Simerg’s Jamatkhana Series and the new Ismaili Centre in Toronto

As part of one of our previous annual anniversary series, we had asked our readers to tell us how a particular Jamatkahana has impacted their lives. Links to some of the reflections that we published are provided below. Ismailis and Toronto residents alike eagerly await and are excited about the opening of the new Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Toronto, along with the Aga Khan Museum and the Park, all located at one site. Thousands walk or drive by the magnificent buildings, and Simerg welcomes your thoughts and reflections on these projects which, Inshallah, will be opening soon. In this regard, readers will also wish to read Jim Bowie’s superb piece of the photos he had been taking of the construction site since its inception. Please click In the Making: The Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park. Alternatively, to download a PDF file (5mb) please click on the image below.


Flashback - a  night scene at the Aga Khan Museum project site on November 29, 2010. Photo: Jim Bowie.

Flashback – a night scene at the Aga Khan Museum project site on November 29, 2010. Photo: Jim Bowie.



Learning and Sharing Knowledge About Ismaili Jamatkhanas Through Imamat Day Greeting Cards

Please click for post

Please click for post


Dubai’s Jewel: The Ismaili Community’s Congregational Space


Bagamoyo’s Historic Ismaili Jamatkhana Through Pictures, Poetry and Prose

Fond Memories of Salamieh, 51 Kensington Court, and Yakymour


1953-1957: Ismailia Social and Residential Club and Jamatkhana
at 51 Kensington Court, London W8

Please click for article and photos


At the Ismaili Centre

"Happy Days in Hasanabad" by Dr. Aziz Kurwa. Simerg Special Series: Jamatkhana - A Place of Spiritual and Social Convergence.

Please click for article and photos


Memories of Nairobi’s Majestic ‘Town Jamatkhana’,
formerly the ‘Darkhana’ of Kenya

Please click for article and photos.


5 Palace Gate when it was a privilege to be in England

Please click on image for article.


The Darkhana, Canada: A Building of Graceful Architecture and Spiritual Nobility


 5 Palace Gate


Remembering Kampala Jamatkhana: Special in so many ways


A Jamatkhana in Tashkorgan, China

The Jamatkhana in Tashkorgan in Xinjiang Province, China. Please click for story and photographs.


Serenity in Central London: The Ismaili Centre

The Prince of Wales is greeted by the Aga Khan during a visit to the Ismaili Centre to join a reception to help celebrate its 25th anniversary. Photo: Press Association, Nottingham, UK. Please click for article

* * *

Date posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014.


We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click on Leave a comment.

Imamat Day Mubarak: The House of Imran and the Progeny of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s)

Chapter 3 Surat al ʿIm'ran - The Family of Imran - 33 and 34

~~~~~~~~~Art work Nurin Merchant, Credit: Infinity design


“We search for a union with the family of the Chosen (Prophet Muhammad). We search for the truth of son after son. We are totally obedient to his offspring, one of the other. There is no other thing we can add to this but itself. We endeavour in our faith so that we do not turn out to be faithless.”


Aga Khan III

Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, is pictured above at his enthronement as 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Ismaili Muslims in Bombay at the age of seven. His reign lasted for 72 years. In his will, he proclaimed Prince Karim Aga Khan as the 49th Imam with the following words:

“Ever since the time of my first ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of thirteen hundred years it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or remoter male issue.

“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.

“I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son Aly Salomone Khan to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to be the Imam and Pir of all my Shia Ismailian followers.”


Aga Khan IV enthronement at Villa Barakat in Geneva

Through the special designation (or the Nass) of the late Imam, Shah Karim al-Hussaini became the 49th hereditary Imam of the Nizari Ismailis at the age of twenty.

Shortly after, the newly enthroned Imam met Ismaili leaders and representatives from around the world, and also made the following statement:

“My grandfather dedicated his life to the Imamat and Islam, both of which came first, and above all other considerations. While I was prepared that one day I might be designated the Aga Khan I did not expect it so soon. I follow a great man in a great responsibility and he could have given me no more appreciated honour than to bequeath me this spiritual leadership. My life, as his, will be dedicated to the service of my followers.”

Date posted: July 10, 2014, 23:26 EDT.

Simerg’s 5th Anniversary Series: Studying Ismaili History Through Objects

A special NEW series about objects that are linked to Ismaili history over the past 1400 years, from the dawn of Islam to the Imamat of the present forty-ninth Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Simerg Special 5th Anniversary Series: Studying Ismaili History Through Objects

Publisher-Editor, Simerg and Simergphotos

In his widely acclaimed and engagingly written “A History of the World in 100 Objects” published in 2010, Neil MacGregor, the Director of The British Museum, tries to tell a history of the world “by deciphering the messages which objects communicate across time – messages about peoples and places, environments and interactions, about different moments in history and about our own time as we reflect upon it.” On the fifth anniversary of Simerg, Studying Ismaili History Through Objects is a new series being launched today that takes its inspiration from MacGregor’s splendid book.

Since 2009, Simerg has launched a special new series to mark each anniversary. Over the past years, the themes that have been published are I Wish I’d Been ThereThe Jamatkhana – A Place of Spiritual and Social ConvergenceThanking Ismaili Historical Figures and Stories of Ismaili Volunteers. These series have continued to endure over the past years.

Studying Ismaili History Through Objects is, as the title states, a series about objects that are linked to Ismaili history over the past 1400 years, from the dawn of Islam to the Imamat of the present and manifest forty-ninth Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Studying Ismaili History Through Objects will focus on the material culture and heritage of the Ismailis. The object may be a small coin or a monumental building, it may be a single artefact of outstanding beauty and elaborate craftsmanship, or comprise a group of textile fragments or broken pottery shards. The object may be a mundane, ordinary thing created in a particular geographical space and historical setting, but that has taken on meanings that could never have been imagined at the outset. In other words, the object has become a document not just of the world for which it was made, but of the later periods which altered it.

Studying Ismaili History Through Objects will seek to provide a visually articulate approach and a direct link with the past in a tangible way that is both informative and profoundly moving. It is hoped that the contributions presented in this series will stimulate the imagination and provoke discussion. The objects presented may provide a meeting ground for official and formal versions of the past or a reflective personal experience. But they may also go beyond the level of history and personal memory. The objects will become tools towards understanding the importance of culture in the development of self-identity.

Studying Ismaili History Through Objects will also aim to provide an understanding and appreciation of the need to preserve Ismaili heritage and history. This point was emphasised by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the opening of Baltit Fort in Pakistan in October 1996 when he said: “…what has been inherited over nearly eight hundred years of history in that building should be known and understood and recorded and so it should be in many of the other aspects of our history.”

Studying Ismaili History Through Objects invites contributions from all readers. Your contribution will encourage thoughts about the past but also create a deeper awareness of the present. Objects are ‘signals from the past’ for explorations and discoveries, and are catalysts that should be regarded as just the beginning of an adventure, not the whole story. Through your participation, the objects will promote the exploration of the relationship between histories and memories, between culture and community. Inshallah, the objects presented by readers will serve as a link to the future that recognises its roots in the past, and the series will become a unique reference point on Ismaili history and heritage.

Please send your contribution to:

Date posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014.


An Introduction to My New Book “Qur’an and Ginan” (Qur’anic Teachings in the Ginan) by Kamaluddin Ali Muhammad

In this special piece for Simerg, erudite Ismaili missionary and scholar, Alwaez Kamaluddin of Pakistan, provides a short but very interesting insight on the subject of Qur’anic teachings in the Ginan, while highlighting the features of his most recent book published in English.

PLEASE CLICK: “Qur’an and Ginan” (Qur’anic Teachings in the Ginan)

Front cover of "Qur'an and Ginan" - Qur'anic Teachings in the Ginan - co-authored by Alwaez Kamaluddin and Alwaeza Zarina Kamaluddiin. Hardback, pp. 225, Kamalzar, 2014. Please click for article.

Front cover of “Qur’an and Ginan” – Qur’anic Teachings in the Ginan – co-authored by Alwaez Kamaluddin and Alwaeza Zarina Kamaluddin. Hardback, pp. 225, Kamalzar, 2014. Please click on image for article.


Toral Pradhan Expands and Publishes Fascinating Ismaili History Article as Dual English-Gujarati Booklet

One of the most popular history articles ever published on this bog has been expanded, revised and published as a 40 page dual-language booklet by its author, Toral Pradhan. The article which was first published in October 2013 (please click A Brief History of the Khoja Ismaili Community in Daman, India, from the Portuguese Period to the Present), was highly acclaimed by our readers, who submitted more than 30 comments.
History of Khoja Community in Daman by Toral Pradhan English CoverPradhan passionately set out to explore the history of the origins of the Daman Khoja Ismaili Jamat in order to pay her respects and tribute to the jamat as well as to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the jamatkhana in Daman in March 2014. She obtained the information for her lively small booklet from primary sources which included visits to the local archives in and around Daman. The town was formerly ruled by the Portuguese, before India took it over in 1961. The fusion of the two cultures and its impact on the small Ismaili community in Daman is strongly emphasized in the book, which includes dozens of small historical illustrations including a center fold of colourful photos of gowns and headgear.

The style and format of Pradhan’s book is like many publications in Canada where books are published in dual languages, English in the first half and French forming the other half (see the two images of the book on this post, which are the front and back of the book).

The benefit of Pradhan’s dual language book is that it can be shared among families with Gujarati and English readers.  The 40 page booklet is about 6.5″ x 4.5″ in size.

History of Khoja Community in Daman by Toral Pradhan Gujarati Cover

“Daman Khoja Samaj No Itihas”

Simerg will be making this book available in the near future if there is a sufficient demand for it in North America. The cost including shipping to any North American address will be around US$6.00 – $7.00.

We invite readers interested in acquiring this booklet to send an email to, Subject: Booklet – History of the Daman Jamat. No payment is required at this time. We will advise you when the book reaches us in Canada, and send you an invoice if you are still interested.

My Late Mother, Jean Kirk, and Her Collection of Rare Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan by Allison Wallace


View Allison Wallaces’s rare and unique collection of His Highness the Aga Khan’s photos at Simerg or Simergphotos by clicking on the respective links or images shown below.  Simergphotos is richly suited for images, but readers will also enjoy an equally absorbing viewing experience here on Simerg. A visit to Simergphotos is a must for the fascinating photo essays published on the blog over the past 18 months!

“[My] mum trained as a teacher in London and was passionate about the importance of education, the communication of knowledge and the enhancement of the individual through such knowledge. During her time in Kenya, she held the position of Principal at the Aga Khan Primary School in Nairobi where His Highness the Aga Khan on at least one occasion, privileged her to host a visit.” — Allison Wallace

Please click here to view the Jean Kirk Aga Khan photo collection at Simerg Please click here to view the Jean Kirk Aga Khan photo collection at Simergphotos
 0459_001-s-nf-THUMB  0492_001s-nf-thumb


Shaheeds Khudabaksh Talib, Karmali Dahya and Lalji Ladha: An Account of their 1925 Tragic Accident in Tanganyika by Sadru Meghji

“This account of a Jamati tragedy that occurred almost ninety years ago, in 1925,  is based on an authentic Gujarati narrative that was prepared by an officer  of the Aga Khan Council in Dar-es-Salaam, just four days after the accident that took the lives of three Ismailis, namely Khudabaksh Talib, Karmali Dahya and Lalji Ladha, who were bestowed with the title of Shaheeds….” — Sadru Meghji

Please click: A True Account of How Three Ismaili “Shaheeds” Lost Their Lives in a Tragic Accident in 1925 Near Kilosa, Tanganyika

Portraits of the three Shahids, Karmali Dahya, Lalji Ladha and Missionary Khudabaksh Talib (right), who died when their lorry slid into a ditch near Kilosa in 1925. The photo was displayed in the lobbies of jamatkhanas around East Africa at the instruction of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957). Photo: Anverali Talib Family Collection, Montreal, PQ, Canada.

Portraits of the three Shaheeds, Karmali Dahya, Lalji Ladha and Missionary Khudabaksh Talib (right), who died when their lorry slid into a ditch near Kilosa in 1925. The photo was displayed in the lobbies of jamatkhanas around East Africa at the instruction of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957). Photo: Anverali Talib Family Collection, Montreal, PQ, Canada.

In Ogden Memorial Lecture, Ismaili Imam Speaks About the Communications Revolution and Its Risks, and Says Progress is Possible When Today’s Complex World Issues are Subject to Competent, Intelligent, Nuanced and Sophisticated Dogmatic Free Analysis, and Based Upon What He Describes as “Empathetic Knowledge”

Compiled and presented by Abdulmalik J. Merchant

I. Excerpts from President Christina Paxson’s Introduction to His Highness the Aga Khan

A collection of thumbnails from His Highness the Aga Khan's visit to Brown University to deliver the Ogden lecture on the occasion of the University's 250th anniversary.

A collection of thumbnails from His Highness the Aga Khan’s visit to Brown University where delivered the Ogden lecture on the occasion of the University’s 250th anniversary. Photo: The Ismaili

Today we welcome His Highness the Aga Khan to the Brown campus — not as a newly arrived guest, but as a returning friend of the University and a Brown parent. In May 1996, Brown conferred the honorary Doctor of Law degree upon His Highness. At that time, President Vartan Gregorian said of him:

“He has become a major activist for civilised humanity and universal values. Not in words but in deeds. Not in one location but around the world. For he believes in the long tradition of Ismaili community values — that education, self-reliance, solidarity, and character are the elements which keep a community vibrant and healthy and lead to enlightenment and dignity.”

In the 18 years since, His Highness’s critically important work has intensified and expanded. As the 49th hereditary Imam — the spiritual leader — of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, His Highness has been productively engaged with the development of Asia and Africa, work he and his organisations have pursued for nearly 60 years. He is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the world’s largest private development agencies, which has improved living conditions and opportunities for people in 30 countries through work in healthcare, education, architecture, rural development, the built environment, and the promotion of private-sector enterprise…About 80,000 people work for the Network.

Eighteen years ago, on May 26, 1996, His Highness the Aga Khan receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of the Baccalaureate Address at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Next to him is Vartan Gregorian who was then President of the University.

Eighteen years ago, on May 26, 1996, His Highness the Aga Khan receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of the Baccalaureate Address at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Next to him is Vartan Gregorian who was then President of the University.

The Network’s efforts range from small — the micro loans and financing that are so important to eager but resource-poor entrepreneurs — to two entire universities: The five campuses of the Aga Khan University, and the University of Central Asia, whose School of Professional and Continuing Education has served nearly 50,000 students in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. His Highness once made the following remark:

“Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded Al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1,000 years ago… Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith — faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator’s physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1,000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength.”

Whether for 250 years or a thousand, we at Brown recognise and celebrate the institutions and people throughout the world who champion fundamental values like the discovery of knowledge and the notion that knowledge is a globally shared source of strength.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming His Highness the Aga Khan.


II. Excerpts from His Highness the Aga Khan’s Ogden Lecture Delivered on March 10, 2014

His Highness the Aga Khan visited Brown at the invitation of University President Christina Paxson. His Ogden Lecture was part of the school’s 250th anniversary celebrations. - Photo: AKDN / Farhez Rayani

His Highness the Aga Khan visited Brown at the invitation of University President Christina Paxson. His Ogden Lecture was part of the school’s 250th anniversary celebrations. – Photo: AKDN/Farhez Rayani



Thank you very much, Madame President, for your very kind introduction. It is a great honour for me to give the Ogden Lecture…and to pay tribute to the memory of Stephen Ogden.

I have long felt a close sense of belonging at Brown; my eldest son was a member of the Brown Class of 1995, and I treasure the fact that I received an honorary degree from Brown, and was privileged at that time to give the Baccalaureate Address.

My own education has blended Islamic and Western traditions. I was studying at Harvard some 56 years ago when I inherited the Ismaili Imamat. It is not a political role, as has been mentioned, but let me emphasise that Islamic belief sees the spiritual and material worlds as inextricably connected. Faith should deepen our concern for improving the quality of human life in all of its dimensions. That is the overarching objective of the Aga Khan Development Network, which President Paxson has described so well.

2. 1996 AND NOW 

It has been said that giving an effective university lecture requires the boldness to make some strong predictions about the future.

As I look back, over some 18 years now, to 1996, I think I actually under-estimated how many things would change in the years ahead. If you were a student at Brown 18 years ago, you would not have had any Facebook friends and you wouldn’t be following anyone on Twitter. And, even more sadly perhaps, no one would be following you!

There was no instant messaging at that time; indeed, as I recall, people actually used their telephones primarily for talking!

In fact, email itself was still quite a new thing in 1996. And those are only the most obvious examples of transformative change in our world.

What has been the impact of such changes? We often think about technological innovation as a great source of hope for the world. We hear about how the internet can reach out across boundaries, helping us all to stay in touch, and giving us access to information from every imaginable source.


But it is worth remembering that the same affirmations have greeted new communication technologies for centuries, from the printing press to the telegraph to television and radio. Yet in each case, while many hopes were fulfilled, many were also disappointed. In the final analysis, the key to human cooperation and concord has not depended on advances in the technologies of communication, but rather on how human beings go about using – or abusing – their technological tools.

Yes, the Information Revolution, for individuals and for communities, can be a great liberating influence. But it also carries some important risks.

A. Risks: Fleeting attention spans, Impulsive Judgments and Isolation

More information at our fingertips can mean more knowledge and understanding. But it can also mean more fleeting attention-spans, more impulsive judgments, and more dependence on superficial snapshots of events. Communicating more often and more easily can bring people closer together, but it can also tempt us to live more of our lives inside smaller information bubbles, in more intense but often more isolated groupings.

B. Risk: Greater Connectivity # Greater Connection

We see more people everywhere these days, standing or sitting or walking alone, absorbed in their hand-held screens. But, I wonder whether, in some larger sense, they are really more “in touch?” Greater “connectivity” does not necessarily mean greater “connection.”

Information travels more quickly, in greater quantities these days. But the incalculable multiplication of information can also mean more error, more exaggeration, more misinformation, more disinformation, more propaganda. The world may be right there on our laptops, but the truth about the world may be further and further away.

C. Risk: Contribution to Fragmentation

Among the risks of our new communications world is its potential contribution to what I would call the growing “centrifugal forces” in our time – the forces of “fragmentation.” These forces, I believe, can threaten the coherence of democratic societies and the effectiveness of democratic institutions.

The problem of fragmentation in our world is not a problem of diversity. Diversity itself should be a source of enrichment. The problem comes when diverse elements spin-off on their own, when the bonds that connect us across our diversities begin to weaken.

D. Risk: Knowledge Gaps…Becoming Empathy Gaps

Too often, as the world grows more complex, the temptation for some is to shield themselves from complexity, we seek the comfort of our own simplicities, our own specialities. As has often been said, we risk learning more and more, about less and less. And the result is that significant knowledge gaps can develop and persist.

The danger is that knowledge gaps so often run the risk of becoming empathy gaps. The struggle to remain empathetically open to the Other in a diversifying world is a continuing struggle of central importance for all of us.

The danger of having knowledge gaps grow into empathy gaps – that was the theme of my address in 1996. I discussed then what was becoming an enormous knowledge gap, nearly an ignorance gap, between the worlds of Islam and the non-Muslim world. Since that time, to be sure, there have been moments of encouraging progress on this front, including academic-centred efforts here at Brown, with your wonderful Digital Islamic Humanities Project.


But in many ways, that knowledge gap has worsened.

We have heard predictions for some years now about some inevitable clash of the industrial West with the Muslim world. These multiplied, of course, in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies and other violent episodes. But most Muslims don’t think that way; only an extreme minority does. For most of us, there is singularly little in our theology that would clash with the other Abrahamic faiths, with Christianity and Judaism. And there is much more in harmony. What has happened to the Islamic tradition that says that our best friends will be from the other Abrahamic Faiths, known as the “People of the Book”, all of whose faith builds on monotheistic revelation?

Of course, much of what the West has seen about the Muslim world in recent years has been through a media lens of instability and confrontation. What is highly abnormal in the Islamic world thus often gets mistaken for what is normal. But that is all the more reason for us to work from all directions to replace fearful ignorance with empathetic knowledge.


Down through many centuries, great Muslim cultures were built on the principle of inclusiveness. Some of the best minds and creative spirits from every corner of the world, independent of ethnic or religious identities, were brought together at great Muslim centres of learning. My own ancestors, the Fatimids, founded one of the world’s oldest universities, Al-Azhar in Cairo, over a thousand years ago. In fields of learning from mathematics to astronomy, from philosophy to medicine Muslim scholars sharpened the cutting edge of human knowledge. They were the equivalents of thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, Galileo and Newton. Yet their names are scarcely known in the West today. How many would recognise the name al-Khwarizmi – the Persian mathematician who developed some 1,200 years ago the algorithm, which is the foundation of search engine technology?


In the Muslim world itself, as is true outside of it, much of our history, culture and art, has been obscured, and with it a clear sense of Muslim diversity. Among other “in-comprehensions” is the increasing conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In places like Pakistan and Malaysia, Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain, Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan, the Sunni-Shia conflict is becoming an absolute disaster.

The harsh truth is that religious hostility and intolerance, between as well as within religions, is contributing to violent crises and political impasse all across the world, in the Central African Republic, in South Sudan and Nigeria; in Myanmar, in the Philippines and in the Ukraine, and in many other places.

Such hostilities, of course, represent the most sinister side of what I have described as the centrifugal, fragmenting patterns of our times.


A.  Recognition of Pluralism

How can we respond to such tendencies? The response, I would emphasise today is a thoughtful, renewed commitment to the concept of pluralism and to the closely related potential of civil society.

A pluralist commitment is rooted in the essential unity of the human race. Does the Holy Quran not say that mankind is descended from “a single soul?” In an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it is essential that we live by a “cosmopolitan ethic,” one that addresses the age-old need to balance the particular and the universal, to honour both human rights and social duties, to advance personal freedom and to accept human responsibility.

It is in that spirit that we can nurture bonds of confidence across different peoples and unique individuals, welcoming the growing diversity of our world, even in matters of faith, as a gift of the Divine. Difference, in this context, can become an opportunity – not a threat – a blessing rather than a burden.

B. Good Governance: The Example of America’s First President, George Washington

This brings us to the challenges for governance in our time. How do we organise our complex societies to achieve harmony and perhaps some progress, even at this time of growing diversity? These have always been difficult questions and they are not getting any easier. As you know, they were particularly difficult questions for the United States back in this university’s earliest years, as 13 former colonies tried to write a new national constitution.

George Washington, who had presided over the Constitutional Convention, came to this campus in 1790, after just one year as President, when Brown itself was only a quarter of a century old. He travelled to Providence to mark the recent adoption of the new US Constitution by the state of Rhode Island – the last of the original 13 states to do so.

The colossal face of  George Washington as photographed from the Presidential Trail at the Rushmore Memorial. George Washington (1732 - 1799), America's first President is considered the father of the country and is therefore the most prominent figure on the mountain. Photo: Malik Merchant. ©

The colossal face of George Washington as photographed from the Presidential Trail at the Rushmore Memorial. George Washington (1732 – 1799), America’s first President is considered the father of the country and is therefore the most prominent figure on the mountain. Photo: Malik Merchant. ©

Washington’s visit in Providence marked a moment of historic constitutional significance. And the questions we have raised today, balancing centrifugal, fragmenting realities on the one hand with the imperatives of national bonding and governing on the other, were central concerns for Washington at that moment and throughout his career. After eight years of coping with these issues as the first American president, he made them the major theme of his famous Farewell Address.

He was worried, principally, he said then, about what he called the spirit of “faction” and its ability to undermine a sense of democratic nationhood. He described faction as a spirit, that “kindles the animosity of one part against another,” creating a “fatal tendency to elevate a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community” against the whole. It threatened, he said, “a frightful despotism”, one that could “render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together…”

C. New Government Frameworks and Constitutions Honouring Human Rights:  Kenya and Tunisia

Such threats to bonding, and thus to balance, have long presented a central governance challenge, here and elsewhere. And these issues are now being addressed with new intensity all across the world.

Amazing as it may seem, fully 37 countries have been writing or rewriting their constitutions in the last ten years, with another 12 countries recently embarking on this path….And nearly half of these 49 countries have majority Muslim populations.

Clearly, many Muslim societies are seeking new ways to organise themselves. And there can be no “one size fits all”. The outcomes obviously are going to be many and varied. The process will challenge the creativity of the world’s best political and legal thinkers. Especially in the developing world, such matters will increasingly be in the hands of younger, more educated men and women, provided the system allows them to come to the forefront.

These governance issues are frankly today, of global concern. And I believe that the great universities of the world and Brown University in particular, can also play an especially creative role in responding to them.

The challenge, as we have said, will be one of balancing values and interests, honouring the importance of religious and ethical traditions, for example, while also respecting the free will of individual human beings; accommodating both the role of central governments and regional demands, reconciling the urban and the rural; providing for democratic change, and institutional continuity.

Creating new governance frameworks is obviously not an easy task. But it can be accomplished. In Kenya just three and a half years ago, for example, a new constitution ratified by two-thirds of the voters, redistributed power dramatically from the central level to 47 county governments. In Tunisia, just a few weeks ago, a new “consensus” constitution with 94 per cent approval from the elected Constituent Assembly reaffirmed the Islamic identity of the Tunisian state, while also protecting the human rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

D. Good and Quality Civil Society: Vital to Democratic Governance

In these cases, and in other places such as Bangladesh, one of the fundamental constructive forces at work has been the strength of civil society, it is a topic that is worth serious attention.

By civil society I mean an array of institutions that operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are motivated by high public purposes. They include institutions devoted to culture, to science and to research; to commercial, labour, ethnic and religious concerns; as well as a variety of professional societies. They include institutions of the media and education.

I think the conclusion is the success of democratic societies will depend in the end on more than democratic governments. The scale and the quality of civil society will become a factor, I believe, of enormous importance.

A quality civil society has three critical underpinnings: a commitment to pluralism, an open door to meritocracy, and a full embrace of what I described earlier as a cosmopolitan ethic.

The voices of civil society will reflect and express the growing complexity of society, not as autonomous fragments, but as diversified institutions seeking the common good. And I believe that the voices of civil society can be among the most powerful forces in our time. Where change has been overdue, they can be voices for change. Where people live in fear, they can be voices of hope.


A. Talent and Voluntary Service

One of the energizing forces that makes a quality civil society possible, of course, is the readiness of its citizens to contribute their talents and energies to the social good. What is required is a profound spirit of voluntary service, a principle cherished in Shia Ismaili culture, and honoured, I know, here at Brown.

B. Diversified Input

Progress is possible when the multiple, diversified needs of any society can be matched by multiple, diversified inputs; that is also what civil society is all about. This is why great universities, with their broad, diversified programmes, can be a resource of importance in the development of quality civil society, in their own countries but also around the world. And again, Brown offers a powerful example.

C. Predictability and Sophisticated Analysis

Perhaps the biggest quandary we face in our economic and social development programmes is the problem of “predictability”; knowing what changes are going to arise, and then deciding what is more or less likely to work in a given situation. But again, progress is possible when complex issues are subjected to competent, intelligent, nuanced and sophisticated analysis, free from dogmatism, and based upon what I would describe as “empathetic knowledge.” This happens best in open, meritocratic societies, where people’s responsibilities are based on their competence. It also happens best when the intellectual resources of the world’s great universities, like Brown, are brought into play.

D. Well-Informed Leaders with Broad Outlooks

A quality civil society, in any setting, will require well-informed leaders who are sensitive to a wide array of disciplines, and outlooks and cultures. It will require people with the ability to continue their learning in response to new knowledge. I know these are central concerns for Brown University, articulated so well in its new Strategic Plan and its call for “Building on Distinction.”

E. Diversity Without Fragmentation

As we look ahead, in sum, we face a world in which centrifugal and fragmenting influences are of growing importance, presenting new governance challenges all across the planet, and especially in fragile societies. In such a world, the voices of pluralistic civil society can help ensure that diversity does not lead to disintegration, and that a broad variety of energies and talents can be enlisted in the quest for human progress. Diversification without disintegration, this is the greatest challenge of our time.


His Highness the Aga Khan meets with Ismaili students at Brown University.

His Highness the Aga Khan meets with Ismaili students at Brown University. Photo: The Ismaili/Aly Z. Ramji

One of the important values of the Shia Ismaili tradition is the transformative power of the human intellect – that conviction underscores AKDN’s strong commitment to education, at all levels, wherever we are present. These activities include the Aga Khan University – now thirty years old – our newer University of Central Asia, our Aga Khan Academies at the primary and secondary levels, and our major commitment to the potential of Early Childhood Development.

The Aga Khan University in Karachi and East Africa is in the process today of creating a new Liberal Arts faculty, while also establishing eight new post-graduate schools. I would emphasise both these initiatives. Professional education is sorely needed in the developing world, but equally important is the capacity to integrate knowledge, to nurture critical thinking and ethical sensitivity and to advance interdisciplinary teaching and research.


His Highness the Aga Khan delivers an Ogden lecture titled "Modern governance in a more complex world: Challenges and responses" at Brown University. - Photo: AKDN / Aly Z. Ramji

His Highness the Aga Khan delivers an Ogden lecture titled “Modern governance in a more complex world: Challenges and responses” at Brown University. – Photo: AKDN / Aly Z. Ramji

Over the past six decades I have been immersed in the problems of developing societies, grappling with ways to assist their populations, despite both natural hazards and human errors. It is my conviction that a strong, high-quality, ethical and competent civil society is one of the greatest forces we can work with to underwrite such progress. And, if this is correct, then the role of great universities has never been more important.

I am convinced that Brown will be among the greatest universities stepping up to this challenge, as it finishes its first 250 years, and embarks on its next quarter of a millennium!

Date posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Please visit Ismailimail for a comprehensive collection of links to all material related to the above event. It is the best referral website for anything related to His Highness the Aga Khan and the Ismaili community.

Please also visit:

Ismaili Youth and Students Thrilled to Receive Invitations to Massey Hall Gathering to Honour their 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan – Simerg Wants Your Stories and Photos!

Simerg Welcomes Eye Witness Accounts of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Parliament Address and His Presence at the Iconic Massey Hall

Massey Hall is a performing arts theatre in the Garden District of downtown Toronto. The theatre originally was designed to seat 3,500 patrons but, after extensive renovations in the 1940s, now seats nearly 2800. Photo via

Massey Hall is a performing arts theatre in the Garden District of downtown Toronto. The theatre originally was designed to seat 3,500 patrons but, after extensive renovations in the 1940s, now seats nearly 2800. Photo via

Many dozens of Ismaili youth and university students living and studying in close proximity to Metro Toronto were pleasantly surprised to receive an email invitation for a gathering on Friday, February 28th at 2pm at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall in which His Highness the Aga Khan will be present. This event will follow his historic address in Ottawa at the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Recipients of the email were left wondering whether the email invitation was indeed some kind of a spam, and many youth were contemplating on not replying to the invitation. But with key government of Canada phone numbers and details listed in the email most were expected to confirm their attendance by the February 24th deadline.

An elderly Ismaili who also received an email invitation proudly forwarded it to his contacts, including the editor of this website. The invitation to him read:

Dear (name withheld),

The Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper is pleased to invite you to an event in honour of His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Prime Minister Harper will be joined by Minister Baird, Minister Kenney, Minister Alexander, and other Ministers and Parliamentarians.

The event will be held at Massey Hall on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 2 p.m. in Toronto, Ontario in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, to honour him on the occasion of his visit to Canada and address to Parliament the previous day.

The dress code for this event is business attire.

Please confirm your attendance and mailing address by replying to this email no later than February 24th, 2014. Upon confirmation of your attendance, additional details regarding the event at Massey Hall will be sent to you.

Kindly note this invitation is personal and non-transferable.

Best regards,

Name and contact information withheld

Congratulations to him and all others who will participate at the historic ceremonies.

If you are at the Parliament on Thursday or at Massey Hall on Friday we would like you to share your experience and story for the benefit of this website’s world-wide readers. Your contribution will be appreciated by everyone.  Please click on  Leave a comment and provide as much information from the event(s) as you can, including your own personal and memorable experience. If you have a Facebook or other social media page or blog provide the link. Photos (as well as your narrative) may also be submitted to

A special post will be created with everyone’s stories and photos to mark the historical occasion!

Date posted: Monday, February 24, 2014.



See also:

A Brief Introduction to the Spiritual and Temporal Dimensions of the Ismaili Imamat, and its Precious Work Under the Leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan

Compiled and presented by Abdulmalik J. Merchant

A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

An early portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed photo of his grandfather, the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah (1877-1957) in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan is the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) and also the current 49th Imam of a religious office, the Imamat, that he has inherited and which has its origins in the earliest history of Islam. He will be addressing both the Houses of the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. As a precursor to this week’s historical event, the aim of this piece is  to introduce readers to the  Imamat and to highlight its vision and precious work under the leadership of His Highness. This is done with the assistance of short excerpts from articles as well as speeches and interviews given by the Ismaili Imam.

(Please also see His Highness the Aga Khan to Become 5th Muslim Since 1939 to Address Joint Session of Canadian Parliament on February 27, 2014: The ABC’s of the Event Including Past Distinguished Speakers)



By Azim Nanji


The last in the line of the Abrahamic family of revealed traditions, Islam emerged in the early decades of the seventh century. Its message, addressed in perpetuity, calls upon people to seek in their daily life, in the very diversity of humankind, signs that point to the Creator and Sustainer of all creation. Revealed to Prophet Muhammad in Arabia, Islam’s influence spread rapidly, bringing into its fold, within just over a century of its birth, the inhabitants of the lands stretching from the central regions of Asia to the Iberian Peninsula in Europe.


During his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad was both the recipient and the expounder of Divine revelation. His death marked the conclusion of the line of prophecy, and the beginning of the critical debate on the question of the rightful leadership to continue his mission for the future generations. In essence, the position of the group that eventually coalesced into the majority, the Sunni branch, which comprises several different juridical schools, was that the Prophet had not nominated a successor, as the revelation contained in the Qur’an was sufficient guidance for the community.

The Party of Ali

The Shi‘at ‘Ali or the ‘party’ of ‘Ali, already in existence during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, maintained that while the revelation ceased at his death, the need for spiritual and moral guidance of the community, through an ongoing interpretation of the Islamic message, continued. For them, the legacy of Prophet Muhammad could only be entrusted to a member of his own family, in whom the Prophet had invested his authority through designation. That person was ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, and the husband of his daughter and only surviving child, Fatima. ‘Ali was also the Prophet’s first supporter who devoutly championed the cause of Islam.

The Ismailis

In common with all major Shi‘a groups, the Ismailis believe that the Imamate is a divinely sanctioned and guided institution, through whose agency Muslims are enabled to contextualize the practice of their faith and to understand fully the exoteric and esoteric dimensions of the Qur’an. The Imamate exists to complement prophethood and to ensure that the divine purpose is fulfilled on earth at all times and in all places. — Background Excerpts, Azim Nanji [1]



“In accordance with Shia doctrine, tradition, and interpretation of history, the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Mawlana Ali Amiru-l-Mu’minin (a.s), to be the first Imam to continue the Ta’wīl and Ta‘līm of Allah’s final message and to guide the murids, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s) and his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, Khātun-i-Jannat (a.s).” — Ismaili Constitution [2]


“Succession of Imamat is by way of Nass [designation], it being the absolute prerogative of the Imam of the time to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendants whether they be sons or remoter issue.” — Ismaili Constitution [2]


“Well the ceremony [of enthronement] is a public installation of the Imam. The Ismailis pay homage to the Imam and that is when you are recognised by the world at large as the Imam. I will probably wear the robes that my grandfather wore during his last jubilee and I will receive a sword which is the sword of justice of the Imamat. I will be given these robes and the sword by the leading members of the community and they will present an address at the same time.

“Officially as soon as one Imam passes away, his successor takes on from the very minute that the Imam has passed away.” — Aga Khan [3]


“As Imam of the Ismaili sect, I am in a position to adapt the teachings of the Qur’an to the modern condition. On the question of modernity the issue is essentially whether one is affecting the fundamental moral fabric of society or whether one is affecting the fundamentals of religious practice. As long as these two aspects are safeguarded the rest can be subject to adjustment.” — Aga Khan [4]

“In Islam, imams whether they are Shia or Sunni, they have a duty to serve people. That is the nature of Imamat and, therefore, in countries where the Ismaili Imamat can bring support and help, it is our duty to do so and we’re very happy to do so in Central Asia, like we are doing so in the Indian sub-continent, we’re doing so in East Africa, in West Africa. So it’s part of the mandate of any Imam. But it’s a big mistake to think that you can do development only for Muslim communities. Many countries have mixed communities and therefore you have to do development for all the people within a given area whether they are Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Sikh. You have what I would call a civil responsibility.” — Aga Khan [5]


“The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by Bay‘ah [allegiance] by the murid [follower] to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode.” — Ismaili Constitution [2]


“Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam of the time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The Imam’s ta‘lim lights the murid’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision. In temporal matters, the Imam guides the murids, and motivates them to develop their potential….By virtue of his office and in accordance with the faith and belief of the Ismaili Muslims, the Imam enjoys full authority of governance over and in respect of all religious and Jamati matters of the Ismaili Muslims.” — Ismaili Constitution [2]


“Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.” — Ismaili Constitution [2]

“Well the Shia history has followed the same sort of historical developments all hereditary offices have followed, where there have been differences of opinion on who was the legitimate successor to the predecessor, whether it was a secular or religious office. In the case of the Shia Muslims, the Shia branch of Islam split and one branch of the Shia Muslims accepted the concept of the Imam in hiding, the invisible Imam, because the twelfth Imam disappeared as a very young child, and our branch of Shia Islam, in that particular generation of the family, accepted the legitimacy of the eldest son, Ismail, as being the appointed Imam to succeed and that is why they are known as Ismailis. And that branch of the family has continued today hereditarily and that is why there is a living Imam for the Ismaili Muslims.” — Aga Khan [6]


“It is the desire and Hidāyat of Mawlana Hazar Imam that the constitutions presently applicable to the Ismaili Muslims in different countries be superseded and that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this constitution in order better to secure their peace and unity, religious and social welfare, to foster fruitful collaboration between different peoples, to optimise the use of resources, and to enable the Ismaili Muslims to make a valid and meaningful contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of the Ummah and the societies in which they live.” — Ismaili Constitution [2]

“If I had to take stock of my life, my feeling would be that I have structured the Ismaili Imamat, for which I was given responsibility nearly 50 years ago, in such a way as to provide it with the institutional means to work for the good of Ismaili communities and the countries in which we are involved.” — Aga Khan [7]


“I was still a student at Harvard when I inherited the responsibilities of the Ismaili Imamat from my grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah. It seemed inconceivable then that there would ever be substantial communities in the West. The Ismailis were too deeply rooted in their ancestral homes, indeed frozen there by the Cold War in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. But dislocations in the wake of decolonisation, and more recently the collapse of the Soviet Union and the prolonged difficulties in Afghanistan, have caused a number of Ismailis to seek new lands and homes. These migratory movements over the last half-century have resulted in a substantial Ismaili presence in Russia, in Western Europe, the United Kingdom and Portugal, and particularly in the United States and Canada. In these settings Ismailis have found themselves rejoicing with new opportunities, but also confronted by new challenges. Bolstered by a long tradition of self-reliance, and a strong system of community organisations, Ismailis have established themselves quickly as productive members of society in their new homelands.” — Aga Khan [8]


“In Islam there is nothing wrong in the search for comfort, but the accumulation of wealth for the specific purpose of accumulating wealth or personal power is something which Islam does not like to see. If you are fortunate enough to go past what you personally need then share what you have.” — Aga Khan [9]

“I have been involved in the field of development for nearly four decades. This engagement has been grounded in my responsibilities as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Community, and Islam’s message of the fundamental unity of “din and dunia”, of spirit and of life. Throughout its long history, the Ismaili Imamat has emphasised the importance of activities that reflect the social conscience of Islam, that contribute to the well-being of Allah’s greatest creation — mankind, and the responsibility which Islam places on the fortunate and the strong to assist those less fortunate.” — Aga Khan [10]

A more recent portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan, taken on June 22, 2012 in Chantilly, France. Photo by Philippe Petit/Paris Match via Getty Images.

A more recent portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan, taken on June 22, 2012 in Chantilly, France. Photo by Philippe Petit/Paris Match via Getty Images.


“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. 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.” — Aga Khan [11]


“A new president comes to power. What does he do? He contacts me immediately and tells me ‘Come back and help me rebuild my country.’ So, if you want, time changes situations, makes them different. Thus the institution that I represent, the Imamat, has to adapt according to the needs. It has to go beyond, it should anticipate situations. It has to be in a position to say that such and such area of the world is at great social, economic, political risk, whatever. Other areas are stable. These are areas where people live in acceptable conditions.” — Aga Khan [12]


“There was a time, earlier in my Imamat, when mediocrity was considered tolerable here because it was “good enough for Africa”. I remember my apprehension at the time, my concern that among all the goals that were set for Africa in those days, the achievement of normal world-class standards was not seen as realistic. But in the rapidly globalising world of the 21st century, the progress of every country and continent will depend on its ability to meet universal standards. To settle for less is an increasingly dangerous decision.” — Aga Khan [13]

“Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1,000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator’s physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1,000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength.” — Aga Khan [14]

“The conviction that home-grown intellectual leadership of exceptional calibre is the best driver of a society’s destiny, underpins the Ismaili Imamat’s endeavour to create catalytic centres of educational excellence.” — Aga Khan [15]


“I would turn to those words from my grandfather which were quoted in two earlier Peterson Lectures. He included them in a speech he gave as President of the League of Nations in Geneva some 70 years ago. They come originally from the Persian poet, Sadi, who wrote:

‘The children of Adam, created of the self-same clay, are members of one body. When one member suffers, all members suffer, likewise. O Thou, who art indifferent to the suffering of the fellow, thou art unworthy to be called a man’.

“You will readily understand why such words seem appropriate for a Peterson Lecture. They speak to the fundamental value of a universal human bond — a gift of the Creator — which both requires and validates our efforts to educate for global citizenship. I would also like to quote an infinitely more powerful statement about the unity of mankind, because it comes directly from the Holy Qur’an, and which I would ask you to think about. The Holy Qur’an addresses itself not only to Muslims, but to the entirety of the human race, when it says:

‘O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from one single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women’.

“These words reflect a deeply spiritual insight — a Divine imperative if you will — which, in my view, should under gird our educational commitments. It is because we see humankind, despite our differences, as children of God and born from one soul, that we insist on reaching beyond traditional boundaries as we deliberate, communicate, and educate internationally.” — Aga Khan [16]


“Why would homogenization be such a danger? Because diversity and variety constitute one of the most beautiful gifts of the Creator, and because a deep commitment to our own particularity is part of what it means to be human. Yes, we need to establish connecting bonds across cultures, but each culture must also honour a special sense of self. The downside of globalisation is the threat it can present to cultural identities.

“But there is also a second great challenge which is intensifying in our world. In some ways it is the exact opposite of the globalising impulse. I refer to a growing tendency toward fragmentation and confrontation among peoples. In a time of mounting insecurity, cultural pride can turn, too often, into an endeavour to normatise one’s culture. The quest for identity can then become an exclusionary process — so that we define ourselves less by what we are for and more by whom we are against. When this happens, diversity turns quickly from a source of beauty to a cause of discord.I believe that the coexistence of these two surging impulses — what one might call a new globalism on one hand and a new tribalism on the other — will be a central challenge for educational leaders in the years ahead. And this will be particularly true in the developing world with its kaleidoscope of different identities.As you may know, the developing world has been at the centre of my thinking and my work throughout my lifetime. And I inherited a tradition of educational commitment from my grandfather. It was a century ago that he began to build a network of some 300 schools in the developing world, the Aga Khan Education Services.” — Aga Khan [16]


“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.” — Aga Khan [17]

“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….” — Aga Khan [18]

“As I look to the future of the Ismaili community worldwide, living in many parts of Central Asia, and in more than 25 different countries, and as I look to the future of Tajikistan, with its variegated population, and as I look at the Ummah, I conclude that every and all those peoples, if they wish to achieve a better life for themselves in the generations ahead, must absolutely achieve peace within their societies, and because we are Muslim, conflict must be replaced by a peace which is predicated on the ethics of our faith. We must not kill to resolve our differences, whatever they may be. They must be resolved, as I have said, within the ethic of our faith through dialogue, through compassion, through tolerance, through generosity and forgiveness. These are the pillars on which to build a strong society in modern times — not through weapons.” — Aga Khan [19]


(a) Individual Expressions…

“My own sense is that if an individual wishes to associate publicly with a faith, that’s the right of that individual to do that, whether he’s a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. That is, to me, something which is important.” — Aga Khan [20]

(b) vs. Compulsion

“To go from there to an imposed process by forces in society, to me is unacceptable. It’s got to be the choice of the individual who wishes to associate with his faith or her faith. I have great respect for any individual who wants in the right way to be associated with his own faith. I accept that totally and I would never challenge it.” — Aga Khan [20]


“There is an often quoted ayat [of the Qur'an] which says that you should leave the world in a better environment than you found it. You have a responsibility of legacy of God’s creation of the world, to improve that legacy from generation to generation. So there’s an ethical premise to it.” — Aga Khan [21]

“Islam does not deal in dichotomies but in all-encompassing unity. Spirit and body are one, man and nature are one. What is more, man is answerable to God for what man has created. Since all that we see and do resonates on the faith, the aesthetics of the environments we build and the quality of the interactions that take place within them reverberate on our spiritual lives. As the leader of a Muslim community, and particularly one that now resides in twenty-five countries on four continents, the physical representation of Islamic values is particularly important to me. It should reflect who we are in terms of our beliefs, our cultural heritage and our relation to the needs and contexts in which we live in today’s world.” — Aga Khan [22]


“In a world where quality of life is increasingly measured in material terms there is risk that the essential value system of Islam will be eroded, or even threatened with disappearance. Political situations with a theological overlay are also causing disaffection or antagonism between communities of the same faith, and even more so amongst different faiths. Where we can build bridges with other tariqahs around a common Muslim cosmopolitan ethos, we should make this endeavour.” — Aga Khan [23]


“Encounters. When two people meet. Or two particles. Or two cultures. In that crucial moment of interaction the results of an encounter are determined. In the simplest of encounters — say, with two billiard balls — the outcome is a predictable result of position, velocity and mass. But the encounters that interest me most are not so simple. In the encounters of people and cultures, much depends on the path that each has taken to that point. These are not stochastic processes. The subjects have histories. The encounter has complexity and rich dimensionality. The result of an encounter between two people or between two cultures is shaped by the assumptions of each, by their respective goals and — perhaps most directly relevant to a university — by the repertoire of responses that each has learned. Encounters therefore have aspects of both the general and the specific. What makes our current time distinctive are the new combinations of people and cultures that are participating in these encounters.” — Aga Khan [24]


“As the young men and women from this Aga Khan Academy, and over time from its sister schools, grow and assume leadership in their societies, it is my hope that it will be members of this new generation who, driven by their own wide knowledge and inspiration, will change their societies; that they will gradually replace many of the external forces that appear, and sometimes seek, to control our destinies. These young men and women, I am sure, will become leaders in the governments and the institutions of civil society in their own countries, in international organisations and in all those institutions, academic, economic and artistic that create positive change in our world.” — Aga Khan [25]


Please click on image for enlargement. Credit: Aga Khan Development Network,

Please click on image for enlargement. Credit: Aga Khan Development Network,

“In Islamic thought and practice, the world of the spirit and the world of daily life are inseparably intertwined. This is why, over a half century, my role as a spiritual leader has also required me to act in a host of social, economic and cultural endeavours, in order to secure and enhance the well-being of the Ismailis and the communities amongst which they live….The approach we take in the Aga Khan Development Network is non-denominational and holistic. It encompasses both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. We seek to catalyse the creation of necessary basic infrastructure, together with the provision of good quality education and healthcare. We are concerned with ensuring access to appropriate credit for the poor at the same time as we are working to sustain the arts and culture.” – Aga Khan [26]

Date posted: Sunday, February, 24, 2014.
Last updated: February, 24, 2014, 18:15 EST (footnote corrections)

This piece is subject to frequent updates (ed.)


Want to give a feedback? Click on Leave a comment or the comment link at top left of this page, or send an email to

Excluding the background material taken from Dr. Azim Nanji’s articles and clauses from the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution, the numerous excerpts of His Highness the Aga Khan are taken from the following sources available at Nanowisdoms, an excellent website dedicated to speeches, interviews and writings of Ismaili Imams:

  1. The Imamat in Ismailism and What is Shia Islam? by Dr. Azim Nanji, Lifelong Learning Articles at the Institute of Ismaili Studies
  2. The Preamble Of “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims”
  3. Interview with an unidentified media outlet 9 days prior to the first Takht Nashini (Enthronement) Ceremony in Dar es Salaam, Interview in Tanzania or London, 19 October 1957, Nanowisdoms
  4. India Today Interview, Aroon Purie (India), February 1989, Nanowisdoms
  5. Press Remarks published at nanowisdoms with an unidentified media outlet, Central Asia, Nanowisdoms
  6. CBC Interview, Man Alive with Roy Bonisteel, Canada, 8 October 1986, Nanowisdoms
  7. Paris Match interview, 3 February 2005, Nanowisdoms
  8. Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony, Houston, Texas, USA, 23 June 2002, Nanowisdoms,
  9. Life Magazine Interview, Margot Dougherty and Richard B. Stolley, ‘In Him, East and
    West Meet’, Nanowisdoms
  10. Address to the Annual Meeting of The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 5 May 2003, Nanowisdoms
  11. Al Watan Interview, Waddah Abed Rabbo, Damascus, Syria, 27 August, 2008, Nanowisdoms
  12. Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International Interview, Aleppo, Syria and Lebanon, Nanowisdoms
  13. Banquet Hosted in Honour of the President of Uganda, Kampala, Uganda, 22 August 2007, and Nanowisdoms
  14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Commencement Ceremony, Cambridge, USA, 27 May 1994, Nanowisdoms
  15. Aga Khan Academy, Maputo, Foundation Stone Ceremony, Mozambique, 25 June
    2004, and Nanowisdoms
  16. ‘The Peterson Lecture’ at the Annual Meeting of the International Baccalaureate, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 18 April 2008, and Nanowisdoms
  17. Imamat dinner for senior members of the Government, diplomats … etc. London, United Kingdom, July 3, 2008, and Nanowisdoms
  18. Brown University Commencement Ceremony, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 26 May 1996, and Nanowisdoms
  19. Public Address, Rushan, Badakhshan, Tajikistan, 27 May 1995, Nanowisdoms
  20. Irish Times Interview, Alison Healy, ‘Jubilee for an imam among equals’, Maynooth, Ireland, Nanowisdoms
  21. Interview featured in PBS/E2 Series, ‘A Garden in Cairo’, USA, 2 September 2008, Nanowisdoms
  22. Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony, Houston, Texas, USA, 23 June 2002, and Nanowisdoms
  23. Golden Jubilee Inaugural Ceremony, Aiglemont, France, 11 July 2007, Nanowisdoms
  24. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Commencement Ceremony, Cambridge, USA, 27 May 1994, Nanowisdoms
  25. Aga Khan Academy, Kilindini, Opening Ceremony, Mombasa, Kenya, 20 December 2003 and Nanowisdoms
  26. Imamat dinner for senior members of the Government, diplomats … etc. London, United Kingdom, July 3, 2008, and Nanowisdoms

Note that several speeches made by the Aga Khan can also be read by clicking on

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers on the essay. Please use the Comments  LEAVE A REPLY box which appears below. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Please visit the Simerg Home page for links to articles posted most recently. For links to articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009, please click Table of Contents. Sign-up for blog subscription at top right of this page.