November 1, 1983: His Highness the Aga Khan Conferred Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by McGill University

Mr. Chancellor, I present to you Prince Aga Khan, spiritual leader, philanthropist and humanitarian.
November 1, 1983: His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Shia Ismaili Imam, with McGill University’s Chancellor Conrad Hernington at the University’s Convocation held at Place des Arts in Montreal, PQ, Canada.

Introduction of His Highness the Aga Khan by the Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University, David L. Johnston, who became Canada’s new Governor General on October 1, 2010.

Mr. Chancellor,

It is with honour and pleasure that I introduce His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Born in Geneva 47 years ago, the Aga Khan spent his early childhood in Kenya and then attended Le Rosey school in Switzerland. It was later while he was a student at Harvard University that he became the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan. Two years later, in 1959, he graduated from Harvard University with an Honours Degree in Islamic History.

The Aga Khan is concerned not only with the spiritual welfare of his people but, in the Islamic tradition, with their material well-being. As recent generations of his family have done, he has followed a tradition of service in international affairs as well. Today, his activities include the fields of health care, education, architecture, industry and tourism. It is in this context that he directs an increasing number of philanthropic and development projects whose benefits are available to all, regardless of race or religion.

The Aga Khan Foundation, established in 1967, with headquarters in Geneva and branches in various countries, has become the primary agency of the Aga Khan’s activities. It owns, for example, three hospitals in Kenya, has 120 health care centres in Pakistan and has funded a series of village schools and low-cost housing projects in India. The Foundation has also built a 721-bed hospital and medical college in Karachi, which has been endowed with university status and constitutes part of a new private university called the Aga Khan University. It is of special interest that the granting of the Charter to this University in 1983 occurred approximately one thousand years after the founding of the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo by earlier members of the Aga Khan family.

The Foundation co-operates with the United Nations Development Programme as well as other well-known international organizations. In co-operation with the World Health Organization the Foundation organized a major international conference on health care in 1981, and each year provides a growing number of scholarships to students in developing countries to continue their education at insitutions of higher learning. The Foundation is non-communal and programmes are available to people of all races and religions.

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston became Canada's new Governor General on October 1, 2010. He was the Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill Univeristy when His Highness the Aga Khan was conferred an Honorary degree of the Doctor of Laws on November 1, 1983. Photo credit: Office of the Secretary to the Governor General

In 1978, the Aga Khan established a separate foundation, the Aga Khan Awards Foundation, to encourage exceptional achievements in the Arts and Sciences. Architecture is this Foundation’s first area of interest and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture of $500,000 is made every three years. A series of international seminars in various countries on different aspects of Islamic architecture has been an integral part of the Award process. In 1981, a major seminar of “The Changing Rural Habitat” was held in the People’s Republic of China. The aims of the Award are to nurture within the architectural profession and related disciplines a heightened awareness of what is appropriate culturally and to encourage suitably related architectural form.

Just as His Highness is intimately involved with educational, cultural and welfare issues, he is equally committed to the field of economic development in the developing world. It is within this context that he created the Industrial Promotion Services group of companies in 1963, which now operates in a number of countries in Africa and Asia and which acts as a catalyst to development in partnership with state and international agencies. In rural areas of developing countries, his Rural Support Program is involved in the issues of energy, sanitation, housing and food production.

The special links which bind McGill University to the work of the Aga Khan Foundation are cultural and medical. The Medical College of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, mentioned earlier, is working with McGill’s Faculty of Medicine in the achievement of certain of its development goals. The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, established in 1977 under the Aga Khan’s patronage, collaborates closely with McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies in joint teaching and research projects. This association has helped our Institute to develop a worldwide reputation in its field.

The Aga Khan’s personal position is unique in the world today. He is the spiritual leader of a community which is concentrated in the developing countries, but is also present in the West. He is concerned as well, in the Islamic tradition, with the material well-being of his people and in this sense directs an increasing number of philanthropic and development organizations whose activities contribute to the progress of the many nations where the Ismailis live. In particular, it is his aim that the Ismailis who settle in the developed world will be able to contribute towards the progress of that world.

This man is a bridge between North and South, East and West. His leadership is beyond politics, beyond race, beyond religion. In a world torn by division, hostility, war and fear of nuclear holocaust, he is a shining beacon of inspiration and of hard-headed accomplishment in improving the lot of humankind, in elevating the quality of civilized life and in uplifting all peoples of the world to cherish the brotherhood of man.

Mr. Chancellor, I present to you Prince Aga Khan, spiritual leader, philanthropist and humanitarian.

David L. Johnston
Principal and

The First Day of November
Nineteen Hundred and
Eighty- Three


Please also visit:

An Introduction to the Office of the Governor General of Canada and Some Recent Memories with the Aga Khan

Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Canadian Governor General’s Leadership Conference


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5 thoughts on “November 1, 1983: His Highness the Aga Khan Conferred Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by McGill University

  1. YA ‘Ali Madad.

    Thanks a billion for reproducing this speech. I remembered everybit of this programme (event) as I was honored to attend it with Shainool Jiva, Karim H. Karim and Farida Gabhrani. We were part of first batch of the M.A. program of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in co-ordination with McGill University.

    Brilliant Work!

    Thanks again and Ya ‘Ali Madad.

  2. Ya Ali Madad

    Excellent! I am really appreciating your efforts according to the above information you have posted. Keep it up in the future as well.

    Best of luck 🙂

  3. I must say, you do some fabulous work, Simerg. This article is another testament to the shukrana we give for being Ismailis, for having such a Blessing in our Wolrd, our Hazar Imam. May we all walk as ambassadors, with our faith guiding our actions in our every step, no matter how large, how small.

    Thank you.

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