In commemoration of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III”s 137th birthday we are pleased to present 3 articles with advices for happiness and long life which are as relevant today as they were when given decades ago:
On Friday, September 12, 2014, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, in the presence of the Aga Khan, performed the the Opening Ceremonies of the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Like the Aga Khan’s address to the Canadian Parliament, we are sure this event will also go down as one of the signature events of this Imamat.
For the tens of thousands Ismailis in North America, and around the world, who were unable to watch the event live, it is our great pleasure to be able to bring you the full video of the 3 hour 20 minute webcast — unedited, from start to finish — together with a time index schedule to let you jump directly to any segment of interest.
Words cannot capture the dignity, the soul stirring, awe inspiring grandeur and majesty of the ceremonies, nor the stately presence of the buildings, and so we will not attempt to offer any. It was a proud moment not only to be an Ismaili, but to just be a member of the human race moved beyond words, witnessing an inspired vision, executed with flawless precision in every aspect, come to life.
Vimeo version if Youtube is not available to you (lower resolution)
Schedule (click on the time to play that segment)
NOTE: The time links below do not work on i-Pads.
NOTE: The time links below do not work for Vimeo, but the times are the same.
It is not so often that we have an opportunity of this sort — to come together in a beautiful setting, in a wonderful spirit of friendship, and to dedicate such a splendid architectural accomplishment….
When I mentioned that our planning for this complex began 18 years ago, some of you probably wondered how people sustained their enthusiasm through such a long process. Yes 18 years! My response is to say that throughout these 18 years, we have been inspired by a great sense of common purpose, as we have sought to create places and spaces of true enlightenment. And, in doing so, we have also been strengthened by a pronounced spirit of friendship. And what a joy it is to celebrate that spirit, at a time when so much of the world’s attention is focused on climates of belligerence.
In the seamless web we call national development, housing is only one factor influencing the quality of human life. But how vital it is to health and human safety, still more fundamentally, the state of a person’s home touches deep chords in the human spirit.
It can make him proud or ashamed; give him light and a sense of hope or deepen his despair. It is his statement to his children and to the world about his control over his life, and his aspirations for the future. It is not too much to say that to the extent a man is a householder, he is also a citizen, with a permanent interest in the stability and progress of his country. Still more important, housing has historically been created by families. The African or Asian village, like most other traditional settlements, is not an abstraction, but an architectural expression of a social reality, the way people relate one to another — often as an extended family. These settlements reflect human bondings and community spirit. They can foster families and their ties to other human beings; or they can express human alienation as the extended family disaggregates….
[C]onfronted by the appalling magnitude of the problem of inadequate housing — estimates that one-fifth of the human race is without decent housing, of whom one hundred million do not even have a roof over their heads — one must avoid the trap of the mass solution. Government resources and political commitment to a solution are indispensable: but they will be effective only to the extent that they mobilise as part of the solution the people for whom housing will not be merely shelter but a source of community and of a better life. This will take infinite care and powerful imagination, for the institutional models will vary with regions and cultures, but I deeply believe there is no substitute for them.
The Umayyad Caliphate integrated the Peninsula to a vast transcontinental empire which, from Baghdad to Cordoba, was the focal point of human civilisation during a period of European obscurity. Muslim Spain transmitted to the West many of the literary and scientific works of antiquity, which had been lost at the fall of the Roman Empire. Classical texts, recuperated in the Alexandria Library, were rendered into Arabic and then translated into the Romance languages by the school of Toledo. It was also from al-Andalus that the works of the great Muslim humanists and scientists spread to Europe, contributing decisively to the development of medieval knowledge in a great number of subjects: astronomy, geometry, mathematics, natural history, medicine, geography, technology, philosophy …
The achievements of the AKDN would not be possible without the tireless contributions of the global community of Ismailis that I lead, residing in Central and Southern Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. Our volunteers and contributors also include many thousands of others from multiple cultures and faiths around the world. They are united with us in our mission to help build capacity and dignity for individuals, to enable them to take control of their own development.
These volunteers include those who contribute to the governance of the 200 entities of the AKDN in more than 30 countries, many others who support co-operatives, craft guilds, village organisations and women’s groups, and still others who work closely with the vast array of grassroots civil society organisations that form the bedrock of our activities.
A fresh approach to ethics in public life and in the private sector, an improved recognition of the inherent pluralism of contemporary societies, and increased opportunity to build high competence in the sectors of greatest need, are features of the new horizons that I see in Africa today.
In the recent past, in this region, bridges have opened at Tem, Darwaz and Langar. Like them, the Ishkashim Bridge is a concrete expression of cooperation amongst the Governments of Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Development Network….
Each of the bridges I have mentioned has had a considerable moral and symbolic value, inspiring a spirit of confidence, progress and hope. But these projects also have a very concrete economic value, allowing for a substantial expansion of productive exchange. People in both countries are granted unprecedented access to markets beyond their immediate frontiers. Goods originating in Pakistan can now make their way to Tajikistan. Products from China now have a fast road transit to Afghanistan….
Links and meeting places created by the bridges do more than simply facilitate commerce. We exchange questions and answers. We trade in products, but we can also trade in ideas. Communities on each side of the border will know one another better and be better able to help one another grow, prosper and share the lessons of life.
Technology is also transforming our economic lives. Economic value is no longer tied to how much land one controls or how many machines or factories one owns. Within our lifetimes, predominantly “Agricultural Societies” and “Industrial Societies” of the past have been joined, and sometimes supplanted, by what many call the “Knowledge Society,” propelled by the digital revolution, and focusing on the creation and management of information. In a Knowledge Society, the most productive investments we can make are investments in education. And education is another priority we share with the Bangladeshi people.
Somehow ways have to be found to make the countryside itself a more desirable place to live in, which in turn demands an ability to earn more and to save enough, as individuals or families or communes to begin the process of self-generated economic growth and thus social well-being. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture seeks to identify and premiate all successful efforts in the resolution of man’s built environment, and clearly the fate and future of the rural habitat must be of prime concern to us….
Unless change takes account of rural life in all its aspects, unless it respects the past and the heritage of rural areas and peoples, unless it recognises the intricate ties between the physical and the social environment, it will fail to achieve planning and developing goals for each nation. It will also fail to provide attractive alternatives to migration and thereby fail to stem the tide of people flooding into the cities adding to the already almost insurmountable social problems the urban areas are facing.
[I]f we have moved forward in various parts of the world, it is thanks to the leadership of the jamat. And I would like you to take these remarks to heart. Think about them because they’re said not only for today, they’re said for the past and they’re said for the future….
I wanted to tell you [that] your leadership [which] you may think of as African leadership but it isn’t. It’s become global leadership. What you have learnt and taught and are doing is now replicating itself around the world. And that is a magnificent gift that you have given from Africa to other parts of the world.
[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.
Although Ismailis have lived in the West since the late 1950s, only two other Ismaili centres of this importance and magnitude have been built in the Occident to reach these goals. Through lectures, presentations, conferences, recitals, and exhibits of art and architecture, alone or joined by other national or international entities in the cultural field, these centres have become ambassadorial buildings which today reflect and illustrate much of what the Shia Ismaili community represents in terms of its attitude towards the Muslim faith, its organisation, its discipline, its social conscience, the effectiveness of its community organisations and, more generally, its attitude towards modern life and the society in which it lives.
This Centre in Lisbon, like its predecessors in the West, will strive to be not only a place of gathering for prayer, but a space for articulation of thought and positive impact on the wider community.
We have seen over the developing world in Africa and Asia, that when politics are fragile, what continues to sustain development is civil society. If you build a strong civil society, then you have a country that continues to progress even if governments are unstable.
People coming together around a common purpose are much stronger, for example, in eliminating corruption. When an individual faces corruption, that’s a problem. When a village community faces corruption it’s a totally different issue. And in fact, corruption in civil society is probably one of the most damaging forces that we are trying to deal with everyday…. And what we’ve found is that the community organisations, when they come together, what do they look at? It’s very exciting. Their whole basis of hope is built around best practice. They reject all the things that have damaged them individually and they come together and say we want a new future built around new people whom we choose because we trust them. [Emphasis original]
Georgia is making very, very serious, intelligent commitments to developing forces in the Knowledge Society. When we work in the developing world, we are trying to build new institutions, and our most difficult thing to achieve is to enter that Knowledge Society. And entering into that Knowledge Society is a question of people. It’s not only a question of money, it’s institutions working with institutions.
During the two Caliphates, the Muslim Universities were producing the best scholars, doctors, astronomers and philosophers. Today where are we? Have we institutions of learning which can compare with the Sorbonne, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, M.I.T.? Throughout my journeys I have been deeply pained to see the lack of initiative which my brother Muslims have shown in educational matters. In some circles there may have been a fear that modern education would tend to lessen the sharpness and deepness of our faith. I am afraid that I must reject this with vehemence.
As you know I attach great importance to Indian history and to the great caliphates, the great empires of the Muslim world, because I believe there’s always something to learn. The past is a place to learn, even if the future is different, and this is why I have spent considerable time in trying to enhance in India the Mughal history and to learn how the Mughals achieved global leadership.
The essence of the Aga Khan Award is to premiate outstanding quality in all principal aspects of the built environment for Muslims. We seek to identify excellence in landscaped spaces, restored buildings, social housing, high-tech constructions, and others, all over the world. The single binding theme is that the buildings or spaces be essentially used for those born into, or who have become a part of, the faith of Islam. It is a broad and glorious domain that we have defined. The invisible common thread that runs through it all, the “underlying theme” of that great design, is relevance to the common characteristic of being — in some way — related specially to Muslims….
In this seminar, the Award strives to look to the fountainhead of inspiration on which Muslims and non-Muslims draw to create the spaces and buildings we admire. What aspects of the social or religious backgrounds transpire into their creation? Is it their interpretation of their faith? Is it the ethic of their faith? Is it the rules of social conduct of their faith? And, indeed, the hard question has to be asked, is it their faith at all?
How do they perceive problems of scale, intimacy, regionalism? How do they choose materials, textures, and colours? What use do they make of water, flowers, and scent? Do they relate one or some, all or none, of these considerations to their faith, or to their ethic, or to a secular tradition? Is the secularisation of the modern Western world affecting their professional approach, or, on the contrary, is the search for an Islamic identity encouraging them to learn much more about their history and tradition than what their forefathers knew or learnt? If there is a return to the essence of their background, is it in the form of a search for identity, or is it in the form of a new commitment to their faith?
In Afghanistan, we have brought together the multiple capacities of the AKDN, through which we combine activities in micro-finance, health, education, culture and rural development. Our multi-faceted approach has contributed to a 74% decline in poppy cultivation in the north-east of the country, improving the quality of life of over one million people. I quote this figure not to be self-congratulatory but to substantiate that significant processes of change are feasible
Since 2001 the Aga Khan Development Network (the AKDN) has been an active and committed partner in the development process. Our financial pledge of $75 million in 2002 has been nearly doubled. In our roles as investor, financial backer and implementer, we have mobilised nearly 750 million dollars for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude to our national and international partners, who have enabled us to achieve these results…. The AKDN’s commitment to Afghanistan is for the long-term. Today, we pledge $100 million over the next five years, made available through AKDN’s agencies …
I think the racing public like continuity (he said on Thursday, reflecting on a recent award as the most influential owner of the last 50 years) they like to follow a set of colours like mine, to watch the sons and daughters of horses they remember. Being the breeder, planning the matings, is fascinating. But unless you just want to treat it as a hole in the ground, you have to run the finances. I am absolutely unbending in the need to take tough decisions.
The idea of entering into an activity that was in no way central to the Ismaili Imamat, an activity in which no member of my family — neither my brother nor my sister nor I — had any understanding, in itself raised a major question mark. Would I have the time, and the capacity, to learn something about an activity with which I was totally unfamiliar? When the leader of a family endeavour disappears, the next generation does not necessarily carry on…. To be the new young owner who would come in and cause the operation to collapse was not exactly what I wanted!
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15 Sep 2014FULL EVENT VIDEO (with time index link to each segment!): Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremonies: http://t.co/P6as4CnsBD
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