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Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Spirit and Life Exhibition

Mowlana Hazar Imam at London July 2007

12 July 2007, London

Your Royal Highnesses
Your Excellencies
Mr. Mayor
My Lord
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am deeply pleased all of you are here today, for the opening of our ‘Spirit and Life’ exhibition. And I know you share the special sense of honour I feel in welcoming the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and so many other distinguished guests. Their Royal Highnesses have, in the past, visited the Azhar Park in Cairo and the restoration of the Altit Fort on the Silk Route in Northern Pakistan, both projects sponsored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. I am delighted by Their Royal Highnesses’ support for the work being done by the Trust.

This exhibition is designed to give us a glimpse into the future. What we see here today is the nucleus of the Islamic art collections of the future Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. This museum, which is being designed by the renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, is conceived as a primarily educational institution in the field of Islamic art and culture, a specific mandate that is not fulfilled so far by other North American museums. We hope and trust it will contribute to a deeper understanding among cultures - to the strengthening of true cultural pluralism - which is increasingly essential to peace, and to progress, in our world.

This is an appropriate place for us to share in this vision - and to talk about that objective. Britain, through its centuries of history, has been one of the world’s countries that has been most exposed to the cultures of other societies. London, in particular, is a crossroads for widely diverse peoples - from every corner of the planet.

We can see the evidence of that in the impressive range of artworks found in places such as the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum just across the road - where Your Royal Highness recently inaugurated the impressive new Islamic Art Gallery. We see our comparatively modest exhibition here at the Ismaili Centre as a complement to that and other venues in this country which house Islamic Art, and which spotlight both its richness and its diversity.

I am also very pleased that you are today in a building of which we are very proud, our Ismaili Centre. We hope that this exhibition will help bring many more Londoners into this place, the centre of spiritual life for our community in Britain.

Certainly one of the lessons we have learned in recent years is that the world of Islam and the Western world need to work together much more effectively at building mutual understanding – especially as these cultures interact and intermingle more actively. We hope that this exhibition - and the museum which it anticipates - will contribute to a better Western understanding of the peoples of Islam: in all of their religious, ethnic, linguistic and social diversity.

As you know, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in particular, and the Aga Khan Development Network, in general, are working toward this goal in a wide variety of ways. I am especially pleased to take this occasion to thank an important partner in our efforts, the Prince of Wales - along with 18 organisations which make up the Prince’s Charities, for their special cooperation and support. Our collaboration ranges from the world of corporate social responsibility to the challenges of economic development, from public health projects to creative educational initiatives, from environmental and architectural concerns to artistic and cultural workshops. We hope and we trust that the beginnings we have realized in our work together, can continue to flourish - and to multiply.

Ibn Sina's Canon of Medicine

If I could express one hope for all of you, as you leave this place today, it is that you will appreciate even more deeply how much culture matters in Muslim societies, and how deeply culture is entwined for Muslims with matters of faith. This is why we call this exhibition: ‘Spirit and Life’. At a time when the forces of exclusion, alienation, and separation can often seem so threatening in our world, I am convinced that our ability to honor authentic symbols of pride and identity - and to share their beauty and their power with one another - can be a tremendous force for good. I hope you will feel the same way - let me thank you, most sincerely, once again, for sharing with us in this important moment.

Thank you.

Speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at the opening of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s the ‘Spirit & Life’ Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre

12th July 2007

Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is for my wife and I to join you this afternoon in celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Highness The Aga Khan’s succession to the Imamat.

It is, if I may say so, London’s great good fortune that His Highness has chosen to open his Golden Jubilee celebrations with the ‘Spirit and Life’ Exhibition which my wife and I have just seen – we had to drag ourselves away from it! I understand that this is the first time these masterpieces of Islamic art have been seen in London. They are of quite exceptional historical importance and beauty. But, perhaps still more importantly, they also convey the clearest possible message about the close ties between the Abrahamic Faiths. For example, the magnificent Eleventh Century Canon of Medicine, which originated in Iran, was equally indispensable to Western scholars for the better part of five hundred years.

And it was fascinating when I was recently at the British Library to see there in fact another fascinating exhibition called ‘Sacred’, which another very dramatic demonstration of the close way in which these faiths have been so close for so long.

So much attention is paid to the outward differences between Faiths. Almost reflexively, this becomes translated into seemingly impenetrable divisions between people; people who – if they did but know it – are in fact linked by much and separated by rather little. How refreshing it is, then, to be reminded by this marvellous exhibition of the spirituality from which our Faiths draw their real strength, and of the heritage and traditions which we share.

It is, of course, His Highness’s own leadership and vision which has brought this collection together. It is, if I may say so, it is that same leadership and vision which has enabled the Aga Khan Development Network to grow into an organization of international importance, addressing development needs in some thirty-five countries around the World, bridging boundaries of race and religion. My darling wife and I were privileged to see some of this work, towards the end of last year, in Altit and Nansoq villages in Northern Pakistan - in fact I was devastated when I had to leave behind the gift I was given, in Altit: a very beautifully shampooed Yak! I got a crate to bring it back, and actually I think a Yak is the only rare breed I haven’t got.

Can I also just say a brief word about the Ismaili community in this country, and the contribution they make to modern British society. I can only applaud your emphasis on intellectual and cultural exploration as a means of integration, and your determination to discharge your obligations as citizens of this country without losing your own distinctive traditions. I suspect it is no coincidence that the younger members of your community have among the highest participation in tertiary education, helping to create strong role models for all young people in Britain. The reasons behind this are probably more a subject for a Doctoral thesis than a short speech. But I have no doubt that the existence of shared values is a key defining factor. These values celebrate humility, greatness of soul, honour, magnanimity and, indeed, hospitality. They form the bedrock of the excellent outreach work of the Ismaili Centre. These shared values are perhaps, the greatest of the treasures displayed here today…

Your Highness, in concluding, and on behalf of my Wife and myself, can I offer our most affectionate and heartfelt congratulations on your Golden Jubilee and our fervent hope, Insha’ Allah, many, many more years of outstanding service to your community lay ahead.

  Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan to the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan delivered at the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference
  Islamic Architecture Speeches by Mowlana Hazar Imam
  Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Foundation Laying Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre in Dubai
  His Highness the Aga Khan's Address at the 25th Anniversary Graduation Ceremony of the Institute of Ismaili Studies October 20, 2003
  His Highness the Aga Khan's Speech at the Institute of Ismaili Studies 25th Anniversary Session October 19, 2003
  Mowlana Hazar Imam Interviewed By PRANAY GUPTE

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