By Mohib Ebrahim

Essential Readings — aggregated excerpts from the Ismaili Imamat’s speeches and interviews

NanoWisdoms’ Essential Reading Series publishes aggregate collections of our Extended Quotes related to broad themes. Each Essential Reading is published in an attractive PDF format for posting on jamatkhana notice boards or as teaching aids, seminar handouts, discussion topics, general references, etc.

Thematic charts with excerpts of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches

Click on the image to view and download all thematic charts.

The NanoWisdoms thematic charts provide selected quotes from several speeches and interviews for easy-to-digest, one page synopses of some the Aga Khan’s key insights and advices, theme by theme. Their attractive format makes them ideal teaching aids, seminar handouts, general references or as informative posters on jamatkhana notice boards.

Thematic Quote Browsers for Short and Extended quotes

NanoWisdoms ever growing collection of short and extended quotes from His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches, interviews and writings — or from earlier Shia and Ismaili Imams (pbut), the Holy Prophet (pbuh) or the Qur’an — is also available organized by theme. With over 1,000 quotes it is the largest collection of Ismaili Imamat quotes available on-line. All quotes are also available in attractively formatted PDFs, ideal for posting on jamatkhana or other notice boards.

Word cloud analyses of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches, interviews and writings made between 1957 and 2012

Click on the image to review all of NanoWisdoms' word clouds.

Word clouds visually represent characteristics of the speeches making it easy to “get the big picture” at a glance. NanoWisdoms’ word clouds analyse and visually represent different aspects of the Aga Khan’s remarks made since 1957.

Graphic timeline of awards and honours accorded to His Highness the Aga Khan

An image of the entire timeline of Awards and Honours conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan.

A reduced size image of the graphic timeline of awards and honours conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan. Click on the image to download and view the timeline in PDF format at full size.

Introduction to Part 1: Key themes of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches between 2000 and July 2007

Foresight, definitive assessments and decisive action are a consistent hallmark of our Imams. Combined they confirm the intellectual citadel that is the Imamat.

The famous Ismaili jurist and scholar of the Fatimid Court, Qadi Noman, explained in Majalis 19 of his Code of Conduct for the Followers of the Imam (click icon to download):

The Imam never utters a word which is light, superfluous or meaningless. God has made the Imams free from these defects. If we imagine that a particular word uttered by the Imam is not fruitful, the fault lies with us. We are too dull to detect the proper meaning of the words uttered by the Imam. The signs and symbols used by the Imams, in the course of their conversation with us and hints dropped by them, are a fathomless ocean.

In preparing this summary of key themes from His Highness the Aga Khan’s recent speeches, I thought about this passage of Qadi Noman, and how, I, as an Ismaili, would “summarize” over 300 pages of interviews and speeches. Looking to the Aga Khan’s own emphasis as guidance, I hope that the 26 speeches I selected are representative of the matters which weigh most important. Nevertheless, one still wonders what pearls of wisdom either went unappreciated or were inadvertently left out.

I think it is also useful to reflect on what the Aga Khan’s speeches and activity represent within a larger historical and societal context. For example, development concepts commonplace today, like micro-credit, civil society and social entrepreneurship, have been the guiding principles behind the institutions of both the Ismaili community and Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) for more than half a century — some 60 years for micro-credit and over 100 for civil society.

Similarly, the Aga Khan’s vision and example discreetly but widely influence the world generally — well beyond AKDN’s direct interventions. Consider social entrepreneurship: though fashionable of late, entrepreneurs shy away from the robust level of engagement the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) has practiced for many decades. Few, if any, development agencies engage in commercial enterprises, as AKDN does, even though these would assist funding their development initiatives and also provide a valid vehicle for economic upliftment of the poor. Indeed, the New York Times in 2007 credited the Aga Khan with the idea of mixing business with charity observing that “while long at odds with mainstream capitalist practice, [it] is growing in prominence, making the Aga Khan an unlikely innovator”. The New York Times also noted that “economic developments experts say the Aga Khan’s activities offer a useful template for others including philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros” who seek to help the poor.

And while some may question the merit of spending tens of millions of dollars on cultural initiatives in the poorest countries of the world, the Aga Khan, on the contrary, explains that AKDN has “placed culture at the heart of the development puzzle.” Today the fruits from projects like the Azhar Park Project in Cairo and other locations validate the Aga Khan’s decades’ old insight into the societal and economic value of cultural preservation.

It is here, and in countless other current and historical examples like these, that we begin to grasp what the Imamat’s words and deeds truly represent: an enlightened source of guidance inspired by a unique generational perspective focused on addressing issues decades before those issues are widely recognized. It has been said “talent hits a target no one else can hit while genius hits a target no one else can see.” Foresight, definitive assessments and decisive action are a consistent hallmark of our Imams. Combined they confirm the intellectual citadel that is the Imamat.

Introduction to Part 2: Key themes of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches made during his Golden Jubilee celebrations (2007-2009)

In part one of this series (above), I summarized His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches made between 2000 and 2007, focusing on factors that the Aga Khan suggests impact, positively or negatively, the development of peaceful, progressive, enlightened societies, particularly in the 21st century. In this sequel, I summarize the speeches and interviews he made between July 2007 and December 2008, during his Golden Jubilee celebrations.

In these, he draws attention to new issues, and elaborates on earlier ones, particularly the objectives and principles behind many of the Aga Khan Development Network’s activities. What stood out for me was a juxtaposition of his definition of poverty as “a lack of access” with his objective, over the past 50 years, of creating opportunity — not just economic opportunity, but opportunity in its broadest sense, as captured by his concept of “Enabling Environments,” and the full spectrum of benefits these bring to developing countries. These perspectives, supported by Islam’s ethic that aid must facilitate self-sufficiency and independence, are among the key principles that underpin the Aga Khan’s approach to effective development.

The issues and pressures of contemporary life, particularly the accelerating pace of change, were another area the Aga Khan addressed, observing that change is the inevitable response to new knowledge. Given this, it follows that modern society’s exponentially increasing knowledge is fuelling its own accelerating pace of change. The Aga Khan advises that in such an environment, “the race of life has gone increasingly to the nimble and the knowledgeable,” and that “the ability to anticipate, connect and respond” are among key qualities needed to cope.

Hazrat Ali noted that “[w]hen wisdom reaches the climax, words become fewer.” Indeed.

Introduction to: His Highness the Aga Khan and Canada: A Profound Affinity — But why Canada?

Although the Aga Khan’s relationship with Canada goes back to the 1960’s, it was perhaps Canada’s response to the Ugandan-Asian crisis of 1972 which gave Canada “top-of-mind” presence for both the Aga Khan and the Ismailis.

Time and time again, but perhaps most often by Canadians themselves, the Aga Khan is asked “Why Canada?” Why his deep affinity for Canada? While Canada’s commitment to pluralism undoubtedly lies at the heart of the his admiration of Canada, his affinity for her encompasses broader facets of Canadian society fundamental for progress across the Developing World — from remote, war-torn, Afghanistan mountain villages to the mega-metropolis of Cairo.

We hope the following extracts, culled from 36 years of the Aga Khan’s Canadian speeches and interviews, begin to capture his answer to the question: “Why Canada?”

His Highness the Aga Khan explains the vision and rational behind the Ismaili Centres

When opened, the Ismaili Centre, Toronto will be the sixth such Centre, with more planned for Houston, Los Angeles and Paris. To help better understand the Ismaili Centres, we present “His Highness the Aga Khan explains the vision and rationale behind the Ismaili Centres.”

His Highness the Aga Khan explains the vision and rationale behind the Aga Khan Museum

When opened, the Aga Khan Museum will be a unique museum on the North American continent, and indeed the Western world. To help better understand why, we bring you “His Highness the Aga Khan explains the vision and rationale behind the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto.”