ABU DHABI—Education is the only way to win the war against Islamic extremism and elevate the opportunities facing youth in the Arab world, says Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, a veteran educator, member of the governing council of Abu Dhabi and chairman of a think tank on countering extremism, Hedaya.
Known as an education pioneer for over two decades and a champion of global peaceful co-existence, Al Nuaimi is a renowned figure in the United Arab Emirates. Formerly head of the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge and chancellor of the United Arab Emirates University, his mission now is revolutionizing education in the Arab world.
“Our societies will not develop unless educators realize that education is a future-oriented process, not just a way to re-create history and squeeze ourselves into past glories that we can no longer replicate,” he says.
Education systems must therefore break away from old methodologies like rote learning and memorization, which do not encourage the independent thinking needed in a new era, he adds.
Higher-education institutions and other modern educational facilities must adopt more contemporary teaching methods, Al Nuaimi says, offering resources and training aids not only to students but to teachers too, in addition to better testing and evaluation tools.
“This requires an education revolution in the Arab and Islamic world; a reform movement that restores the prestige, stature and attractiveness of education in society and places the teacher within the upper echelons of the social elite,” said Al Nuaimi, who is also a former secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Elders and current chairman of the World Council of Muslim Communities.
‘The Paramount Fortress’
At the heart of all he does is a mission of co-existence, a key concept in his promotion of inter-faith dialogue in the Emirates and globally.
In a region still blighted by extremist thought, Al Nuaimi believes education is the frontline of defense against any threat. He calls it “the paramount fortress.” Only through allocating better funding, and utilizing the expertise of Islamic scholars, educators, sociologists and psychologists, can this be done well, he argues.
“Education must be the main priority in state budgets,” he said. The U.A.E. allocated 17 percent of the federal budget for the years 2019–2021 to education, and other countries must do the same, he added. “A genuine education revolution will help us to achieve a paradigm shift in education systems that enables societies and nations to break the cycle of underdevelopment.”
“A genuine education revolution will help us to achieve a paradigm shift in education systems that enables societies and nations to break the cycle of underdevelopment.”Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi
Al Nuaimi is a renowned figure in the global arena of deradicalization and counter terrorism, Arif said. He “took the lead in establishing most of the institutions that work in the areas of tolerance and coexistence, such as the Muslim Council of Elders,” said Arif.
Perspectives Gained in Turbulent Times
Al Nuaimi’s philosophy is born of personal experience. While he was studying for his bachelor’s degree at Portland State University, in Oregon, three major transformations were unraveling back in the Islamic world. The 1979 Iranian Revolution erupted, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the Grand Mosque of Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest sites, was besieged by Juhayman Al Otaybi. These events marked the beginnings of what is called the Sahwah, or the Awakening, Movement in the Middle East.
It was during this time that the young Al Nuaimi was brought for some time into the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood. He says it was with the enthusiasm and energy of a young man living in a world entirely different from his homeland, that he was enticed and captivated by the teachings of the Brotherhood “to defend the causes of Arabs and Muslims using the data and parameters of that particular phase.”
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During this time, he would witness divisions among Muslims, with “rival” groups, including the Salafi movement and the Tablighi Jamaat, all vying for the attention of young minds like his. Having been raised to believe that Muslims should all stand together, his beliefs were rocked and he left the movement.
“At that moment, I put some distance between myself and all people who try to set or understand themselves as guardians or speakers on behalf of Islam,” he said. “I made up my mind to be independent in my thinking and rejected any kind of guardianship or custody on my mind or my will in the name of Islam.”
Returning to the Arab world for his Ph.D. to be closer to his family, Al Nuaimi studied at the Al-Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia. This experience was a stark contrast to his experience in Portland, Oregon, and white Evangelical America, and it brought a change in his thinking, not least, experiencing the influences of the Sahwa Movement, a group dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. He would soon return to the United Arab Emirates with a clear mission of building a more inclusive society, free of the influences of more radical Islamic ideology taken on by the likes of such groups.
“Dr. Ali has a very special charisma that combines field knowledge, theoretical knowledge, and powerful character.”Karima Almazroui
An advisor to the chancellor at Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, in Abu Dhabi
A Profound Impact on Colleagues
Karima Almazroui, an advisor to the chancellor at Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, in Abu Dhabi, has known Al Nuaimi for more than 25 years, a student and later a colleague of his at the United Arab Emirates University. She says his impact on the educational landscape and on educators such as herself has been profound. “He is very realistic and understands the U.A.E. context’s needs and vision,” she said. “Dr. Ali has a very special charisma that combines field knowledge, theoretical knowledge, and powerful character.”
Arif agreed, describing Al Nuaimi as unique in his integrity and commitment. “He is practicing what he is preaching and always speaks from his heart,” Arif said. “Because of all of that, he is very successful in getting his message through wherever he goes.”
Al Nuaimi simply wants to help build a better future for young Muslims around the world. “I pray to Almighty Allah that this effort will achieve its ultimate objectives and provide a vision of the future for the young generations and the generations to come,” he said. “We must ensure that past errors committed by the previous generations will not occur again. May Allah grant all of us success in bringing about a better future for all.”