, by SAMEEN AHMED KHAN
On 28 January, the King Faisal Foundation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia announced the King Faisal International Prize for the year 2013. The recipients in the categories are as follows. Service to Islam: Shaikh Rai’d Salah Mahagna of Palestine; Arabic Language and Literature (Topic: Individual and Institutional Efforts in Writing Arabic Dictionaries): Arabic Language Academy in Cairo, Egypt; Medicine (Topic: The Genetcis of Obesity): Professor Jeffrey Michael Friedman and Professor Douglas Leonard Coleman; Science (Topic: Physics): Professor Paul B Corkum and Professor Ferenc Krausz. The prize for Islamic Studies (Topic: Studies on Islamic Criminal Law) was withheld.
The prize consists of a certificate, hand-written in Diwani calligraphy, summarising the laureate’s work; a commemorative 24 carat, 200 gram gold medal, uniquely cast for each Prize; and a cash endowment of Saudi Riyal 750,000 (about US$200,000) to be shared equally. The winners will receive their awards in March in a ceremony in Riyadh under the auspices of the King of Saudi Arabia.
The prizes are named after the third king of Saudi Arabia. In the year 1976, the sons of late King Faisal (1906-1975) established a large-scale philanthropic organisation based in Riyadh, and named it as King Faisal Foundation (KFF). One of the activities of the KFF is the King Faisal International Prize (KFIP), to honour scholars and scientists, who have made the most significant advances to benefit humanity and enrich human knowledge. The annual prizes are in five broad categories. Prizes for Arabic Literature; Islamic Studies; and Services to Islam; were first given in 1979. Science and Medicine were introduced in 1982 and 1983 respectively.
Each year the selection committee designates subjects or subcategories to each of the above five. The science subcategories cover a broad scope: physics; mathematics; chemistry; and biology by rotation cycle of four years. This year’s awards bring the total number of laureates to 223 distinguished individuals from 40 different countries. Within three decades the KFIP are ranked among the most prestigious awards. Several of the KFIP Laureates in Science and Medicine have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.
The prize for Service to Islam has been awarded to Shaikh Rai’d Salah Mahagna of Palestine. He is Chairman of several crucial organisations, including the Supreme Council for Islamic Call; Islamic Movement in Palestine; and Al-Aqsa Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Revered Islamic Places. He is being recognised for his services to Islam which include the following. He is a preeminent founding member of the Islamic Movement in occupied Palestinian territories in 1948. He has pursued distinctive reforms and social services during his chairmanship of the Islamic Movement during 1996-2001.
He served as the Chairman of Al-Aqsa Foundation for the Refurbishment of Revered Islamic Places and Chairman of the Humanitarian Relief Organisation in Occupied Palestine. He is one of the pioneers, who have led many projects in Al-Aqsa Mosque, in collaboration with the Islamic Endowment Organisation in Al-Quds and the Committee for the conservation of the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
He is the first person to discover the tunnel dug under Al-Aqsa Mosque by the occupiers. He has served his countrymen by working and succeeding, together with Al-Rawha Peoples Committee, in preventing the confiscation of Al Rawha land in 1998. He has been regularly organising events titled “Al-Aqsa is in Danger” which attract thousands of Palestinians in the occupied territories and help boost their morale.
The prize for Arabic Language and Literature (Topic: Individual and Institutional Efforts in Writing Arabic Dictionaries) has been awarded to The Arabic Language Academy in Cairo, Egypt for its distinguished contributions to the Arabic Language, particularly its issuance, over the past 80 years, of a large collection of general and specialised Arabic language dictionaries which the Academy has produced in collaboration with different experts. These illustrious dictionaries are characterised by their diversity and fulfilment of the needs of different Arabic language users, by linking the contemporary Arabic language with its past and by utilising modern techniques and methodologies of dictionary production.
The Prize for Medicine is awarded to Jeffrey Michael Friedman of the USA and Douglas Leonard Coleman of USA-Canada, for their work on the Genetics of Obesity. Their research findings led to the identification and characterisation of the leptin pathway. This seminal discovery has had a major impact the understanding of the biology of obesity, describing some of the key afferent pathways in body weight regulation active in humans. Their fundamental discoveries have also helped in the recognition of more illuminating views of the endocrine system.
This year’s Prize for Science is in the area of Physics. It has been jointly awarded to the Canadian physicist Paul B Corkum and Hungarian-Austrian Ferenc Krausz. They are recognised for their independent pioneering work which has made it possible to capture the incredibly fast motion of electrons in atoms and molecules with a time resolution down to attoseconds (an attosecond is a million of a billionth of a second). Ferenc Krausz’s research team generated and measured the first attosecond light pulse and used it for capturing electrons’ motion inside atoms, marking the birth of attophysics. Paul Corkum started his career as a theoretical physicist but changed to experiment. When asked during an interview at NRC “what makes you think you can become an experimentalist?” He replied, it is no problem, I can take the engine of a car completely apart, repair it and put it back together so it will work. For more than 30 years, he has pushed the boundaries of human understanding of how light and matter interact.
Here it is relevant to recall the Egyptian born American chemist Ahmed Zewail, who pioneered the Femtosecond chemistry in the 1980s by observing the chemical reactions (a femtosecond is a thousandth of a billionth of a second). He was the first person to observe the formation and breaking of chemical bonds in real time. Ahmed Zewail was recognised for this by the King Faisal International Prize for Science in 1989 and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999. He received both the prizes unshared. Egypt recognised him by issuing postage stamps in 1998 and 1999, Order of Merit in 1995, and Order of the Grand Collar of Nile in 1999.
It is to be further recalled that the Science Historian Roshdi Hifni Rashed received the Award in 2007 under the category of Islamic Studies for the Topic: Muslims’ Contribution to Pure or Applied Sciences.
The topics for the five prizes for the year 2014 are Service to Islam; Islamic Studies (Topic: Cultural Heritage of Makkah Al-Mukarrama); Arabic Language and Literature (Topic: Studies on Modern Arabic Novel); Medicine (Non-Invasive Diagnosis of Foetal Diseases); and Science (Topic: Mathematics) respectively. The deadline for all nominations is Wednesday, the 21 Jumadi-us-Saany 1434H which is first May 2013 (King Faisal Foundation Website: http://www.kff.com/).