Washington // A top Emirati businessman and philanthropist, Juma al Majid, was honoured yesterday with the prestigious Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity award for his charitable work in the UAE and efforts to preserve Arab and Islamic culture. Mr al Majid, who sits atop a large business conglomerate that includes the UAE distributor of the South Korean car brand Kia, received the "award for international commitment" for the work of the Juma al Majid Center for Culture and Heritage, a Dubai-based non-profit reference library and research institute that has collected and restored more than 400,000 Islamic texts since he founded it in 1991.
He also was recognised for his work to expand access to education in the Emirates. In 1983, Mr al Majid established National Charity Schools, a network of education facilities meant for the children of working-class Arab expatriates who have few other options for schooling. Some 10,000 children attend National Charity Schools in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman. Mr al Majid was unable to attend the ceremony on Wednesday because of travel disruptions caused by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano. The award was accepted on his behalf by Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador in Washington.
In a prepared speech, Mr al Majid focused on his contributions to education in the UAE, saying that the global community has a "moral obligation to ensure that our young people have a substantial academic experience that gives them the tools to make our world a more tolerant, sustainable and peaceful place". The Kahlil Gibran awards were launched in 1999 by the Arab American Institute Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit group, to recognise diplomatic, business, philanthropic and government leaders who promote "coexistence and inclusion in all walks of life".
Previous recipients include Muhammad Ali, Queen Noor of Jordan and George Mitchell, the former US senator and current special envoy to the Middle East who helped broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland. This year's other recipients were Rosemary Barkett, a prominent federal judge of Syrian ancestry and the first woman to serve on the Florida Supreme Court; and Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American resident of New Orleans who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, took to a canoe to help those in need.
Also honoured was the mayor of Chicago, Richard M Daley, who was recognised for his efforts to promote "sister city" relationships with Arab cities, including Amman and Casablanca. Mr Daley also has visited Abu Dhabi several times and recently signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi International Airport that will provide for the exchange of technical expertise, airport business and development opportunities.
The award ceremony was attended by several members of Congress and by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org