Editor’s note: The following are excerpts from a remarkable speech delivered by the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in Vancouver, Canada, on April 22, 1975. Published in numerous Canadian Ismaili newsletters during the mid 1970’s, the speech has also been widely distributed on the internet over the past few years as email attachments. Many of his thoughts some 37 years ago are perhaps even more pertinent today than they were at the time given the current global economy, the importance of culture in the life of a community, the role of bilingualism, and the nature of good citizenship. We urge everyone, wherever they are, to study this speech carefully and note the important advice contained therein. We are glad to make the speech available to our worldwide readership, and thank the many who brought it to our attention.
By Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan
(17 January 1933 – 12 May 2003)
A Moving Occasion – Recalling the Late Imam
As we meet here tonight, a deeply moving occasion for me, my thoughts turned first of all to my late Beloved Father [His Highness the Aga Khan III, the 48th Ismaili Imam] who would have been so encouraged to see such a large gathering of Ismailis concentrated in a new land where they have never been before and as I think of my Late Father, I am greatly encouraged by the strength, the resilience, the tremendous ability to adapt, that all of you here have shown in settling in this great, this wonderful country.
We Live in a Small World
This, indeed is a very small world and one realises it every day, and my remarks this evening are made not in the spirit of the community as regards questions of jamati interests, religious interests, but mainly as High Commissioner for Refugees – someone who is deeply concerned with the welfare of the jamat and who at the same time has taken a personal interest in facilitating the immigration of the great many of the new Canadians who live in this country.
The world is very small, and proof of that is that we flew over here in just a few hours from another continent and yet despite the fact [that] the world is small, people still don’t have very much understanding of each other’s problems and seem to be unaware sometimes of the realties of the situations in other parts of the world.
Now, who for instance, amongst all of you here who really knew about Canada before arriving? Before being landed immigrants? Before becoming Canadian Citizens?
And very few people in this great country know a great deal about India or about Pakistan or about East Africa, and this is something which happens in such a small world. The world which you can really visit in just a few hours by jet plane. You can go round the world today if you happen to be an astronaut in a space ship in just a few minutes and yet people find it difficult to understand each other.
Become True Ambassadors of the Community and Learn about the Country and its Provinces
If I mention this, it is because feel that we have to learn from such experiences. I feel very strongly that now that history has brought you together with Canadians from different parts of the world, who originally came also from overseas, from Europe, and other parts of the world, that you have to learn this – from this accident of history to get to know the country in which you live, to get to know it really well and to get the people here to understand where you come from, who you are, and what your thoughts and beliefs are.
I would like to see every Ismaili and particularly every young Ismaili become an Ambassador, a real ambassador of the community. And I mean active ambassadors, Ambassadors who really work hard. I want you to be active ambassadors. I want you to explain to your Canadian friends, to your neighbors, to the people that you work with, that you live with, the people that entertain you, or that you will be entertaining, what you are, where you come from, about your traditions, about your culture, about your religion, about the way in which the community functions.
This is something which is extremely important and which all of you should remember. What we have to seek, I think, is not only the physical integration in the economy and the social structure of the country but we have to seek a kind of integration of ideas in the small world that we live in. This is what we have to aim for. An integration of ideas.
If you know this country well, you will find it much easier to settle here and I urge you to study Canada’s history.
Not only the history of the Nation as a whole, but the history of your Province. To have interest in the history of this country and its background. To understand how it functions. In exchange, you should explain to your Canadian friends what the Ismaili Community is all about. Explain the role of the Imam, not only his religious functions but also the economic and social advice that you receive from the Imam and what has happened to the community as a result of its unity in other parts of the world without forgetting that the community always owes allegiance, above all, to the country in which it lives, which is something also that the Canadians should understand – that you are going to be good Canadians, and that your allegiance will be first and foremost to the country which has opened doors to you.
For this reason, you must be law-abiding, for this reason, you must be good citizens. To become a Canadian is a privilege, and a privilege that you should be proud of. You have to have a civic sense. You should abide the laws of the country and this is particularly important to remember at a time when so many people are still trying to come to Canada.
As High Commissioner for Refugees, I can assure you that one should not encourage any clandestine immigration. One should not encourage people to come here unless they are properly sponsored, unless they have submitted to the Immigration formalities, unless they have been given clearance through the proper channels. There should be no hurried uncoordinated decision to try to get people to come here at all cost and to jump the line and jump the queue because this will give you, the community, and the new immigrants a bad name – so you have to be patient and you have to understand the laws in this country.
This is extremely important also for us in the United Nations who are working so closely with the Canadian Authorities to make sure that immigration, family reunion and the humanitarian practice of the Canadian Government continues to be generous, particularly with regard to refugees.
Live Within Means; Do Not Try and Outdo Others; Remember the Soul
In the field of economy, I would advise you very strongly to understand the opportunities which are given to you, whilst at the same time being conservative and reasonable about expenses. There are many institutions in the Western world – many institutions in Canada – many institutions in the United States which give extended credit facilities and which make it very easy for people to buy without paying immediately, giving them the impression that consumer goods are available, and that they can always do everything on credit, and you must remember that this is very dangerous at times and that you must always live within your means, because as my father used to say, “a man who spends one cent more – one cent more than his income, finishes a pauper.” Therefore, with these extended credit facilities and all the various opportunities given to you by financial establishments, banks, etc. you have to be very careful always to live within your means and to live simply.
You should not be concerned about keeping up with your neighbours, keeping up by always trying to do better, having a bigger house, having a bigger car, and generally leading a more affluent existence. I think you should try to remember that today, in the world that we live in, there is a need for simplicity, to live within one’s means and not to fall a victim of these tastes for consumer goods and excessive affluence.. You should think not only of material goods – you should think also of other things. You should think very much of your minds. You should think of your souls. You should think of so many other interests.
I don’t want the Ismailis to be known in their new countries only because of their business qualifications, only because they are clever businessmen, only because they are good at getting along on business. I want Ismailis, especially the young people, to be known for their culture, for their extra curricular interests, for their sporting activities, for their culture, their religion, for their intellect – and young people have so many opportunities here.
Canada – A Land of Opportunities
You have a wonderful country – a big country, you can spread out. You can look for opportunities elsewhere. Not just remain always together, always in groups. I flew over parts of this country and I saw how nature is beautiful, how the Canadians love their country, and you must love it too and go out and camp and go visit the lakes and the forests. Go out and find out what nature has to offer you also. The young people should get interested and involved in conservation, in ecology, in all the things that the Canadians attach such an importance to, and which are so important in a highly industrialized world. Don’t think only all the time about business, about your own family interests, or your own community interests. Try to raise your sights, try and look beyond and, especially the young, try to be ambitious not only in the field of business but all the other callings which are available here in the country.
Canadians Should learn both English and French
I would advise the young people here also to learn other languages. This is a bilingual country, and I was very happy earlier today when I met students separately in a separate group to see many of them, especially those who came from Zaire, are keeping up with their French.
I think it is very important in Canada to be able to speak French. I would like to be able to come back here – although I know that British Columbia is largely British and therefore English-speaking and unlike Quebec, Montreal. But I would like to come back here and speak to you in French and to have everybody understand.
When I come here, I will speak in French, and when I go to Montreal or Quebec, I will speak in English. Canada is a bilingual country and it is absolutely essential for the new generations who want to travel in this country and explore the immense possibilities which it offers you to speak French as well as English even if they speak it with a Canadian accent.
So, in conclusion, I would like you very much to bring the qualities of your culture to this new land and at the same time to recover the qualities, the advantages, the assets which Canada offered you so generously.
Please try and learn from the mistakes of the past. Please remember that sometimes in the past, we like other people, tended to be parochial, isolated, living too much in our own closed units. Instead of looking outwards, we tended to look inward.
Participate in Canada’s Democracy
Now that you are in a great country with boundless horizons, I want you to look outward and to think about all the opportunities which you have here and especially the young people find out what democracy is all about; very few of you really had the opportunity, if you think closely about it, to live in a true democracy before. Very few of you. Some of you may have come from the United Kingdom. You have a certain experience in democracy. But, those of you who either came from India or even Pakistan or Bangladesh and certainly those of you who came from East Africa, you only have had a very short experience of true democracy, and in some East African countries this has not lasted, as we know, unfortunately.
Now that you are in a country which is truly democratic and which truly practices democracy, you have to learn about democracy and young people must know what these responsibilities entail. What it means to vote, what it means to participate in the life of the country. You have to learn the good things of democracy. Not the futile and superficial things, but the good things of democracy – participation in the life of the country. This is what I mean when I say that you have to be grateful for the right to be a Canadian citizen. It allows you to participate fully in the democratic process in this country.
Encourage and Stimulate Children
As you go ahead, think of your minds, think of your children, think of their minds, how can they develop their minds, how can they develop their education and don’t stand in the way of your children’s education and their progress. Don’t be selfish about your children. Give them a chance to develop in the way they like and to follow the right path of education, vocational training so they can really integrate in their new country.
My wife joins me again in thanking you for your welcome. We wish you all happiness, prosperity, a very happy life in Canada and remember that it is by becoming a better individual, by trying to improve as a single human being, that you can do more for your community and your country in general.
Date posted: April 28, 2012
Please see the following articles related to Prince Sadruddin on this website:
1. A Thank You Letter to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan – “A Man of Multiple Visions” by Mohezin Tejani (most recent)
2. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan: Some of the Causes for the Refugee Crisis – Injustice, Intolerance and Lack of Respect for Human Rights
3. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan: A Rare and Insightful Interview With The UNESCO Courier
4. Writings of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan; A Friend of Endangered Species, the Vulnerable Habitat and the Monk Seal
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These words of wisdom of Prince Sadruddin carry an eternal message for the Ismailis all over the world. I am sure the Canadian jamat of the time implemented the guidance he provided. The new generation is in the same spot in history that the generation before them was when this message was delivered, and it is hoped that they will implement his words which are even more critical today than ever before.