Honorary Degrees Conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan since 1967: A Pictorial Record with Citations, Tributes and Remarks

An earlier portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan.

Compiled by Azeem Maherali

“Wisdom, Versatility, Sagacity and Statesmanship – Characteristic of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Noble and Great family”

To date, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, has been awarded 20 honorary degrees by universities from 11 different countries. The latest, the 20th, was conferred at 11 a.m. on Friday January 13, 2012, by the University of Ottawa, Canada.

1. Canada – from five institutions of the prestigious “G13.” G13 or Group of 13, is a group of leading research-intensive universities in Canada: McGill University, McMaster University, University of Toronto, University of Alberta, University of Ottawa.
2. UK – from three institutions of the prestigious “Russel Group.” The Russell Group is a collaboration of the top twenty universities in the United Kingdom: University of London, University of Wales, University of Cambridge.
3. USA – from three institutions: 2 institutions of the prestigious “Ivy League” and/or from 1 institution of the Big Three. Ivy League comprises of 8 colleges considered to be among the best institutions of higher learning in Northeastern United States. Big Three (colleges) — a term used to refer to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. As well His Highness received an award equivalent to an Honorary Degree from UCSF. Brown University, Harvard University, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
4. Pakistan – from two institutions: University of Peshawar, University of Sind
5. Portugal – from one institution: University of Évora
6. Egypt – from one institution: American University in Cairo
7. Ireland – from one institution: National University of Ireland
8. Kyrgyzstan – from one institution: Osh State University
9. Lebanon – from one institution: American University of Beirut
10. Mali – from one institution: University of Sankoré
11. Tajikistan – from one institution: Khorog State University

The following are the degrees in chronological sequence:

NOTE: Legum Doctor (LL.D. also known as Doctor of Laws) is a doctorate-level academic degree in law, or an honorary doctorate, depending on the jurisdiction.

1. LL.D. (honoris causa) University of Peshawar, Pakistan (1967-11-30)

November 30, 1967: His Highness the Aga Khan entering the Convocation Hall, University of Peshawar. Photo Credit: Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Special Brochure

November 30, 1967: His Highness the Aga Khan with Governor Mohammad Musa Khan, Chancellor of the University of Peshawar. Photo Credit: Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Special Brochure

His Highness the Aga Khan was cited as “whether it be the cause of Muslims in Pakistan, so dear to his fore-bearers and to himself, or in the far distant Philippines, his generosity has enhanced all.”

November 30, 1967: His Highness the Aga Khan - "The day we no longer have the time nor the faith to bow in prayer to Allah because the human soul...is no longer of sufficient importance to us will be a sunless day of despair."

The following are remarks from the convocation address delivered by His Highness the Aga Khan:

“I am deeply moved by the kindness of your welcome and by the outstanding honour this University has done in bestowing an honorary degree upon me today. I speak these words in no formal sense, but from the heart. I do this especially because, as a Muslim it will remain a proud memory that the first such academic honour I have received has been given to me by this renowned Islamic seat of learning in Pakistan.

“…..What has been called the permissive society where anything goes, nothing matters, nothing is sacred or private any more, is not a promising foundation for a brave and upright new world. This fearful chase after material ease must surely be tempered by peace of mind, by conscience, by moral values, which must be resuscitated. If not, man will simply have converted the animal instinct of feeding himself before others and even at the expense of others, into perhaps a more barbaric instinct of feeding himself and then hoarding all he can at the cost of the poor, the sick and the hungry.

“….It is here that the East, that Asia, nay that this very University can contribute something of primordial and everlasting value. It is my deepest conviction that if Islamic society is to avoid following blindly the course of Western society without taking the trouble to raise guards against the latter’s weaknesses and deficiencies, a thorough rediscovery, revitalisation and reintegration of our traditional values must be achieved.

“It would be traumatic if those pillars of the Islamic way of life, social justice, equality, humility and generosity, enjoined upon us all, were to lose their force or wide application in our young society. It must never be said generations hence that in our greed for the material good of the rich West we have forsaken our responsibilities to the poor, to the orphans, to the traveller, to the single woman.

“The day, we no longer know how, nor have the time nor the faith to bow in prayer to Allah because the human soul that He has told us is eternal is no longer of sufficient importance to us to be worthy of an hour of our daily working, profit-seeking time, will be a sunless day of despair.

“It is eminent seats of learning such as this that can synthesise and transmit to the younger generations the proper balance between the Western search of well-being and the Eastern spiritual, human and cultural traditions. I believe the future does reserve better standards of living for us than what we have at present, but in order to enjoy them fully, we must know today what will be the fundamental principles of our lives tomorrow.

“I render sincere and high tribute to Peshawar University that has set out to fulfil this essential and monumental task.

“May Allah crown your efforts with brilliant success.”


2. LL.D. (honoris causa), University of Sind, Pakistan (1970-02-06)

His Highness the Aga Khan was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by Sind University, Karachi “in recognition of the role that his Royal Highness and his ancestors have played in the world of Islam,  of his patronage of arts, education and learning, and in recognition of his love, sympathy, condescension and affability, his humanity and his generosity,” and other contributions.

Praising His Highness the Aga Khan, the Vice-chancellor, Prof. Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah, said:

“In a short span of 12 years as Imam, His Royal Highness has shown that he is endowed with wisdom, versatility, sagacity and statesmanship which are characteristic of his noble and great family. In the fast-changing and kaleidoscopic conditions on the continents of Asia and Africa, His Royal Highness has not only guided the socio-economic activities of his own followers, but has also rendered immense material assistance in the economic development of new and young nations and thereby advanced the well-being, prosperity and stability of the people of those countries.”

The following are remarks from the convocation address delivered by His Highness the Aga Khan:

“Pakistan was conceived by Muslims and for Islam. Everyone here will agree with me, I am sure, that the source of national motivation in the future must continue to be our faith. But once this is said, how is it to be achieved? If institutions are born from society, then I affirm that it is to our society that we must turn, and ask ourselves: If Islam is to be the source of inspiration, how do we transform this inspiration into practical terms of everyday life? And how do we do this and at the same time continue to make material progress? These questions have a special urgency and relevance in a democratic society such as Pakistan is now seeking to create. It is society which gives birth to its institutions in democracy – and not the institutions which shape and impose themselves upon society.

“I am convinced that our faith and our heritage contain all the indicators that we shall need. More than this, I am convinced that it will take relatively little effort to isolate those elements which, through the centuries, were responsible for the amazing development of the Muslim Empire. And once we have identified these basic elements, we should be able, without difficulty, to use them to our advantage.

“…Let me turn to another aspect of Islamic society: our intellectual elite. In the past, much of the dynamism of Muslim society was born from the leaders of the faith: the Imams, the Pirs and Mullahs. This identity between the leaders of the faith and the empire’s intellectual elite was a continuous source of strength both to the faith and those whose duty it was to govern the empire. How many aspiring Mullahs or Imams today enter secular universities and obtain degrees in secular subjects? And vice-versa, how many university graduates, after completing their degrees, turn their lives to directing the flock of the faithful? Let me not be misunderstood – I criticise neither Pirs nor Mullahs nor Imams nor degree-holders. I simply state that in future I believe it will be in our society’s interest to have a much wider platform in common between our religious and our secular leaders. Our religious leadership must be acutely aware of secular trends, including those generated by this age of science and technology. Equally, our academic or secular elite must be deeply aware of Muslim history, of the scale and depth of leadership exercised by the Islamic empire of the past in all fields.

“It is through the creation of such a new elite, inspired by, and widely read in everything related to our heritage, that there must come about a revival in Muslim thought.

“This has been described as the age of technology and blessed may be those who through their technological discoveries have enabled man to conquer space and to hope one day to draw sufficient food from the earth and the sea to feed himself. Blessed also may be those who have helped eliminate from this earth such crippling diseases as poliomyelitis and perhaps one day cancer. But through all this development, hand in hand and side by side with it, the spirit of Islam must survive. A society without a strong sense of its own identity has time and again in human history proved to be well on the way to decay.”


3. LL.D. (honoris causa), McGill University, Canada (1983-11-01)

November 1, 1983: His Highness the Aga Khan seen with McGill University Chancellor on being conferred with an Honorary Degree of Laws by McGill University

David Johnston, then Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill  – and currently Canada’s Governor General – said in his presentation:

“The Aga Khan’s personal position is unique in the world today….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 civilised life and in uplifting all peoples of the world to cherish the brotherhood of man.”


4. LL.D. (honoris causa), McMaster University, Canada (1987-05-15)

May 15, 1987: Minister of Colleges and Universities, the Hon. Gregory Sorbara, conveys greetings from the Province of Ontario at the McMaster University's Convocation while Dr. Lee, the Aga Khan, The Chancellor Dr. Panabaker and the Lt. Governor, The Hon. Lincoln Alexander look on. Photo credit: Nadir Abdulla (Ontario Ismaili, 7/1987).

May 15, 1987: His Highness the Aga Khan being conferred an honorary degree of laws by McMaster University on its 100th anniversary for his leadership in the advancement of health and education in a large number of developing countries.

The President of the University, Mr. Alvin Lee, praised His Highness the Aga Khan’s “sober and responsible leadership in the advancement of the Third World; his promotion of education and the ideal of education; his major contribution to health care in Pakistan and his involvement of McMaster University in that project; and his extraordinary efforts in bridging many and very diverse religions and cultures … for which, he is unique in bridging the underdeveloped and the highly developed worlds.

“In that Islamic tradition, which treasures education, rest the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and their religious leader, His Highness the Aga Khan.”


5. D. Litt. (honoris causa), University of London, United Kingdom (1989-10-11)

Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, Chancellor of the University, conferred the Degree during the Founders Day Convocation ceremony.

October 11, 1989: His Highness the Aga Khan with Princess Anne, Chancellor of the University of London at a ceremony at Logan Hall where he received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature in Education from the University of London.

His Highness the Aga Khan was cited as a calm voice in troubled times, a world leader, uniquely placed to bridge the cultural differences dividing the East and West.”


6. LL.D. (honoris causa), University of Wales, Wales, United Kingdom (1993-11-30)

November 30, 1993: His Highness the Aga Khan, Prince Charles, Chancellor of the University of Wales and other members of the procession '"doff" their caps following the award of the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws to the Ismaili Imam on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the university.

Prince of Wales, Princess Charles, Chancellor of the University, conferred the Degree to His Highness the Aga Khan for his patronage of education and academic research throughout the world.

The citation notes that the university pays tribute to “a great spiritual and humanitarian tradition” for his “work that has diminished poverty, unemployment and ignorance.” It also notes that “his many institutions … have transformed the quality of life of millions of people in the developing world of Africa and Asia,” and have “a matchless record of creative endeavour among the poorer people of our world.”


7. LL.D. (honoris causa),  Khorog State University, Tajikistan, (1995-05)

His Highness the Aga Khan was the first graduator of the University which was founded on August 5, 1992 by the decision of the Cabinet of the Ministers of the Rupublic of Tajikistan.


8. LL.D. (honoris causa), Brown University, USA (1996-05-27)

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.

May 26, 1996: An audience at Brown Univeristy's "Green" watches a live telecast from the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church where the Aga Khan delivered the Baccalaureate Address to graduating class. Photo: Abdulmalik Merchant

In the citation and remarks, President Vartan Gregorian, said:

“He has become a major activist for civilized humanity and universal values. Not in words but in deeds. Not in one location but around the world.

“….He has affected the lives of millions. Indeed, only ten days ago, while I was in Chicago, a driver from Pakistan, noting my accent, inquired about my place of birth. When I said I was born in Iran, he asked if I was familiar with the Aga Khan. I said I was slightly familiar with the Aga Khan. He said, ‘Everything I have I owe to him — my spiritual welfare, my business. And do you know, he is coming to the United States. I wish there were an opportunity for me to thank my Imam!’

“He then turned down the visor and showed me the Aga Khan’s picture. Your Highness, I told him that when I see you, I will thank you on behalf of Fateh Ali Jindhani and all the Fateh Ali Jindhanis of the world. They are a legion and they are of all faiths.

“As an educator, I thank you on behalf of universities where no Islamic Civilization was taught and where, thanks to your munificence such teaching now exists.

“One more private, personal thank you — for entrusting the education of Prince Rahim to Brown University. We are grateful for your trust, we salute Prince Rahim, your beloved daughter Princess Zahra and your son Prince Hussain.

“Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Class of 1996, I present to you this inspiring leader, great humanitarian, statesman and man of learning and culture, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.”

May 27, 1996: His Highness the Aga Khan standing alongside other Honorary Degree Recipients during Brown University's Academic Procession. Photo: Abdulmalik Merchant

May 27, 1996: A section of the large crowd witnessing the Degree Ceremony at Brown University's "Green." The Honorary Degree recipients, including the Aga Khan, are on the stage in the distant. Photo: Abdulmalik Merchant

May 27, 1996: A portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan taken at Brown University. Photo credit: Akdn.org

The following are excerpts from His Highness the Aga Khan’s Baccalaureate Address at Brown University:

“For the last fifty years, our planet has been frozen by a paralysing bipolar political vortex which we call the Cold War. During those years, many allowed their views to stagnate and harden into notions so dependable that they became unrevisable dogmas: My capitalism versus your communism, your eastern bloc versus our western bloc and left versus right. But like the Berlin Wall, our old bipolar system was dismantled almost overnight, and with it the black and white world to which we had grown accustomed. Unfortunately, views and thought habits, although intangible, are less easily broken than bricks and politics. Learned human behaviour dies hard.

“….Today in the occident, the Muslim world is deeply misunderstood by most. The West knows little about its diversity, about the religion or the principles which unite it, about its brilliant past or its recent trajectory through history. The Muslim world is noted in the West, North America and Europe, more for the violence of certain minorities than for the peacefulness of its faith and the vast majority of its people. The words “Muslim” and “Islam” have themselves come to conjure the image of anger and lawlessness in the collective consciousness of most western cultures. And the Muslim world has, consequently, become something that the West may not want to think about, does not understand, and will associate with only when it is inevitable.

“….Against this worrying global background it must be made utterly clear that in so far as Islam is concerned, this violence is not a function of the faith itself, as much as the media would have you believe. This is a misperception which has become rampant, but which should not be endowed with any validity, nor should it be accepted and given credibility. It is wrong and damaging. The myth that Islam is responsible for all the wrong doing of certain Muslims may well stem from the truism that for all Muslims, the concepts of Din and Duniya, Faith and World, are inextricably linked. More so than in any other monotheistic religion of the world. The corollary is that in a perfect world, all political and social action on the part of Muslims would always be pursued within the ethical framework of the faith. But this is not yet a perfect world. The West, nonetheless, must no longer confuse the link in Islam, between spiritual and temporal, with that between state and church.”


9. Honorary Professorship of the Osh State University, Kyrgyzstan (2002)

The honorary rank of professor of the Osh State University was conferred on His Highness Aga Khan for his long and faithful engagement in the sphere of social development and education in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.


10. LL.D. (honoris causa) University of Toronto, Canada (2004-06-18)

June 18, 2004: His Highness the Aga Khan was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Toronto. Here he is pictured with the Chancellor Hon. Vivienne Poy, President Birgeneau, and Dr. Thomas H. Simpson, Chair of the Governing Council, at the convocation ceremony. Photo Credit: Akdn.org

Remarks from the convocation address by His Highness the Aga Khan:

“In 1957, the year I became imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was a 60 year-old statesman who, two years earlier, in a book entitled Democracy in World Politics, had written:

We are now emerging into an age when different civilisations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other’s history and ideals, art and culture, mutually enriching each other’s lives. The only alternative in this overcrowded little world, is misunderstanding, tension, clash, and catastrophe.

“The prescient writer, whom some of you will recognise as a distinguished alumnus and former teacher at this great institution, went on to lead this country as its fourteenth Prime Minister: Lester B. Pearson.

“…..This is the nature of the true regime change we need, where the civil society of the industrialised world gives wide and encompassing support to that of the developing world.

“True regime change occurs when liberty is guaranteed by a people free to create or support institutions of their own choosing. True regime change occurs when that strength and that freedom are defined by the depth, breadth and quality of education shared across the society in question.

“Partnerships between the developed and developing worlds can and do work. Moreover, they demonstrate how essential universities and their lifeblood – you their graduates – are to civil society.

“….Today, you are graduating from one of Canada’s greatest universities in a field of study that is of paramount importance. I am speaking to you as a person whose roots and institutional engagement are in the developing world; as a Muslim; as someone seeking to engage with, and improve, the lives of the millions of people who live in Asia and Africa.

“It is against this background that I invite you – indeed, I urge you – to reflect deeply on the needs of our world today. I am sure you will wish to seize the opportunities for sharing your knowledge with future generations here in Canada, but should you wish it, the reach of your knowledge can go far beyond your shores, and will be deeply welcomed. Because civil society is so critical to the quality of life, and the pace of progress, and because it finds expression in so many pluralist forms and spaces, I am convinced that the future before you, in this global environment we share, offers you a remarkable spectrum of opportunities.”


11. Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, American University of Beirut, Lebanon (2005-06-25)

June 25, 2005: His Highness the Aga Khan receives AUB's Doctorate of Humane Letters.

In its citation, the University praised His Highness the Aga Khan as “an avid philanthropist standing at the head of a network of service institutions focused on the have-nots of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.”

The following remarks were made by His Highness the Aga Khan following the presentation of the Award:

“I am most grateful to the American University of Beirut for this award. I accept it with much happiness and humility, cognisant of the great distinction and achievements of fellow recipients whom the University is also honouring.

“Although I have never therefore been an enrolled student here, this great university has always been part of my academic horizon, where some 40 years ago, I supported the introduction of studies in Muslim civilisations and cultures through an Aga Khan Chair in that discipline.

“….The University’s fidelity to its founding notion that disciplined, objective inquiry is the property of all humanity, attracts faculty and students of high calibre from dozens of countries and cultures, challenged not only to excel in their chosen fields, but to place their knowledge in the wider context of humanity’s pluralist heritage. This is a core principle of my own faith – Islam – that learning is ennobling, regardless of the geographic or cultural origin of the knowledge we acquire.

“Such teachings spurred a spiritually liberated people to new waves of adventure in the realms of the spirit and the intellect, amongst whose visible symbols were the University of al-Azhar and Dar al-Ilm established by my Fatimid ancestors in Cairo, and the illustrious counterpart institutions in Baghdad, Cordova, Bukhara, Samarkand and other Muslim centres.

“…There is an intimate, centuries-old link between the most glorious periods in Muslim and Judeo-Christian civilisations and their institutions of higher learning…..The sentiments, which shaped this link, enlivening the great and civilising exchanges of knowledge and wisdom, are very much evident on this campus today. They are a legacy that is the strongest shield against clashes of ignorance.”


12. Honorary Doctorate, University of Évora, Portugal (2006-02-12)

February 12, 2006: His Highness the Aga Khan is bestowed with the "Honoris Causa" doctorate degree by the University of Évora, Portugal, in honour of "the extraordinary work of economic, social and cultural and educational assistance" through the Aga Khan Development Network. Photo credit: Akdn.org

The ceremony was presided over by Portuguese President, Jorge Sampaio and Rector, Manuel Patricio. Attendees included the Portuguese Minister for State and Foreign Affairs, Diogo Freitas do Amaral, international diplomatic representatives, members of the senate and faculty of the university, and local dignitaries. His Highness the Aga Khan was praised as “unbreakably guided by the defence of human dignity that is available equally to all, without distinction as to ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds” and as “an international personality of the highest importance.”

His Highness the Aga Khan made the following remarks at the Evora Symposium:

“In the ethical realms—in the educational realm—one of the great stumbling blocks is arrogance. Even the resurgence of religious feeling—which should be such a positive force—can become a negative influence when it turns into self-righteousness. All of the world’s great religions warn against this excess—yet in the name of those same religions too many are tempted to play God themselves—rather than recognising their humility before the Divine.

“A central element in a truly religious outlook, it seems to me, is the quality of personal humility—a recognition that strive as we might, we will still fall short of our ideals, that climb as we might, there will still be unexplored and mysterious peaks above us. It means recognizing our own creaturehood—and thus our human limitations. In that recognition, it seems to me, lies our best protection against false prophecies and divisive dogmatism.

“A deepening sense of spiritual commitment—and the ethical framework that goes with it—will be a central requirement if we are to find our way through the minefields and the quick sands of modern life. A strengthening of religious institutions should be a vital part of this process. To be sure, freedom of religion is a critical value in a pluralistic society. But if freedom of religion deteriorates into freedom from religion—then societies will find themselves lost in a bleak and unpromising landscape—with no compass, no roadmap and no sense of ultimate direction.

“What I am calling for, in sum, is an ethical sensibility which can be shared across denominational lines and which can foster a universal moral outlook.”


13. Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, American University in Cairo, Egypt (2006-06-15)

June 15, 2006:His Highness the Aga Khan receiving his honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Provost Tim Sullivan (left) and American University in Cairo President David D. Arnold (right). Photo Credit: Akdn.org

American University, Cairo, President David Arnold says that His Highness the Aga Khan has “worked tirelessly throughout his life to better the lives of people around the world.”

His Highness the Aga Khan made the following remarks at the commencement ceremony:

“Over these five decades, I have watched that world oscillate constantly, between hope and disappointment. Too often, disappointment has been the dominant story. And too often the dominant response to disappointment has been to embrace false hopes – from dogmatic socialism to romantic nationalism, from irrational tribalism to runaway individualism….

“….Another response has been to revisit past glories – contrasting them with contemporary setbacks. Many Muslims in particular, recall a time when Islamic civilizations were on the cutting edge of world progress. They dream of renewing that heritage. But they are not sure how to do so.

“For some, renewal means recovering old forms of the faith – while for others it means rejecting faith itself. For some, recovering glory means opposition to the West, its cultures and its economic systems – while for others it means partnering with non-Islamic societies.

“As university graduates, you will be fashioning your own visions for the future and your own ways of fulfilling them. But as you do, I hope you will honor the values of this University. For the one ingredient which holds particular promise in the search for fulfillment, is the search for knowledge.

“From the very beginnings of Islam, the search for knowledge has been central to our cultures. I think of the words of Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first hereditary Imam of the Shia Muslims, and the last of the four rightly-guided Caliphs after the passing away of the Prophet (may peace be upon Him). In his teachings, Hazrat Ali emphasized that ‘No honour is like knowledge.’ And then he added that ‘No belief is like modesty and patience, no attainment is like humility, no power is like forbearance, and no support is more reliable than consultation.’

“Notice that the virtues endorsed by Hazrat Ali are qualities which subordinate the self and emphasize others – modesty, patience, humility, forbearance and consultation. What he thus is telling us, is that we find knowledge best by admitting first what it is we do not know, and by opening our minds to what others can teach us.”


14. Honorary Doctorate, University of Sankoré, Mali (2008-04-25)

His Highness the Aga Khan greeting the residents of Timbuktu who had gathered in the streets of the city to welcome him. - Photo: AKDN/Arnhel de Serra

His Highness the Aga Khan made the following remarks after the presentation of the Title of Honorary Citizen of the Islamic Community of Timbuktu and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sankoré:

“Amid such a worthy and learned gathering I am reminded of the verses of the Holy Qur’an in which Allah reminds us that He gives the blessing of wisdom to whoever He wills, but only those with intelligence remember that He has done so. My most sincere prayer is that I, my fellow citizens of Timbuktu and my brothers and sisters in Islam can continue our journey to bring greater wisdom and understanding to all.

“I am also very happy to accept the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the prestigious University of Sankoré, the African continent’s most ancient higher education institution. Like Djingareyber and Sidi Yahya, this university has been the alma mater of the town’s 180 Qu’ranic schools and the birthplace of the many scholarly works which became uniquely influential in Africa during the Middle Ages. The sum of all that knowledge has been preserved in the richly-stocked libraries of Timbuktu which house thousands of manuscripts, most of them written by scholars born in the town. This tradition of learning and the transmission of knowledge is at the heart of Islam and the practice of the faith.”


15. LL.D. (honoris causa), Harvard University, USA (2008-06-05)

June 5, 2008: His Highness the Aga Khan received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is seen speaking to fellow honorary degree recipient British author J.K. Rowling who received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Photo Credit: Akdn.org

Harvard University conferred honorary doctoral degrees on 10 individuals including His Highness the Aga Khan in recognition of their outstanding achievements in a broad range of fields.


16. LL.D.(honoris causa), National University of Ireland (NUI), Maynooth, Ireland (2008-06-30)

Monday June 30, 2008. A portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan taken before he was honoured by the National University of Ireland (NUI), Maynooth for his work against poverty and in promoting religious understanding. Picture by: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images. Copyright.

In his citation, John Hughes, President of the University, said:

“The National University of Ireland is proud to honour the distinguished career of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV in his golden jubilee year as Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaeli Muslims. His Highness is the first member of the Islamic community to be so honoured in the history of NUI Maynooth and it is particularly fitting that this University should honour him at this time, steeped as it is in the history of Catholicism in Ireland, but now a vibrant multicultural and multi-denominational university, with students from more than 50 countries. For the Aga Khan embodies the spirit of understanding, tolerance and ecumenism that should link the great religions of the world. For fifty years, he has been a voice of moderation and a voice of reason in promoting an Islam that embraces and indeed celebrates pluralism and diversity.

“…..I am delighted to welcome today the beloved daughter of His Highness, Princess Zahra. Princess Zahra, graduated from Harvard in 1994 and is the Head of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) located within the Secretariat of the Aga Khan in France. She has policy and management responsibility for the health, education, and planning and building service companies of the Aga Khan Development Network. She also plays a key policy role with respect to the other social development institutions of the Network.

“The Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, is the son of Prince Aly Khan and Princess Tajuddawlah Aly Khan, and was born on December 13, 1936, in Geneva. He spent his early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and later attended Le Rosey School in Switzerland. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA Honours Degree in Islamic History. In 1957 he became 49th Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims at the age of just 20. This followed the death of his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, who wanted to be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up in the midst of the new age, the atomic age. His grandfather, a great world statesman who was twice president of the League of Nations, and his father who was Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, recognised his intellectual gifts and his potential as a great leader. For five decades as Imam, the Aga Khan has amply fulfilled his father’s trust and his grandfather’s expectations. In spite of his youth, he quickly established himself firmly not only as spiritual leader, but also as an enlightened guardian of the welfare and progress of the far-flung Ismaili community.

“But he has done much more than that. He has become a major activist for civilized humanity and universal values, not only in words but in deeds and not only 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 that keep a community vibrant and healthy and lead to enlightenment and dignity.

“His Highness is the first member of the Islamic community to be so honoured in the history of NUI Maynooth … [He] embodies the spirit of understanding, tolerance and ecumenism that should link the great religions of the world. For fifty years, he has been a voice of moderation and a voice of reason in promoting an Islam that embraces and indeed celebrates pluralism and diversity… Few people on this earth have contributed more to the promotion of tolerance than our guest of honour here today.

“Over the years, the Aga Khan has received numerous decorations, honorary degrees, and awards in recognition of the various dimensions of his work. He has received civilian decorations on one or more occasions from the governments of France, Portugal, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Madagascar, Iran, Pakistan, Italy, Senegal, Morocco, Spain, and Tajikistan. His Highness has been awarded honorary degrees by universities in Pakistan, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He has also received numerous awards and prizes from professional organizations in recognition of his work in architecture and the conservation of historic buildings.

“In 2006, when accepting the Tutzing Award for his promotion of tolerance, the Aga Khan said: “societies which have grown more pluralistic in makeup, are not always growing more pluralistic in spirit. What is needed — all across the world – is a new “cosmopolitan ethic”- rooted in a strong culture of tolerance.” Few people on this earth have contributed more to the promotion of tolerance than our guest of honour here today.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, this inspiring leader, great humanitarian, statesman and man of learning and culture, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.”

His Highness the Aga Khan (left) with his daughter Princess Zahara (right) before he was honoured by the National University of Ireland. Picture by: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images. Copyright.


17. LL.D. (honoris causa), University of Alberta, Canada (2009-06-09)

June 9, 2009: A portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan taken at the University of Alberta where he was granted an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree. Photo credit: Creative Services, University of Alberta

June 9, 2009: His Highness the Aga Khan delivering his Convocation address at the University of Alberta in Edmonton where he received an Honorary degree of Law. Photo credit: Akdn.org

 Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan:

“….My third theme today is ethics. Neither the political nor the civil sector can accomplish anything of value unless those who steer those institutions are motivated and directed by demanding moral standards.

“When we talk about the ethical realm, when we attack corruption, we are inclined to think primarily about government and politics. I am one, however, who believes that corruption is just as acute, and perhaps even more damaging, when the ethics of the civil and private sectors deteriorate. We know from recent headlines about scoundrels from the American financial scene to the halls of European parliaments – and we can certainly do without either. But the problem extends into every area of human enterprise. When a construction company cheats on the quality of materials for a school or a bridge, when a teacher skimps on class work in order to sell his time privately, when a doctor recommends a drug because of incentives from a pharmaceutical company, when a bank loan is skewed by kickbacks, or a student paper is plagiarized from the internet – when the norms of fairness and decency are violated in any way, then the foundations of society are undermined. And the damage is felt most immediately in the most vulnerable societies, where fraud is often neither reported nor corrected, but simply accepted as an inevitable condition of life.”


18. Doctor of Divinity, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (2009-06-12)

June 12, 2009: His Highness the Aga Khan at the Degree Ceremony at the University of Cambridge, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Photo Credit: Cambridge University

His Highness the Aga Khan was recognized with the distinction of Doctor of Divinity for his work in promoting healthcare and education in developing countries at the Cambridge University. The Aga Khan became the first Muslim to receive the distinction in the University’s 800 year history.

Said Dr Rupert Thompson, classicist and Fellow of Selwyn College, in a citation read out in Latin in keeping with the College’s tradition:

“As we celebrate our eight hundredth anniversary, it is perhaps fitting that we first honour a man who traces his ancestry to the sixth century, and to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

“Since becoming the fourth Aga Khan, he has worked tirelessly through his Development Network to ensure that those who are oppressed by the worst poverty should enjoy a reasonable standard of healthcare, education and financial security. And this is not humanitarianism, as he says, but the requirement of his faith.”

Said Tim Winter, Academic Secretary in the Faculty of Divinity:

“The Honorary Doctorate of Divinity is awarded to individuals who have made a global impact through their religious leadership. I am delighted that His Highness the Aga Khan, whose charitable and spiritual leadership has a truly worldwide reach, and whose support for scholarship has impacted profoundly on Islamic Studies, should have been chosen for this well-deserved honour.”


19. University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medal – San Francisco, USA (2011-04-26)

Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellman presents His Highness the Aga Khan with the 2011 University of California San Francisco Medal, the University's highest honour. - Photo: UCSF / Noah Berger

His Highness the Aga Khan was one of three individuals honoured with the prestigious UCSF Medal at the annual Founders Day banquet. The UCSF Medal, first awarded in 1975, is the University’s equivalent of an honorary degree. While not restricted to individuals who have an association with UCSF, the award recognizes outstanding personal contributions in areas associated with the University’s fourfold mission, such as providing top-quality patient care, improving understanding of the factors that affect human health and serving the community.

His Highness the Aga Khan noted at the award ceremony:

“The Aga Khan Development Network has a goal to try to make the countries where we work, countries of opportunity for their populations

“….In developing civil society, education and healthcare are absolutely critical. We are not trying to bring mediocrity to the developing world. We are trying to do exactly what UCSF is doing, which is to bring quality and excellence….”


20. Honorary Doctorate for Service to Humanity, University of Ottawa, Canada (2012-01-13)

His Highness the Aga Khan received his first Honorary Degree on November 30, 1967 at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan, when he was 31. Today, January 13, 2012, he was presented with his 20th honorary degree by Ottawa University's Chancellor Huguette Labelle. His Highness celebrated his 75th birthday exactly a month ago on December 13, 2011. The President of the University, Allan Rock, observed: "His Highness has used his own faith background to speak directly to the goodness of all people." Photo: University of Ottawa. Copyright. Please click for full-size enlargement.

In his welcome remarks, Allan Rock, President of the University of Ottawa, addressed the Aga Khan, saying “we see Your Highness’ presence today as a call to action for all in our university community who seek to serve humanity.” He described the Aga Khan as an exceptional man who has used his own faith background to speak directly to the goodness in all people.

The degree was awarded at a special convocation, presided over by Huguette Labelle, in what was her last official event following an 18-year tenure as Chancellor of the University of Ottawa.  Chancellor Labelle noted “One of the privileges of being Chancellor is the opportunity to recognize individuals who have shown outstanding leadership and an exemplary commitment to service to others.” Recognizing the Aga Khan’s global achievements, she said: “His work has bettered the lives of people and communities around the world”.

His Highness the Aga Khan in his speech said:

“There are many topics of mutual interest that I could talk about today.  But I have picked just one…. I refer to the field of governance and public policy, and, specifically, to the difficulty of establishing workable constitutional systems….it seems to me that questions of constitutional governance in the developing world deserve a particularly high place on that agenda.

“The so-called Arab Spring has brought special attention to this challenge – illustrating that it is easier to rally people in opposition to a particular government than to forge agreement about new governing processes.  But, while this pattern has recently been more dramatically evident, it has been a reality for a very, very long time.

“In my life, the two moments which contributed most dramatically to this condition were the fall of the British and French colonial empires after World War II – and then the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire two decades ago.  The process continues today, as developing nations re-examine – sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently – the structures under which they are governed.

“In some cases and I think here of Kenya’s very new constitution – power has been diffused – in response no doubt to pressures from ethnic, economic, religious and other centrifugal forces.  One risk of decentralization is that it can place more decision-making power into the hands of communities that have had less access to education and governing experience, and less exposure to national and global issues.

“Perhaps this is why, in some cases, the trend has been to consolidate governing authority – such as in Afghanistan, with the aim of overcoming inertia and inefficiency – as well as – fragmented and provincial outlooks.

“The history of constitutions can be seen, as an oscillation between the two poles of centralization and diffusion – with new concentrations of power often amplifying the temptation to abuse, while new dispersions of power are often associated with stagnation, paralysis and even more opportunities for corruption.  Arrangements that effectively balance power – through a federalist approach, for example, are elusive.  What is critical is that constitutional arrangements should respect inherited traditions, ensure fairness to minority communities, respond to rural as well as urban concerns and underwrite equitable opportunity for a better life….”

For more photos of the Ottawa ceremony, please click: His Highness the Aga Khan Receives His 20th Honorary Degree From the University of Ottawa

Date posted: January 13, 2012
Date updated: February 1, 2012 


The full speeches from which selected excerpts by His Highness the Aga Khan have been taken may be read at the following websites:

Speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan at the AKDN
Speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan at the Institute of Ismaili Studies

Other references from which the above piece has been compiled:

Part II – Worldwide Honours For Prince Karim Aga Khan Underline Impact of Ismaili Imamat’s Contribution to Humanity by Azeem Maherali (on this website)
Timeline of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Awards and Honours by Mohib Ebrahim (on this website)
Aga Khan IV Honorary degrees at Wikipedia

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers.

Please use the 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 What’s New. Sign-up for blog subscription at top right of this page.

21 thoughts on “Honorary Degrees Conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan since 1967: A Pictorial Record with Citations, Tributes and Remarks

  1. I just love it….. Its a real honor for me that I was present outside the hall of Uottawa…….. Thank you Mawla Bapa for given me such a precious moment…. thanks Simerg for this information too.

  2. Thank you Malik: Very well presented.

    Please recollect Hazar Imam’s speech on “Preventing the Failure of Democracy in 2004 at The Leadership and Diversity Conference (http://www.akdn.org/Content/444): “Democracies must be educated if they are to express themselves competently, and their electorates are to reach informed opinions about the great issues at stake.”

    Now as the world is taking a new turn with Muslim countries going through a democracy pandemic, I think here at the University of Ottawa Hazar Imam takes it to the next level of understanding where Mawla says: “…it is easier to rally people in opposition to a particular government than to forge agreement about new governing processes. But, while this pattern has recently been more dramatically evident, it has been a reality for a very, very long time.” (Isn’t that interesting that this is not new but has been a reality from long before?)

    A wonderful connection between educating the electorate to reach informed decisions on one hand and on the other driving them to show their brute strength and then failing the very democracy they are fighting and looking for. Malik, your presentation is always very interesting and timely. You make a wonderful collaboration of Mawla’s works. Good job.

    Warm regards
    Shahid Nanavati

  3. All the convocation addresses are most inspiring and a gift of the most enlightened Muslim leader of modern times. I would like to read the address presented at the Harvard convocation in June 2008

  4. Super work…. Why not edit the photos taken at Browns…..they don’t fit with the rest of this otherwise concise, great reference-forward material.

  5. Mubaraki to our Beloved Mowla Bapa on the honor bestowed yesterday.
    To Simerg……………. Excellent! Thanks Simerg and to the compiler of the reading, Azeem Maherali, for putting a shining smile on me! Your articles, beautiful pictures will always be cherished!. Mubaraki. May Mowla’s grace, rehamat and peace be with you always.
    Ya ali madad,

    Rashida Kanji
    Toronto, Ontario

  6. Hi Malik

    Just to echo what other before me have said, Well done! This record adds to an already worthwhile resource available worldwide. Thank you Malik. Simerg’s got class! All good wishes.

  7. Mubaraki to our Mowla bapa for the honor bestowed by UO for his tireless work to help all the people around the world. We are certainly very proud of his achievements ever since he became our 49th Imam. Our Ismaili Community are very fortunate to have Hazar Imam as our leader.

  8. Mr Merchant and Simerg,

    The Synopsis outlining the the different Doctorate Degrees that Khudhavind has received is simply sensational and educational.

    In such a fast faced dynamic changing society the Imam shows us no matter how busy he is he is always working for the Global Jamat all the time and assisting the less fortunate.

    I am so happy and proud of our Imam for the extensive amount of time and dedication and institutional and Jamati progress our Imam has made for us during his current terms of office as the Imam.

    Mowla thanks for being our guiding light and Simerg and Mr Merchant this site will be cherished by many many generations ahead.

    Keep up the magnificient work!!

    Mumbarakis to all!

    Ya Aly Madad!

    • Thank you Shamez for your kind remarks. The chunk of the work for this sypnosis was done by my extremely close friend Azeem Maherali of Atlanta. It is hoped to update a number of sections in the piece with more citations, tributes as well as excerpts from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s speeches. Malik

  9. Thank you Mr. Abdulmalik Merchant and Simerg for showing the long Road 1967 to 2012 from atound the world covering four continents of the world.
    From Peshawer Pakistan to Ottawa Canada.
    From University of Sankoré Mali to Osh State University, Kyrgyzstan.
    From Beirut, Lebanon to Évora, Portugal
    From Cairo, Egypt to Maynooth, Ireland

  10. Terrific Simerg…nicely done. A well compiled piece that will need to be read carefully because His Highness’s words have much foresight and wisdom.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s