Address of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos to students of SQU –
WE are happy to be with you today at this university which was founded a mere fourteen years ago, and in visiting you, we feel that we are also visiting all those who studied here before you. We are truly proud of what this university has achieved since it was established, and the speeches we have heard and the briefings we have received give us a sense not only of satisfaction but also of immense joy. We are proud of this university, but more than that, we in Oman (and elsewhere) are proud of you. Since we assumed responsibility for this country, we have assigned a major priority to education — as well as other matters, of course — but education has been our major preoccupation. We pointed this out when we said we would teach our sons even under the shade of the trees.
You, or some of you, may not remember that time when there were schools in tents. When we first set up the Ministry of Education we issued directives that every effort must be made to build schools as quickly as possible using all available facilities. Schools were indeed built with the greatest possible speed — taking into consideration the circumstances of that time — and that marked the start of the development of primary, then preparatory, then secondary education. We aimed to establish an educational system as fast as we could, because we knew that knowledge is light and light is the opposite of darkness; we must all remember the words of Almighty God when He said: Are they the same — those that know and those that do not know?
Not one of us can perform his duty properly unless he is armed with knowledge. By this I mean
genuine knowledge,’ not just the outward and visible forms of knowledge; in other words, deep knowledge and a real knowledge about things, matters and affairs.This person has come from Oman (or some other country) to study here. That means it doesn’t matter if he is genuinely knowledgeable or not, because he is here today and will be gone tomorrow. So if he wants to buy this forged paper or that bogus certificate, then let him.’ What I’m saying is, what does it matter to such people? It doesn’t matter to them at all.
We acquire our knowledge from those who have gone before us, whose endeavours, thoughts, deductions and concepts led them to gain knowledge about the world around them. Indeed, we have been commanded to do this; we have been commanded to think and cogitate. However, this does not mean that when we reach the level of knowledge that our forebears reached we should stop there. Knowledge is something which needs to be regenerated and rejuvenated, and it is up to us to add new knowledge to the world of knowledge that already exists. At the pre-university or pre-higher education levels we acquire the knowledge that was acquired by those who went before us. However, at the higher end of the education ladder we are expected to add new knowledge to that which already exists, to carry out research, think and reach conclusions.
It is up to us to correct or amend the knowledge of those who have gone before us. Much of it consists of theory and theories tend to be revised and renewed. We can not say that the conclusions reached by people in the past are the ultimate knowledge. No. Knowledge is not absolute. Knowledge is subject to regeneration and renewal. Scholars and scientists of the past, such as astronomers, had a limited view of the sky and the planets and only observed a limited number of bodies, which were given names. However, since that time numerous things have been discovered which were totally unknown in earlier times. So science and knowledge are renewable. Therefore we are eager that our sons and daughters, or our daughters and sons (though if we are going to be truly even handed, we should not put males before females first and then females before males), should have the opportunity to reach a level which will enable them to achieve and add to the knowledge or sciences taught at the earlier stages of the educational process.
In the years before this university was set up all our university students — both boys and girls (and girls and boys) — used to go abroad to various universities. While some of these universities had excellent international reputations and imparted real knowledge of genuine worth, I believe that others – in some countries – were not of that standard. At the same time, however, the quest for knowledge was – and is – always a legitimate aspiration.
Then the years went by until I found that the time had come to establish the first university in our beloved country.
I will not hide from you the fact that when this proposal was first mooted, some intellectuals in this country did not favour the idea of setting up the university at that particular time, because they believed that as long as boys and girls (and girls and boys) could be sent to study abroad, then this might be the easiest option and perhaps the cheapest one, too. However, we had a different view. We consult, but if we reach a decision we commit ourselves to it. So we ordered that this university should be established. When it first started, numbers were small, but they grew and expanded as time went by until they reached the level they have reached today.
It was — as one of the speakers has said — of the utmost importance that we should concentrate on quality. That was because we want this to be a top-class university we can be proud of with graduates we can also be proud of. Therefore — as you know — we made the pass mark for acceptance at this university one of our priorities. We have not made it easy to get into it and some people wonder why the mark is so high. The answer is that we believe this ought to be a university which only accepts those with the proper entry qualifications, who can truly benefit from enrolment on its courses and not merely graduate from it and say ‘I’ve got a certificate.’ After all, a-certificate is just a piece of paper which neither nourishes nor satisfies. Some people in today’s world have many certificates which they just use so that they can show off…. so that they can say ‘I’m So-and-so. I’ve got a certificate.’ We also know that in several countries secondary, institute and university certificates are forged. This is true, not fantasy, and forgery in that field has become a highly professional business.
That is because there are people who say:
Therefore in this country we keep our eyes open so that we can detect that kind of thing, and consequently people have come to realise that we do not accept certain certificates, whether they are university certificates or from other sources, until we have verified that they are genuine. These days even a doctorate is available on the Internet and there are computer programs for IT — that is to say, you fill in the information and it prints out the field of specialisation — and certain institutions in some countries of the world have become professionals in this field.
We know that the authorities in some states are trying to combat this phenomenon. Therefore let us reiterate: we want people who will acquire genuine learning and genuine knowledge — people who will think, cogitate and contribute to the fields of science and thought, and to all fields.
This leads me to the question of research. As I said just now, research is an ongoing thing. It is something that is going on all the time. Theories come today and change tomorrow and therefore we need to keep abreast of things constantly.
That is why we have decided to make a personal contribution to SQU’s scientific research programmes every year, which will be separate from the university’s budget allocations We have spoken with the university authorities or this matter and we shall give our unstinting support to the project. We shall stand with something highly appropriate and whenever more is needed we shall increase our contributions and so on. We are also aware of certain other things which may not be available at this university today. When we feel that the time is ripe to make them available we shall do so.
There are also areas for research in the heritage, as well as in historical and other fields.
In this connection I should like to say a word on the subject of history. I make no claim to be particularly well-versed in history, but I am familiar with some aspects of it. I find that the history which was written down centuries ago is sometimes highly embroidered and distorted. Much of what was written is biased, either politically or in other ways.
Although there may be those who claim that something is `written in so-and- so’s history’, remember that such people are human beings who wrote their history down according to the versions they received. Those versions might be corroborated by other sources; alternatively, they might come from a single source in which the author could have been inspired by a particular feeling or emotion – either positive or negative – when he wrote them. Sometimes we find people idolised by history; at other times other people are denigrated and consigned to the depths. We often find a lot of contradictions when we read history. There are numerous examples of these, but let us take just one — the case of al Hajjaj bin Yousuf al Thaqafi, whom some describe as such-and-such a character, while others say other things about him.
Apply our intellects
History needs to be looked at critically, so that when we read history we read it thinkingly and apply our intellects, and take our minds back to the time being described. For example, when historians speak of the
huge armies’ that set out for such-and-such a place from such-and-such a city or country in those distant days — I’m talking here to people who understand what I mean — let us consider how big the world’s population was at that time. And let us consider the populations of those countries that were said to have those huge armies which — it was claimed — stretched from here to there over distances of thousands of miles or hundreds of kilometres.in reality, thosehuge armies’ were not really huge at all,
So let us go back and think, and consider what the world’s population was at that time and how it was distributed among the different countries. For example what was the population of the Arabian Peninsula in those days? Any answers?
I am not looking for an immediate answer; what I’m actually asking you to do is to think how many thousands it was. Or was it millions? I don’t think it was millions, though it is possible that could be an underestimate. In any case, where they talked about those `huge armies,’ I do not think they were really huge armies Turning to Omani history, when they talk about some aspects of history and say that there were ninety thousand — or a hundred thousand — horsemen, where did they all come from? And what about the horses? Where did they get their food Should we accept these things at face value? No.
I am just giving you an example to show that you should treat history with caution and examine its claims carefully. I say to students of history: be critical, go back to the past and think about what things were actually like in those days. We must not just accept everything that has been written and repeat it parrot-fashion.
Supression of ideas a sin
The suppression of ideas, thought and intellectual effort is a major sin. We will’ never allow anyone to suppress freedom of thought. I do not wish to go into detail about this. However, I know that there are people who call for the suppression of thought.
Ideas cannot be suppressed. Our Religion stands for ideas and the intellect, not the suppression of thought. Never. Our religion is tolerant, ethical and receptive to ideas. Every verse of the Glorious Quran calls for thinking, cogitation, etc. It does not call for narrow-mindedness, mental inertia and blindly going with the flow No Never Some people use the inappropriate term
men of religion.’ We do not havemen of religion;’ we have `ulama (scholars) of religion.’ In the Religion of Islam there are ulama of religion, not men of religion. Men of religion exist in other religions which have their own styles and approaches to worship. That is something different and does not apply to us. We do not violate the rights of others and we do not speak of others. Everyone has his or her own approach, way of thinking, religion, etc. However, we do not have men of religion and for us there is no intermediary between us and Almighty God. The earth has been made a place of worship for Me and its soil pure. You can pray in any place and speak to your Lord anywhere. Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear for error.
You must avoid letting anyone take away your freedom of thought in any way whether on religious or other grounds. People must use their minds and think, and there are situations where the use of the intellect is necessary so that excessive fantasy or fancy can be held in check.
These brief words sum up what I wanted to say on this topic.
Spirit of enquiry
We should like to pay tribute once again to this university’s performance and its spirit of enquiry and scholarship. You — like those before you — bear the torch of knowledge in this society. Society is a network of interwoven and interconnecting threads and we need to preserve it. To do this we must hold onto our good customs and scrap those that are outdated. This gives me the opportunity to say a word about certain extravagant customs like the unreasonably high cost of marriage and the excessive sums spent on wedding celebrations which impose unacceptable burdens on young men and women (and young women and men), their parents and others. This is not a good thing and it is not one of the customs that we wish to retain; not at all. When I say
customs’, the fact is that some of them are of quite recent origin and were not known in the past. In the past people did not need much in order to be satisfied; that was how they lived. Their standard of living was different — that is for sure — compared with today’s standard of living.No’ to these kinds of customs.
On this occasion I am directing my words to young men, not young women, because in our society it is the husband who spends the money and sees himself as responsible for the household expenses. He is the one who is burdened with endless debts, cares and economic problems. This never ought to happen. I say that everyone should stand together and say
It is for this reason that we have officially ordered dowries to be fixed at between a minimum of five hundred Omani Rials and a maximum of two thousand Omani Rials, so that
He who has plenty may spend from his plenty.’ I think these limits are reasonable, but what is likely to actually happen? I know it will probably lead to other things. True, people will stick to the rule, but then it will be:Get me this and that. Get me a car, get me….’ I don’t know what, but all kinds of unreasonable and unacceptable things. Why should this happen? If everyone just said `No,’ It would stop. Then everyone would manage to do what he has to do within his own means.
That is the first thing a young man needs to do; get himself properly established in life, get himself a decent career, get a house and do all the other things he has to do.
Step by step
That is why we encouraged some of those things that we ordered to be set up, including the Youth Fund, retraining, etc. All these institutions and practices are designed to form the nucleus of self-reliance. We are eager to promote self- reliance so that people can earn incomes that will help them, develop them and enable them to climb up the ladder step by step.
However, those who are impatient want everything today. It is not possible to do everything in one day. Almighty God created the heavens and the earth in six days, despite that fact that if He wishes something He says to it
Be’ and it is. But it is God’s Way of Creation that things should happen step by step.And your effort will be seen.’
Those days, we do not know how long they were, whether they were-billions or millions of years long. However, we can be sure that they were not the same as the 24-hour days that we know. The truth is known to my Lord. For God a day is as a thousand years according to your reckoning. That is one thing, but man needs to scale the ladder step by step.
Your brothers, or some of you, may join the armed forces or the security or other services. Can such a person become a Major-General at once? No. First he becomes a private, then he moves a step up from there, then up again. If he is a cadet, he will start off with one star, then two stars, then three and so on. The same applies to a person going to school. Is he going to finish in six months? No. For example, these years which you are spending in education, some of you longer than others. For example, the College of Medicine. A doctor has to study for sever years, then train under supervision and become qualified; perhaps it will take him around twelve years in all. Things don’t just happen, just like that. A person needs to strive:
These are some of the issues of concern that I have taken the opportunity to talk about here.
Other points have been covered by the people who spoke about programmes and the future. One of the speakers said that society was made up of the different world economies, that the world of today comprised a single economy and this was the way to economic strength. Nevertheless, let us not forget that economics has always meant — from the beginning of time — that a person who has nothing to eat will die and a hunter cannot survive long without being able to shoot a deer or a hare; he will die of hunger. Even primitive societies had some kind of economic system. Then there are the economic systems practised by the individual, the family, the clan, the tribe, and then the wider community. So the economy is a corner-stone. Without an economy we would not have been able to educate you or, for that matter, do anything else. There would be no health services or any other kind of services, because economics is the basis of everything.
It is the national income which strengthens the economy. The national income is always more important than government revenues. The national income represents the country’s main source of income. We all know that the economies of our countries have been strengthened by the discovery of something called oil, or what some people call black gold.
If these resources are exploited properly, then when they run out we will have reaped the benefits from what they provided for us. If this does not happen, then that means that one returns to the state one was in before. So there must be alternatives. Everyone knows that for years we have been talking about these alternatives in our official public statements and speeches etc. And the alternatives can only be acquired through hard work and effort on the part of the whole community. The government — or the executive branch of the government — bears a responsibility. Experts (and some of you will be experts, God willing) bear a responsibility to think about every alternative that can begin providing support in the present day and continue to provide support into the future, like a stick that a person can lean on when he needs it.
These alternatives… .We look around us and say `What can we do?’ We should be realists and not fantasists. Projects which belong to the realms of fantasy can never be feasible. In some languages they are called White Elephants or Pink Elephants, or described in some such terms. An elephant of this kind car be of no use to anybody. We should look at the experiences of people in the past there are people in some countries — in the past, I mean — who opted for high’ sounding mega projects, but in the end what happened?