Below the featured items is a random selection of His Highness the Aga Khan's speeches & interviews.

Featured Item  »»  Keynote Address, Athens Democracy Forum (Athens, Greece)

But what can we say then, about why democratic systems often fall short in their efforts to improve the quality of their constituents’ lives? Let me suggest four elements that could help strengthen democracy’s effectiveness in meeting this central challenge. They are: improved constitutional understanding, independent and pluralistic media, the potential of civil society, and a genuine democratic ethic….

This leads me to my third observation. Government, while critical, can only take us so far. At a time of democratic disappointment, we must re-emphasise the immense potential of those non-governmental institutions that we call “civil society.” Too often, our thinking is trapped in a false dichotomy. We talk about the public sector and the private sector, but we often undervalue a third sector — that of civil society…. Civil society is powered by private energies, committed to the public good. It draws on the ancient, classical link between democracy and the publicly-committed citizen. It includes institutions of education, health, science and research, embracing professional, commercial, labour, ethnic and arts organisations, and others devoted to religion, communication, and the environment. It seeks consensus through genuine consent. It can experiment, adapt and accommodate diversity. It can in the fullest sense be “of, by and for the people.” It can in the fullest sense be a remarkable support — but only on condition that is it sustained, accepted and encouraged by government….

One ultimate requirement for any effective democracy is the capacity to compromise. Social order rests in the end either on oppression or accommodation. But we can never find that balancing point — where the interests of all parties are recognised — unless competing leaders and their diverse followers alike, are committed to finding common ground. That common ground, in my view, is the global aspiration for a better quality of life — from the reduction of poverty to quality longevity — built upon opportunities that will provide genuine hope for the future. Democracy can only survive if it demonstrates — across the years and across the planet — that it is the best way to achieve that goal.

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Featured Item  »»  Radio Tanzania Interview (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

And finally we would like to give you an opportunity to give special message to all youths in Tanzania. Specially those who are getting on with life in say schools or universities. You can tell them anything at all …

Well, thank you very much. I have spoken to the students at the schools which we run here, Aga Khan Schools in Tanzania, and I think they know my thoughts on the question of education. Basically I believe that those students who are at school now should keep in the back of their minds the fact that this is the time and the only time that they can prepare themselves for the future to serve their country, to serve their own families and to serve organisations they take part and I think if they would keep this realisation in the back of their minds, during their educational career, they will succeed in bringing into their studies a sense of purpose which might not be there if they failed to realise that once they complete their education they cannot put the clock back any more than I have been able to in sports for example. They either complete their education and make a success of it and then go ahead and try to make success of their lives or they mess up their education and there is little chance they will be of much success afterwards.

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Featured Item  »»  Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Interview, PBS, Lucky Severson (USA)

How much are you guided by your faith? Is your faith everything?

Yes. I wouldn’t be guided by anything else. I wouldn’t understand that.

So every minute of every day, you’re guided by your faith?

Well, the faith has 1400 years of tradition. It has been exposed to so many different situations that there’s practically no human situation unknown to it, although science is changing things today.

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Featured Item  »»  Ismaili scholars at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) and elsewhere cite NanoWisdoms in published works

Four years ago, today, the NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings was given special permission by Aiglemont to publish His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches. One key objective and reason for establishing the Archive was to create a comprehensive and authoritative, professional reference resource of the Aga Khan’s wisdom for scholars. It is, therefore, with great satisfaction and pride that we can announce today that the Archive has started to achieve this objective and is now being cited as a source in academic papers and books published by respected Ismaili scholars — including those from the Institute of Ismaili Studies, Carleton University and Sacred Web. While at Harvard University, the Archive was even listed as a resource for a graduate level course on Ismailism.

Below we provide a summary of some of these citations as well as the scholars’ comments about the NanoWisdoms Archive, which they describe as “indispensable,” “invaluable,” an “absolute necessity,” “fantastic,” “unique,” “professional” and “the best resource to conduct research into the speeches, interviews and writings” of the Aga Khans.

These recognitions and accolades, by the Ismaili academic community, are tangible demonstrations of their confidence in the Archive, confirming it as an invaluable and unique resource which all — especially Ismailis — may rely on with confidence. The recognitions are also an indisputable validation of the importance of the project for the community and why we view them as our most important achievement to date.

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Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit (Toronto, Canada)

[The Aga Khan Development Network’s] experience has been considerable. But what have we learned from it? Let me share a quick overview.

First, I would underline that our approaches have to be long-term. Sporadic interventions produce sporadic results, and each new burst of attention and activity must then start over again. The key to sustained progress is the creation of sustainable systems.

Second, our approaches should be community-oriented. Outside assistance is vital, but sustainable success will depend on a strong sense of local “ownership”.

The third point I would make is that our approaches should support the broad spectrum of health care. Focusing too narrowly on high-impact primary care has not worked well — improved secondary and tertiary care is also absolutely essential.

Our approaches should encourage new financial models. Donor funding will be critical, but we cannot sustain programmes that depend on continuing bursts of outside money….

Our approaches should also focus on reaching those who are hardest to reach. And here, new telecommunications technologies can make an enormous impact….

Our approaches should be comprehensive, working across the broad spectrum of social development. The problems we face have multiple causes, and single-minded, “vertical” interventions often fall short. The challenges are multi-sectoral, and they will require the effective coordination of multiple inputs. Creative collaboration must be our watchword. This is one reason for the growing importance of public-private partnerships.

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CNN Inside Africa/Design 360 Interview, Sylvia Smith (USA)

Modernity is part of the concern of the award and our objective is to permeate good architecture, not to freeze it any time. The symbols of the past may be re-utilised in modern architecture, they may be dropped, new symbols may come forward — we need continuity, particularly in conservation, but, no, we’re not going to stymie creativity of the Islamic world. [Emphasis original.]

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ZDF (Enterprises) Interview (2nd) for the documentary ‘Islam and the West’, ‘Morgenland’ (‘Orient’) (Germany)

[As] a Muslim we don’t make the divide between faith and life in the same way as parts of the Christian world do, not all of it but there are large parts of the Christian world which make that divide. We don’t make that divide. Islam doesn’t allow you to make that divide. You reflect your belief, your faith in the faith of Islam, not only by your attitude to the faith itself but to the society in which you live — to poverty, to the family, to ethics in your civil behaviour. It’s part of your everyday life. You live the faith. And I think that’s why many, many Muslims, not me but others, including myself, define the faith as, a way of life because it is a way of life. [Emphasis original]

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Acceptance Address – Royal Toledo Foundation Award Ceremony (Toledo, Spain)

[T]he reality is that our world is pluralistic and multi-cultural, and destined to remain so.

Ought we not, then, to focus our attention on periods of history when pluralism was happily embraced? May we not learn thereby the need to nurture what I have recently called a cosmopolitan ethic? For this is the foundation of a merit-based civil society capable of harnessing the best in all walks of life from all groups of people. This is the only way to manage, and build on, pluralism, the critical test of democracy anywhere.

This brings me to Toledo which has so successfully preserved, over many centuries, the evidence of its three-fold culture: magnificent churches, synagogues and mosques. This was an era when each of these cultures, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, retained its independent identity while all worked and came together in a glorious intellectual and spiritual adventure. The legacy was a truly enabling environment conducive to prosperity, harmony, scientific discovery, philosophical insights and artistic flowering — all the defining features of a thriving civilisation.

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Dinner hosted by the President of Mali (Bamako, Mali)

[Google translation] During my many trips to the region during the last forty years I have seen the importance of projects that contribute constructively to the development and this has reinforced some of my beliefs. Firstly, the development challenges also offer opportunities to create opportunities in a part of the world that has a rich cultural heritage. Then, as beneficial partnerships between the public and the private sector can enhance one’s ability to contribute to improving the quality of life and restore hope in resource-poor environments. Finally, by strengthening infrastructure, introducing innovations and facilitate synergy between the countries of the region, the fruits of development can have a wider impact and profound effect on people.

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Acceptance Address – Granada de Oro (Granada, Spain)

Granada is truly exceptional; its history is steeped in influences from several major world cultures, each of which is richly represented in the city’s splendid assemblage of historic buildings and public spaces. As someone with a life-long interest in architecture, it is thrilling to move through this city, its monumental buildings, and its historic neighbourhoods. As a Muslim I am moved by the respect and care devoted to the Islamic heritage by the authorities. At the same time, Granada is clearly also a bustling modern city. Managing this combination is a great challenge, one which you and your colleagues are to be congratulated on meeting so admirably.

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The East African Interview, Peter Mwaura, ‘How East Africans can build one common destiny for and by themselves, step by intelligent step’ (Nairobi, Kenya)

[W]e are looking at quality of life indicators — indicators that are not the same as those of the World Bank, indicators we have tried to develop through our own experience. We are looking at things like security, longevity, disposable income, access to education and employment. We are looking at what really affects people’s attitudes to their own understanding of quality of life. We did discover that communities around the world don’t have the same value systems. They will interpret their own qualities of life very differently from one part of the country to the other….

Imams around the world have businesses, not just the Shia Ismaili Imam. We do not see a conflict and indeed if we lived in an attitude of conflict, I don’t believe we would be living within the ethics of Islam. Islam doesn’t say that a proper practice of the faith means you have to ignore the world. What it says is: Bring to the world the ethics of your faith. If you have wealth, use it properly. But the actual ownership of wealth is not in any way criticisable unless you have acquired it through improper means or you are using it for improper purposes. It is seen as a blessing of God. So this whole notion of conflict between faith and world is totally in contradiction to the ethics of Islam….

Creating energy can be a source of environmental damage. The question is what is the most cost-effective way of creating this energy with minimum damage. I believe the partners in Bujagali have gone through massive environmental analysis and come to the conclusion that this is one of the least environmentally damaging initiatives in East Africa, because it impacts a very, very small area of land and a small percentage of the population, who were all relocated in good conditions. I have seen situations where energy has been produced by windmills, by solar batteries and the damage that they have done to the environment is simply incredible. Because these types of energy creation don’t work everywhere. And when they don’t work, they get written off in three years but nobody pulls them down. So they stay there and they are awful. We still don’t really know a great deal about the technology of these new energy sources.

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University of Sind Convocation Ceremony (Hyderabad, Pakistan)

It is through the creation of such a new elite, inspired by, and widely read in everything related to our heritage, that there must come about a revival in Muslim thought. The whole approach to education, without becoming archaic, should begin now to re-introduce, as widely as possible, the work and thought of our great Muslim writers and philosophers. Thus, from the nursery school to the university, the thoughts of the young will be inspired by our own heritage and not that of some foreign culture.

Again, let there be no misunderstanding: I am not in any way opposed to the literature or the art or the thought of the West. I simply maintain that the Islamic heritage is just as great and that it is up to us to bring it to the forefront again. When our nursery school children first begin to read, why should they not let their imaginations build upon the prowess of the Great Khaled rather than Wellington or Napoleon? And if the student of philosophy seeks a degree, should he not be encouraged to read about even Al-Hallaj rather than Hegel or Kierkegaard?

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India Today Interview (1st), Aroon Purie (??, India)

As Imam of the Ismaili sect, I am in a position to adapt the teachings of the Qur’an to the modern condition. On the question of modernity the issue is essentially whether one is affecting the fundamental moral fabric of society or whether one is affecting the fundamentals of religious practice. As long as these two aspects are safeguarded the rest can be subject to adjustment.

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Aga Khan Development Network and Government of Syria ‘Framework Development Agreement’ Signing Ceremony (Damascus, Syria)

Underlining the long-term nature of the commitment represented by this agreement, the Aga Khan referred to the beginning of a “partnership for development into the future not constrained by time.” “We look forward to this collaboration,” he said, “so that we can prioritise the greatest necessities where you feel strategies of partnership are most urgent.”

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Bujagali Hydropower Project Foundation Stone Ceremony (Jinja, Uganda)

The great issue of development, everywhere in the world, is whether the power supply will grow more quickly than the economy, or whether economic growth will outstrip the power supply. Uganda has been suffering from the latter condition and the consequences have been grave….

Skyrocketing [electricty] costs work to reinforce the cycle of poverty for millions, and they badly impair the ability of Ugandan companies to compete in international markets and thus to expand employment. The result of continuing power shortfalls can be a downward spiral of disappointment and discouragement.

The Bujugali project was not merely a desirable option as we began to examine it a few years ago. It was a fundamental necessity. [J]ust imagine for a moment the transformation that can take place when the cost of power is cut by more than half, as it will be in the early stages of this project, and then is later cut in half again…. I believe that the Bujagali project will propel a great chain of positive developments — an exciting upward spiral.

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Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, Residential Campus, Foundation Stone Ceremony (Mombasa, Kenya)

[A new] World Bank study confirms a central tenet of our Academies planning, our confidence in the value of a residential campus. We believe that students draw valuable life lessons not only from learning together but also from living together — especially if the mix of students is broadly diversified. The laying of this cornerstone symbolises this commitment to a residential experience. In addition, we are also committed to building an international network of similar schools so that those who are enrolled on any one campus will also be able to be study at other Academy sites….

As world affairs have been steadily transformed by the process of globalisation, the ability to command and control has become less important than the ability to anticipate, connect and respond. And educational institutions which can instill and enhance those capacities have become essential to effective development.

Educating effective future leaders is a high responsibility…. We must rise above the antiquated approaches of earlier days and instead infuse our students with what I would call three “A’s” of modern learning — the spirit of anticipation, the spirit of adaptation and the spirit of adventure.

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Telegraph Interview after accepting the Horse of the Award for Zarkava at the Cartier Racing Awards, Marcus Armytage (London, United Kingdom)

Yes [Zarkava] really is an exceptional filly in a very, very good year of race horses…. [H]er trainer, really had identified that quality very, very early on and that’s why he took the decision to run her from a maiden and go straight into a group 1 race.

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Pakistan TV Interview, Javed Jabber (Karachi, Pakistan)

[W]ould you care to identify one single area in which you think that certain countries need to undertake great effort which could act as a catalyst or a pivot to advance overall programmes?

Very good, a very astute question and a correct question. I think you should look at the Third World countries, and essentially I am talking about Asia and Africa…. [M]any of their economies are dominated by one or two major cash crops. It may be jute, it may be sisal, it may be tea, it may be coffee, and so long as there is no stabilising force, which enables these countries to manage their economies, without continually being subject to fluctuation over which they have not control, these countries simply are never going to be able to plan and develop their economies; and that, perhaps in my view is one of the most central issues that has got to be resolved and quickly.

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Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad, Inaugural Ceremony (Hyderabad, India)

The network concept that I have mentioned is something that makes our academy endeavour a unique and distinctive one. And if there is one central thought I would like to have you take away from this day, it is the interconnected, international dimension of our envisioned academy experience. Our planning is that there eventually will be 18 Academies, situated in 14 countries….

It has become commonplace to talk of an inter-connected planet, with global communities of trade and finance, science and medicine, governance and diplomacy, education and culture. It is our intention that our Academy graduates will eventually become accomplished leaders in all of these fields. But why should a profound immersion into global experience come only when one reaches the higher levels of education or actually begins a career? Why should world awareness and active international participation be thought of as something that is supplemental, rather than essential, to education throughout one’s early life?

We believe that our Academies network will foster a lively sense of world awareness among all its students. Our student body already includes people from a variety of economic and social backgrounds, as our financial aid programme enables us to admit excellent students without regard to their economic resources. Nor is admission geared in any way to the national, religious or ethnic background of any applicant. Our faculties will be similarly diverse. And, of course, the goal of global engagement will be powerfully re-enforced by the integrated flow of people and ideas among the various Academies.

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Preface to the book ‘Syria, Medieval Citadels Between East and West’ by Stefano Bianca (Aiglemont)

Such deep and abiding affinities [between Christendom and the Muslim world] demonstrate that so-called conflicts between East and West — whether past or present — are political or ideological constructs that have no real basis in deeper cultural and religious fact. Beyond and apart from the controversies highlighted by contemporary observers (and acerbated by modern nationalistic concepts originally alien to Islam) there has always been a tradition of cultural exchange, tolerance and mutual understanding — even during conflictual situations such as the invasion by the Crusaders. It is this ‘subterranean’ tradition of multicultural symbiosis and of tolerant pluralism, as exemplified by the cultural history of Syria, which needs to be brought to light again, in order to overcome stereotypical prejudices that aggravate any real or imaginary conflicts that may still exist.

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The (Manchester) Guardian Weekly Interview, Akbar Ahmed, ‘The quiet revolutionary’ (London, United Kingdom)

Those who wish to introduce the concept that you can only practise your faith as it was practised hundreds of years ago are introducing a time dimension which is not part of our faith today. It is a very delicate issue, whether it is in science, in medicine, in economics.

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Closing Remarks, First Seminar, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Aiglemont)

This seminar has been a source of happiness to me personally in that it has confirmed that we all believe a better, more appropriate, and more sympathetic environment can be created for those hundreds of millions of men and women throughout the world who believe in Islam. It has confirmed the desire to invigorate a Muslim will for an Islamic environment…. Some of you may even leave here with less certainty about future developments than when you came. Even so, a major achievement has occurred. A dialogue has been established among you all, a dialogue which transcends national boundaries and through which runs a common thread.

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On the purchase of four Agusta AB139 helicopters by the Aga Khan Development Network

Our experience in the northern areas of Pakistan shows that the logistical efficiencies gained from the use of helicopters have had a positive impact on the beneficiaries – the poor in remote, high mountain areas – in terms of the speed, efficiency and quality of development activities.

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Khorog City Park Opening Ceremony (Khorog, Tajikistan)

Access to green spaces is clearly an important value for the residents of Khorog. Our vision for the Park is that visitors will truly think of the time they spend here as “quality time” — in the fullest sense of that word — moments in their lives during which their spirits will be deeply enriched, hours filled with experiences that they will both enjoy and remember as times of blessing.

That will happen in part because of the music and dance and other cultural events that will be presented here — especially in the new open-air theatre. It will happen in part because of the group discussions and lively conversations that will take place here and the children who will play here — swimming in the summer, for example, and skating in the winter. It will happen in part because of the great celebrations that will take place here, including holiday ceremonies and festivals. And it will also happen because this will be a wonderful setting for individual reflection and contemplation, inspired by the beauty of this place — including the sounds and the sight of running water, in itself a mysterious, ever-changing and always-inspiring natural force. We see Khorog Park as a place of continuity — playing an intimate role from the earliest weeks of a child’s life until that child grows to become a grown-up with his or her own family. And we also see it as a place of change — a park for all seasons of the annual calendar — transforming itself to capture the particular beauty of each particular time of the year.

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