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

Featured Item  »»  New Year’s 2017; Dare Greatly

The NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings wishes all Happy New Year.

A New Year brings with it the promise of change and 2017 promises to be memorable year, full of change, for both Ismailis and the world, as a whole. This year we Ismailis will, In’Shah’Allah, celebrate His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee — marking 60 glorious years of his Imamat — and eagerly look forward to new directions which his steady, guiding hand may take us. Meanwhile, the world braces for what, by all accounts, appears to be a profound change in direction on the global stage as American President-elect Donald Trump assumes office.

At a personal level, however, New Year’s is a time when we reflect and resolve to change our lives through the time honoured tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

Change and new directions — whether globally, communally or personally — require confidence, courage and conviction. Confidence to assess and chart a new course. Courage to set sail on the journey. And conviction to be true to ourselves and our journey so we continue to have faith in ourselves and don’t lose heart when we face troubled waters — which we will — but, instead, calmly make the course corrections needed to forge ahead.

However, what kind of change should we strive for? What kind of journey should we chart? It is said greatness lies not where we stand but in what direction we are moving and so we could not find a more fitting answer than the powerful words of America’s 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, who said to “dare greatly.” In 2006, at the Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan himself said the path chosen for AKU was “not easy”, “certainly not risk free” but one “filled with the promise of high adventure.”

So, today, at the start of this New Year, filled with promise, hope and change let us resolve to “dare greatly” so we may feel the satisfaction and pleasure that only one who leaves it all on the field, “who spends himself in a worthy cause,” truly understands. Our theme for our New Year’s card is, therefore, “Dare Greatly.”

Click on the image, or here, to view the card and read both President Roosevelt’s and the Aga Khan’s inspiring remarks.

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

Featured Item  »»  Salgirah, 2016: Wisdom & Education

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

Salgirah is an annual Ismaili celebration, commemorated on December 13, in recognition of His Highness the Aga Khan’s birthday. The famous 19th Century playwright, poet and author, Oscar Wilde, once remarked “with age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone” — though in the Aga Khan’s case, of course, wisdom has been the hallmark of his entire life. This year, when we commemorate the Aga Khan’s 80th birthday, it seemed fitting, therefore, to reflect on his wisdom about wisdom itself and so we chose “Wisdom & Education” as the theme for our greeting card.

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 view our introductory video here.

Featured Item  »»  2016 Aga Khan for Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates)

I think, first, of how great architecture can integrate the past and the future — inherited tradition and changing needs. We need not choose between looking back and looking forward; they are not competing choices, but healthy complements. We can learn valuable lessons from history without getting lost in history; we can look boldly ahead without ignoring what has gone before….

I think of how architectural excellence can integrate the Gifts of Nature and the potentials of the Human Mind. Natural Blessings and Human Creativity are Divine gifts — and it is wrong to embrace one at the expense of the other. The best architecture teaches us to engage with Nature respectfully; not by conquering or subduing it, nor by isolating ourselves away from it.

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Featured Item  »»  2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture Winner’s Semiar (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) ·· incomplete

We’re beginning to see in many parts of the Muslim world … how global warming is beginning to create situations where life is at risk, where it was not at risk before…. We’re seeing villages are being wiped away by earthquakes, by landslides, by avalanches, we’re seeing people moving to dangerous areas in modern environments…. I would ask you to try to bring this issue forward so that we address it in good time (he said). I see these crises of change as being badly predicted.

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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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Interview (with an unidentified media outlet) featured in AKDN’s ‘Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: A Profile of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’ (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) ·· incomplete

What I’m hoping to achieve [with restoration of historic sites] is the notion that these historic sites are potential economic and social dynamos. They are not frozen, paralysed, historic assets. They are assets that can actually contribute to the quality of life of the people who live in those contexts.

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Foreword to ‘Spirit & Life, Masterpieces of Islamic Art from The Aga Khan Museum Collection’ (London, United Kingdom)

The aim of the Aga Khan Museum will be to offer unique insights and new perspectives into Islamic civilisations and the cultural threads that weave through history binding us all together. My hope is that the Museum will also be a centre of education and of learning, and that it will act as a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance….

This exhibition illustrates how the Qur’an-e-Sharif, rich in parable and allegory, metaphor and symbol, is a fundamental source 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. It guides and illuminates the thought and conduct of Muslims belonging to different communities of spiritual affiliation, from century to century, in diverse cultural environments. It extends its pluralistic outlook to adherents of other faiths too, affirming that each has a direction and a path, and should strive to perform good works.

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le Parisien Interview, Gilles Maarek & Gaetane Morin, ‘Aga Khan, l’imam philanthrope’ (Chantilly, France)

[Google translation] How do you perceive the rising tensions around Islam?

This is a concern for the whole world, not only for the Muslim world. The vast majority of these conflicts is not the result of theological problems, but political. Sometimes there instrumentalization of religion for political purposes. The answer is first constitutional. A quarter of the Member States of the United Nations are now reviewing their constitution.We must find a balance between secularism and theocracy, and this is a bigger problem for developing countries for the West. Today, the most thoughtful and the most successful in the Muslim world’s most advanced Constitution, is the Tunisian Constitution.

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Public Address (Shugnan, Tajikistan)

On this day of joy and happiness, and at the beginning of this Irshad, I convey to all my murids my most affectionate and most loving blessings, and I pray that Allah may bring all of you here present, and to your families and homes, peace and hope in the future….

All Afghans should, as promptly as possible, re-establish open and brotherly dialogue among themselves, as our faith instructs us to do, so that Islam’s ethic of peace becomes a national reality…. I have observed with great pain and sadness, Muslims fighting against Muslims in Afghanistan … We must respect the sanctity of life. It is the Holy Qur’an itself which says, “And who so saves a life, it is as if he had saved the entirety of mankind.” …

Because the ethics and ethical premises of civil life are the same in all schools of Islam, we have the remarkable opportunity to build the future of the civil societies in which we will live, on premises which will unite all Muslims, and not divide them….

We are not allowed to live in hate. Wealth and power are not objectives in themselves, but are to be used in the service of others. Those whom life has marginalised are to be helped … to free themselves from their constraints…. Anything to do with drugs is to be rigorously avoided…. These are the ethical premises on which we need to build to bring peace to Afghanistan, to eliminate hate and division, and thereafter rebuild the country for the benefit of all Afghans.

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Keynote Address to the Governor General’s 2004 Canadian Leadership Conference: ‘Leadership and Diversity’ (Gatineau, Canada)

[D]emocracy cannot function reasonably without two preconditions. The first is a healthy, civil society…. The second precondition is pluralism….

The rejection of pluralism is pervasive across the globe and plays a significant role in breeding destructive conflicts. Examples are scattered across the world map: in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, in the Americas. No continent has been spared from the tragedies of death, of misery and of the persecution of minorities. Are such high-risk situations predictable? If the answer is, “Yes”, then what can be done about them, to pre-empt the risk that the rejection of pluralism will become the spark that sets human conflict aflame? Is the onus not on leadership, in all parts of the world, to build a knowledge base about such situations and consider strategies for preventing them? For, I deeply believe that our collective conscience must accept that pluralism is no less important than human rights for ensuring peace, successful democracy and a better quality of life.

A secure pluralistic society requires communities that are educated and confident both in the identity and depth of their own traditions and in those of their neighbours. Democracies must be educated if they are to express themselves competently, and their electorates are to reach informed opinions about the great issues at stake. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to pluralism and democracy, however, is the lacuna in the general education of the populations involved.

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Jeune Afrique Interview (1st), Anne Loesch, ‘Prince of Islam and businessman’ (Paris, France)

[Google translation] One last question: how do you see the future? The future of the Third World?

[Google translation] With optimism. In twenty years, no country is bound water. It will reduce the level of the sea. There will be far fewer medical problems: we will track it will cure all these diseases are still rampant. I trust in progress. We are moving towards an era of sophistication unimaginable. The total for each government is to understand how our time is moving, whether to follow suit.

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Aga Khan Development Network and Government of Afghanistan ‘Agreement of Co-operation for Development’ Signing Ceremony (Kabul, Afghanistan)

Referring to “exploratory work for investments in telecommunications and in tourism,” the Aga Khan saw these as “stimulating a multiplicity of ancillary industries at the same time as serving an urgent need in the hospitality industry.” A major national initiative in micro-credit to promote entrepreneurship and build capital is under consideration with the possible involvement of the International Finance Corporation.

“[I]n each of these areas where we feel the greatest need for capacity building, we have been extremely conscious of the fact that opportunities must be created for women. This is why we are targeting women as major beneficiaries with regard to the income generation activities related to agriculture, the training of nurses, the professional education of teachers and for receipt of micro-credit.”

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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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Acceptance Address – Honorary Doctorate, University of Ottawa (Ottawa, Canada)

The history of constitutions can be seen, as an oscillation between the two poles of centralisation and diffusion with new concentrations of power often amplifying the temptation to abuse, while new dispersions of power are often associated with stagnation, paralysis and even more opportunities for corruption. Arrangements that effectively balance power through a federalist approach, for example, are elusive. What is critical is that constitutional arrangements should respect inherited traditions, ensure fairness to minority communities, respond to rural as well as urban concerns and underwrite equitable opportunity for a better life. Reconciling the global and the local, the urban and the rural, the regional and the national, is a formidable challenge, one that calls for the best of our intellectual energies and consistent fine-tuning over time….

In much of the developed world, we have seen the emergence, over time, of two-pronged political structures where one party forms a government and the other constitutes the opposition. This arrangement can foster greater accountability and even a certain stability. But I have to say, I am increasingly sceptical about the emergence of such constructs in many developing countries. To the contrary, I suspect that a continuing multiplicity of widely differentiated parties will mean that some form of coalition government will become the norm.

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CBC Interview (4th), One-on-One (2nd) with Peter Mansbridge (Toronto, Canada)

What are the continuing consequences of the situation in Iraq?

Well I think one of them obviously is crisis between the Shia and Sunni communities. I think that crisis is now extending throughout the region, and I mentioned today [in my speech to Parliament], that it’s actually active in nine countries. I mean, if you make a parallel with the Christian world, what would have been the Christian world’s reaction if the Irish crisis had been active in nine countries. (Pause) It would have been a very, very serious issue. That’s what we’re facing today. That crisis is in nine countries and it is likely to expand further. (Emphasis original)

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Eighth Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (The Citadel, Aleppo, Syria)

Many Muslims today, of which I am one, carry with them a memory of the historical achievements of Islamic civilisations. What is the significance of this historical memory for the Ummah in the contemporary world with its many and varied challenges? How can we look back and reinvigorate aspects of it, and what level of significance should be accorded to it? Since there is this general feeling that something has been lost, it is critical to look back in order to look forward. This is the debate that must occur, in which there must be broad participation on a basis that, like that used in the Award, provides freedom for full exchange. The goal should be to turn this great resource into an intellectual trampoline to generate ideas for building the future productively and constructively in terms that will be meaningful and beneficial for Muslims generally.

Some progress was made at an Award seminar on understanding the specifics of such a process with respect to expressions of Islam in contemporary architecture which I offer as an example, because it illustrates the level at which the process of questioning and deliberations must take place. Two lessons emerged from the discussion. One is that the technical issues of the built environment cannot be considered in isolation from the cultural and spiritual values of a society. The second is that these values have to be related at one and the same time to the historical traditions of Islam, in all their diversity, and to the fresh challenges posed by the opportunities and needs for living in the modern world.

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Address to both Houses of the Parliament of Canada in the House of Commons Chamber (Ottawa, Canada)

When the clashes of modern times have come, they have most often grown out of particular political circumstances, the twists and turns of power relationships and economic ambitions, rather than deep theological divides. Yet sadly, what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world gets mistaken for what is normal. Of course, media perceptions of our world in recent years have often been conveyed through a lens of war. But that is all the more reason to shape global conversation in a more informed direction. I am personally aware of the efforts the Prime Minister has made to achieve this. Thank you, Prime Minister….

Perhaps the most important area of incomprehension, outside the Ummah, is the conflict between Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam and the consequences for the Sunni and Shia peoples. This powerful tension is sometimes even more profound than conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. It has increased massively in scope and intensity recently, and has been further exacerbated by external interventions. In Pakistan and Malaysia, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon and Bahrain, in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster. It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the Ummah to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities. What would have been the consequences if the Protestant-Catholic struggle in Ireland had spread throughout the Christian world, as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries? It is of the highest priority that these dangerous trends be well understood and resisted, and that the fundamental legitimacy of pluralistic outlooks be honoured in all aspects of our lives together, including matters of faith.

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‘Tolerance a Religious Imperative’ published on newsweek.washingtonpost.com (USA)

[I]t is striking to me how many modern thinkers are still disposed to link tolerance with secularism — and religion with intolerance. In their eyes — and often in the public eye I fear — religion is seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution.

There are reasons why this impression exists. Throughout history we find terrible chapters in which religious conflict brought frightening results. When people speak these days, about an inevitable “Clash of Civilisations” in our world, what they often mean, I fear, is an inevitable “Clash of Religions.” But I would use different terminology altogether. The essential problem, as I see it, in relations between the Muslim world and the West is “A Clash of Ignorance.” And what I would prescribe — as an essential first step on both sides of that divide — is a concentrated educational effort….

Tolerance which grows out of hope is more than a negative virtue — more than a convenient way to ease sectarian tensions — more than a sense of forbearance. Instead, seen not as a pallid religious compromise but as a sacred religious imperative, tolerance can become a powerful, positive force, one which allows all of us to expand our horizons — and enrich our lives.

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Itar-Tass Interview, ‘Between Conflicting Sides’ (Dushanbe, Tajikistan) ·· incomplete

All the Afghans should promptly resume an open and fraternal dialogue, thereby turning Islamic peace ethics into a national reality and putting an end to hatred and division… [My] heart overflows with sorrow from the very idea that Muslims are now fighting against Muslims (whereas) it is necessary to respect the sanctity of life.

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Reception and luncheon hosted by Aga Khan University (Calgary, Canada) ·· incomplete

If you look at what has happened in the past decades in the developing world, there are a number of lessons you can draw. And I think one of them is the volatility of development. To stabilise development in most of these fragile parts of the world, one of the fundamental principles is to develop strong institutions.

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Closing Remarks, Second Seminar in the Series, ‘Conservation as Cultural Survival’, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Istanbul, Turkey)

The Aga Khan Awards, the first of which will be granted in 1980, will be substantial: $100,000 in each of five different categories for a potential total of $500,000 every three years. Their purpose is to make a strong and continuing impact on the architectural profession, on decision makers and on public opinion everywhere.

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

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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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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Letter to architect Fumihiko Maki setting out notions of Light as the design theme for the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (Aiglemont) ·· incomplete

For the Aga Khan Museum, I thought that ‘light’ might be a concept around which you could design an outstanding museum….

I hope that the building and the spaces around it will be seen as the celebration of Light, and the mysteries of Light, that nature and the human soul illustrate to us at every moment in our lives. I have explained at the beginning of this letter why I think Light would be an appropriate design direction for the new museum and this concept is of course particularly validated in Islamic texts and sciences: apart from the innumerable references in the Qur’an to Light in all its forms, in nature and in the human soul, the light of the skies, their sources and their meaning have for centuries been an area of intellectual inquiry and more specifically in the field of astronomy. Thus the architecture of the building would seek to express these multiple notions of Light, both natural and man-made, through the most purposeful selection of internal and external construction materials, facets of elevations playing with each other through the reflectivity of natural or electric light, and to create light gain or light retention from external natural sources or man-made internal and external sources.

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‘Diversity can be a force for good in the world’ published in the Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, Canada)

As societies come to think in pluralistic ways, I believe they can learn another lesson from the Canadian experience, the importance of resisting both assimilation and homogenization — the subordination and dilution of minority cultures on the one hand, or an attempt to create some new, transcendent blend of identities on the other.

What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that identity itself can be pluralistic. Honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others. One can embrace an ethnic or religious heritage, while also sharing a sense of national or regional pride. To cite a timely example, I believe one can live creatively and purposefully as both a devoted Muslim and a committed European.

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