by Mohib Ebrahim
The famous Ismaili jurist and scholar of the Fatimid Court, Qadi Noman explained in Majalis 19 of his Code of Conduct for the Followers of the Imam:
The Imam never utters a word which is light, superfluous or meaningless. God has made the Imams free from these defects. If we imagine that a particular word uttered by the Imam is not fruitful, the fault lies with us. We are too dull to detect the proper meaning of the words uttered by the Imam. The signs and symbols used by the Imams, in the course of their conversation with us and hints dropped by them, are a fathomless ocean.
In preparing this summary of key themes from His Highness the Aga Khan’s recent speeches, I thought about this passage of Qadi Noman, and how, I, as an Ismaili, would “summarize” over 300 pages of interviews and speeches. Looking to the Aga Khan’s own emphasis as guidance, I hope that the 26 speeches I selected are representative of the matters which weigh most important. Nevertheless, one still wonders what pearls of wisdom either went unappreciated or were inadvertently left out.
I think it is also useful to reflect on what the Aga Khan’s speeches and activity represent within a larger historical and societal context. For example, development concepts commonplace today, like micro-credit, civil society and social entrepreneurship, have been the guiding principles behind the institutions of both the Ismaili community and Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) for more than half a century — some 60 years for micro-credit and over 100 for civil society.
Foresight, definitive assessments and decisive action are a consistent hallmark of our Imams. Combined they confirm the intellectual citadel that is the Imamat.
Similarly, the Aga Khan’s vision and example discreetly but widely influence the world generally — well beyond AKDN’s direct interventions. Consider social entrepreneurship: though fashionable of late, entrepreneurs shy away from the robust level of engagement the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) has practiced for many decades. Few, if any, development agencies engage in commercial enterprises, as AKDN does, even though these would assist funding their development initiatives and also provide a valid vehicle for economic upliftment of the poor. Indeed, the New York Times in 2007 credited the Aga Khan with the idea of mixing business with charity observing that “while long at odds with mainstream capitalist practice, [it] is growing in prominence, making the Aga Khan an unlikely innovator”. The New York Times also noted that “economic developments experts say the Aga Khan’s activities offer a useful template for others including philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros” who seek to help the poor. And while some may question the merit of spending tens of millions of dollars on cultural initiatives in the poorest countries of the world, the Aga Khan, on the contrary, explains that AKDN has “placed culture at the heart of the development puzzle.” Today the fruits from projects like the Azhar Park Project in Cairo and other locations validate the Aga Khan’s decades’ old insight into the societal and economic value of cultural preservation.
It is here, and in countless other current and historical examples like these, that we begin to grasp what the Imamat’s words and deeds truly represent: an enlightened source of guidance inspired by a unique generational perspective focused on addressing issues decades before those issues are widely recognized. It has been said “talent hits a target no one else can hit while genius hits a target no one else can see.” Foresight, definitive assessments and decisive action are a consistent hallmark of our Imams. Combined they confirm the intellectual citadel that is the Imamat.
To read or download “Key Themes of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Speeches Between 2000 and July 2007” by Mohib Ebrahim please click the following PDF icon:
An Honours graduate of Simon Fraser University in Computer Science and Mathematics, Mr. Mohib Ebrahim has been involved in the IT industry and software development since the 80’s. When the Aga Khan University Hospital and Medical College was under construction in Karachi, Pakistan, Mohib’s brother Zainul and he were asked to evaluate and recommend a solution for the AKU’s hospital’s information system (HIS) which they undertook voluntarily; the system was finally implemented as recommended. Mohib’s current project, MasterFile (see http://www.masterfile.biz), is a state-of-the-art evidence system for academic researchers, investigators or litigators.
A keen amateur astronomer for over 30 years, Mohib also enjoys kite flying and studying the relationship between faith and reason. At present he is assembling a comprehensive database of the His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches and interviews. During the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Aga Khan in Kenya, Mohib was responsible for producing communication and exhibition materials for the Aga Khan Foundation (Kenya), the Aga Khan Development Network (Kenya) and the Ismaili community. He can be reached at: mohib [at] sent.com.
Please also read the author’s highly acclaimed Literary Reading: Timeline of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Awards and Honours, published on this web site recently.
Part II, “Themes of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee Speeches”, will be published week of March 15th.
2. Invitation to Readers and Writers
The speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan are full of wisdom and intellectual wealth. We invite readers and writers to provide their own individual analysis and perspectives of the Ismaili Imam’s speeches. Your insights are valuable and important, and we feel they should be disseminated to as many people as possible. Please send your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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3. A selection of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches are available at the Aga Khan Development Network and the Institute of Ismaili Studies web sites. Please click:
5. This article is part of Special Series: His Highness The Aga Khan IV