UAE: Meet the Emirati scholar whose writings have helped spread spirit of tolerance, coexistence

Professor Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi was also nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature in 2019


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 7:16 PM

Last updated: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 10:52 PM

UAE scholar, writer, and strategic expert, Professor Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi recalls how back in the early days, the family, mosques and communities were educational institutions that played a major role in instilling values, customs and traditions in children.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Al Suwaidi talked about his childhood, education and some of his latest publications. The Emirati researcher says his mother played the most significant role in preparing him for school.

“With sound instinct and awareness, she understood the nature of a child’s transition from the comfort of the family environment to a new world with different rules. She was aware of the conscious, thoughtful transition that was needed. Today, special introductory sessions are held for this purpose,” he said.

Al Suwaidi, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), says his father, maternal uncle, and elder brother, took him to the mosque where religious values were instilled in him, and he learned how to perform prayers at an early age.

“At the mosque, my first lessons were on engaging with society and preserving its customs and values. I was also taught manners, in terms of speech and behaviour,” he said.

“These daily trips to the mosque were an important as it educated people and prepared them for engagement with a wider environment.”

Unlike today, the school during Al Suwaidi’s childhood was equivalent to the family in its level of importance; the care provided by schools was comprehensive— mentally, psychologically and physically.

“Building and strengthening character was among the schools’ objectives, and various educational curricula were designed to achieve that goal. This took place directly, through a strong motivation to instil and strengthen values and morals, as well as indirectly, with moral values included in the various curricula,” he said.

“Teachers did not consider their role as limited to ensuring students understood subjects in order to pass exams; rather, their goal was to build balanced individuals that appreciated moral values and were committed to them.”

The scholar believes that it’s regrettable that many of today’s schools no longer take care of the moral aspects of carrying out their mission. “Teachers explain lessons to students, and then go home,” he says.

Al Suwaidi graduated from Kuwait University with the major in political science. After that, he returned to the UAE full of ambition and hope to serve his nation. His first practical experience came when he was appointed to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1981 as a Third Secretary in the Ministry’s General Office. “My work there lasted for approximately one year, before I left to complete my post-graduate studies abroad. During that year, I was assigned to the post of Editor-in-Chief of The Diplomat Journal, which published by the Ministry at the time,” he said.

Getting into writing and research

The Emirati scholar says writing started for him with Al Manbar Al Hurr (Free Forum) magazine. He wrote a series of articles titled “Memoirs of a Poor Man Who Travelled to London”, published by the Political Science Association at Kuwait University. “The magazine represented an important step forward in the development of my writing, where I moved from fictional and descriptive writing to tackling political and social issues,” said Al Suwaidi.

“Receiving a PhD degree from the University of Wisconsin was the first step in my development to becoming a researcher and academic.”

Al Suwaidi has authored several books on politics, extremist ideologies and the values of tolerance and coexistence and social life, and also contributed to many publications.

In 2019, the Emirati scholar was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for the importance of his book The Mirage in addressing extremist ideologies that have spread across the globe in recent years, and which threatens the security of societies and human values.

In March this year, he was honoured with a French medal, the "Afal Francophone Fraternity 2022", for combating extremist ideologies and spreading the values of tolerance and coexistence through his writings.

According to Al Suwaidi, Islam, as the final religion that arrived as a mercy for all, to guide people to peace, not towards extremism, violence and the killing of innocent men, women and children. “The world has faced major instability, and this places great responsibility on our shoulders. As citizens we must ensure our daily actions reflect belonging and loyalty to our homeland and wise leadership, to preserve our gains and consolidate our capabilities in building this nation,” he said.

The Emirati writer says it was essential to develop a clear vision aimed primarily at consolidating security and safety, protecting people from the dangers of extremist ideologies, and raising their level of awareness to safeguard them from the manipulation of false narratives that appeal to emotion.

Al Suwaidi's new book

Talking about his latest book, The Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates: Miscalculations, which was published in 2021, Al Suwaidi says the book addresses the emergence and history of the Muslim Brotherhood group, and its expansion at home and abroad, with the aim of studying its practices and dissecting its ideological and political project and visions, as well as its emergence in the UAE.

“The views of the Muslim Brotherhood do not reflect Islam or its pure image. The Muslim Brotherhood underestimated the priorities of societies, and failed to realise the significance of deep faith. Giving any credence to the group’s claims is a grave offence against our Islamic faith,” says the Emirati scholar.

The book also presents comprehensive analysis of views and experiences of the Muslim Brotherhood rule, taking into consideration differences in its political performance based on specific national contexts. Ultimately, the book proves that the most significant factors in the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood relate to their ‘miscalculations’. “They lacked the pragmatic political vision needed for leadership and the requirements of governance. Their approach relied on manipulating the pressures facing Arab people, such as a lack of food, poverty, disease and low standards of education. Clearly, they misunderstood the events of the so-called Arab Spring and overestimated the 2011 Petition in the UAE, which they thought would lead to power and rule,” he said.

The book also reveals the group’s attempts to control education, especially curricula, and monopolise the scholarship system.

Al Suwaidi says that two main factors prompted him to write the miscalculations; these include the lack of books documenting such a significant period in the UAE’s history and the importance of highlighting the extent to which nations, and the Emiratis, have rejected extremist religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Emirati author has advised young people aspiring to become researchers and writers to put the importance on reading and education.

“We must also realise that the existence of technology, in a digital era of advanced computers and smartphones, is not a substitute for culture and moral education. Education is crucial for us to fully participate in this world,” he said.

The Emirati researcher is currently writing a book on President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, titled Mohamed bin Zayed: Icon of Humanitarian Action.

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