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

Featured Item  »»  Salgirah Mubarak, 2014

The NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings wishes all Salgirah Mubarak (click on the image to view the card).

Although birthdays are a time for celebration, they are also a time for reflection. Reflection on what one has accomplished in the previous year, and in life generally. While the accomplishments of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life are beyond tabulation — almost beyond comprehension, perhaps in that itself there is a lesson for us as we celebrate his 78th birthday.

In his 2006 Aga Khan University speech, Hazar Imam said, of his plans for the university, that “the path we have chosen is not easy to chart — and it is certainly not risk free. But it is both a necessary and an exciting road — filled with the promise of high adventure.” And 7 months later, at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, he said “we must infuse our students with [a] spirit of adventure.” Adventure takes courage. Courage to act. But then acting is where the thrill of life lies, for as Hazrat Ali said “the coward has no enjoyment of life” echoing US President Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote in his book Strenuous Life: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Whether as young Imams — like Hazar Imam in his 20s planning and developing the billion pound (in today’s currency) project at Sardinia or what would become the future Aga Khan University — or as older Imams, decisive, bold courage, the courage to act, the courage to act on their visions and “dare mighty things” is a consistent hallmark of our Imams. Never for a moment are they nonchalant because, as Hazrat Ali says, “to give yourself up to nonchalance is to lay up regrets” and of regret, at Brown University this year, Hazar Imam said “never regret [mistakes], but correct them.” And so perhaps, on Hazar Imam’s birthday, we should resolve to chart a new course, a course that commits us to act, to “make a dent in the universe” as Steve Jobs said, so on our next birthday we can count ourselves not among those who just dream, but among those who “dare mighty things”. Among those who Dare to Act.

In keeping with the theme of our card, we would like to share with you some of our favourite quotes from the Imamat on confidence, courage and the spirit of adventure:
Click here for the Imamat on confidence, courage and the spirit of adventure

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

Featured Item  »»  Address to the Conference on Afghanistan (London, United Kingdom)

Allow me to highlight four areas for consideration [vis a vis Afghanistan's development]:

First, we must focus on inclusive economic participation….

Second, we must accelerate human resource capacity creation from early childhood to tertiary education, including in particular, market-relevant skills development and vocational training….

Third, women’s participation in society is vital to ensure an improved quality of life….

Fourth, we recognise the importance of regional cooperation and trade. This requires stabilising Afghanistan’s frontiers….

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Featured Item  »»  3 Suggested Readings, by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, in commemoration of his 137th birthday anniversary

In commemoration of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III”s 137th birthday we are pleased to present 3 articles with advices for happiness and long life which are as relevant today as they were when given decades ago:

Click here to read: “My Philosophy of Happiness”, W. R. Titterton interview

Click here to read: “My Personal Life — What a man needs to be happy” Daily Sketch Interview

Click here to read: “How to live long”

Photographer: Sir (John) Benjamin Stone. Source: National Portrait Gallery, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.

Announcement of the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto, Canada) ·· incomplete

In situating [The Aga Khan Museum and Global Centre for Pluralism] in Canada, we acknowledge both a tradition of tolerance and inclusiveness as well as an environment that has permitted diversity to flourish, enriching civic life of each individual and community that has sought to make this country its home. It is to this commitment to pluralism that we will turn in seeking to make these institutions both a repository of heritage and a source of inspiration for societies the world over in the future.

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Archon Award Ceremony of Sigma Theta Tau International (Copenhagen, Denmark)

More than twenty-five years ago, these were some of the central concerns that led to the establishment of the Aga Khan University in Karachi and its School of Nursing…. Given the state of health services in Pakistan at that time, I felt it particularly important to create an institution in the country that could offer education in the health professions at international standards. This would ensure that the teaching and research programmes would be of the highest quality, but would also be grounded in local needs and realities, and that, if properly funded and led, could make a distinctive contribution on a permanent basis. In addition, a successful national institution would have the potential to provide leadership directly and through its graduates that would be felt in the professions and also in society more generally.

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Interview by Pierre Dumayet (Chantilly, France) ·· incomplete

FRENCH VIDEO ONLY: We regret that neither a transcript nor translation of this French interview video is available in the archive. We would be very grateful if any of our French speaking visitors would be kind enough to transcribe and/or translate the 11 minute video at the link below. Please click here for information on making submissions to NanoWisdoms; we thank you for your assistance.

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ZDF (heute.t-online.de) Interview (1st), Peter Frey (Berlin, Germany)

From what I can see [in Afghanistan], I would sense immense relief. Relief after decades of conflict, of poverty, of extremism and these are people who are tired and they are looking for a new future. And I think that is the greatest sense I have of what’s happening and it’s upto the international community, the Afghans, organisations such as mine, to turn this fatigue into a process of hope.

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Restored Monuments in Darb al-Ahmar, Opening Ceremony (Cairo, Egypt)

The first two reasons, then, for my special identification with this undertaking are its historical connections to the past, and the diverse and plural dimensions of its present. The third element, however, has to do with its sustainability in the future — and in discussing that future, two important questions come to mind.

They are, first, at what point of physical improvement can we consider that the areas of the Islamic city most at risk have been restored, rehabilitated and returned to their residents in a secured manner? And secondly, what can and should we do to ensure that the more than one million visitors per year who are likely to visit the Azhar Park in the future become an economic benefit rather than a potential economic burden for the residents of Darb al-Ahmar?

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Aga Khan Development Network and Government of Tanzania ‘Agreement of Co-operation for Development’ Signing Ceremony (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

The Aga Khan highlighted the importance to Tanzania’s future of its human resources. “Much of Africa and Asia have suffered from very poor tertiary education for decades,” the Aga Khan said. “We would like to be able to assist you,” he continued, noting that “building institutions in Africa and Asia is a long and complex exercise.”

Expressing concern, the Aga Khan also pointed to the need for “an extensive private-public collaboration in Africa of all agencies functioning in the healthcare field” to address HIV/AIDS, which he characterised as “a major threat to development in Africa.” “Its also an educational question, not just a care question,” he said, emphasising that the Aga Khan Health Network — not just the hospitals — is going to be involved in collaborating with international agencies and national governments “in trying first of all to assist those who are already in difficulty, but particularly also in educating people about the risks.”

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Seventh Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain)

Collectively the seventy-six projects selected for premiation over the last twenty years share a celebration of the humanity of inspired architecture, and confirm the potential of its social purposes. They are also distinguished by the pluralism of the cultures of the Islamic world in which they are rooted, a pluralism that all Master Juries have both honoured and trusted. This richness of cultural expression is even more fully documented in the materials collected on the hundreds of projects considered but not selected in each cycle of the Award. But what are the prospects for the pluralism of cultures in the Islamic world, their richness of expression, and their contributions to world culture as one looks ahead over the next twenty to forty years? On the basis of my extensive travels as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims or in connection with the activities of the Aga Khan Development Network, I feel there are grounds for serious concern….

The loss of our inheritance of cultural pluralism … will impoverish our societies now and into the future. Sustaining this inheritance will require conscious and concerted effort involving the best minds and most creative institutions around the world…. It will also necessitate that the cultures of the developing world establish a presence on the rapidly growing information superhighway to balance those that currently dominate the new electronic media. This will require an investment of time and resources and a mastery of regional and international languages. Unless these cultures develop creditable and creative ways to present themselves effectively in this new and powerful medium of communication, cultural pluralism will suffer a massive setback.

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Opening Address, Expressions of Islam in Buildings Seminar, ‘Faith, Tradition, Innovation, and the Built Environment’ (Jakarta and Yogyakarta, Indonesia)

The essence of the Aga Khan Award is to premiate outstanding quality in all principal aspects of the built environment for Muslims. We seek to identify excellence in landscaped spaces, restored buildings, social housing, high-tech constructions, and others, all over the world. The single binding theme is that the buildings or spaces be essentially used for those born into, or who have become a part of, the faith of Islam. It is a broad and glorious domain that we have defined. The invisible common thread that runs through it all, the “underlying theme” of that great design, is relevance to the common characteristic of being — in some way — related specially to Muslims….

In this seminar, the Award strives to look to the fountainhead of inspiration on which Muslims and non-Muslims draw to create the spaces and buildings we admire. What aspects of the social or religious backgrounds transpire into their creation? Is it their interpretation of their faith? Is it the ethic of their faith? Is it the rules of social conduct of their faith? And, indeed, the hard question has to be asked, is it their faith at all?

How do they perceive problems of scale, intimacy, regionalism? How do they choose materials, textures, and colours? What use do they make of water, flowers, and scent? Do they relate one or some, all or none, of these considerations to their faith, or to their ethic, or to a secular tradition? Is the secularisation of the modern Western world affecting their professional approach, or, on the contrary, is the search for an Islamic identity encouraging them to learn much more about their history and tradition than what their forefathers knew or learnt? If there is a return to the essence of their background, is it in the form of a search for identity, or is it in the form of a new commitment to their faith?

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Grant to the Om Habibeh Foundation (Aswan, Egypt)

Aswan and the people of Aswan, have a place of deep affection in my heart and within my family…. The programmes announced today intend to both continue, and also to build significantly on, the work begun by Begum Sultan Mahomed Shah. Our objective is to strengthen civil society at the grassroots by helping to improve community development organisations and by bringing to bear on critical needs in this area, the panoply of experience and resources of the Aga Khan Development Network.

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State visit to Canada (Ottawa, Canada)

Expressing his gratitude to the Canadian Government for what he termed “an outstanding partnership,” the Aga Khan observed that the programmes on which the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the AKDN had worked together in Africa and South Asia could now be extended further in Central Asia. “The capacity that we have been able to build together and our joint experience,” said the Aga Khan, “can help minimise the fragility of the start-up situation in Afghanistan.”

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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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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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University of Central Asia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan Campuses Foundation Stone Ceremony (Khorog, Tajikistan; Naryn, Kyrgyzstan) ·· incomplete

We are talking about something of the order of 40m people who live in the highest mountain ranges in the world, with the Karakorum and the Pamir…. In Afghanistan I think [the univeristy] will have a role. In north-west Pakistan I think it will have a role; in western China also. And Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey — all these countries that have high mountain populations…. (BBC, 5 July 2004)

We are celebrating the foundation of a unique institution. By creating intellectual space and resources, the university will bring the power of education and human ingenuity to the economic and social challenges of mountain societies in Central Asia and elsewhere…. There are two measures of success of any university. The careers of its graduates, and the quality of research, which is carried out in the universities and then is used for the benefit of the communities that the university serves.

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Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony (London, United Kingdom)

I am often struck by the imbalance of comprehension between the Christian and Islamic cultures. Of course, in government and well-informed specialised institutions — universities for example — the perception is accurate. But the general public in the West is too often shown the Ummah — the worldwide community of 800 million Muslims — as a monolithic block of believers whose national political disputes are part of their religion.

Such a distorted portrayal of the true background both causes unnecessary misunderstanding of Islamic questions and hinders mature response to them. In reality, certain expressions of political action cannot be considered representative of that faith of peace, which so many millions of people practise every day. Nor, because their majority is rural and isolated, are its feelings reported. The silent majority is indeed silent

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Philip Jodidio Interview (2nd) published in ‘Under the Eaves of Architecture’, ‘The Processes of Change’ (London, United Kingdom)

The vast majority of buildings in the developing world are not “architectured” buildings in the sense of the Western profession. That does not mean that quality buildings do not happen. They happen through a whole series of different processes, and not just the architectural process. The inherited knowledge of builders is remarkable. There is a whole body of inherited knowledge in developing countries, and in the Islamic world in particular, which is not driven by Western definitions of architecture.

When the Award started, the question arose about whether we were talking about that small window of “architectured” buildings in this enormous environment or whether we were talking about the whole process of change of that environment? … Very early on there was consensus that the Aga Khan Award could not be just for “architectured” buildings, it had to be an award for quality buildings no matter what the process of their creation…. The Award was very definitely an initiative to recognise the processes of building quality….

I think that the Award must evolve. Institutions that do not evolve tend to get marginalised. There are needs ahead of us which must be addressed by the Award. The biggest concern I would have is to recognise the processes of change, and to be certain that the Award plays an appropriate role in working with those processes so that they are not exclusive of quality in design or environmental concerns.

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The Age Interview, Geoffry Barker, ‘Aga Khan: Enigma of East and West’ (Melbourne, Australia; Nairobi, Kenya)

You make no claim to be divine. But do you believe you are divinely guided?

Divinity is a very difficult thing to define in verbal terminology. Therefore I would object to anything which uses the term divine in my context. I have inherited an office and I seek to fulfil that office to the best of my judgement. To tell you what inspires that judgement … I don’t think any individual can answer that question. You seek within yourself that which tells you what is the right thing to do.

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Aga Khan Award for Architecture Seminar and Exhibition on winning projects in Burkina Faso and West Africa (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)

[Official translation] The improvement of rural housing is obviously an important goal in the development process, first to improve the quality of life in rural populations, which are often the poorest in these countries, but also to pass on the message that, for a start, these people are not forgotten by those who support national growth in their country. Moreover, they do not need to adopt an urban life in order to build a stable and promising future in the medium and long term.

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Jamati Institutional Leaders Dinner (Vancouver, Canada) ·· incomplete

I am infinitely proud, infinitely proud of the leadership that is coming from Canada, or from communities that have left their homelands in difficult circumstances, built a new future for themselves here in Canada, empathised with Canadian values and are able today to bring back to their home countries not only new knowledge, new competencies, but also Canadian values.

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Centro Ismaili, Lisbon, Opening Ceremony (Lisbon, Portugal)

Although my faith and office place upon me a distinctive perspective and role, I am most certainly not alone in my concern about the pace and direction of change at this moment in history. In recognition of the critical problems of human welfare confronting today’s world, and the role faiths can play in contributing to their resolution, Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mr. James D Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, convened a Dialogue on “World Faiths and Development” earlier this year. Leaders of nine world faiths participated: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Tao.

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Aga Khan University and McMaster University ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ Signing Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

I view this as an agreement of a much wider spectrum of importance and outcome than you might think, simply by talking about the profession of nursing. In the past years we have seen a number of countries in the developing world enter into the dimension of what I call failure of competent democratic government. A number of countries have run into difficulty; constitutional management, economic management, the management of pluralist societies. When governments are fragile, it is civil society which comes in and sustains the development process. Professional nursing, educating women, is an absolutely fundamental pillar to the building of society.

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