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

Featured Item  »»  Remarks introducing Justice Albie Sachs, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Fifth Annual Lecturer (Toronto, Canada)

Justice Sachs’ career has been a truly inspiring one. He has been a heroic freedom fighter, an insightful legal scholar, a compelling author and for fifteen years a member of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. And, as most of you undoubtedly know, he was a chief architect of South Africa’s new, post apartheid Constitution, one of the most admired Constitutions in the world….

Constitution-making requires a strong sense of idealism, married to a practical sense of realism. It requires a willingness to listen as competing priorities are expressed, and a readiness to negotiate as differences are reconciled. As the challenges of governance grow in complex and changing societies, a widely respected Constitution is essential to the preservation of peace and the pursuit of progress.

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Featured Item  »»  Navroz Mubarak, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Featured Item  »»  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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Interview with an unidentified media outlet, #1 (Cairo, Egypt) ·· incomplete

And you’re asking can this concentration of assets become a trampoline for economic and social development. And the answer is very clearly, yes.

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

[In India] the track record of an urban housing finance institution has been so good that the creation of a specialised agency for the financing of rural housing is being envisaged. We all know the problems which Indian agriculture has had to face. If it is realistic to envisage institutional private sector financing for rural housing there, then three conclusions are obvious

Firstly, there is more wealth in agricultural communities than is often recognised, whether its source is easily identifiable or not. Secondly, if Indian agricultural areas appear able to justify a viable specialised housing finance agency, could the same not be true of Egypt? Thirdly, anything which is done to improve the quality of life in rural areas, such as the provision of housing, must contribute to stemming the flow of people from the countryside to the cities.

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CTV Canada AM Interview, Norm Perry (Ottawa, Canada)

One of the main causes we hear of the strife in Iran is that the Shah wants progress…. Many of the religious leaders in Iran are opposed to that. They think the conservative approach is best. You yourself are a modern man, Harvard educated, very much a Western oriented man in education and learning. So doesn’t that sort of put you and, in that sense, your people, against what seems to be a majority of feeling in Iran?

It might do. It might do. I think the main issue really is how the Mullahs or in my case the Imam, view the compatibility or the incompatibility of Islam with the modern world, and as far as my family is concerned, my community is concerned, we don’t run away from that. We are not prepared to say that there is a basic conflict between the modern world and our practice of Islam. I am not sure that this conflict is seen by all Ithnashri Muslims in Iran. I don’t think it is.

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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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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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Bloomberg Interview (1st), Gavin Serkin, ‘Aga Khan Seeks Profit in Afghan Tourism, Tajik Mountain Farms’ (New York, USA) ·· incomplete

Aside from philanthropic ventures … the Aga Khan’s for-profit arm seeks to create viable businesses in the region. … “It’s essentially about developing entrepreneurial capability in the developing world.”

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State Banquet (Maputo, Mozambique)

Over the past fourteen years of post-conflict history you have gone from negative growth rates in the range of eight percent a year, to positive growth rates in the same range! That is a remarkable accomplishment. [Y]our recent progress has been built on sound principles and, for that reason, Mozambique has become a valuable model for the whole of the developing world. Your growth record is one of the best in Africa, built neither on diamonds nor on oil as Prime Minister Diogo has put it, but on the development of human potential and the consolidation of the democratic processes. Mozambique has learned to set careful priorities — to establish clear markers for progress, and then, carefully, to measure its progress against those indicators.

One of the prime qualities which recommends Mozambique as a model is your reliance on professional expertise rather than ideological caveats. In that spirit, you have built a broad consensus among many stakeholders, public and private, from civil society, and from the international community. In pursuing your great goals, you have been inclusive, rather than exclusive. In an era when frustration often breeds cynicism concerning the possibility of progress, Mozambique can provide inspiration and encouragement to other post conflict societies.

The key ingredient in all of these efforts, within Mozambique and in its regional neighbourhood, is a spirit of genuine partnership — an understanding that we can do things together that we can never do separately.

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Address to the Avignon Forum ‘The value and importance of cultural diversity and its role in promoting peace and development’ (Avignon, France)

In a world that claims to be globalised, there are some who might regard cultural standardisation as natural, even desirable. For my part, I believe that marks of individual and group cultural identity generate an inner strength which is conducive to peaceful relations. I also believe in the power of plurality, without which there is no possibility of exchange. In my view, this idea is integral to the very definition of genuine quality of life….

I want to talk to you today about my efforts to defend these cultures, through the Aga Khan Development Network, and specifically through its dedicated agency, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. [The Trust’s activities] obey three key principles:

  • to increase the beneficiaries’ independence,
  • to involve local communities, and
  • to secure the support of public and private partners.

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Acceptance Address – Cartier Racing Awards’ Horse of the Year for Zarkava (London, United Kingdom) ·· incomplete

Sometimes we are associated with fast ladies and this is a case when I am very happy to be associated with a fast lady! …

I want to say that, as a traditional breeder, Zarkava is probably the greatest reward that any breeder could ever have. If you are in this industry and you like breeding and not only racing this is the greatest, greatest reward that any owner could have because whether we admit it or not — and men can be kind of macho — we depend on the ladies in this game. They are the ones who produce the winners. And some of them we try to make faster than others.

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Address to the Global Philanthropy Forum (Washingon D.C., USA + [Canada])

[Why have our development] efforts over five decades not borne greater fruit? Measured against history, where have things gone wrong? Given the progress we have made in so many fields, why have we been so relatively ineffective in sharing that progress more equitably, and in making it more permanent?

My response centres on one principal observation: I believe the industrialised world has often expected developing societies to behave as if they were similar to the established nation states of the West, forgetting the centuries, and the processes which moulded the Western democracies. Forgotten, for one thing, is the fact that economic development in Western nations was accompanied by massive urbanisation.

Yet today, in the countries of Asia and Africa where we work, over 70 percent of the population is rural. If you compare the two situations, they are one and a half to two and half centuries apart. Similarly, the profound diversity of these impoverished societies, infinitely greater than that among nascent European nation states, is too often unrecognised, or under-estimated, or misunderstood. Ethnic, religious, social, regional, economic, linguistic and political diversities are like a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day.

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Pakistan Television Corporation Interview (Karachi, Pakistan)

I think in terms of, let us say, the philosophical environment in which an individual lives, there is no doubt that the faith of Islam places the individual in society in the world in which he lives, in a position where he is not in conflict with his time and he is not in conflict with science and technology of his time. The eternal values of Islam are such that whether the man lived a hundred years ago or lives a hundred years from now, he is always in his correct position. There is no conflict. So in terms of the humanistic, permanent values of a faith, I would say that obviously Islam puts an individual in a very privileged position….

I would like [the] essence of the faith to be more predominant in everyone’s life. Go back to the origins of Islam. It was a faith practised in a land with no physical frontiers. The concept of the modern state is not really an Islamic concept. Islam was a brotherhood, is a brotherhood…. [T]he generosity of people’s attitudes towards their brothers around the world…. Secondly, living in the context of the moral discipline of Islam, I think, is important because living in a society where freedom eventually becomes equated with license, is not what I would want.

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Darwaz Bridge Opening Ceremony (Darwaz, Tajikistan; Darwaz, Afghanistan)

The [Tajikistan/Afghanistan AKDN sponsored] bridges carry lessons important for all of us working in mountain environments, which is, that small investments in critical infrastructure enable people to come together, to work together, and to gain better use of economic and social opportunity.

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Address to the National Building Museum’s Scully Seminar/Symposium (Washington D.C., USA)

I profoundly believed that architecture is not just about building; it is a means of improving people’s quality of life…. I am pleased that 28 years later, we have had some success in achieving our original goals [of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture]. We are gratified that so many others now are engaged in the cause. We have created a momentum that has become a self-sustaining and unstoppable force for change in the human habitat of the Muslim world. And I am most pleased the principles we have established are having an impact in much of the developed world as well.

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Jamati Institutional Leaders Dinner (Kampala, Uganda) ·· incomplete

And what is the nature of a strong institution? It is the quality of its leadership. And in that sense, my happiness this evening it to be able to say to you that is through the quality of your leadership, your efforts, your endeavours, your commitment that this jamat in Uganda [and] in other countries of the world has built international credibility, and is very, very highly regarded around the world. That is not the Imam’s doing, that is the jamat’s doing.

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Acceptance Address – Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy (Edinburgh, Scotland)

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.

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Launch of ArchNet.org at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, USA)

Historically, the Islamic world has stood out in the area of design, but if you look at higher education in the Islamic world [there are problems]. This is a historically powerful tool usable on a global scale, a living encyclopedia of knowledge and ideas, of peoples and cultures. (AP, 27 Sep 2002)

As trustees of God’s creation, we are instructed to seek to leave the world a better place than it was when we came into it. If ArchNet can help bring values into environments, buildings, and contexts that make the quality of life better for future generations than it is today, it will have served its purpose.

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Ninth Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (New Delhi, India)

The issues we have been attempting to address through the process of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture are not exclusive to the Muslim world. The non-Muslim world struggles equally with explosive population growth, poverty, environmental degradation, exodus from rural areas, globalisation and the impact on cultural identity of new forms of media. I hope that the lessons learned in the process we have established would be applicable to the many others in similar circumstances. Perhaps these lessons will one day be seen as an important contribution from the Muslim world: A contribution to the broader cause of maintaining and enhancing a multi-cultural, pluralist world and a responsive, appropriate human habitat.

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Aga Khan Park Opening Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

The Park and its Gardens can serve as a symbol of “connection” in other ways as well. Among them are rich connections across time linking us to the past. The Garden has for many centuries served as a central element in Muslim culture. The Holy Qur’an, itself, portrays the Garden as a central symbol of a spiritual ideal — a place where human creativity and Divine majesty are fused, where the ingenuity of humanity and the beauty of nature are productively connected. Gardens are a place where the ephemeral meets the eternal, and where the eternal meets the hand of man.

The tradition of Islamic Gardens places an emphasis on human stewardship, our responsibility to nature and to protect the natural world. We see that principle expressed in the disciplined use of geometric form — framing the power and mystery of nature. And, of course, the Garden of ancient tradition, like the Garden here today, is a place where — whatever difficult moments may come our way — we can always find, in the flow of refreshing water, a reminder of Divine blessing.

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Jamati Institutional Leaders Dinner (Singapore) ·· incomplete

I thought that you would be pleased to know that I have selected Singapore as one of our partners in looking at development opportunities in the future, not only in the Far East, but globally…. What do we share with Singapore? First of all, I think we share a very strong commitment to human knowledge. To the notion of competence. To the notion of quality. To the notion of developing human society around value systems which are strong. Secondly, we share the notion of a pluralist society where peoples of different backgrounds come together to work towards a common goal. So we have many aspects of our principles of development which we share with Singapore and I am happy to tell you that it is my intention to develop a permanent base here in Singapore.

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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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