Harvard University and Georgetown University each announced yesterday that they had received $20 million donations from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, a Saudi businessman and member of the Saudi royal family, to finance Islamic studies.
Harvard said it would create a universitywide program on Islamic studies, recruit new faculty members in the field, provide more support for graduate students and convert rare Islamic textual sources into digital formats to make them widely available.
"For a university with global aspirations, it is critical that Harvard have a strong program on Islam that is worldwide and interdisciplinary in scope," said Steven E. Hyman, Harvard's provost, who will coordinate adopting the new program.
Georgetown said it would use the gift - the second-largest it has ever received - to expand its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which is part of its Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. It said it would rename the center the H.R.H. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
The prince, who is said to be in his late 40's or early 50's, and was fifth on the Forbes 400 list of wealthy people this year, with a fortune of $23.7 billion, has made a variety of other sizable gifts, including $20 million to the Louvre and to other universities.
One gift that backfired, however, was a $10 million check he gave Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in October 2001 for the Twin Towers Fund, a charity to help survivors of uniformed workers who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The prince had expressed his condolences for the lives lost and condemned "all forms of terrorism," in a letter accompanying the gift.
Mayor Giuliani returned the gift when he learned that a news release quoted the prince as calling on the American government to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."
It added, "Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek."
In an interview with The Financial Times this month, the prince, a nephew of the current king, was asked whether he regretted making those statements in 2001. He responded: "A friend of a nation has to say the truth any time. Although, if you ask me a question, 'If the Palestinian situation was resolved a day before 9/11, would 9/11 take place or not?' Most likely it would have taken place, yes. I have no problem."
He said he had Christian and Jewish friends. "Muslim, Christian, Jewish - I don't care about that," he said in the article.
The article added, "By Saudi standards the prince is a liberal."
After Sept. 11, he proposed democratic elections in Saudi Arabia.
Martin Kramer, the author of "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America," which contends that the study of the Middle East and Islam is politically biased, said last night, "Prince Alwaleed knows that if you want to have an impact, places like Harvard or Georgetown, which is inside the Beltway, will make a difference."
Donella Rapier, vice president for alumni affairs and development at Harvard, said yesterday that the university was aware of the dispute in New York, but that it "has not been part of our gift negotiations."
The prince approached Harvard about six months ago, Ms. Rapier said, and the donation, like all large gifts, was vetted by the university's gift policy committee, on which she sits. The committee, which meets about once a month, is headed by the provost and includes Harvard's general counsel, its vice president for communications and two deans.
The committee's discussions "are private," Ms. Rapier said.
In making the two gifts, the prince focused on the importance of uniting disparate cultures.
Harvard's news release quoted him as saying that he hoped Harvard's Islamic studies program "will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today's world."
"Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance," he said.
The Georgetown release quoted him as saying, "We are determined to build a bridge between Islam and Christianity for tolerance that transcends cultural and geographical boundaries."