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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Spiegel Online Interview (1st), Erich Follath, ‘Only those who help people serve God’ (Germany)

[Google translation] I do not deny that in some defects in the Muslim world’s political leaders are in. But I refuse, the American model as a panacea to see the democracy that we just prescribe the developing world, and everything will be fine. Government forms carry within them the seeds of failure, especially if they are rooted in the population and not be accompanied by constitutional one — not even democracy. What we need is the open debate about the best way.

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Conference on Indigenous Philanthropy (Islamabad, Pakistan)

The Qur’an, the Hadith, the sayings of Hazrat Ali, and many scholarly sources make numerous references to the forms and purposes of philanthropy. Human dignity — restoring it, and sustaining it — is a central theme. Enabling individuals to recover and maintain their dignity as befitting their status as Allah’s greatest creation, is one of the main reasons for charitable action. There is dignity in the individual’s ability to manage his or her destiny. That being the case, the best of charity, in Islamic terms, can go beyond material support alone…. This means that multi-year support for institutions that enable individuals to achieve dignity by becoming self-sustainable, holds a special place amongst the many forms of charity in the eyes of Islam.

There is another precept found in the Qur’an and Islamic philosophical texts of great significance that is particularly relevant in this context. It is the emphasis on the responsibilities placed upon those charged with the management of philanthropic gifts and the institutions supported by them. The duty of responsible stewardship is very clear, a concept that can be equated to the notions of trust and trusteeship in today’s international legal terminology. The obligation to maintain the highest level of integrity in the management of donated resources, and of the institutions benefiting from them, is grounded in our faith.

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Dinner hosted by the Governor and First Lady of Texas (Austin, Texas, USA)

The American ethic and ideal — the Texan ethic and ideal — has always been one of openness to others and openness to the future. It is an ethic of opportunity, which the Ismaili Community deeply shares. This commitment to opportunity is exemplified in the vitality of your diverse multi-ethnic society. It is rooted in a deep respect for the individual human being independent of one’s background or origins.

The Governor has cited words from the Qur’an about the affinity of our religious commitments. The teachings of the Qur’an, like those of the Bible, also resonate with the words that rang out from Philadelphia in 1776: affirming that “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Those words express our common ideal….

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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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Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

This new Centre is itself a profoundly spiritual place. Its defining symbolism is inspired by the Fatimid tradition stretching back over 1000 years and widely shared with sister traditions throughout the Islamic world from Baghdad to Bokhara. As its architects have so effectively realised, this building exists fundamentally as a place for peaceful contemplation, but one that is set in a social context. It is not a place to hide from the world, but rather a place which inspires us to engage our worldly work as a direct extension of our faith.

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Life Magazine Interview, Margot Dougherty and Richard B. Stolley, ‘In Him, East and West Meet’ (New York, USA)

Many parts of the Islamic world, and in this, the Ismailis certainly agree, perceive an American imbalance involving excessive emphasis on material comfort. I should go further than comfort, I think perhaps the concern of wealth and the way wealth is used rather than comfort. In Islam there is nothing wrong in the search for comfort, but the accumulation of wealth for the specific purpose of accumulating wealth or personal power is something which Islam does not like to see. If you are fortunate enough to go past what you personally need then share what you have.

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Inauguration Ceremony for the Restoration of Humayun’s Tomb (Delhi, India)

The word “partnership,” in fact, could be the watchword of this celebration. What we honour today, above all else is the spirit of partnership in which this work has unfolded.

In my view, an Ethic of Partnership must be at the centre of any successful project of this sort. Among other things, an Ethic of Partnership means that traditional separations between public and private domains must be set aside, so that public-private partnerships can thrive as an essential keystone for effective development.

The role of governments, including municipalities, is essential, of course, in providing an “enabling environment” for development. But the public sector cannot do this work alone. A creative mix of participants is needed: corporations and development agencies, foundations and universities, faith communities and local community groups.

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Address to the Enabling Environment Conference (Kabul, Afghanistan)

The term “Enabling Environment” has two implications which I would underscore today. First, it reminds us that the conditions which enable progress can be extremely complex, that an entire “environment” of interacting forces must come together if development is truly to take root — and to take off.

Second — the term recognises that even the right environment is still only an enabling condition — not a sufficient one. Our conference title does not talk about an environment which “solves” or “cures” or “progresses” or “prevails” — but rather about an environment which “enables”. In the end, human progress must grow out of the human heart and soul. The environment enables — but it is the human spirit, guided and supported by the Divine Will, which eventually triumphs. What a sound Enabling Environment must do is to create a favourable framework in which human creativity can flourish….

Laying the State’s political foundation is a necessary first step for an Enabling Environment, but even effective government can take us only so far. And that is why we have been talking more in recent years about two other sectors: first, what I often call the role of “civil society” and, secondly, the capacities of the private sector.

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Luncheon hosted by Governor of Illinois (Chicago, Illinois, USA) ·· incomplete

I am here to learn. I am also here to seek partnerships. The global knowledge society is led by the United States. And therefore we are looking for partnerships. Partnerships which are long, which are stable and which produce quantifiable results. We will work with anybody who wants to help us in social development, economic development, pluralism and more important than anything else, building civil society.

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Letter to architect Fumihiko Maki setting out crystal as the design inspiration for the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa (Aiglemont) ·· incomplete

The goal is to create a building which causes the viewer to wonder how different elements and different planes relate to each other, how they work together to tickle the eye (the Aga Khan said, proposing that Mr. Maki take inspiration from rock crystal, the mineral quartz in its clear and colourless form).

In a rock crystal the cuts and angles permit both transparency as well as translucency. It pleases and confuses the eye by its internal planes running at different angles, creating a sense of visual mystery. The … building in a sense should be somewhat mysterious and visually nearly esoteric. It should not be blatant but ethereal, not obvious but difficult to captivate.

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American University in Cairo Commencement Ceremony (Cairo, Egypt)

At various times in world history, the locus of knowledge has moved from one centre of learning to another. Europe once came to the Islamic world for intellectual enrichment and even rediscovered its own classical roots by searching in Arabic texts. Astronomy, the so-called “Science of the Universe” was a field of particular distinction in Islamic civilisation, in sharp contrast to the weakness of Islamic countries in the field of Space research today. In this field, as in others, intellectual leadership is never a static condition, but something which is always shifting and always dynamic….

[Today] in keeping with our past traditions, and in response to our present needs, we must to [sic] go out and find the best of the world’s knowledge wherever it exists. But accessing knowledge, is only the first step. The second step, the application of knowledge, is also demanding. Knowledge, after all, can be used well or poorly, for good or evil purposes. Once we have acquired knowledge, it is important that the ethical guidelines of faith be invoked, helping us apply what we have learned to the highest possible ends. And it is also important that those ends be related to the practical needs of our peoples.

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All India TV and Radio Interview, Rajiv Mehrotra (??, India)

Think of the world of the late 50s and the early 60s. A number of countries were termed “basket-cases”. A number of statements were made that developing countries could never feed themselves. A number of statements were made that democracy could not survive. I don’t like these statements. And I think that they have been flawed in a number of areas of the world, not only have they been flawed but I suspect that as time evolves we will find that they have been definitively flawed.

If that is the case, something has been achieved. It may have cost an immense amount, in difficulty, in resources, in objectives which have not been fulfilled, but some very real basic objectives have been fulfilled. So I am not willing to say that no progress has been made. What I do believe is that there is another force working for us today which is the force of communication.

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Message to The International Islamic Conference (Amman, Jordan)

Our historic adherence is to the Jafari Madhhab and other Madhahib of close affinity, and it continues, under the leadership of the hereditary Ismaili Imam of the time. This adherence is in harmony also with our acceptance of Sufi principles of personal search and balance between the zahir and the spirit or the intellect which the zahir signifies.

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Statement at the Kabul Conference on Afghanistan (Kabul, Afghanistan)

AKDN is of the view that investing in the institutions of civil society and in their capacity to deliver services deserves far greater priority, attention, support and resources than has hitherto been the case, even as investments in rebuilding the State’s institutions continue. Civil society institutions are best able to take into consideration, to reflect, specific provincial or local political situations and socio-economic needs and opportunities. They are well placed to ensure that progress is both public and transparent, that good governance is observed as the norm, just as they are the best tools for ensuring better impact and for hastening visible socio-economic development.

There is need for a sub-national governance structure that is clear, efficient and transparent. There is no reason why planning or programming at the provincial or local level need either contradict or undermine central authority. On the contrary, bankable programmes need to be evolved and implemented that are synchronised with sub-national governance and policy and with the reintegration programme….

There needs to be a willingness to support small-scale and medium-level investments in the short term that may not immediately be considered financially sustainable by conventional measures, but which experience demonstrates are necessary to achieve medium to long-term returns and benefit.

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Edmonton Journal Interview, Keith Gerein, ‘Things become possible’ (Edmonton, Canada) ·· incomplete

People’s horizons are governed by their own context, and what is not in their context is outside their notions of perception. Unfortunately, I would say it is crisis-driven situations which are still dominating people’s attention. What we need to do is go into areas of high risk before they become critical. If you go in after they are critical, it’s too late. But the notion that many of these of crises can be reduced or avoided through anticipatory work is not part of strategic thinking in many parts of the world.

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Restored Forodhani Park Opening Ceremony (Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania)

The accomplishments we celebrate today, then, are a part of an ongoing story — and it is a story which has counterparts in many places around the world. In Cairo, in Damascus and Aleppo, in Delhi and Lahore, in Kabul and Bamako, in Mopti, Djenne and Timbuktu, and along the ancient Silk Route, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, through its Historic Cities Programme, has worked to restore a series of major cultural landmarks.

We undertake these projects, in part, because they can reinforce a sense of identity within proud communities, providing gateways to cultural understanding for local citizens and for visitors alike. But there is more to the matter than that. These cultural initiatives, in each case, have also been accompanied by a social and economic rationale, so that the entire project works to improve the well being of the people who live in these areas. How does this happen? It happens when many components come together — like pieces of a complex puzzle….

Our mandate is that no such project should require future support from government or any other institution, but should stand on its own, as an entirely independent engine of community progress.

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Humayan’s Tomb Site Museum Foundation Stone Ceremony (Delhi, India)

Through the centuries, millions of people have made their way here. They have come to see these architectural achievements, the oldest and largest Indo-Islamic architectural complex. They have come to admire the decorative genius that we have around us and to think about its continuing influence in contemporary life. They have come to enjoy the green spaces that are such an essential part of this complex, reflecting the profound harmony that can ideally unite our natural and our built environments. And now, as a new Museum is born on this site, visitors will be able to learn in greater depth why these legacies were built, how they served the court and society more generally, and what they have meant since.

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Address to the ‘Marketplace on Innovative Financial Solutions for Development’ Conference (Paris, France)

I would underscore the growing potential of what some call PPP’s — public-private partnerships. Such collaborations can tap the unique strengths of both sectors, overcoming outmoded dogmas which depreciate the role of the market-driven enterprises on the one hand, or which denigrate the capacities of publicly supported agencies on the other. Effective public-private partnerships must be genuinely participative, as committed leaders coordinate their thinking, sharing objectives, sharing strategies, sharing resources, sharing predictions. And this approach can be powerful, indeed very powerful, in the social and cultural development fields, not only in the more established economic one….

[F]inally, I would mention what many call “Quality of Life Assessments”, a more adequate way to measure the results of our work. Quite simply, we need to embrace a wider array of evaluative criteria, both quantitative and qualitative, elements which the poor themselves take into account when assessing their own well-being. As we measure outcomes with greater breadth, we will move beyond an excessive reliance on traditional categories, such as average productivity levels, or per acre yields, or per capita national product, or rates of population growth. Yes, these are all significant variables, but they come alive only as they transform the quality of daily living for the populations involved in ways in which they, and their children, can see and value.

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Acceptance Remarks – 2011 University of California San Francisco Medal (San Francisco, USA)

[I]n much of the world where we work, our problem is volatility — volatility in economics, in governments and so on and so forth. I think what we’ve learned is that the best answer to this volatility, in the countries where we are, is civil society and very often civil society is not an expression everyone is comfortable with. But I’ll try synthesise it by saying it is really the sum of human endeavour in structured, non-governmental organisations, that aim to impact positively all the key forces which condition people’s quality of life…. Now in developing civil society we are not trying to bring mediocrity to the Developing World. We’re trying to do exactly what UCSF is doing, which is to bring quality and excellence.

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Aleppo and Masyaf Citadels, and the Castle of Salah ad-Din, Opening Ceremony (Aleppo, Syria)

The background to this initiative is very simple. The background is to illustrate to the peoples of our world the history of the civilisations of the Ummah. We don’t do enough to illustrate to the peoples of our world the greatness of the Islamic civilisations, of the cultures of the past. And because they don’t know, they don’t know our history, they don’t know our literature, they don’t know our philosophy, they don’t know the physical environment in which our countries have lived. They view the Ummah in terminology which is completely wrong. And I personally feel that this is a matter of the greatest importance.

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