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

Featured Item  »»  Global Centre for Pluralism Headquarters’ Opening Ceremony (Ottawa, Canada)

Let me emphasise a point about the concept of pluralism that is sometimes misunderstood. Connection does not necessarily mean agreement. It does not mean that we want to eliminate our differences or erase our distinctions. Far from it. What it does mean is that we connect with one another in order to learn from one another, and to build our future together. Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference. Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strengthens it. In an ever-shrinking, ever more diverse world, a genuine sense of pluralism is the indispensable foundation for human peace and progress. From the start, this has been a vision that the Ismaili Imamat and the Government of Canada have deeply shared.

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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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L’Express Interview, Eric Chol and Christian Makarian, ‘The ethic of Islam rests on generosity’ (Paris, France)

[Google translation] It is necessary to constantly consider the relationship between the Ummah and the knowledge society. One realises that countries that have succeeded in reconciling both develop most quickly. On the other hand, those that reject or limit access to the knowledge society get left behind. My concept of Islam is a faith for all time, not backward looking.

In the Qur’an it is written that one must seek education to know Allah better, and share knowledge for the betterment of society. That is to say that in Islam, the links between faith and knowledge are very strong and we are constantly encouraged to learn. This is an extraordinary message for humanity.

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Aga Khan Academy, Kilindini, Opening Ceremony (Mombasa, Kenya)

In the long history of the Ismaili Imamat’s engagement with education, covering well over a 1000 years and numerous countries past and present, few days can have been as important as this one….

As the young men and women from this Aga Khan Academy, and over time from its sister schools, grow and assume leadership in their societies, it is my hope that it will be members of this new generation who, driven by their own wide knowledge and inspiration, will change their societies; that they will gradually replace many of the external forces that appear, and sometimes seek, to control our destinies. These young men and women, I am sure, will become leaders in the governments and the institutions of civil society in their own countries, in international organisations and in all those institutions, academic, economic and artistic that create positive change in our world. It is my strongest hope that you who carry on the great mission of teaching them will take pride in the confident, resilient minds that you have nurtured.

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First Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, Pakistan)

We may well ask whether the premiated projects truly represent the great traditions of Islamic architecture. There are no mosques among them, no madrasah, no palace, no garden, no mausoleum, none of the monuments which are visited by millions of tourists, cherished by those who live near them, and utilised by historians to define the Muslim past. The paradox, however, is more apparent than real.

For, great though the celebrated monuments of the past are as works of art, they were only part of the built environment of the past. They were the creations of great and wealthy patrons, often made no doubt for the use and the pleasure of the masses but rarely lacking in personal or dynastic vanity. All too frequently the settings developed by the masses themselves have been lost or changed out of recognition.

In the contemporary world, the Awards have recognised that other part, perhaps now much more important than in the past, the part of the common man creating for himself and his neighbours a setting for life and health, preserving and utilising what nature has created, developing ways to maintain his identity rather than accepting the elephantine massiveness of so much of today’s world.

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Introduction to ‘The Worlds of Islam in the collection of the Aga Khan Museum’ (Madrid and Barcelona, Spain)

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 …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opening Remarks, Seventh Seminar, ‘Reading the Contemporary African City’, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Dakar, Senegal)

It is quite logical to presume that it is easier at the periphery of the vast experience of Islam to identify those ways in which, and the degrees to which, this experience has inserted itself into such highly differentiated socio-cultural milieux as China and Black Africa How does each national culture, and even each regional culture, manage not only to express but also to flower by means of the Muslim faith and the works of Islamic civilisation? This is the great question that has particularly concerned the historians and the sociologists, but which must now be a focus of attention for the architects and the city planners in Islamic countries.

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Opening Remarks, Ninth Seminar, ‘The Expanding Metropolis: Coping with the Urban Growth of Cairo’, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Cairo, Egypt)

[T]he poor can display considerable ingenuity in improving their own environment and in utilising locally available materials. I was delighted when Hassan Fathy’s work of a lifetime in this direction, reflecting his profound understanding of the virtues and possibilities of vernacular architecture, was recognised by the Chairman’s Award in 1980. People are the Islamic world’s greatest single resource. If we are to harness their latent abilities then we have to understand ordinary citizens’ aspirations — which may be far removed from architectural or planning ideals — and we have to persuade them of the value of what we are attempting to do. But, I ask again, are we starting from the correct premise? Have we successfully identified our long-term objectives?

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Remarks at the White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy (Washington D.C., USA)

At present there is a great deal of apprehension about the future of local and national cultures in most countries in the developing world. What can the cultural diplomacy of the United States do to address these anxieties and replace them with a sense of confidence through new and shared initiatives? …

Cultures that do not or cannot communicate become increasingly isolated, inward-looking, and, in due course, marginalised. Some would argue the United States’ dominance of global communications systems is, because of what has been called the digital divide, a contributor to this problem. I would offer a different perspective. It seems to me that by a purposeful effort, the United States could play a significant role not only in making the cultures of Asia and Africa available globally. Doing so would also make a massive contribution to the full acceptance to the legitimacy and value of social and cultural pluralism, something that is urgently needed in most parts of the developing world.

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Faculty Office Building, Aga Khan University, Opening Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan) ·· incomplete

The Aga Khan commended on the importance of the consultation process that took place before the building had been constructed. “The new facilities are an expression of the University’s belief that it must care for its faculty and staff, providing them with the most conducive work environment,” he stated, adding that if AKU is to stay ahead and be the role model institution that it aspires to be, it will need to attract bright young minds and experienced faculty members.

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Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony (Burnaby, Canada)

The Ismaili community has sought to create a building here which is both Islamic in its architectural inspiration and of a quality to enhance the overall distinction of Burnaby. The Jamatkhana is designed to be a social and cultural centre, as well as a place of congregation. It expresses the Ismailis’ desire to give of their best to the cultural and economic fabric of Canada. They are proud that it symbolises their commitment both to this country’s future and their ancient heritage. Nor is there any dichotomy in this dual aim. Muslims believe their faith is not for one time, but for all times and so there cannot be conflict between tradition and modernity.

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Connoisseur Magazine Interview, Paul Chutkow, ‘The Aga Khan’s Vision’ (London, United Kingdom)

I think the second thing the award has done has been to bring together not only architects, but also thinkers, sociologists, archaeologist, economists. The award has demonstrated that a good building isn’t only a structure. A good building has an impact on people’s perception of their cultural heritage. It has an impact on social balance or imbalance….

Yes, I do [see architecture as an instrument of social change]. I would prefer to call it an instrument for improving the quality of life. And I think you put your finger right on it. I genuinely believe that generations that are born, brought up, and live in better-quality surroundings have a different outlook on life. Architecture is, in my view, a method of creating development, well-being. And I think architecture, if it goes wrong, can be a source of conflict or destabilisation.

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Acceptance Address – Installation as a Foreign Associate Member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Kenzo Tange chair at the Institut de France (Paris, France)

[Google translation]: [Kenzo Tange] founded the “Tange Laboratory”, in which he will advise young architects whose Sachio Otani, Takashi Asada, Taneo Oki, Kisho Kurokawa, Arata Isozaki and Fumihiko Maki. The last two are well known to me. Arata Isozaki was the architect chosen by the University of Central Asia, which I am the chancellor, to build the three campuses of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. As Fumihiko Maki, is the designer of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa.

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50th Anniversary of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), (London, United Kingdom)

[I]t was not until a century later that the Institut [de France] made it a priority to revitalise the Domaine. And I was invited to become a part of the response. The Institut and I quickly agreed that a short-range burst of attention was not the answer. We needed a long-term plan. And we also agreed to build on the principle of public-private partnership. Increasingly, we realised the success of cultural projects in the developed world and the developing world alike requires a variety of actors animated by a robust spirit of cooperation and an overriding “ethic of partnership.” …

Planning ahead for long-term sustainability is critical. At Chantilly and elsewhere, our plans have included permanent service facilities — a museum perhaps, or a scholarly research centre, a children’s library, or a training workshop — so that their eventual income streams, along with public access fees, can provide re-investable income. But the real requirement, the sine qua non, is building a constituency for sustainability, including an engaged local community.

Let me conclude by underscoring my conviction that the work of cultural heritage is more critical today than ever before. In the developing and the developed worlds alike, societies are plunging into an increasingly bewildering future at an ever-accelerating pace. At such a time, and on occasions such as this, it is important that we commit ourselves ever more ardently to the essential work of cultural heritage as a powerful contributor to improving the quality of life for the entire human community.

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BBC Radio Interview, John Tidmarsh (London, United Kingdom)

I don’t think of myself as a person with a nationality. I was brought up since my youngest age as a Muslim. My university studies were in Islamic studies. So that is — if I have any sense of identification — that would be it.

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Ottawa Citizen Interview, Chris Mikula and Hayley Mick (Ottawa, Canada) ·· incomplete

I don’t believe that societies are born pluralist. Pluralism has to be omnipresent in civil society … it’s got to be part of the way a society is constituted.

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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Convocation Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

Whatever definition is used, a quality civil society is independent of government, pluralist and led by merit-based educated leadership. Not only does Canadian civil society eminently meet these three criteria of being non-governmental pluralist and merit-led, I know of no country where civil society is more empathetic with the needs of civil society of the countries of Africa and Asia in which I have been working for some 45 years. I have, therefore, asked myself, not once, but hundreds of times, if and how Canadian civil society can mobilise its resources more vigorously to help improve the quality of life of the peoples of Africa and Asia.

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Closing Remarks, Eleventh Seminar, ‘Architecture of Housing’, The Aga Khan Award For Architecture (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

I wish to express my admiration to the Government of Zanzibar for having taken the initiative to sustain and enhance and support the Stone Town. This is an exciting initiative, one which I would hope to see replicated with success throughout the Islamic world. The restoration of these historic cities should not be an exercise exclusively in cultural continuity but an exercise in economic rehabilitation and the provision of new economic opportunities for people who did not have that opportunity before.

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Al Watan Interview, Waddah Abed Rabbo (Damascus, Syria)

[T]he quality of life is determined by a number of different factors that are, in my view, not limited to the World Bank indicators on longevity, or health, or the economic welfare of an individual, or a community.

To the Imamat, the meaning of “quality of life’ extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being, measured generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background.

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Remarks introducing António Guterres, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Third Annual Lecturer (Ottawa, Canada)

Throughout his own, long career, António Guterres has been a passionate and effective advocate on these issues, articulating both the rights of the refugees and the responsibilities of society to support and to integrate them. Underlying both his words and his work is a conviction, which I share, that any person’s worth in this world does not depend on where he or she has come from and that all people should be welcomed into the fabric of the society in which they may find themselves so that they can contribute to that society’s long term progress.

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Paris Match Interview (1st), Caroline Pigozzi and Jean-Claude Deutsch (Paris, France)

[Translation] Your Highness, 49th Imam, descendant of Prophet Muhammad, you are the spiritual leader of the Ismailis, a Shia movement of 15 million Muslims. Could we say that you are their pope?

My role as Imam has nothing in common with that of John Paul II, because the pope is elected by a college of cardinals, while the office of the Imam of the Ismailis is a hereditary one. In Islam, contrary to the Catholic Church, there is no clergy in the sense of people having an exclusively religious career. In contrast with the Christian tradition, Islam does not separate the temporal from the spiritual. My duty, in following the example of my predecessors, is to guide the Ismailis, not only in the present time, but also in the daily practise of Shia Islam. This requires me to analyse their level of existence in liaison with their geographic location. The Imams have always had the overall responsibility of living within their time and therefore, before anything else, adapting….

[Translation] What does the Aga Khan, a Europeanized Muslim, think about the debate on the wearing of the Islamic scarf in France?

How do you expect me to forbid someone from openly associating themselves with their religion? The law today is acting on the form, not the underlying significance of this practice. One should not impose oneself in an aggressive manner, but should live serenely within one’s faith. If pressuring someone to change their beliefs is considered offensive, why should someone change their beliefs just because these beliefs consist of a free individual right? The separation of religion and state implies multiculturalism before anything else.

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