As it was gaining recognition as a focal point for research in the field of its mandate, namely Islamic culture and civilisation, IRCICA took the opportunity of its Tenth Anniversary (1990) to implement a special program aimed at acknowledging outstanding research efforts made in this field throughout the world. The program consisted of presenting tokens of recognition to select scholars who contributed to Islamic studies in a remarkable way, under the name "IRCICA Award for Excellence in Research".

The idea of presenting tokens of recognition to scholars was not new for IRCICA. This practice had been initiated earlier on the occasion of the international seminar on Research in Islamic Civilisation: Prospects for the Coming Decade which was held at IRCICA on 26-28 September 1988, the renowned historian Prof. Abdulaziz Duri was presented with a certificate of acknowledgement for his scholarship.

Five scholars working in the fields of history of culture, history of the Middle East, history of art, history of science and Arabic literature respectively, received their awards on the occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of IRCICA which was commemorated on 10 November 1990. These scholars were: Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel, Prof. Dr. Stanford J. Shaw, Prof. Dr. Oktay Aslanapa, Prof. Dr. Roshdi Rashed, Prof. Dr. Muhammed Hamidullah, Hakeem Mohammed Said, and Prof. Dr. Izzet Hassan. The first IRCICA Awards for Excellence in Research aroused interest and appreciation in cultural and academic circles as a scholarly event which acknowledged notable contributions to Islamic studies and brought them to the attention of the world opinion. Taking into consideration that the award's prospective contributions to the development of Islamic studies were considerable, the Governing Board of IRCICA, at its Thirteenth Session (Amman, 23-24 November 1996), decided that the award be institutionalised as a periodical event and presented to prominent scholars of Islamic culture and civilisation once every three years.