[T]he quality of life is determined by a number of different factors that are, in my view, not limited to the World Bank indicators on longevity, or health, or the economic welfare of an individual, or a community.

To the Imamat, the meaning of “quality of life’ extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being, measured generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background.

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Interviewer: Waddah Abed Rabbo

Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Imam of the Ismaili Muslim, has accentuated the importance of his visit to Syria for “it is very special” to him. In an interview by Al Watan, he says:

I have had the pleasure of visiting Syria on numerous occasions and Jam very happy to be here at the invitation of the Syrian Government — as you know, the Ismaili Imamat and community have been linked to Syria for many centuries.

As a founder of the Aga Khan Development Network, Prince Aga Khan spoke about it and about its activities in Syria.

(He further praised) Syria’s rich and pluralistic cultural heritage (that) makes our projects here particularly interesting and encouraging ones.

(Prince Karim Aga Khan hoped to) launch several new initiatives in the fields of culture, tourism, healthcare, education and micro finance with the kind support of the Syrian Government.

(Prince Karim Aga Khan suggested that) cultural revitalisation can provide a socioeconomic catalyst for the overall improvement of a district.

(And that) the improvements to the cultural heritage went hand in hand with the creation of economic opportunities for local people and the improvement of social services such as health and education. Iinvesting in cultures and value systems, and making them effective in the contemporary context is, I think, a major aspect of development.

Waddah Abed Rabbo: What is the nature of Your Highness’ visit to Syria and what are the specific objectives of Your Highness’ visit to Syria?

His Highness the Aga Khan: I have had the pleasure of visiting Syria on numerous occasions and I am very happy to be here at the invitation of the Syrian Government, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of my accession to the hereditary office of the Shia Ismaili Imamat. I met with President Al-Assad yesterday, and over the next few days, I will meet the Prime Minister and his various cabinet colleagues and leaders to review and discuss the work undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Syria. We also hope to launch several new initiatives in the fields of culture, tourism, healthcare, education and micro-finance with the kind support of the Syrian Government. The visit to Syria is a very special one for me as you know, the Ismaili Imamat and community have been linked to Syria for many centuries.

WAR: What can you tell us about the Park project?

We are exploring with the Governorate of Aleppo the scope for creating a major urban park on the edge of the old city (adjacent to the historic gateway of Bab Qinnesrine).

AK: We are exploring with the Governorate of Aleppo the scope for creating a major urban park on the edge of the old city (adjacent to the historic gateway of Bab Qinnesrine). A park project would focus on an improvement in the quality of life of the Old City’s residents and on the creation of high quality facilities for its visitors. Such a project would be part of an urban regeneration project in the nearby Qalat al-Sharif neighbourhood. A park could lead to the revitalisation of the area, much as similar programmes have already improved the quality of life in parts of Kabul and Cairo. Such projects are also under development in India, Zanzibar and Mali.

The Park builds on a programme that began in 2000, when the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in cooperation with the Syrian General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, began work on the Citadels of Aleppo and Masyaf, and the Castle of Salah ad-Din. We are here to mark the completion of that work as well.

WAR: How long has AKDN been present in the country? What types of work has it undertaken?

AK: AKDN involvement began in 1999, when the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and Museums asked the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to provide technical assistance for the conservation and reuse of a number of historic citadel sites in the country. The Citadels of Aleppo and Masyaf and the Castle of Salah ad-Din were selected for this restoration work. These projects, as well as our many other activities — in rural development, economic promotion, healthcare, education and micro-finance, all form part of our multi-input strategy, and are undertaken within a Framework for Development Cooperation Agreement, between AKDN and the Government of Syria, which was ratified by the Syrian Parliament in 2002.

WAR: Why is restoration work, such as what has been carried out on the Aleppo citadels, important?

AK: We have found, in a number of settings in the Muslim world, that cultural revitalisation can provide a socio-economic catalyst for the overall improvement of a district. {These historic sites are potential economic and social dynamos. They are not frozen, paralysed historic assets. They are assets that can actually contribute to the quality of life of the people who live in those contexts.} (1) We have seen this work in Cairo, where we built a park and restored a number of cultural monuments in one of the poorest areas of the City. We have seen this work when we restored the Gardens of Humayun’s tomb in Delhi. In both places, the improvements to the cultural heritage went hand in hand with the creation of economic opportunities for local people and the improvement of social services such as health and education. This has led to a general revitalisation of the area. Syria’s rich and pluralistic cultural heritage makes our projects here particularly interesting and encouraging ones.

I believe it is our duty to restore and preserve this heritage because it is part of our culture. If this culture is destroyed or altered in ways which are not compatible with peoples thinking, the way they live, you find all sorts of disjunctions and dysfunctions. Society becomes dysfunctional.

Aleppo, with its rich history, is an important site to preserve not only as a part of Syrian identity and culture, but as a part of the Worlds patrimony. One third of all World Heritage sites are in the Muslim world, but many of them are not properly maintained. I believe it is our duty to restore and preserve this heritage because it is part of our culture. {If this culture is destroyed or altered in ways which are not compatible with peoples thinking, the way they live, you find all sorts of disjunctions and dysfunctions. Society becomes dysfunctional. So investing in cultures and value systems, and making them effective in the contemporary context is, I think, a major aspect of development.} (3) This is a view which is today increasingly embraced by governments, and civil society.

WAR: Your Highness’ name is associated with the name of the network that has been. working actively in over 25 countries around the world. What is the philosophy behind this network and its various activities?

AK: Islam, as you know, is a way of life where Din and Duniya are equally important and neither of them is to be forsaken. Since the birth of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, there has been a tradition of leadership in which the Imam, whether Shia or Sunni, is responsible for the interpretation of the faith but also for the security and well being of the people. {Consistent with this 1400-year tradition of Muslim leadership, as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, I am to be concerned with the quality of life of the Community and those amongst whom it lives.} (2)

{Over many centuries and decades, that responsibility of the Imamat has entailed the creation of institutions to address issues of the quality of life of the time, and it today includes a number of non-governmental organisations, foundations and economic development agencies. The vast majority of the community now lives in countries from Afghanistan, Western China and the newly emerging nations of Central Asia,} (2) through Iran and the Middle East, to sub Saharan Africa, with a recently established substantial presence in Europe and North America.

{In these countries, the quality of life is determined by a number of different factors that are, in my view, not limited to the World Bank indicators on longevity, or health, or the economic welfare of an individual, or a community.} (2)

{To the Imamat, the meaning of “quality of life” extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being, measured generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background.} (2)

Arabic translation from Al Iqtissadiya

Please click on the icon for an Arabic translation of this inverview in PDF format

NOTES

  1. Passages in the Al Watan interview also in the following 2007 interivew:
    http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/9734/
  2. Passages in the Al Watan interview also in the following 2003 speech:
    http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/6843/
  3. Passages in the Al Watan interview also in the following 2008 (?) interview:
    http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10366/

SOURCES

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