“Convivencia” — the Spanish word for living together harmoniously — is not a simple concept. It is, of course, the term used to describe the co-existence of different faiths in medieval Spain. The code of “convivencia” was about tolerance and much more. In Toledo, Córdoba and Granada it implied mutual respect as well as an appreciation of science and scholarship, and of different traditions. The acquisition of knowledge was not an end in itself, but rather a way to understand the beauty of God’s creation.

Of the several places in Europe where we are giving glimpses of masterpieces of Islamic art from the collection of the future Aga Khan Museum in Canada, Toledo is incomparable. Its history, spanning more than seven hundred years during which different religious communities lived together in peace, have made its name famous world-wide. Toledo reached its zenith and became one of the intellectual and scientific capitals of the world during the Islamic caliphate of Cordoba (929 – 1031).

“Convivencia” — the Spanish word for living together harmoniously — is not a simple concept. It is, of course, the term used to describe the co-existence of different faiths in medieval Spain. The code of “convivencia” was about tolerance and much more. In Toledo, Córdoba and Granada it implied mutual respect as well as an appreciation of science and scholarship, and of different traditions. The acquisition of knowledge was not an end in itself, but rather a way to understand the beauty of God’s creation.

“[C]onvivencia” implied norms of behaviour which had to be constantly reaffirmed through education and mutual understanding. It is encouraging to observe how the mix of peoples, cultures and faiths built an advanced society which was a beacon to the civilised world.

Doubtless, during this long period, religious tolerance ebbed and flowed between opposing poles of admiration and hostility. But ‘convivencia’ implied norms of behaviour which had to be constantly reaffirmed through education and mutual understanding. It is encouraging to observe how the mix of peoples, cultures and faiths built an advanced society which was a beacon to the civilised world.

There cannot be any doubt that with more “convivencia” the world today would be a better place, for us and for our children.

I believe strongly that the arts have a special and privileged role in fostering dialogue and knowledge. It is important, today, that the peoples of the Muslim world, their pluralism, the diversity of their interpretations of the Qur’anic faith, the chronological and geographical extent of their history and culture, as well as their ethnic, linguistic and social diversity be better understood. Without words and without proselytising, art works from “other” cultures bring discovery and understanding of the commonalities of our universal heritage. With this knowledge comes tolerance, hence “convivencia”. The main aim and function of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto will be to offer a space for learning and tolerance, and I hope it will have a seed of Toledo in its foundations.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

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