Key Themes of His Highness the Aga Khan's Speeches Between 2000 and July 2007

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:

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Editor’s Notes:

1.The Author:

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, 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]

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

Shorter comments may be submitted in the REPLY form below.

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:

(a) Speeches of the Aga Khan at AKDN
(b) Speeches of the Aga Khan at IIS

4. Click Home page for quick links to recent articles or if this is your first visit to the web site. For links to all articles on this web site please click What’s New.

5. This article is part of Special Series: His Highness The Aga Khan IV

2 thoughts on “Key Themes of His Highness the Aga Khan's Speeches Between 2000 and July 2007

  1. His Highness the Aga Khan on October 19, 2003 said: “Three immediate questions follow:

    1. “How do we foster intellectual development in the umma?”

    I shall be bold to suggest: By openness in dialog.

    2. “In what areas of human knowledge should we seek to lead?”

    Ethics. Ethics in turn enhance the abstract arts of philosophy, jurisprudence and mathematics. Through these humanistic arts a society builds the foundation for the assimilation of knowledge of the physical universe.

    3. “And where should we source our education?…”

    For ethics the Muslim umma must look first to the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet of Islam. The different tariqas may then look further into their own traditions: The Hadiths of their Imams, the inspired hymns and qasidas of their pirs and poets, and the ethical philosophies of the great Muslim scholars.

    To apply ethics into the umma’s life there must be ijtihad (open intellectual dialog) within and between Islam’s tariqas. This requires learning the etiquette and the rules of dialog.

    The present multimedia technologies can prove to be the greatest boon of our age to bring about this intellectual transformation of the ethics of the umma.

    Again, intellectual development centers on OPENNESS in dialog among the peoples of the umma. But open dialog does not occur in a vacuum. It has to be fought for with brains and brawn as did our Great Prophet of Islam and the Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt – brains and brawn for the success of such a venture for OPEN Islam.

    After that the umma will need to have benign, selfless, devoted leaderships acting only for the good of the people and not for their own avarice and ambitions of creating personal dynasties; fearing to betray the trust of the people; fearing to earn the displeasure of God.

    So who will join the fray for such a “war on ignorance”? Who will answer the call to arms? The call has come: Your Time, your Knowledge!

    And within a decade or two the graduates of the Aga Khan Academies will have become the ethical leaders of many countries acting with co-operation and mutual goodwill to bring change into their societies and across societies – a new era and a new world order.

  2. I would like to submit the following excerpts from an address delivered by His Highness the Aga Khan on October 19, 2003 at the Le Meridien Grosvenor House Hotel to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

    “…Clearly the intellectual development of the umma, is, and should remain, a central goal to be pursued with urgency if we wish the Muslim world to regain its rightful place in world civilisation. Today, any reasonably well-informed observer would be struck by how deeply this brotherhood of Muslims is divided. On the opposite sides of the fissures are the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor; the Shi‘a and the Sunni; the theocracies and the secular states, the search for normatisation versus the appreciation of pluralism; those who search for and are keen to adopt modern, participatory, forms of government versus those who wish to re-impose supposedly ancient forms of governance. What should have been brotherhood has become rivalry, generosity has been replaced by greed and ambition, the right to think is held to be the enemy of real faith, and anything we might hope to do to expand the frontiers of human knowledge through research is doomed to failure for in most of the Muslim world, there are neither the structures nor the resources to develop meaningful intellectual leadership.

    “You will forgive me, I hope, for presenting to you such a grey picture of where we in the umma stand today, but, unless we have the courage to face unpleasant reality, there is no way that we can aspire realistically to a better future.

    “Several days ago, at a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia, it was pointed out that the only way the umma can work its way out of its present sad state is to harness the intellect. I deeply share this conviction, but three immediate questions follow: How do we foster intellectual development in the umma? In what areas of human knowledge should we seek to lead? And where should we source our education?…”

    His Highness The Aga Khan.

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