I believe that Islamic cultures have immense power and immense opportunity. It is up to us Muslims to illustrate those civilisations, those cultures of the past and the present. And one of the ways to do so is to revive the effectiveness of cultural assets in communicating to people. And historic buildings do not need to be thought of only as unproductive buildings.

Cultural assets can and should become contributors to cultural dialogue, cultural understanding, pride in one’s heritage and make an economic contribution to the country. And this is why it is so important to develop the leisure industry not only in terminology of modern buildings, but cultural assets speak to people. And if we want to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding between many countries in the Ummah and other countries outside the Ummah, one of the ways to do so, I believe, is to have our cultural assets speak for our history, speak for our traditions, speak for our values, speak for our ethics.

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The Syrian Government and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) yesterday signed three landmark agreements designed to strengthen collaboration in the areas of micro-finance, healthcare, and cultural tourism. Syria’s Prime Minister, His Excellency Mohamed Naji Al-Otri and His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual Leader) and founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network attended the signing ceremony at the Prime Minister’s office in Syria’s capital, Damascus.

The Aga Khan and the Prime Minister then shared a few remarks with the media assembled at the event. The Aga Khan delivered the following prepared statement.

Mr. Prime Minister:

I would like to begin these comments this morning by thanking you and your Government for the very warm welcome that you have accorded to me on this Golden Jubilee visit to Syria.

The Aga Khan Development Network is only effective when there is an open, frank and sincere dialogue with the decision-makers in every country where we work. And you have provided that open, thoughtful dialogue to us so that we are able to develop programs together. When we entered into this agreement in 2001, I mentioned to your Excellency that The Aga Khan Development Network has one particularity which is that it operates in a number of different fields — in the cultural field, in the economic field, in the social field, educational field, healthcare field — and it does that because these areas over the years have appeared to us to be critical areas for development processes in various parts of the world. And that was one of the exciting opportunities which we shared which was that The Aga Khan Development Network could work with the Government and people and institutions in Syria to bring multiple partnerships together. And what we are seeing today is how these multiple partnerships are coming into existence.

First of all we are concerned about poverty. And there is no doubt I think in anybody’s mind that micro-credit and the opportunities of service which micro-credit provides for poor people is an amazingly powerful resource. Good institutions, institutions that reach best practice measured in global terms, are critical for any country in the world, however well-developed it is. And building institutional capacity in Syria jointly in healthcare, in education, is a goal which I think we have shared since we started our discussions. And the agreement that was signed with regard to higher education and institution-building, enters directly into that area.

I believe that Islamic cultures have immense power and immense opportunity. It is up to us Muslims to illustrate those civilisations, those cultures of the past and the present. And one of the ways to do so is to revive the effectiveness of cultural assets in communicating to people. And historic buildings do not need to be thought of only as unproductive buildings. Cultural assets can and should become contributors to cultural dialogue, cultural understanding, pride in one’s heritage and make an economic contribution to the country. And this is why it is so important to develop the leisure industry not only in terminology of modern buildings, but cultural assets speak to people. And if we want to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding between many countries in the Ummah and other countries outside the Ummah, one of the ways to do so, I believe, is to have our cultural assets speak for our history, speak for our traditions, speak for our values, speak for our ethics.

Syria makes all this possible. And I want to thank the Prime Minister and his Government for the enormous opportunity that they have given The Aga Khan Development Network to contribute in these areas which we believe could be important for the future of Syria but also many, many other countries.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

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