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

Featured Item  »»  Inauguration of the Naryn Campus of the University of Central Asia (Naryn, Kyrgyzstan)

Students of world history remind us how Central Asia, a thousand years ago, “led the world” in trade and investment, in urban development, in cultural and intellectual achievement. This was the place that leading thinkers from around the known world would look to for leadership. What were the latest breakthroughs in astronomy or mathematics, in chemistry or medicine, in philosophy or music? This was the place to find out. This region is where algebra got its name, where the earth’s diameter was precisely calculated, where some of the world’s greatest poetry was penned.

Why did this happen then? Why did it happen here? Above all, I would suggest, it was because of the quality of “openness.” By that I mean openness to new ideas, openness to change, and openness to people from many backgrounds and with a variety of gifts. The people of the cities here, even all those centuries ago, joined hands with the people of the steppes, and together they reached out to people who were far, far away. That kind of openness can again be the key that unlocks the doors to the future.

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Featured Item  »»  Brussels Conference on Afghanistan (Brussels, Belgium)

Since 2001, AKDN and its partners have channelled over $1 billion to enhance self-reliance and improve the quality of life of Afghans. Between now and 2020, AKDN plans similar investments in cultural heritage, education, energy, health, and poverty alleviation…. I would reiterate my profound belief in the power of sustained, long-term, multi-dimensional development that empowers individuals and communities to improve their quality of life.

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Featured Item  »»  Acceptance Remarks and apres speech Conversation with the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson — Accepting the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship (Toronto, Canada)

These are just a few thoughts as I look to the future of Global Citizenship. The challenges, in sum, will be many and continuing. What will they require of us? A short list might include these strengths: a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference. It will mean hard work. It will never be completed. But no work will be more important….

I have been very impressed since 1957, in developing countries, when elections had to be held or were held in circumstances where you would assume that the population didn’t have access to the information they would’ve, in our view, needed to express themselves rationally and competently. Well, I got it wrong. They are very, very wise. Public wisdom is not dependent on education.

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Featured Item  »»  Remarks introducing Justice Albie Sachs, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Fifth Annual Lecturer (Toronto, Canada)

Justice Sachs’ career has been a truly inspiring one. He has been a heroic freedom fighter, an insightful legal scholar, a compelling author and for fifteen years a member of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. And, as most of you undoubtedly know, he was a chief architect of South Africa’s new, post apartheid Constitution, one of the most admired Constitutions in the world….

Constitution-making requires a strong sense of idealism, married to a practical sense of realism. It requires a willingness to listen as competing priorities are expressed, and a readiness to negotiate as differences are reconciled. As the challenges of governance grow in complex and changing societies, a widely respected Constitution is essential to the preservation of peace and the pursuit of progress.

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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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Remarks introducing The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Fourth Annual Lecturer (Toronto, Canada)

In her LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture in Toronto, in 2003, the Chief Justice said and I quote, “One problem, more than any other, dominates human history — the problem of how we deal with those who are different than us.” Those words have sharp, continuing relevance as we move further into the 21st century. Whether the challenge involves new waves of migrants moving into European societies, or political participation for the indigenous peoples of Latin America, or working towards democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa, there is a profound need to focus on the values and hopes that unite all human beings.

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Address to the National Building Museum’s Scully Seminar/Symposium (Washington D.C., USA)

I profoundly believed that architecture is not just about building; it is a means of improving people’s quality of life…. I am pleased that 28 years later, we have had some success in achieving our original goals [of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture]. We are gratified that so many others now are engaged in the cause. We have created a momentum that has become a self-sustaining and unstoppable force for change in the human habitat of the Muslim world. And I am most pleased the principles we have established are having an impact in much of the developed world as well.

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Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony (Houston, Texas, USA)

Islam does not deal in dichotomies but in all encompassing unity. Spirit and body are one, man and nature are one. What is more, man is answerable to God for what man has created. Since all that we see and do resonates on the faith, the aesthetics of the environments we build and the quality of the interactions that take place within them reverberate on our spiritual lives. As the leader of a Muslim community, and particularly one that now resides in twenty-five countries on four continents, the physical representation of Islamic values is particularly important to me. It should reflect who we are in terms of our beliefs, our cultural heritage and our relation to the needs and contexts in which we live in today’s world.

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Keynote address to the International Union of Architects and the American Institute of Architects Congress of Architects (Chicago, USA)

[To the architects:] Do not only set the example, share it in a generous and deliberate way, so that it reaches all those who build in every part of the world. Your skills have a meaning and an impact which can become vital. The results of your efforts, for good and ill, are felt far beyond the responses of your clients or your peers. This impact is a challenge, without precedent or parallel, to your profession and to its schools. The challenge is for all to raise, through the thoughtful practise of your profession, the well-being of the planet and its people of today and tomorrow. There are a series of specific questions I urge you to take up to meet this challenge:

  • Because there is nothing so powerful as tested knowledge and judgement, I urge you to ask how you can better learn from each other in debate and constructive criticism.
  • Because you are privileged with this knowledge, I urge you to ask how you can share what you learn, by deliberate efforts, with the many millions who wilt build without the benefit of an architect’s advice.
  • Because your actions will set standards and expectations, I urge you to imagine that your example will be followed by millions of others who build in this world and therefore to ask how you can exercise greater care in setting that example.
  • Because we share the burden of stewardship of the earth, please ask how the design and technology of buildings can minimise the call on non-renewable resources.
  • Because the resources we pass on to future generations are cultural as well as material, I urge you to ask how better to recognise and honour the requirement that both be enriched, and finally,
  • Because the most pressing environmental and human risks are to lie found in the developing world, I urge you to turn a serious part of your attention to questions confronting the creation of the built environment in that world: to rural areas where the greatest risks to the world’s ecology and human opportunity reside; and to the great and small cities that will emerge in the twenty-first century, where enterprises must be guided with far greater respect to physical and cultural resources than this century has shown.

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Preface to ‘The Aga Khan Museum’ by Philip Jodidio (Aiglemont)

It is important to note that what happens in North America, culturally, economically and politically, cannot fail to have worldwide repercussions — which is why the Museum will aim to contribute to a deeper understanding among cultures and to the strengthening of cultural pluralism: essential to peace, and to progress, in our world.

The developing political crises of recent years, and the considerable lack of knowledge of the Muslim world in many Western societies, are surely related. This ignorance spans all aspects of the peoples of Islam: their pluralism, the diversity of their interpretations of the Qur’anic faith, the chronological and geographical extent of their history and culture, as well as their ethnic, linguistic and social diversity….

This lack of knowledge manifests itself in a particularly serious way in Western democracies, where the public is often ill-informed about the Muslim world — an ignorance which then impacts the formulation of national and international policy vis-a-vis the Muslim world.

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Interview with an unidentified media outlet, #2 (Cairo, Egypt) ·· incomplete

[Darb Al-Ahmar] was one of the poorest areas of Cairo. An area where social development had no horizons whatsoever therefore, you had more and more people coming in because these historic cities are transit areas very often for newly urbanised populations so you get more and more degradation. So we wanted to try and make sure the population in this area saw a strong economic future for themselves so there was no temptation to leave.

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Institute of Ismaili Studies 25th Anniversary Graduation Ceremony (London, United Kingdom)

[It] is not a simple matter for any human society with a concern and appreciation of its history to relate its heritage to its contemporary conditions. Traditions evolve in a context, and the context always changes, thus demanding a new understanding of essential principles. For us Muslims, this is one of the pressing challenges we face. In what voice or voices can the Islamic heritage speak to us afresh — a voice true to the historical experience of the Muslim world yet, at the same time, relevant in the technically advanced but morally turbulent and uncertain world of today? …

One of the challenges that has concerned me over many years, and which I have discussed with leading Muslim thinkers, is how education for Muslims can reclaim the inherent strengths that, at the height of their civilisations, equipped Muslim societies to excel in diverse areas of human endeavour…. Today, any reasonably well-informed observer would be struck by how deeply this brotherhood of Muslims is divided. On the opposite sides of the fissures are the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor; the Shia and the Sunni; the theocracies and the secular states, the search for normatisation versus the appreciation of pluralism; those who search for and are keen to adopt modern, participatory, forms of government versus those who wish to re-impose supposedly ancient forms of governance.

What should have been brotherhood has become rivalry, generosity has been replaced by greed and ambition, the right to think is held to be the enemy of real faith, and anything we might hope to do to expand the frontiers of human knowledge through research is doomed to failure for in most of the Muslim world, there are neither the structures nor the resources to develop meaningful intellectual leadership.

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Address to the International Colloquium ‘Word of God, Art of Man: The Qur’an and its Creative Expressions’ organised by The Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, United Kingdom)

This programme is also an opportunity for achieving insights into how the discourse of the Qur’an-e-Sharif, rich in parable and allegory, metaphor and symbol, has been an inexhaustible well-spring of inspiration, lending itself to a wide spectrum of interpretations. This freedom of interpretation is a generosity which the Qur’an confers upon all believers, uniting them in the conviction that All-Merciful Allah will forgive them if they err in their sincere attempts to understand His word. Happily, as a result, the Holy Book continues to guide and illuminate the thought and conduct of Muslims belonging to different communities of interpretation and spiritual affiliation, from century to century, in diverse cultural environments….

It is my sincere hope that this colloquium will bring additional insights to an understanding of the Holy Qur’an as a message that encompasses the entirety of human existence and effort. It is concerned with the salvation of the soul, but commensurately also with the ethical imperatives which sustain an equitable social order. The Qur’an’s is an inclusive vision of society that gives primacy to nobility of conduct. It speaks of differences of language and colour as a Divine sign of mercy and a portent for people of knowledge to reflect upon.

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Featured Item  »»  Acceptance Remarks and apres speech Conversation with the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson — Accepting the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship (Toronto, Canada)

These are just a few thoughts as I look to the future of Global Citizenship. The challenges, in sum, will be many and continuing. What will they require of us? A short list might include these strengths: a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference. It will mean hard work. It will never be completed. But no work will be more important….

I have been very impressed since 1957, in developing countries, when elections had to be held or were held in circumstances where you would assume that the population didn’t have access to the information they would’ve, in our view, needed to express themselves rationally and competently. Well, I got it wrong. They are very, very wise. Public wisdom is not dependent on education.

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Showun Bridge Foundation Stone Ceremony (Showun, Shurobod District, Tajikistan; Khohon Province, Afghanistan) ·· incomplete

What you are doing today is setting a remarkable example of people coming together for a common purpose across frontiers — and that common purpose is to improve the quality of life of every individual in those societies…. These bridges enable people to come together to share best practice in developing human society. Across frontiers, you can build best practice in education, in healthcare, in economic development, in financial institutions, in rural activity, and it is this capacity to bring the best of society together for the benefit of all the people that I think is the most important lesson that we have today.

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National Building Museum Panel Discussion on ‘Design in the Islamic World and Its Impact Beyond’ at the Scully Seminar/Symposium (Washington D.C., USA)

Today, the absence of public spaces in the Islamic world is something of major concern to me. And, Charles, you were talking about city planning. I think we are, generally speaking, in the Islamic world still very weak on landscape architecture and planning. We will need to do a lot more there. A number of architectural schools actually are linked to schools of engineering. And that, in itself, tends to bring a form of architecture which may not necessarily be what we would be looking for. I’m not criticising that, but I’m saying what used to be a great strength in Islamic design seems to have disappeared. And one of the issues that we’re trying to develop now is to restore value to these traditional forms, and keep in mind that these materials in these forms are not without meaning.

In many, many cases they’re symbols, symbols of interpretation of the faith, symbols of viewing of the future and so on and so forth. So I think it’s very important that this notion of beauty should be respected and developed. Now taste changes so I think we have to be careful not to try to take the sense of taste of the past and stick it on an airport or stick it on a modern building. I mean, I think we have to live in our time and live in the future also.

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88th Stephen A. Ogden, Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs and apres lecture conversation with Christina Paxson, Brown University (Providence, USA)

[T]he key to human cooperation and concord has not depended on advances in the technologies of communication, but rather on how human beings go about using — or abusing — their technological tools.

Among the risks of our new communications world is its potential contribution to what I would call the growing “centrifugal forces” in our time — the forces of “fragmentation.” These forces, I believe, can threaten the coherence of democratic societies and the effectiveness of democratic institutions. Yes, the Information Revolution, for individuals and for communities, can be a great liberating influence. But it also carries some important risks.

More information at our fingertips can mean more knowledge and understanding. But it can also mean more fleeting attention-spans, more impulsive judgements, and more dependence on superficial snapshots of events. Communicating more often and more easily can bring people closer together, but it can also tempt us to live more of our lives inside smaller information bubbles, in more intense but often more isolated groupings. We see more people everywhere these days, standing or sitting or walking alone, absorbed in their hand-held screens. But, I wonder whether, in some larger sense, they are really more “in touch?” Greater “connectivity” does not necessarily mean greater “connection.”

Information travels more quickly, in greater quantities these days. But the incalculable multiplication of information can also mean more error, more exaggeration, more misinformation, more disinformation, more propaganda. The world may be right there on our laptops, but the truth about the world may be further and further away. The problem of fragmentation in our world is not a problem of diversity. Diversity itself should be a source of enrichment. The problem comes when diverse elements spin off on their own, when the bonds that connect us across our diversities begin to weaken.

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Aga Khan Development Network and Government of Germany ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ Signing Ceremony (Berlin, Germany)

Pluralism must become part of a society’s ethical and institutional framework including the structures of government. A fundamental requirement, therefore, is investment in sustainable public and private institutions as well as in future leadership rooted in those societies…. Pluralism is essential to successful development as it offers a practical means of managing diversity, mitigating conflict, fostering social inclusion and laying the foundation for equitable human development: all fundamental values and principles of the German development policy.

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New York Times Interview, G. Pascal Zachary, ‘Do Business and Islam Mix? Ask Him’ (New York, USA) ·· incomplete

[AKDFED’s] main purpose “is to contribute to development,” [the Aga Khan] adds. “It is not a capitalist enterprise that aims at declaring dividends to its shareholders.” Central to his ethos is the notion that his investments can prompt other forms of economic growth within a country or region that results in greater employment and hope for the poor.

Economic developments experts say the Aga Khan’s activities offer a useful template for others — including philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros — who are trying to assist the world’s poorest by marrying business practices to social goals, but whose foundation work usually stops short of owning businesses outright in poor countries.

Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford University who specialises in the problems of poor countries, says he believes that aid agencies could benefit from operating more like venture capitalists — and more like the Aga Khan. “He gets a multiplier effect from his investments that’s really lacking in foreign aid,” Mr. Collier says. “I’m impressed with his way of accepting risk and thinking long term.” …

Mixing business and charity, while long at odds with mainstream capitalist practice, is growing in prominence, making the Aga Khan an unlikely innovator.

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2003 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan)

[AKU] must continue to expand its programmes of research. The true sign of maturity and excellence in a university is its ability to contribute to the knowledge of mankind, in its own society and beyond. It is equally essential that its faculty be challenged, as a matter of university policy, to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. Any vestige of dependence is cast off, any suspicion of a young scientist or scholar that he or she may sacrifice intellectual excitement by leaving the West is allayed, when a university becomes known for generating new ideas, making new discoveries and influencing events….

Much AKU research, however, will focus on pressing issues of public policy. This naturally follows the precepts of Islam, that the scientific application of reason, the building of society and the refining of human aspirations and ethics should always reinforce one another…. So important is this growing research capacity and informed discourse with policy makers, that the university must strengthen its public policy commitment…. AKU will pledge its energies and imagination to advancing effective public policy.

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Aljazeera Interview, Daniel Lak (Toronto, Canada) ·· incomplete

It’s an extraordinary phenomenon that there’s this enormous knowledge gap and I think it’s the duty of everybody, myself included, to try to fill in that knowledge gap.

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Acceptance Address – Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal (Ottawa, Canada)

Is it not true that the quality of our lives is fundamentally shaped by the spaces in which we live, spaces that provide physical security, and spaces where we seek spiritual enrichment? They are spaces where we work, and where we pause from work; where we expand our minds and restore our health, places where we congregate and where we meditate; and they are places where we are born, as well as places of final rest….

People everywhere — independent of their particular background or educational level — almost instinctively understand the importance of place, and how the spaces of our lives are shaped and reshaped, for better or for worse. I thought about this universal capacity for comprehension again, these past weeks, as the world reacted to photographs of the Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines.

This universal sensitivity to changes in the built environment also helps explain the profound impact of architecture on the way we think about our lives. Few other forces, in my view, have such transformational potential.

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2015 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Nairobi, Kenya)

As we expand our work in Kenya, one of our highest priorities is to achieve international standards of healthcare especially for non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Another special focus will be neuro-science, where the promises of stem cell technology must be brought massively and competently to Africa. Our overall plan is for a nationally integrated health system, built on the strong foundations already in place at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi. And our overall goal can be simply stated: we believe that no Kenyan should have to leave the country to seek quality medical care.

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State Banquet (Maputo, Mozambique)

Over the past fourteen years of post-conflict history you have gone from negative growth rates in the range of eight percent a year, to positive growth rates in the same range! That is a remarkable accomplishment. [Y]our recent progress has been built on sound principles and, for that reason, Mozambique has become a valuable model for the whole of the developing world. Your growth record is one of the best in Africa, built neither on diamonds nor on oil as Prime Minister Diogo has put it, but on the development of human potential and the consolidation of the democratic processes. Mozambique has learned to set careful priorities — to establish clear markers for progress, and then, carefully, to measure its progress against those indicators.

One of the prime qualities which recommends Mozambique as a model is your reliance on professional expertise rather than ideological caveats. In that spirit, you have built a broad consensus among many stakeholders, public and private, from civil society, and from the international community. In pursuing your great goals, you have been inclusive, rather than exclusive. In an era when frustration often breeds cynicism concerning the possibility of progress, Mozambique can provide inspiration and encouragement to other post conflict societies.

The key ingredient in all of these efforts, within Mozambique and in its regional neighbourhood, is a spirit of genuine partnership — an understanding that we can do things together that we can never do separately.

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Address to the Conference on Afghanistan (London, United Kingdom)

Allow me to highlight four areas for consideration [vis a vis Afghanistan’s development]:

First, we must focus on inclusive economic participation….

Second, we must accelerate human resource capacity creation from early childhood to tertiary education, including in particular, market-relevant skills development and vocational training….

Third, women’s participation in society is vital to ensure an improved quality of life….

Fourth, we recognise the importance of regional cooperation and trade. This requires stabilising Afghanistan’s frontiers….

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