all over the ages, from the era of Oqba Ibn
Nafaa to the present era in which we have the honor of revivifying religious
sciences and promoting religious sites and monuments.

Our celebration this year of “Kairouan : Capital of Islamic Culture” bears
testimony to our continuous endeavor to link the past to the present, and to
make sure Tunisia’s religious and cultural personality remains strong,
resistant, vivacious and ever-renewed, in accordance with Article One of the
Tunisian Constitution which provides that : “Tunisia is a free, independent and
sovereign state; its religion is Islam, its language Arabic, and its system

On the other hand, we have taken care of our intellectual and material heritage,
with all its components, based on our conviction that individual and collective
creativity is the best expression of national identity. Today, we have seven
cultural sites registered on the World Heritage List, in the forefront of which
the city of Kairouan. We also have over 35 public and private museums spread all
over the country, preserving a rich civilizational heritage that immortalizes
the vestiges and creative works accumulated by our country over three thousand

To consolidate these institutions, we established the “National Heritage
Institute” and the “Agency for the Development of National Heritage and Cultural
Promotion”. We issued a “Code for the Protection of Archaeological and
Historical Heritage and Traditional Art”, with a view to safeguarding our
historical sites and popular culture, and optimizing their management so that
they serve national tourism.

Since the Change of 1987, we have been keen on protecting our culture from all
forms of estrangement and distortion, from the market hegemony, and from the
dangers of stereotyped production. We have clung to our values and
specificities, provided all due care and encouragements to creative people, and
promoted exchange and complementarity with foreign cultures.

We have rehabilitated the Islamic religion, based on our conviction that our
sublime religion is the essence of our civilization and the foundation of our
existence. We have been keen on safeguarding it, revitalizing its rituals, and
following its teachings. To this end, we have taken a set of practical measures.

These include : establishing the “Islamic Studies Center of Kairouan”;
transforming the “Zitouna Faculty of Shari’a (Islamic jurisprudence) and the
Fundamentals of Religion” into the “Zitouna University”, an institution offering
multidisciplinary branches and areas of specialization; creating the Ministry of
Religious Affairs; establishing an “Academic Chair for the Dialogue among
Civilizations and Religions”; spreading enlightened Ijtihad-based thinking;
promoting the religious discourse in the media; and organizing regional and
international conferences with specialized international organizations on the
dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions, especially that our
country has been, all along its glorious history, a land of tolerance, peace and
harmony, acting to spread these values in its relations with the nations with
which it had met or mixed.

We have focused our attention on religious monuments, particularly mosques whose
number increased from 2390 in 1987 to 4550 in 2008. We have granted special care
to the Holy Koran, and given instructions for issuing, for the first time in the
history of our country, an edition of the Koran of the Republic of Tunisia. We
have organized annual regional, national and international competitions in the
recitation and memorization of the Holy Koran. We have given instructions for
launching the programs of the “Zitouna Radio for the Holy Koran”, and
established the “International Prize of the President of the Republic for
Islamic Studies”.

In line with our decision concerning the continuous recitation, all day long and
all year round, of the Holy Koran in the Zitouna Mosque in Tunis, we give
instructions today so that the recitation of the Holy Koran takes place also in
the Oqba Ibn Nafaa Mosque all day and all year long, so that Kairouan remains,
as its founder wished it to be, “a symbol of glory for Islam to the end of

We are always faithful to our commitment vis-à-vis our people in their
attachment to their Arab-Muslim identity, in their awareness of their present,
interaction with their time, and confidence in the future, and in their
determination to combine knowledge and action so as to reach the highest levels
of progress and invulnerability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, I would like, once again, to express to you my warm greetings, and
to say that I am deeply proud of your presence here in Kairouan, the Capital of
Islamic Culture for 1430 H./2009 AD, wishing you a pleasant stay among us.

Thank you for your attention."