Contents of the ‘By Theme’ category in chronological order.

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.

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50th Anniversary of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), (London, United Kingdom)

[I]t was not until a century later that the Institut [de France] made it a priority to revitalise the Domaine. And I was invited to become a part of the response. The Institut and I quickly agreed that a short-range burst of attention was not the answer. We needed a long-term plan. And we also agreed to build on the principle of public-private partnership. Increasingly, we realised the success of cultural projects in the developed world and the developing world alike requires a variety of actors animated by a robust spirit of cooperation and an overriding “ethic of partnership.” …

Planning ahead for long-term sustainability is critical. At Chantilly and elsewhere, our plans have included permanent service facilities — a museum perhaps, or a scholarly research centre, a children’s library, or a training workshop — so that their eventual income streams, along with public access fees, can provide re-investable income. But the real requirement, the sine qua non, is building a constituency for sustainability, including an engaged local community.

Let me conclude by underscoring my conviction that the work of cultural heritage is more critical today than ever before. In the developing and the developed worlds alike, societies are plunging into an increasingly bewildering future at an ever-accelerating pace. At such a time, and on occasions such as this, it is important that we commit ourselves ever more ardently to the essential work of cultural heritage as a powerful contributor to improving the quality of life for the entire human community.

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Keynote Address, Athens Democracy Forum (Athens, Greece)

But what can we say then, about why democratic systems often fall short in their efforts to improve the quality of their constituents’ lives? Let me suggest four elements that could help strengthen democracy’s effectiveness in meeting this central challenge. They are: improved constitutional understanding, independent and pluralistic media, the potential of civil society, and a genuine democratic ethic….

This leads me to my third observation. Government, while critical, can only take us so far. At a time of democratic disappointment, we must re-emphasise the immense potential of those non-governmental institutions that we call “civil society.” Too often, our thinking is trapped in a false dichotomy. We talk about the public sector and the private sector, but we often undervalue a third sector — that of civil society…. Civil society is powered by private energies, committed to the public good. It draws on the ancient, classical link between democracy and the publicly-committed citizen. It includes institutions of education, health, science and research, embracing professional, commercial, labour, ethnic and arts organisations, and others devoted to religion, communication, and the environment. It seeks consensus through genuine consent. It can experiment, adapt and accommodate diversity. It can in the fullest sense be “of, by and for the people.” It can in the fullest sense be a remarkable support — but only on condition that is it sustained, accepted and encouraged by government….

One ultimate requirement for any effective democracy is the capacity to compromise. Social order rests in the end either on oppression or accommodation. But we can never find that balancing point — where the interests of all parties are recognised — unless competing leaders and their diverse followers alike, are committed to finding common ground. That common ground, in my view, is the global aspiration for a better quality of life — from the reduction of poverty to quality longevity — built upon opportunities that will provide genuine hope for the future. Democracy can only survive if it demonstrates — across the years and across the planet — that it is the best way to achieve that goal.

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Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Interview, PBS, Lucky Severson (USA)

How much are you guided by your faith? Is your faith everything?

Yes. I wouldn’t be guided by anything else. I wouldn’t understand that.

So every minute of every day, you’re guided by your faith?

Well, the faith has 1400 years of tradition. It has been exposed to so many different situations that there’s practically no human situation unknown to it, although science is changing things today.

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Signing Ceremony for the agreement between the Republic of Portugal and Ismaili Imamat to establish the Global Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal (Lisbon, Portugal)

[This] a uniquely important occasion, where we will have for the first time in our history the opportunity to work with a partner with whom we share so many values, and so many hopes, and so many wishes.

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Remarks introducing The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Fourth Annual Lecturer (Toronto, Canada)

In her LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture in Toronto, in 2003, the Chief Justice said and I quote, “One problem, more than any other, dominates human history — the problem of how we deal with those who are different than us.” Those words have sharp, continuing relevance as we move further into the 21st century. Whether the challenge involves new waves of migrants moving into European societies, or political participation for the indigenous peoples of Latin America, or working towards democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa, there is a profound need to focus on the values and hopes that unite all human beings.

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Aga Khan Park Opening Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

The Park and its Gardens can serve as a symbol of “connection” in other ways as well. Among them are rich connections across time linking us to the past. The Garden has for many centuries served as a central element in Muslim culture. The Holy Qur’an, itself, portrays the Garden as a central symbol of a spiritual ideal — a place where human creativity and Divine majesty are fused, where the ingenuity of humanity and the beauty of nature are productively connected. Gardens are a place where the ephemeral meets the eternal, and where the eternal meets the hand of man.

The tradition of Islamic Gardens places an emphasis on human stewardship, our responsibility to nature and to protect the natural world. We see that principle expressed in the disciplined use of geometric form — framing the power and mystery of nature. And, of course, the Garden of ancient tradition, like the Garden here today, is a place where — whatever difficult moments may come our way — we can always find, in the flow of refreshing water, a reminder of Divine blessing.

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Amir Aqsunqur Mosque Inauguration (Cairo, Egypt)

Through revitalisation of the sort we celebrate today, we hope to preserve an extraordinary panorama of Islamic history, from the Fatimid Caliphs to the present. At a time when fractures in the unity of the Ummah are so highly visible, I see such projects as particularly hopeful. They are important symbols for the identity of all Muslims, sources of pride for the entire Ummah. And finally I would like you to know that a young Muslim walking here in the 22nd century will be able to feel the pull of his or her own history, even in a radically transformed world. And let us be reminded, too, that in undertaking this work, we are not only attending to our own Islamic heritage, but also preserving an essential part of the patrimony of all humankind. I can say to you today that the potential power of Islamic cultures is such that the Ummah is capable of achieving global recognition for its amazing heritage of unique spaces and buildings.

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Humayan’s Tomb Site Museum Foundation Stone Ceremony (Delhi, India)

Through the centuries, millions of people have made their way here. They have come to see these architectural achievements, the oldest and largest Indo-Islamic architectural complex. They have come to admire the decorative genius that we have around us and to think about its continuing influence in contemporary life. They have come to enjoy the green spaces that are such an essential part of this complex, reflecting the profound harmony that can ideally unite our natural and our built environments. And now, as a new Museum is born on this site, visitors will be able to learn in greater depth why these legacies were built, how they served the court and society more generally, and what they have meant since.

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2015 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Nairobi, Kenya)

As we expand our work in Kenya, one of our highest priorities is to achieve international standards of healthcare especially for non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Another special focus will be neuro-science, where the promises of stem cell technology must be brought massively and competently to Africa. Our overall plan is for a nationally integrated health system, built on the strong foundations already in place at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi. And our overall goal can be simply stated: we believe that no Kenyan should have to leave the country to seek quality medical care.

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2015 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Kampala, Uganda)

As the President has said, we plan to open a new campus in Arusha in just four years. It will be home for our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences plus two Professional Graduate Schools and a variety of other training and research facilities. We are also planning a new campus in Dar es Salaam for our Institute for Educational Development. Other AKU initiatives that will serve the entire region include new undergraduate medical and nursing programs in Kenya as well as our Graduate School of Media and Communications, opening this year in Nairobi. Seven other Graduate Schools will follow, designed to advance healthy Civil Society in specific African contexts. They will include Schools of Leadership and Management; Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism; Architecture and Human Settlements; Government, Civil Society and Public Policy; Economic Growth and Development; Law; and Education. It is our belief that developing graduate schools is one of the quickest ways in which universities can impact the improvement in the quality of life of people in developing countries.

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2015 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

As we look to the future, I am increasingly impressed by one overriding insight. It reflects the vast flow of information that has come my way as I have watched the ups and downs of the developing world. More and more, I am convinced that the key to improving the quality of human life, both in places that are gifted with good governments and in places that are not so fortunate, is the quality of what I describe as Civil Society. By Civil Society I mean that array of institutions which are neither public, nor profit driven, but which are motivated by voluntary commitments and dedicated to the public good. They include, for example, institutions dedicated to culture, to public information, to the environment and to religious faith. And they include, very importantly, the fields of health and education in which you are so centrally involved. A healthy Civil Society is a meritocratic one, where ethics are honoured, and excellence is valued.

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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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Aljazeera Interview, Daniel Lak (Toronto, Canada)

It’s an extraordinary phenomenon that there’s this enormous knowledge gap and I think it’s the duty of everybody, myself included, to try to fill in that knowledge gap.

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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.

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Aiglon College Graduation Ceremony (Chesières, Switzerland)

As I look around me, my deep sense is that today the strongest human force, sadly, is fear…. At this time, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees believes that there are some 50 million people who are either refugees or internally displaced persons. Far more than ever before. Practically every one of them — women, men, children, the sick — have been touched by fear and many still live in fear. At no time in human history has a percentage of human population living in fear and who has been uprooted [been] as great as it is today. And this issue is affecting the whole of our world with all the consequences we see …

So you may be asking yourselves, if fear is omnipresent — as I believe it is, what does that mean about the world in which the graduands of l’Aiglon will enter? And you will be asking yourselves how, as nano-players on the global scene, you could cause positive change to happen for yourselves, your families, your peoples. My answer is: hope. Fortunately, just as fear can be infectious, so hope is infectious…. Governments and institutions must create an Enabling Environment in which hope can flourish.

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Acceptance Address – North-South Prize Award (Lisbon, Portugal)

As I observe the world, I am struck by the insufficiency of well-informed debate, of richer dialogue, of deeper education in our quest to avoid human conflict. That insufficiency often plagues relations between the North and the South and increasingly between the North and the Islamic world. Some have called this a clash of civilisations. I think it is, essentially, a clash of ignorances. What it means, in any case, is that institutions such as the North-South Centre have never been more important….

It is ironic that a sense of intensified conflict comes at a time of unprecedented breakthroughs in communication technology. At the very time that we talk more and more about global convergence, we also seem to experience more and more social divergence. The lesson it seems to me is that technologies alone will not save us — the critical variable will always be and will always lie in the disposition of human hearts and minds.

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le Parisien Interview, Gilles Maarek & Gaetane Morin, ‘Aga Khan, l’imam philanthrope’ (Chantilly, France)

[Google translation] How do you perceive the rising tensions around Islam?

This is a concern for the whole world, not only for the Muslim world. The vast majority of these conflicts is not the result of theological problems, but political. Sometimes there instrumentalization of religion for political purposes. The answer is first constitutional. A quarter of the Member States of the United Nations are now reviewing their constitution.We must find a balance between secularism and theocracy, and this is a bigger problem for developing countries for the West. Today, the most thoughtful and the most successful in the Muslim world’s most advanced Constitution, is the Tunisian Constitution.

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Remarks introducing António Guterres, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Third Annual Lecturer (Ottawa, Canada)

Throughout his own, long career, António Guterres has been a passionate and effective advocate on these issues, articulating both the rights of the refugees and the responsibilities of society to support and to integrate them. Underlying both his words and his work is a conviction, which I share, that any person’s worth in this world does not depend on where he or she has come from and that all people should be welcomed into the fabric of the society in which they may find themselves so that they can contribute to that society’s long term progress.

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Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit (Toronto, Canada)

[The Aga Khan Development Network’s] experience has been considerable. But what have we learned from it? Let me share a quick overview.

First, I would underline that our approaches have to be long-term. Sporadic interventions produce sporadic results, and each new burst of attention and activity must then start over again. The key to sustained progress is the creation of sustainable systems.

Second, our approaches should be community-oriented. Outside assistance is vital, but sustainable success will depend on a strong sense of local “ownership”.

The third point I would make is that our approaches should support the broad spectrum of health care. Focusing too narrowly on high-impact primary care has not worked well — improved secondary and tertiary care is also absolutely essential.

Our approaches should encourage new financial models. Donor funding will be critical, but we cannot sustain programmes that depend on continuing bursts of outside money….

Our approaches should also focus on reaching those who are hardest to reach. And here, new telecommunications technologies can make an enormous impact….

Our approaches should be comprehensive, working across the broad spectrum of social development. The problems we face have multiple causes, and single-minded, “vertical” interventions often fall short. The challenges are multi-sectoral, and they will require the effective coordination of multiple inputs. Creative collaboration must be our watchword. This is one reason for the growing importance of public-private partnerships.

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