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

Featured Item  »»  Navroz Mubarak, 2016

The NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings wishes all Navroz Mubarak.

Today, the Spring Solstice, is Navroz, or “New Day,” symbolising new beginnings. It is, therefore, also a time to reflect over what we wish to begin afresh. In the past four months, first at Harvard in November and then at Sharm el-Sheik in February, His Highness the Aga Khan introduced a new theme into his speeches: the marginalisation of intellectual resources and assets of a community or society — both the intelligentsia and private initiative undertaken by civil society organizations. Calling this marginalisation “extremely unwelcome,” “disturbing” and “regrettable,” the Aga Khan notes it “discourag[es] the qualities of vision, innovation and forward thinking that progressive societies so badly need.” Let us, therefore, on this Navroz, reflect on our own personal, familial, professional and institutional lives with an eye to ensuring we do not inadvertently marginalize these critical, but rare, intellectual resources.

Click on the image to view the card and read the Aga Khan’s remarks.

If this is your first visit to the Archive, we invite you to watch our introductory video here.

Featured Item  »»  Nation Media Group Printing Press Commissioning Ceremony (Nairobi, Kenya).

[S]ome people say, is that we live in a “post-fact” society. Yes, a post-fact society. It’s not just that everyone feels entitled to his or her own opinion — that’s a good thing. But the problem comes when people feel they are entitled to their own facts. What is true, too often, can then depend not on what actually happened, but on whose side you are. Our search for the truth can then become less important than our allegiance to a cause — an ideology, for example, or a political party, or a tribal or religious identity, or a pro-government or opposition outlook. And so publics all over the world can begin to fragment, and societies can drift into deadlock. In such a world, it is absolutely critical, more than ever, that the public should have somewhere to turn for reliable, balanced, objective and accurate information, as best as it can be discovered.

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Featured Item  »»  Keynote Address: “Africa 2016: Business for Africa, Egypt and the World” Conference (Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt)

What I see emerging today is a refreshingly, balanced confidence in Africa — a spirit that takes encouragement from past progress, while also seeking new answers to new challenges — understanding that the best way to move into the future is to walk hand-in-hand with partners who share one’s goals. And we are all here to fulfil that role. I highlight the part played by confidence because it addresses a problem that has long plagued the human race.

I refer to the fear we so often have that our environment will be controlled by others, to the point where we distance ourselves from potential worthy partners. This difference can extend to people of different ethnic groups, different tribes, different nationalities, different religious traditions. It can also extend to people with different political or economic loyalties. And the frequent result is a fragmenting of society, a breakdown of cooperation, an undercurrent of fear, and even a paralysing polarisation in our public life. It can be a distinctly disabling environment….

[T]he role of Civil Society is often misunderstood or taken for granted. At times, Civil Society has been marginalised, discounted, or dismissed…. Even more disturbing have been efforts in some places to constrain or even repress these institutions, stereotyping them as illegitimate, unelected and unaccountable. These attitudes may simply reflect a reluctance to share power and influence, or perhaps a feeling that the creative energy and sheer diversity of Civil Society is daunting and dangerous. Such attitudes have been exceptional, but they are highly regrettable, discouraging the qualities of vision, innovation and forward thinking that progressive societies so badly need….

In sum, I believe that social progress will require quality inputs from all three sectors: public, private and Civil Society. Sustainable progress will build on a three-legged stool. And that progress can be particularly impressive when the three sectors work closely together.

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Featured Item  »»  Supporting Syria and the Region Conference (London, United Kingdom)

AKDN’s development and humanitarian work in Syria began many years before the war. In the present situation, we have committed resources and efforts to ensure that Internally Displaced People receive humanitarian assistance, and are supported to sustain their livelihoods. We are taking two approaches: First, we are supporting local community leaders, teachers, doctors, engineers and others to foster stability, protecting their families and their communities. We are thus building and strengthening civil society to take as much responsibility as possible for their own future. Second, we are investing in communities, by supporting agriculture, income generation, early childhood education, schools, and hospitals. We also provide vocational training to create skills. Our goal is to sustain hope.

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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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Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Opening Ceremony (Ottawa, Canada)

One of the principal reasons, I believe, for the great rapport between the Ismaili and Canadian communities through the years is our shared commitment to a common ethical framework — and especially to the ideals of pluralism. By this I mean not only social pluralism, which embraces a diversity of ethnic and religious groups, but also pluralism in our thinking about government, and pluralism in our approach to other institutions. One of the reasons governments have failed in highly diverse settings around the world is that dogma has too often been enshrined at the price of more flexible, pluralistic approaches to political and economic challenges….

The spirit of pluralism, at its base, is a response to the realities of diversity — a way of reconciling difference on the one hand with cooperation and common purpose on the other. It is an attitude, a way of thinking, which regards our differences not as threats but as gifts — as occasions for learning, stretching, growing — and at the same time, as occasions for appreciating anew the beauties of one’s own identity.

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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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Closing Remarks at the Winners’ Seminar of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (Aleppo, Syria)

[I]ssues of the change in the rural environment are issues of deep concern to the Islamic world because, as I said yesterday, more than 50% of the Islamic world lives in a rural environment. We cannot, therefore, afford to ignore asking: What are the processes of change in the rural environment and how we can encourage them to progress? We cannot ignore modern life and the need for Islamic societies to improve their economies. Therefore, we cannot ignore industry, we cannot ignore tourism, and we cannot ignore high-tech infrastructure if we want to have the capacity to respond to those dimensions of physical change. Nor can we afford to ignore our history as expressed in extraordinary buildings. We have to learn and we are learning, but we cannot simply learn and not revitalise at the same time. And as we know, the process of revitalisation is very sensitive.

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Bujagali Hydropower Project Inauguration Ceremony (Jinja, Uganda)

The second point I would make is that this project has not stopped at the delivery of energy. It is investing in education, it is investing in healthcare, it is investing in social development, it is investing in all those aspects which improve the quality of life of people who live within the ambit of the project. And I think this is an important lesson to be learnt, because ultimately the goal is to improve the quality of life of people in the most complete manner possible.

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Address to the XIIIth International Meeting of Peoples and Religions, Special Session ‘Africa’s Rebirth’ (Lisbon, Portugal)

A shared social ethic, underwritten by Africa’s faiths, can help resolve many of the problems afflicting Africa today…. I am unaware of a single situation where the faiths of Africa have sat down and asked themselves what policies and strategies are in place to offer long-term availability of health and education.

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Opening Remarks, Eighth Seminar, ‘Development and Urban Metamorphosis’, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Sana’a, Yemen)

Above all we need to learn from experience, discovering how both ancient and modern forms have evolved so that we can succeed in our task of creating an environment for the Islamic world which is both appropriate to its traditions and relevant to its future. The architectural environment of man is both a master and a servant. Because it is financially and economically an all but irreversible investment, it can become a tyrant dictating a way of life which is abhorrent or, at best, inflexible. But, if fully thought out, it can become a perfectly adaptive setting in which man can grow according to the guidance of Allah to the fullest maturity of which his spirit is capable.

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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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Luncheon hosted by Premier of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)

Knowledge in its purest form is often abrasive. When this knowledge comes into [developing countries’] societies it creates difficulties, creates reactions because the societies are not prepared for pure knowledge. What Canada has done is it has humanised that knowledge.

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Opening Remarks, Third Seminar, ‘Housing Process and Physical Form’, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Jakarta, Indonesia)

The present seminar, which has gathered some of the most eminent thinkers and policy makers in the field of housing, must address a much wider problem. We are looking to the seminar discussions for ways in which the Award for housing can encourage planners to seek new means of solving this great contemporary dilemma.

It is my hope that these four days will be as fruitful for the seminar participants as they will be for the Steering Committee. However, the dilemma is greater than this. We want to identify specific housing problems and solutions which are appropriate to contemporary Islamic societies, and develop models which could be replicated in concept if not in design elsewhere in the Islamic world.

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2000 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan)

The Institute of Islamic Civilisations in London will give expression to our University’s Islamic character, in an international context. Its programmes are quite distinctive. IIC will create an index of published works on Islamic civilisations in various languages, write abstracts and translate them into the major scholarly languages, and distribute the abstracts globally on the World Wide Web. This unique facility, which would enable many experts around the world to access each other’s work for the first time.

The second activity involves the engagement of scholars and thinkers in thematic research on issues that affect contemporary societies that have escaped systematic attention in Muslim environments. Participants trained in both traditional and contemporary intellectual traditions, would take part in a given project through periods of residence at IIC and over the Internet, and results will be made available on the World Wide Web.

An education programme on Islamic civilisations would be the third area of activity. It would develop materials and curricula for the various units of AKU, other institutions in Aga Khan Development Network, and a broad range of institutions from schools to higher education, in Muslim and other societies. IIC would also organise short courses and seminars around themes, or for specialised groups such as diplomats, journalists, and businessmen. A more formal post graduate programme designed to engender a critical humanistic approach to the study of Islamic civilisations will follow.

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Jamati Institutional Leaders Dinner (Paris, France)

What I want to say to finish this evening, and this wonderful year year which you have given me, is that I intend to build an Ismaili Centre in Paris.

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BBC Radio 5 Interview, Mick Fitzgerald, ‘The Shergar Story’ (London, United Kingdom)

I’ve seen that film [of Shergar’s Epsom win] I don’t know how many, tens or hundreds of times. I keep trying to analyse where this remarkable performance came from and every time I see the film, I feel that I have learned something…. I had watched quite enough races to be able to determine what the jockey probably was feeling, how the horse was going, and when he came around Tattenham Corner, I couldn’t believe my eyes, frankly…. His victory was, as we all know, up to this point in time, unique. But I think I had two things that I found stunning — one was the ease with which that horse moved and second the fact that during the finishing straight, he just kept going away, going away, going away. That was really, I think, remarkable.

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Preface to ‘Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the Book & Calligraphy’ (Istanbul, Turkey)

I am very grateful to the Sakip Sabanci Museum, and to the Chairman of its Board, Ms Güler Sabanci, for hosting this presentation of treasures of the future Aga Khan Museum’s collections …

The choice was made to focus on the arts of the book and calligraphy, themes which have been central to Islamic culture for close to fifteen hundred years. They are the core of the future Aga Khan Museum’s collection, and the works on parchment and paper shown here are complemented by a range of objects (metalwork, ceramics, wooden beams, textiles, jewellery, etc.) bearing examples of fine epigraphy, both Qur’anic and poetic.

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Bishkek Global Mountain Summit Keynote Address, Plenary Session (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

AKDN’s work in mountain communities has shown that attention to a combination of critical elements at the field level can make a powerful difference. These factors include: working with or creating community organisations that can progressively operate on their own; providing matching funds for community level infrastructure projects, selected and built in large measure by the community; supplying credit and improved inputs to agriculturalists; and providing technical assistance to support agriculture and construction projects.

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Featured Item  »»  Keynote Address: “Africa 2016: Business for Africa, Egypt and the World” Conference (Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt)

What I see emerging today is a refreshingly, balanced confidence in Africa — a spirit that takes encouragement from past progress, while also seeking new answers to new challenges — understanding that the best way to move into the future is to walk hand-in-hand with partners who share one’s goals. And we are all here to fulfil that role. I highlight the part played by confidence because it addresses a problem that has long plagued the human race.

I refer to the fear we so often have that our environment will be controlled by others, to the point where we distance ourselves from potential worthy partners. This difference can extend to people of different ethnic groups, different tribes, different nationalities, different religious traditions. It can also extend to people with different political or economic loyalties. And the frequent result is a fragmenting of society, a breakdown of cooperation, an undercurrent of fear, and even a paralysing polarisation in our public life. It can be a distinctly disabling environment….

[T]he role of Civil Society is often misunderstood or taken for granted. At times, Civil Society has been marginalised, discounted, or dismissed…. Even more disturbing have been efforts in some places to constrain or even repress these institutions, stereotyping them as illegitimate, unelected and unaccountable. These attitudes may simply reflect a reluctance to share power and influence, or perhaps a feeling that the creative energy and sheer diversity of Civil Society is daunting and dangerous. Such attitudes have been exceptional, but they are highly regrettable, discouraging the qualities of vision, innovation and forward thinking that progressive societies so badly need….

In sum, I believe that social progress will require quality inputs from all three sectors: public, private and Civil Society. Sustainable progress will build on a three-legged stool. And that progress can be particularly impressive when the three sectors work closely together.

Read more »

Dushanbe Serena Hotel Opening Ceremony (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)

Thinking of the past, I recollect the important dates of Tajik history. Twenty years ago, independence; sixteen years ago, an agreement between the Aga Khan Development Network and the government of Tajikistan in order to contribute to the development of this country. That agreement has enabled us to share as partners in the work of developing Tajikistan and improving the quality of life of the people of this country. We focused not only on building this hotel, but we worked on rural development, health and education at different levels, the production of energy and including the University of Central Asia and the Ismaili Centre here in Dushanbe. What is the purpose? The purpose is to bring multiple-sector support to the development process of the countries in which we work in.

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Globe and Mail Interview (5th), John Stackhouse, ‘”Without a doubt, I am seriously worried” about the world’ (Toronto, Canada)

Without a doubt, I am seriously worried [about the world]. I think we are seeing new problems that originally looked to be local problems but now are becoming regional problems and regional problems that are becoming global problems. One of them is frustration with governments that have stayed in power too long and underperformed. Another, the Shia-Sunni divide is a serious one. It’s not one country called Ireland. It’s nine countries. That’s a lot of countries. So we have a serious problem there. I think we have a situation where new mega-powers are coming up on the world screen. I’m thinking of China, and, from my point of view, predictability is a problem. If you’re looking at the global map and you’re asking what’s ahead, I find predictability with respect to China quite difficult. Their policy toward Africa has been very supportive. I don’t know where that will go in the next 10 years. To me there are more questions on the radar screen than there was a year ago.

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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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Acceptance Address – North-South Prize Award (Lisbon, Portugal)

As I observe the world, I am struck by the insufficiency of well-informed debate, of richer dialogue, of deeper education in our quest to avoid human conflict. That insufficiency often plagues relations between the North and the South and increasingly between the North and the Islamic world. Some have called this a clash of civilisations. I think it is, essentially, a clash of ignorances. What it means, in any case, is that institutions such as the North-South Centre have never been more important….

It is ironic that a sense of intensified conflict comes at a time of unprecedented breakthroughs in communication technology. At the very time that we talk more and more about global convergence, we also seem to experience more and more social divergence. The lesson it seems to me is that technologies alone will not save us — the critical variable will always be and will always lie in the disposition of human hearts and minds.

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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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