His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah Ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam as the Chancellor of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) officiated the first international symposium on "Ethnobotany in the Quran and Hadith – An Exploration" at the Chancellor Hall, UBD.
"Brunei Darussalam is blessed with highly biodiverse tropical communities," Vice Chancellor Datin Dr Hajah Anita Binurul Zahrina Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Aziz said in her opening remarks. "This exceptional diversity, supported by the good level of conservation of Brunei's forested habitats, facilitates research work on ethnobotany, both in-situ and ex-situ plant conservation methods, sustainable utilisation and also their responses to climate change."
"It is perhaps worth pointing out that some of the plants mentioned in the Qur'an and hadith, such as camphor and agarwood or gaharu are also found in Brunei: both of which are highly valued commodities," she added.
The Vice Chancellor shared that UBD has identified herbal research and complementary medicine as a key focus for research and development and that the symposium will be the initial platform for a larger nd more diverse group of stakeholders interested in the uses of plants in the Qur'an and hadith to also share their latest findings from different scientific and Islamic perspectives to a wider audience.
State Mufti Yang Berhormat Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia Dr Ustaz Haji Awang Abdul Aziz Juned delivered his keynote presentation at the Chancellor Hall to about 3,000 invited guests made up of students, UBD officers, staff and Council Members, government and private sector as well as members of the diplomatic corps.
Pehin Dato Dr Ustaz Haji Awang Abdul Aziz noted that Al-Imam ibnu Qayyim Al-Jauziyyah was one of the first Muslim scholars who listed plants mentioned in the Qur'an, stating their respective uses and properties. His book "Thibbun Nabawai" listed a variety of dates, grapes, onions, olives and ginger among many others. Scholars continued to study these plants, including those which have been said to flourish in both paradise and hell. Their research has grown so much that even now, the general public is drawn to the power of herbs and given rise to a number of herb gardens and farms.
"We tend to underestimate the benefits of certain vegetables or fruits because we don't realise their nutritional values," he pointed out. "Aside from consuming certain food that we are accustomed to or enjoy, we have to also understand how we can benefit from consuming them as well as how to avoid the dangers of consuming too much." The State Mufti continued to quote His Majesty's titah in 2011 during UBD's 23rd convocation ceremony when the topic of research on herbs were first raised. He lauded the university's response to His Majesty's call for herbal research and its current sizeable collection of herbs and plants, looking forward to results from their study.
Following the ceremony and presentation, His Majesty consented to visit the UBD Botanical Research Centre, signing a plaque to officially declare it open. The centre has identified about 200 herbal plants and 100 tree species in the estimated five acres of tropical heath forest locally known as "kerangas". Without disturbing the vulnerable forest, the centre aims to enhance conservation and sustainable utilisation of the tropical timber and herb species which are commonly used for complementary medicine.
In addition to research and education, the UBD Botanical Research Centre also conducts translational research where the findings are useful for the general public, herbalists and students. Any herbalist can visit the centre for cross-validation of the plants' identity that will ensure the best ingredients are incorporated in herbal medicines. With the current research being conducted, and in collaboration with other governmental agences, the centre will also help to contribute to the economy and serve as a centre for herbal research and commercialisaton.
His Majesty concluded the visit with the Simpur Cafe BSB, a UBD-owned cafe that operates in the campus premises. It serves as a contemporary wellness restaurant which offers healthy and natural foods incorporating herbal recipes grown from the UBD Botanical Research Centre. Simpur Cafe BSB is also going to be an internship venue for IBTE Hospitality students in addition to Simpur Restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam which was officiated by His Majesty in December last year.
The symposium continued later in the afternoon with plenary sessions held at the Pengiran Anak Puteri Rashidah Sa'adatul Bolkiah Institute of Health Sciences (PAPRSB IHS), UBD.
Jointly organised by UBD's Faculty of Science (FOS), Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER), and Sultan Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS), the main objective of the symposium was to bring together botanists from all over the world to share and exchange ideas as well as to present the most recent advances in ethnobotanical topics relevant to the Qur'an and Hadith. Researchers, scientists and students from diverse backgrounds were able to interact with one another and inspire each other's work. In addition to being an excellent platform for fostering the spirit of collaboration and networking among research and academic peers, the symposium offered its guests and participants the opportunity to explore specifically the ethnobotany of plants that have been enumerated in the Qur'an and Hadith, highlighting their efficacy as medicines and food as well as their place in cultures and communities.
The symposium featured international speakers from Malaysia, Canada, India, the United States, and the United Kingdom. One of the keynote speakers at the symposium, Professor Emma Clark, is a world renowned garden designer specialising in Islamic gardens and gardens of other sacred traditions. She is attached to the The Prince's School of Traditional Arts in London where she focuses on teaching the universal and timeless principles of sacred and traditional art. She has published two books on Islamic gardens: "The Art of the Islamic Garden", and a monograph, "Underneath Which Rivers Flow: The Symbolism of the Islamic Garden" as well as many articles on Islamic art and architecture, gardens and the garden carpet. Her talk focused on "The Islamic Garden as Sacred Art" and as an "Opportunity for Bridge-building Between Cultures".
Another notable keynote speaker was Professor Zhari Ismail from Universiti Sains Malaysia, who specialises in Pharmaceuticals. Professor Zhari Ismail was pivotal in the successful formulation of an anti-obesity, weight loss supplement which uses the Kacip Fatimah (Labisia pumila) herb. This prototype, named Labeesity, even won a Gold award at the Malaysia Technology Expo. His talk at this Ethnobotany conference focused on herbal standardisation for pre and clinical studies.
The symposium was well-received by participants from various ministries, organisations and educational institutes within the country. Useful discussions were had where the participants and the speakers were able to exchange ideas and experiences related to the theme of the symposium as well as to establish professional connections.
More importantly, the symposium was a major success as it provided a platform for international experts, UBD academics and graduate students to share knowledge as well as latest trends and findings of ethnobotanical discipline relevant to the Qur'an and Hadith.
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