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Islamic leader funds program

By Sam Osofsky

The Aga Khan, the leader of about 15 million Ismaili Muslims, has bestowed an approximate $9 million grant to a joint Harvard University-MIT program for Islamic Architecture.

The grant will provide $900,000 per year for the next ten years to continue and expand the program.

The Aga Khan established the program in 1979 with a gift of more than $11.5 million.

Ata Safai, assistant director of the program, described the first phase of the program as "laying out the foundation for a very broad, comprehensive approach to Islamic architecture."

The program is projected to "strengthen and expand the academic programs at Harvard and MIT [which would] result ... in a [degree] program at Harvard, and, on the MIT side, an increase in the number of PhD students."

The program will use part of the new grant to continue these activities, but it will allocate the major share to support two new activities, according to program information.

O+ A new master's degree program in Design for Islamic Cultures at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning is planned, as well as new courses at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. The new master's degree program will admit its first students fall term, 1985.

O+ The program will also try to collaborate its efforts with those of some parallel institutions in the Muslim world.

The program will expand its efforts in historical studies, student financial support, seminars, publications, as well as documentation services and library collections.

The program will provide a center for study -- " a nucleus for gathering ... all those people who are specialists in the field," Safai said.

The final objective is "to root the program in an exchange of ideas with programs and institutions all over the world in Muslim countries," he explained.

This will be accomplished "through exchange students and faculty, joint research, teaching, sabbaticals, projects of mutual interest and exchange of information ... to try to see how we can pass on the experience we've gained," Safai said.

Until now the program has concentrated on the following areas: the introduction or expansion of related curricula, grants to doctoral students in the history of Islamic art and architecture, short term travel grants to students and research grants.

The program has also included a lecture series, conferences, a summer seminar series, publications, related grants and library and information resources.

Safai emphasized the program's successes in conferences and information resources. Aside from the expansion of the program's archives, the program has achieved "the development of computerized storage and retrieval of the visual collection, using a disk with some 30,000 images," he said.

"Any student could interact with this system. He could call [for information] by region, for example Libya, or specify religious information, or courtyard, and get detailed characteristics," Safai said.

The conferences last almost a week and cover a variety of topics such as Muslim Architecture, resource management and housing projects. They attract nearly 700 participants from all over the world.

Safai explained that the Aga Khan's primary reason for choosing Harvard and MIT is probably because "these are the first two institutions of this quality next to each other."

"They have a strength and scholarship in this area," he said, "a willingness to look outwards internationally."

The Aga Khan is a graduate of Harvard with an honors degree in Islamic history.