BARONESS MARGARET THATCHER AND HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN
“…In 1957, there was only one Ismaili space here for congregational prayer – and that was on leased premises! Creating places of prayer as centres for community life was fundamental to ensuring the cohesion of the community, and there are now over 40 such places. Among them, of course, a central focal point is The Ismaili Centre, located in South Kensington. Having Baroness Thatcher with us tonight is particularly significant because The Ismaili Centre was opened by her in 1985…” –His Highness the Aga Khan, London, July 3, 2008.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday, April 8, 2013 at the age of 87, was the first woman to become U.K. prime minister and Britain’s only prime minister of the 20th century to win three consecutive terms. She was prime minister from May 4, 1979 until November 28, 1990. During her leadership, His Highness the Aga Khan had invited her to open the first high-profile Ismaili Centre built in the Western World.
The following are excerpts from Baroness Thatcher’s speech made during the Centre’s opening in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan on April 24, 1985, almost 28 years ago.
“Your Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, It gives me great pleasure to be here today for the official opening of this new Ismaili Centre in London and I am most grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan for the honour he has done me in inviting me to perform the opening ceremony.
“The building of this splendid new Centre, which will provide facilities for religious observance and for social functions within the Ismaili community, must reflect a sense of stability and confidence in the future.
“Although there has been an Ismaili community in this country for very many years, I know that many members came here comparatively recently, having been uprooted from settled and successful lives in East Africa: and for them, leaving East Africa must have been a sad, deeply disturbing and in some cases, terrible experience.
“But clearly the Ismaili community who made Britain their new home triumphed over these adversities and have found here a new sense of security and belonging. This Centre is a powerful symbol of that feeling of belonging. And in return Britain, like so many other parts of the world where there are Ismaili communities, benefits from the contributions that Ismailis make to society.
“It is a very great pleasure for us to welcome you, Madam Prime Minister, and so distinguished a gathering for a ceremony which is a most significant one for the Ismaili community: significant because this is the first cultural and religious center in the Western world to have been built specifically for the community’s requirements.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, London, April 24, 1985.
“The Ismaili community in London is self-sufficient and independent, energetic and highly talented, contributing to society in every sort of way: and at the same time its powerful sense of community, both spiritual and cultural, provides a firm and unchanging basis for living.
“This stability and coherence of the Ismaili community is a valuable example.
“Britain certainly gains in many ways from the presence of the Ismaili community here, and London itself is enhanced by the construction of the new Centre, for which we are all most grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan. It is a magnificent contribution to the architecture of London.
“It fits in easily with the other fine buildings of South Kensington, yet it has its own distinctive character too.
“It seems to encapsulate the determination of your community to integrate your citizens into the society in which we all live, while at the same time retaining their own identity and independence.
“This Centre is a most attractive and beautifully designed structure and a welcome newcomer to the Royal Borough.
“It is a splendid testament to the vitality of the Ismaili community here, and it is with great pleasure that I now formally declare the Ismaili Centre open.” — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, April 24, 1985.
“We are all greatly honoured at your being with us, Madam Prime Minister. It is a source of pleasure and pride to the Ismaili community that this Center should be situated in the heart of London, and we now look forward to its becoming a valuable addition to the distinguished neighbourhood.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, April 24, 1985.
Date posted: Monday, April 8, 2013.