New York

15 September 2003

Secretary-General's remarks at lecture on "Islam and the West" by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr [as delivered]

Good afternoon, colleagues and friends.

This afternoon, I am really honoured that Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr has accepted my invitation to give this lecture.

He is a great Islamic scholar who has lived and taught for many years in the West.

That very fact illustrates a problem about the title of his lecture –which, I must admit, was suggested by me and not by him.

When we talk about “Islam and the West”, it sounds as if these were two opposites. Yet

Islam is a universal religion, with adherents in almost every part of the world, whereas

“the West” is a geographical, or perhaps geo-political expression.

It's true that historically, Islam began in the Middle East –as, of course, did Judaism and Christianity –and for many centuries Muslims were concentrated in a certain part of the world –a very large one, stretching from West Africa to South-East Asia, and from the Volga to Zanzibar.

It's also true that Muslim states and Christian states competed with each other –sometimes in war, but also peacefully, in science and philosophy and art. The West as we know it today is the product of many Islamic influences –and it has many Muslim inhabitants. Professor Hossein Nasr is one of the most outstanding examples, but there are millions of others.

Unfortunately, in spite of that, there are many misunderstandings about Islam among

non-Muslim westerners –and also much resentment of the West among people in

Muslim countries.

All this has been thrown into sharper relief by the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

Those events, and the reactions to them, have raised the spectre of a “clash of


Personally I don't believe in such a clash, because I don't believe that there are distinct

and separate “civilisations” in the world today. I think we all live in one world, and that

in every country there are many different religions and cultures who need to respect each

other and live peacefully together.

But clearly that is not as easy as it should be. We need to make more of an effort to understand each other. No one is better placed than Professor Hossein Nasr to help us do that. So without much ado, let me give him the floor to him.