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

Featured Item  »»  FULL EVENT VIDEO: Samuel L & Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture and apres lecture conversation with Diana L. Eck, Harvard University (Cambridge, USA)

Yesterday, in Cambridge, USA, in what we believe is the first time he has been invited to speak at his alma mater, Harvard University, His Highness the Aga Khan delivered the prestigious Samuel L & Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture. The lecture was followed with a conversation with Diana L. Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Member of the Faculty of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School, and Director, Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

Although Harvard graciously provided us permission to reproduce the webcast, and for which we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude, we were unable to do so because, unfortunately, the webcast suffered severe technical problems (a situation which can happen to even the best of of us and only serves to remind us of the Aga Khan’s words that “only Allah is perfect”). We are, therefore, pleased to bring you Harvard’s copy of the event’s full webcast — uncut and unedited from start to finish — and which, being hosted on Vimeo, should be available to those without access to YouTube.

Featured Item  »»  Samuel L & Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture and apres lecture conversation with Diana L. Eck, Harvard University (Cambridge, USA)

For a very long time, as you know, the term most often used in describing the search for human understanding was the word “tolerance.” In fact, it was one of the words that was used in 1955 text to describe one of the objectives of this Jodidi Lecture. In recent years our vocabulary in discussing this subject has evolved. One word that we have come to use more often in this regard is the word “pluralism.” And the other is the word “cosmopolitan.”

You may know that our AKDN Network, a decade ago, cooperated with the Government of Canada to create a new Global Centre for Pluralism based in Ottawa, designed to study more closely the conditions under which pluralist societies can thrive.

A pluralist, cosmopolitan society is a society which not only accepts difference, but actively seeks to understand it and to learn from it. In this perspective, diversity is not a burden to be endured, but an opportunity to be welcomed.

A cosmopolitan society regards the distinctive threads of our particular identities as elements that bring beauty to the larger social fabric. A cosmopolitan ethic accepts our ultimate moral responsibility to the whole of humanity, rather than absolutising a presumably exceptional part. Perhaps it is a natural condition of an insecure human race to seek security in a sense of superiority. But in a world where cultures increasingly inter-penetrate one another, a more confident and a more generous outlook is needed. What this means, perhaps above all else, is a readiness to participate in a true dialogue with diversity, not only in our personal relationships, but in institutional and international relationships also. But that takes work, and it takes patience. Above all, it implies a readiness to listen. What is needed, as the former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson has said, and I quote, is a readiness “to listen to your neighbour, even when you may not particularly like him.” Is that message clear? You listen to people you don’t like!

A thoughtful cosmopolitan ethic is something quite different from some attitudes that have become associated with the concept of globalisation in recent years. Too often, that term has been linked to an abstract universalism, perhaps well-meaning but often naïve. In emphasising all that the human race had in common, it was easy to depreciate the identities that differentiated us. We sometimes talked so much about how we are all alike that we neglected the wonderful ways in which we can be different.

Read more »

Featured Item  »»  Radio Tanzania Interview (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

And finally we would like to give you an opportunity to give special message to all youths in Tanzania. Specially those who are getting on with life in say schools or universities. You can tell them anything at all …

Well, thank you very much. I have spoken to the students at the schools which we run here, Aga Khan Schools in Tanzania, and I think they know my thoughts on the question of education. Basically I believe that those students who are at school now should keep in the back of their minds the fact that this is the time and the only time that they can prepare themselves for the future to serve their country, to serve their own families and to serve organisations they take part and I think if they would keep this realisation in the back of their minds, during their educational career, they will succeed in bringing into their studies a sense of purpose which might not be there if they failed to realise that once they complete their education they cannot put the clock back any more than I have been able to in sports for example. They either complete their education and make a success of it and then go ahead and try to make success of their lives or they mess up their education and there is little chance they will be of much success afterwards.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Conversations In Integration: ‘Effective Pluralism requires Concerted Efforts’ published on (Canada)

It has never been easy for people to live together. Wiping away superficial misunderstandings will not by itself allow a spontaneous spirit of accommodation to blossom. To do so will require concerted, deliberate efforts to build social institutions and cultural habits which take account of difference, which see diversity as an opportunity rather than a burden. We can begin by looking at the structures of public governance.

Read more »

Address to the Evora University Symposium, ‘Cosmopolitan Society, Human Safety and Rights in Plural and Peaceful Societies’ (Evora, Portugal + [Canada])

A deepening sense of spiritual commitment, and the ethical framework that goes with it, will be a central requirement if we are to find our way through the minefields and the quick sands of modern life. A strengthening of religious institutions should be a vital part of this process. To be sure, freedom of religion is a critical value in a pluralistic society. But if freedom of religion deteriorates into freedom from religion, then societies will find themselves lost in a bleak and unpromising landscape with no compass, no roadmap and no sense of ultimate direction.

What I am calling for, in sum, is an ethical sensibility which can be shared across denominational lines and which can foster a universal moral outlook.

In conclusion, then, I would ask you think with me about these three requirements: a new emphasis on civil institutions, a more rigorous concern for educational excellence, and a renewed commitment to ethical standards. For these are all ways in which we can encourage a climate of positive pluralism in our world and thus help meet the current crisis of democracy.

Read more »

State Banquet (Antananarivo, Madagascar)

Our duty is to try to free people from poverty. And to me, poverty means being without shelter, without protection, without access to healthcare, education, or credit, and without hope of ever controlling one’s own destiny. This means condemning one’s children and grandchildren to unacceptable living conditions. A voluntarist and innovative strategy is needed in order to break this chain of despair and total imprisonment.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Brown University Commencement Ceremony (Providence, USA)

From the seventh century to the thirteenth century, the Muslim civilisations dominated world culture, accepting, adopting, using and preserving all preceding study of mathematics, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, among other areas of learning. The Islamic field of thought and knowledge included and added to much of the information on which all civilisations are founded. And yet this fact is seldom acknowledged today, be it in the West or in the Muslim world, and this amnesia has left a six hundred year gap in the history of human thought….

Little of what was discovered and written by Muslim thinkers during the classical period is taught in any educational institutions. And when it is, due credit is not given. This gap in global knowledge of the history of thought, and the faith, of a billion people is illustrated in innumerable ways, including in such diverse worlds as that of communication and of architecture. Our cultural absence in the general knowledge of the Western world, partially explains why your media sees Islamic world and its thought as an ideological or political determinant in predominantly Muslim cultures, and refers to mere individuals affiliated with terrorist organisations as Muslim first and only then by their national origin or ideological or political goals.

Read more »

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

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.

Read more »

India Today Interview (2nd), Sandeep Unnithan, ‘What keeps him on course with reviving cultural heritage in developing world’ (Delhi, India)

I think what drives our network is to enable people to manage their destinies. Once they manage their destinies, you will see, generally speaking, a take-off situation. It’s when they cannot manage their destinies and cannot achieve a level of economic independence that they are indebted in a terrible way or are subject to climate change because they are in agriculture or because they are high-risk and they have an earthquake — these are situations which we try to assist. We are not interested in philanthropy in a Western terminology as I would call it, because philanthropy or what they call it, charity, is not our notion of development. Our notion of development is to assist people to go from a notion of an unsatisfactory position of development to an autonomous position. That to us is what is important. Once they are autonomous, our role is finished. They can manage their destiny….

I think about what I used to read about India, China — you remember, the word most used by the Western media was “basket-case” (laughs). I think over and muse over the stupidity of that word, and how silly it looks today, in relation to India and China. I wonder where the basket is nowadays, probably it is moving to other places.

Read more »

Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

It is not so often that we have an opportunity of this sort — to come together in a beautiful setting, in a wonderful spirit of friendship, and to dedicate such a splendid architectural accomplishment….

When I mentioned that our planning for this complex began 18 years ago, some of you probably wondered how people sustained their enthusiasm through such a long process. Yes 18 years! My response is to say that throughout these 18 years, we have been inspired by a great sense of common purpose, as we have sought to create places and spaces of true enlightenment. And, in doing so, we have also been strengthened by a pronounced spirit of friendship. And what a joy it is to celebrate that spirit, at a time when so much of the world’s attention is focused on climates of belligerence.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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

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.

Read more »

State Banquet (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

The commitment to cooperate is not only essential among peoples of different ethnic or religious backgrounds, or different classes, or philosophies. We must also build stronger bridges of cooperation between different sectors of social and economic leadership. I am pleased, for example, to be hearing more and more these days about “public/private partnerships. As we learn to work across the public/private dividing line, we can do things together we could never do separately….

I am pleased to announce the Aga Khan University’s decision to build a major new campus in East Africa — and to locate that campus in Arusha…. It is the biggest expansion step for the Aga Khan University since it opened in Pakistan almost 25 years ago. This new campus will be built over a period of fifteen years with a total investment of some 450 million dollars. It will include a new Faculty of Arts and Sciences and several graduate professional schools. It will be committed to teaching and research of world-class standards.

Read more »

NBC Interview, Richard Engel, ‘A Hollywood stepson and a Muslim leader’ (USA)

I certainly think the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake. We had crisis situations before that. We had them in Kashmir. We had them in the Middle East. If you look at the origins of those crises, they were political not religious. At the moment, it’s the horrible conflicts which are dominating the image of the Islamic world and I can say without one iota of fear that is totally wrong, totally wrong. You had wars in the Christian world, you had wars in the Jewish world. But you don’t define them in theological terms anymore, except Northern Ireland.

Read more »

Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Awards’ Dinner (London, United Kingdom)

If interpretation is well founded and based on good observation, it can then be used as logic. Measured across the nearly 80 years of my family’s thoroughbred breeding in Europe, and the large number of bloodlines which we have managed and developed, I feel bold enough to say that logic has played a greater role than luck.

Read more »

Interview featured in PBS/E2 Series’ ‘A Garden in Cairo’ (USA)

There is an often quoted ayat [of the Qur’an] which says that you should leave the world in a better environment than you found it. You have a responsibility of legacy of God’s creation of the world, to improve that legacy from generation to generation. So there’s an ethical premise to it.

Read more »

Paris Match Interview (2nd), Caroline Pigozzi (Paris, France)

[Translation] Who in your mind are the strongmen of the Muslim world of tomorrow?

First of all, those who represent serious politics and economic courage among whom I name the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the King Hussein of Jordan, the King Hassan of Morocco, or even the President Suharto of Indonesia, the Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamed of Malaysia or President Akaev of Kyrgyzstan.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Dinner hosted by President of Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)

[Google translation] Formal links with the Imamat West Africa dates back to 1960 when a young Imam, I had the opportunity to visit several countries in the region. At the time, this country was called Upper Volta. But our informal links back to a much longer time since historians speak because of trade in the 12th century between the scholars of the University of Sankore in Timbuktu and al-Azhar university institute founded in Cairo in early 10th century by my ancestor, Imam-Caliph al-Muizz Fatimid. So Mr. President, our reports are very very old.

Read more »

Visit to Mali (Timbuktu, Djenne & Bamako, Mali)

The ingenuity and imagination of peoples of the developing world continue, unfortunately, to remain untapped resources…. Our experience from Aleppo to Zanzibar has taught us that private initiative, properly applied and encouraged, can help revitalise historic cities of the Islamic world, even in resource-poor environments. Through interventions ranging from micro-finance, skills development, healthcare and sanitation, to investment in high-end tourism and urban development, we have been able to catalyse a process of change which an empowered local population itself will have the capacity to sustain.

Read more »

Funding Agreement for the Global Centre for Pluralism Signing Ceremony (Ottawa, Canada)

As Canadians know so well, the idea of pluralism is not a new one in this world. It has honourable and ancient foundations, including deep roots in Islamic tradition. What is new, today, is that society is globalised, intimately interconnected and extraordinarily interdependent. (1)

[Google translation] Many factors have contributed to this new order: the end of the Cold War, the advanced techniques of transport and communications, accelerated migration of peoples. But the impact of these forces is likely to intensify in the future. In my opinion, what we face now is a new and challenging period in human history, where the values and practices are more pluralistic secular just desirable — they have become absolutely essential — not only for the future of the world but also for our very survival.

Read more »

Luncheon hosted by Premier of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)

Knowledge in its purest form is often abrasive. When this knowledge comes into [developing countries’] societies it creates difficulties, creates reactions because the societies are not prepared for pure knowledge. What Canada has done is it has humanised that knowledge.

Read more »