Entries with content relating to ‘History (General)’, in chronological order.

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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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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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Address to both Houses of the Parliament of Canada in the House of Commons Chamber (Ottawa, Canada)

When the clashes of modern times have come, they have most often grown out of particular political circumstances, the twists and turns of power relationships and economic ambitions, rather than deep theological divides. Yet sadly, what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world gets mistaken for what is normal. Of course, media perceptions of our world in recent years have often been conveyed through a lens of war. But that is all the more reason to shape global conversation in a more informed direction. I am personally aware of the efforts the Prime Minister has made to achieve this. Thank you, Prime Minister….

Perhaps the most important area of incomprehension, outside the Ummah, is the conflict between Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam and the consequences for the Sunni and Shia peoples. This powerful tension is sometimes even more profound than conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. It has increased massively in scope and intensity recently, and has been further exacerbated by external interventions. In Pakistan and Malaysia, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon and Bahrain, in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster. It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the Ummah to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities. What would have been the consequences if the Protestant-Catholic struggle in Ireland had spread throughout the Christian world, as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries? It is of the highest priority that these dangerous trends be well understood and resisted, and that the fundamental legitimacy of pluralistic outlooks be honoured in all aspects of our lives together, including matters of faith.

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Acceptance Address – Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal (Ottawa, Canada)

Is it not true that the quality of our lives is fundamentally shaped by the spaces in which we live, spaces that provide physical security, and spaces where we seek spiritual enrichment? They are spaces where we work, and where we pause from work; where we expand our minds and restore our health, places where we congregate and where we meditate; and they are places where we are born, as well as places of final rest….

People everywhere — independent of their particular background or educational level — almost instinctively understand the importance of place, and how the spaces of our lives are shaped and reshaped, for better or for worse. I thought about this universal capacity for comprehension again, these past weeks, as the world reacted to photographs of the Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines.

This universal sensitivity to changes in the built environment also helps explain the profound impact of architecture on the way we think about our lives. Few other forces, in my view, have such transformational potential.

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The Indian Express/NDTV ‘Walk the Talk’ Interview, Shekhar Gupta (Hyderabad, India)

So what do you tell your friends in the Western world about their new stereotypes of Islam and what do you tell your Muslim brothers and sisters and followers about their stereotypes of the Western world?

Well I would start by asking a very simple question: in 2013 what is the definition of an educated person? What is the knowledge that that person should have and how is that person going to use it? And the knowledge that that person requires, in my view, is more and more understanding the world not understanding little parts of it. And I think that understanding the world is a massively complex goal but I think that we’ve got to admit that that’s what’s necessary. It’s unavoidable. We’re more of one world than ever before.

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Vanity Fair Interview, James Reginato, ‘The Aga Khan’s Earthly Kingdom’ (USA) ·· incomplete

We have no notion of the accumulation of wealth being evil … It’s how you use it. The Islamic ethic is that if God has given you the capacity or good fortune to be a privileged individual in society, you have a moral responsibility to society.

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‘A Life in the Service of Development’ published in Politique Internationale (Paris, France)

Practically no countries [sic] in Asia, Africa or the Middle East have a political landscape rooted in a strong two-party system as do many Western democracies. The probable consequence is that in many if not most countries of the developing world, coalition government will be omnipresent in the decades ahead. Yet few of these countries have any established experience with coalition governance (this is true of even the most powerful countries of the industrialised world). This critical challenge will become even more complex in countries where functioning compromises must be found between secular and theocratic forces.

A possible common ground could be found if all the political forces accepted over-arching responsibility to nourish a cosmopolitan ethic among their peoples. This would be an ethic for all peoples, one that offers equitable and measurable opportunities for the improvement of their lives, measured in terms of their own criteria for quality living. Clearly, different peoples will have different visions about a desirable quality of life, in urban versus rural areas, for example.

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The East African Interview, Peter Mwaura, ‘How East Africans can build one common destiny for and by themselves, step by intelligent step’ (Nairobi, Kenya)

[W]e are looking at quality of life indicators — indicators that are not the same as those of the World Bank, indicators we have tried to develop through our own experience. We are looking at things like security, longevity, disposable income, access to education and employment. We are looking at what really affects people’s attitudes to their own understanding of quality of life. We did discover that communities around the world don’t have the same value systems. They will interpret their own qualities of life very differently from one part of the country to the other….

Imams around the world have businesses, not just the Shia Ismaili Imam. We do not see a conflict and indeed if we lived in an attitude of conflict, I don’t believe we would be living within the ethics of Islam. Islam doesn’t say that a proper practice of the faith means you have to ignore the world. What it says is: Bring to the world the ethics of your faith. If you have wealth, use it properly. But the actual ownership of wealth is not in any way criticisable unless you have acquired it through improper means or you are using it for improper purposes. It is seen as a blessing of God. So this whole notion of conflict between faith and world is totally in contradiction to the ethics of Islam….

Creating energy can be a source of environmental damage. The question is what is the most cost-effective way of creating this energy with minimum damage. I believe the partners in Bujagali have gone through massive environmental analysis and come to the conclusion that this is one of the least environmentally damaging initiatives in East Africa, because it impacts a very, very small area of land and a small percentage of the population, who were all relocated in good conditions. I have seen situations where energy has been produced by windmills, by solar batteries and the damage that they have done to the environment is simply incredible. Because these types of energy creation don’t work everywhere. And when they don’t work, they get written off in three years but nobody pulls them down. So they stay there and they are awful. We still don’t really know a great deal about the technology of these new energy sources.

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10th Annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, Institute for Canadian Citizenship, ‘Pluralism’, and apres lecture conversation with John Ralston Saul (Toronto, Canada)

The variety of the world is not only more available, it is nearly inescapable. Human difference is more proximate and more intense. What was once beyond our view is now at our side and, indeed, to use the popular expression, “in our face.” … The challenge of diversity is now a global challenge and how we address it will have global consequences….

I believe that the challenge of pluralism is never completely met. Pluralism is a process and not a product. It is a mentality, a way of looking at a diverse and changing world. A pluralistic environment is a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day. Responding to pluralism is an exercise in constant re-adaptation. Identities are not fixed in stone. What we imagine our communities to be must also evolve with the tides of history. As we think about pluralism, we should be open to the fact that there may be a variety of “best practices,” a “diversity of diversities,” and a “pluralism of pluralisms.”

In sum, what we must seek and share is what I have called “a cosmopolitan ethic,” a readiness to accept the complexity of human society. It is an ethic which balances rights and duties. It is an ethic for all peoples.

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Foreword to the Daily Nation 50th Anniversary Special Supplement, ‘After 5 decades, the future depends on ability to adapt’ (Nairobi, Kenya)

My own role in the Nation Media Group has also evolved considerably. Seven years ago I gave my personal shares in NMG to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) — the economic development arm of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The move not only gave NMG a new source of corporate strength but it also anchored the company in a broader development philosophy designed to bring excellence and best practices to societies in the developing world. It also allowed NMG to benefit from the Network’s significant experience in East Africa.

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Sociedade das Nações Interview, Martim Cabral and Nuno Rogerio (Lisbon, Portugal) ·· incomplete

Well if you ask yourself how an institution could be effective in terms of — as far as possible — ensuring security, ensuring the capacity to improve quality of life, then you have to ask yourself what does the institution need in order to achieve those goals? … Then the second thing was: “what did you need to make a difference?” And there the question was: “What could you do?” And the ’60s … the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s were decades of dogma in much of the developing world and it was a conflict of dogmas that we had to deal with between let’s say capitalism, as it was known at the time, and communism, as it was known at the time, and those dogmas tended to dominate political thinking and because of political thinking, they dominated economic thinking, social thinking, etcetera. So it was a time of great difficulty when developing countries were trying to find their way forward, and there were all sorts of, obviously, international interventions — or should I say interventions from outside — where these governments didn’t take independent decisions, they were often caused by others. So we looked at what we could do at that time in education, in healthcare, in economic support. We tried to build individual support systems according to the country we were involved in and this is what has caused the development network to become the way it is now … So the network today is the consequence of field driven needs. [Emphasis original]

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Imamat dinner for senior members of the Government, diplomats, distinguished leaders from industry, academia, the arts, faith communities and the NGO sector (London, United Kingdom)

We have also, in these recent decades, established two new institutions of higher learning here, The Institute of Ismaili Studies and The Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, which is part of the Aga Khan University. They both offer Masters level teaching programmes, they engage in research and publication, and they also develop curriculum materials for children in primary and secondary schools. In all these efforts, they take a holistic, civilisational approach to Islamic studies, rather than emphasising the more narrow domain of theological dialectic.

What some describe as a clash of civilisations in our modern world is, in my view, a clash of ignorances. This is why education about religious and cultural heritage is so critically important — and why we will continue to invest in these institutions. We deeply believe that scholarship, publication and instruction — of high quality and generous breadth — can provide important pathways toward a more pluralistic and peaceful world.

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Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, Residential Campus, Foundation Stone Ceremony (Mombasa, Kenya)

[A new] World Bank study confirms a central tenet of our Academies planning, our confidence in the value of a residential campus. We believe that students draw valuable life lessons not only from learning together but also from living together — especially if the mix of students is broadly diversified. The laying of this cornerstone symbolises this commitment to a residential experience. In addition, we are also committed to building an international network of similar schools so that those who are enrolled on any one campus will also be able to be study at other Academy sites….

As world affairs have been steadily transformed by the process of globalisation, the ability to command and control has become less important than the ability to anticipate, connect and respond. And educational institutions which can instill and enhance those capacities have become essential to effective development.

Educating effective future leaders is a high responsibility…. We must rise above the antiquated approaches of earlier days and instead infuse our students with what I would call three “A’s” of modern learning — the spirit of anticipation, the spirit of adaptation and the spirit of adventure.

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Preface to the book ‘Syria, Medieval Citadels Between East and West’ by Stefano Bianca (Aiglemont)

Such deep and abiding affinities [between Christendom and the Muslim world] demonstrate that so-called conflicts between East and West — whether past or present — are political or ideological constructs that have no real basis in deeper cultural and religious fact. Beyond and apart from the controversies highlighted by contemporary observers (and acerbated by modern nationalistic concepts originally alien to Islam) there has always been a tradition of cultural exchange, tolerance and mutual understanding — even during conflictual situations such as the invasion by the Crusaders. It is this ‘subterranean’ tradition of multicultural symbiosis and of tolerant pluralism, as exemplified by the cultural history of Syria, which needs to be brought to light again, in order to overcome stereotypical prejudices that aggravate any real or imaginary conflicts that may still exist.

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Kampala Serena Hotel Opening Ceremony (Kampala, Uganda)

Our intention is that the model we have adopted elsewhere in the region will also be applied here in this country — so that this major new hotel in the capital city can be followed, as soon as the necessary allocations are granted, by a quality circuit of new resorts and safari lodges in the Ugandan countryside. When that happens, a new East African travel circuit will be completed — featuring world class, state-of-the-art facilities, comprising a unique array of inspiring attractions, and offering a holiday experience “second-to-none”….

[O]ur goal is not merely to build an attractive building or to fill its rooms with visitors, but also to make a strategic investment which many private investors might be reluctant to make, but which promises to produce a magnificent multiplier effect as its impact ripples through the local communities….

AKFED is ready to take justified investment risks — to a greater extent than many other investors. We are ready to be patient investors, with a far-ranging vision. We are long-term players, maintaining our presence even during periods of economic or political turbulence.

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Times of India Interviews ‘Celebrating Beauty’ & ‘Education has not kept pace with globalisation’ (New Delhi, India)

The past cannot be repeated. By copying it, it proves that one cannot do better. By repeating the past, by designing the same thing is not the solution. Modernity cannot be denied. How do we merge the two? That is continuity. We can’t ask people to live in mud houses. We have to come up with new solutions. The award tries to connect the two. The monuments of the past are important but the monuments of today are also important and they have to be recognised.

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Philip Jodidio Interview (1st) published in Connaissance des Arts, ‘Bridging the Gulf’ (Paris, France)

The press, at least, gives the impression that similar radical attitudes exist in other Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

You are right. There are parts of the Muslim world where those tendencies are present and parts of the Muslim world that have sustained the Taliban. That just goes to confirm that there is no unanimity in Islam with regard to this form of interpretation. Generally speaking, you will see as much diversity in the Islamic world as you do in the Christian world today. That is one of the big problems. The West does not really understand the pluralism of the Islamic world. Things will continue this way.

The Islamic world has been exposed to your pluralism; we have been colonised for decades. We know a certain amount about the different interpretations of the Christian faith. Take the example of the Iranian revolution. Was the word “Shia” in the common language of the Western world before that? If you went around the West and asked what the difference between the Shia and the Sunni interpretations is, how many people could answer? Reverse the question, go into the Muslim world and ask what basic differences there are between Catholicism and Protestantism, for example, and many people would know. There is a gulf of misunderstanding, which is very deep indeed. It is very damaging because the Western world tends to interpret things on the basis of a lack of information and understanding of what is really happening.

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Address to the two houses of the Kyrgyz Parliament (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) ·· incomplete

Within the Ummah it is a recognised and established historic fact that communities have the right to their own interpretation of the Faith. Whether it is the interpretation of one branch of Islam or of the other, of Sunni or Shia, whether of one tradition within either of those branches, or of another, the right of interpretation belongs to each individual….

[It is] important to remember that such situations are not unique in history — the Inquisition in Spain was every bit as cruel and destructive as any case that one can imagine…. What is not acceptable is any attempt to impose a particular interpretation on an unwilling individual or population. The Holy Qur’an says that there shall be no compulsion in religion. What is even worse, is when such an imposition causes degradation of all civilised standards of human behaviour.

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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.

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