Professor Afzal Ahmed’s opening lecture entitled The Mutual Influence of Learning and the Development of Mathematical Thinking in the Arab Civilisation during 900-1200 AD focused on reviewing both the nature of mathematics as well as the processes of their teaching and learning. His presentation drew on examples from Arabic scientific thinking between the years of 900-1200 CE. In order to develop an appreciation of the study of mathematics as a human activity, he recommended a study of the historical context in which mathematics has developed. Through an appreciation and understanding of the historical context of the development of ideas, in this case the contribution of Arab Civilisation to scientific and mathematical thought, the field of mathematics can be made more accessible and applicable to a greater number of people.

“Dialogue with Arab Civilisations”, a multi-faceted programme including seminars, workshops and exhibitions on Arab literature, art, science, architecture and education, is part of a larger UNESCO endeavour devoted to the United Nation’s year for A Dialogue among Civilisations and is organised by the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO. By focusing on the role of Arab scientific thinking and its contribution to European intellectual life, “Custodian, Creator and Communicator: Arabic Mathematics and Science in the period 700-1200” highlighted an area which is less well known, than for instance, the influence of ancient Greek mathematics or European mathematics of the Renaissance.

The main themes of the conference included the history and role of the Arabs as custodians and innovators of scientific knowledge; Arab scientists and mathematicians as transmitters of scientific ideas and the Arabic influence on European science and mathematics.