It dawned on me, very late in life, that one must value the role of education in one’s life. Yes, I did attend school in South Africa, did my homework, got decent grades, but for the most part it was a perfunctory performance and drudgery.

I have always been slightly envious of people with a madrasa education. In Malaysia in the 1980s, I understood attending madrasa as spending a few hours after school every day in the local mosque with the other kids and learning Qur’anic recitation.

Our mission was to introduce Islamic ideas to economics. These were envisaged at three levels. A background provided by Islam’s worldview, placing matters economic in a holistic framework; a set of goals to be achieved by individual behaviour and economic policy; and a set of norms and values, resulting in appropriate institutions.

‘Those people don’t read!’ I heard an administrator at Texas A&M University blurt out. He was speaking about people in Qatar. He was wrong of course; Qatar has a literacy rate of over 96 per cent, above Australia, but below the Gaza Strip.

The kingdom of Libya became independent of Italy under King Idris in 1951. Just over a decade later, Algeria finally followed after its long war of independence with France in 1962. During this period, the five countries of the southern Mediterranean coast each in different ways took control of their own futures.

Universities in Muslim countries are rich in heritage and conceptual diversity. But they have faced numerous challenges from the first day of their inception. These include funding, quality assurance, leadership and management, organisation of knowledge, the position of women, the integration of modernity and tradition, and the study of Muslim cultures and civilisations, in which religion is of pre-eminent importance. However, we should see these challenges not as intractable problems but as transformational opportunities.