Washington, Dec. 13: A prominent Saudi businessman said yesterday that he is donating $20 million each to Georgetown and Harvard universities for the study of Islam and the Muslim world as part of his philanthropic efforts to promote interfaith understanding.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family, said in a telephone interview from Riyadh that he also has donated $15 million to set up East Asia’s first two centres for American studies, at universities in Beirut and Cairo.
“As you know, since the 9/11 events, the image of Islam has been tarnished in the West,” said Alwaleed, who is chairman of the Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding Co. and has extensive business holdings in Europe and the US.
He said his gifts to Georgetown and Harvard will be used “to teach about the Islamic world to the United States”, and the new programmes at American University in Beirut and American University in Cairo will “teach the Arab world about the American situation”.
The $20-million gift to Georgetown is the second-largest ever received by the Jesuit-run university, school officials said. It will be used to expand the activities of its 12-year-old Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
“We are deeply honoured by Prince Alwaleed’s generosity,” said a statement from Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, who met Alwaleed on November 7 in a Paris hotel to sign documents formalising the donation.
Alwaleed, a grandson of the Saudi kingdom’s founder, King Abdel Aziz, tried to give $10 million to the Twin Towers Fund shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
But then New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani rejected the donation after the prince said in a statement that the US needed to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause”.
Asked about the controversy over his New York gift, Alwaleed replied that “this is behind us and now we are working for the present and the future. . . . My love and admiration to the US was never diminished”.
The Georgetown centre, part of the university’s School of Foreign Service, will be renamed the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.