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Mowlana Hazar Imam's Speech - Inauguration of Centro Ismaili
Lisbon, July 11, 1998
His Highness the Aga Khan decorated with honors by President Sampaio of Portugal

 Your Excellency Mr. President of the Republic,
 Your Excellency the President of the Parliament,
 Your Excellency the Representative of the Prime Minister,
 Your Worship the Mayor of the City of Lisbon,
 Your Excellencies,
 Distinguished Guests,

          Before addressing you about this Ismaili Centre, please let me express our
          sympathy and concern, on behalf of the Ismaili Community of Portugal and
          myself, for the people of the Azores who suffered so terribly in Thursday's
          earthquake. Large segments of the world's Muslim population, including the
          Ismailis, reside in zones of the world which are subject to seismic
          disturbances, so we are very familiar with their destructive consequences,
          and the trauma that lingers in their aftermath. We therefore share, in a
          particularly personal manner, in this tragedy.

          Despite these sad circumstances, it is a distinct honour and a very great
          pleasure for me to welcome you to this special place on this important day.

          This is an occasion charged with symbolism. Each of its elements carries
          meaning that is rooted in rich history, while also reaching confidently and
          optimistically into the future. First there is this gathering of distinguished
          individuals, and the many institutions and activities they represent. Next
          there are the exciting spaces and places of these new buildings, fine
          additions to the number of Ismaili Centres in major cities around the world,
          and to Lisbon's rich collection of distinctive structures, historic and
          contemporary. Finally, today is a very special day for the community I lead,
          and for me personally, the 41st anniversary of my accession as Imam of the
          Shia Ismaili Muslims, as designated by my grandfather and predecessor, Sir
          Sultan Mohamed Shah, Aga Khan.

         May I begin by expressing my gratitude to all those individuals who have
          contributed to making possible this day, and what it commemorates. I would
          start by thanking the Government of Portugal for the supportive welcome it
          has extended to the Ismaili community over the years. This policy has
          enabled a community, many of whom arrived essentially as refugees from
          Mozambique and other parts of Portuguese-speaking Africa and Asia, to
          reconstitute itself and become productive and contributing members of
          Portuguese society within one generation.

          The inauguration of the Centro Ismaili today symbolises both the welcome
          accorded by the Government of Portugal, the response of the Ismaili
          community to this land of harmony and opportunity, and its permanent
          commitment to Portugal. These new buildings and the spaces within and
          around them, are rich in symbolism, drawing on the plurality of cultures
          which characterise Ismailis here, and around the world. The array of
          facilities included is a reflection of the core values of the Ismaili community,
          its organisation, its discipline, its social conscience, the importance of its
          community organisations and its attitude toward the society in which it
          exists. In addition to the prayer hall, there are classrooms, meeting rooms,
          offices for the Aga Khan Development Network, a lecture and social hall,
          and exhibition spaces. I thank the Government for its assistance in the
          development of this very special centre as the permanent focus of the
          community's spiritual and social activities and a base for its continuing
          contribution to the life of the country.

          I would also like to thank the City Council for assistance in obtaining the
          site for the Centre, and His Worship Mayor Joao Soares, and his team of
          city officials and staff for their understanding and support through all of the
          phases of what has been a very complex project. Among all his other duties
          and responsibilities, His Worship honoured us and this project by taking the
          time to approve the building permit personally. A great deal of construction
          has taken place in this wonderful city in the last few years. We have
          appreciated the helpful attention of the City's officials during a period of
          great activity and extreme pressure on all.

          This is also an appropriate occasion to acknowledge and thank those who
          have made it possible, the actual construction of the Centre

          Donors have been critical to the effort to give the Lisbon Ismaili Centre the
          profile that is appropriate to its location and mission. You should know of my
          warm gratitude, and my admiration for your generosity, and that these
          thankful feelings are those of many around the world. This is an
          accomplishment for the entire community.

          To the architects, Mr. Raj Rewal and Mr. Frederico Valsassina, I extend
          my heartfelt compliments for the conception and execution of a truly
          remarkable complex of structures and spaces. As something of a student of
          Islamic architecture myself, I feel a certain familiarity as I move through a
          complex whose evocative elements are drawn from the building traditions of
          various Muslim communities around the world. Yet the innovative use of
          local and contemporary materials, the integration of features and patterns
          inspired by traditional Portuguese architecture, and the technological
          solutions to some of the building's most demanding and innovative structural
          features, place the dominant characteristics of this inspiring complex in the
          fresh and thoroughly contemporary context of this dynamic capital city. A
          remarkable achievement!

          There are many others to recognise for their contributions. I thank the
          Contractor Messrs. Soares da Costa, the Project manager and the speciality
          sub contractors who have worked so effectively to advance the construction
          process in a very tight time frame. The sub contractors handling the stone
          work played a critical role in the realisation of the project, and deserve
          special mention. Congratulations to the Structural Engineer, Consultant
          Julio Appleton, for his innovative use of pre-stressed cables in the cupola
          ceiling in the prayer hall, and of granite in the geometric trellises as
          structural members. My thanks as well to the consultants and artists
          including Manuel Cargalerio, Karl Schlamminger, and Raoul Rewal for their
          distinctive contributions.

          I would like to express my gratitude and admiration to members of our own
          organisation and community here in Portugal and my Secretariat in France
          for the care and attention they have given to this project, spread over many,
          long, working days. I want to acknowledge - and forgive me as it is a
          member of my own family - the contributions of my brother, Prince Amyn
          Aga Khan whose taste and talent I salute and rely upon, for his special
          attention to design issues, tiles, fountains, soft and hard landscape. Of the
          many others, all of whom I cannot name here, who kept this undertaking
          moving forward, Nizar Shariff deserves special mention. Finally, everyone
          who has visited the site over the past months has commented on the sense
          of engagement and enthusiasm of everyone working here, labourers and
          volunteers alike. To these people whom I cannot name individually, I would
          like to convey my deepest and most heartfelt thanks. I am most grateful for
          the creativity, energy, and attention to both the overall conception and the
          many details of this project, which render it distinctive, now, and I hope, for
          the future.

          It is to the future that I would now like to turn my attention. We live in a
          time of accelerating change, evidence of which surrounds us on a daily basis.
          Change can mean stimulation, opportunity, and hope, but it can also mean
          disorientation, dislocation, and even conflict. Change can mean progress,
          but it can also mean that special efforts are required to improve access to
          benefits of development for those less prepared to take advantage of them.

          These countervailing forces of change are of great interest to me because
          Ismailis have felt their full brunt over the course of their long history. But
          even more importantly, they are a matter of religious concern. Islam
          teaches Muslims to strive to achieve equilibrium between human existence
          and the Absolute, and therefore to attend to both spiritual and physical
          needs. As Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, my responsibilities extend to
          both the spiritual and material welfare of the Ismaili Community.

          Pursuant to supporting improvements in material well-being, I have created
          a number of development agencies, known collectively as the Aga Khan
          Development Network. The Network is a family of institutions sustained by
          the Imamat and the Ismaili community to realise the social conscience of
          Islam through institutional action. The agencies of the Network have distinct
          but complementary mandates with respect to economic development, social
          development, and the enhancement of culture. They work in countries where
          Ismailis reside, addressing problems experienced by citizens, irrespective of
          their ethnicity or religion.

          Although my faith and office place upon me a distinctive perspective and
          role, I am most certainly not alone in my concern about the pace and
          direction of change at this moment in history. In recognition of the critical
          problems of human welfare confronting today's world, and the role Faiths
          can play in contributing to their resolution, Dr. George Carey, the
          Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of the
          World Bank, convened a dialogue on "World Faiths and Development"
          earlier this year. Leaders of nine world Faiths participated: Baha'i,
          Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Tao. Within
          each, the major traditions were represented, the Christians by both Catholic
          and Protestants leaders, the Muslims by leaders of Sunni and Shia

          The dialogue took the form of an open and wide-ranging exchange of views
          among the participants. It concluded with a public commitment to continue
          the Dialogue and to the development of specific follow-on activities. Several
          points emerged which are important and encouraging. I was particularly
          struck by the degree of commonality in the ethical basis that motivates and
          guides the development work of all the Faiths. To find that similarity in
          Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which share common Abrahamic
          roots, was anticipated and comforting. But to discover the extent and
          strength of comparable formulations among the religions that have their
          origins further East was exhilarating for our common goals.

          The Dialogue has now moved to the creation of working groups with
          membership drawn from both The World Bank and the Faiths. They are
          charged with drawing lessons from successful projects addressing some of
          the most pressing problems of our time: food, security, post-conflict
          reconstruction, delivery of social services, and the role of culture and
          cultural institutions for healthy societies. This process will focus on the work
          of Faith organisations in different geographical settings, and will seek to
          identify best practices. One goal is to lay the groundwork for cooperation
          between Faith organisations and development organisations including the
          World Bank. Another, and it is one to which I attach particular importance,
          is to explore the potential for cooperation between Faith organisations in
          settings where interests are shared and the environment enabling.

          In this connection, I would like to compliment the Government of Portugal
          on the Law on Religion Freedom currently being discussed in the country. It
          is a pioneering and forward-looking undertaking that will encourage a new
          era of religious freedom, respect, and equality for over 60 different religious
          communities in the country, while maintaining the historic role of the
          Catholic Church. The draft Law on Religious Freedom can serve as a model
          for the rest of the European Community where populations have grown more
          ethnically and religiously diverse in the past three to four decades. In a
          more immediate sense, I believe that the proposed law will provide a basis
          for greater cooperation between Faith communities in Portugal along the
          lines envisaged in the World Bank's Interfaith Dialogue. If experience
          elsewhere is a guide, we can expect the release of much energy and
          creativity, and the Government and people of Portugal should be assured
          that the Ismaili Centre of Lisbon, and all those it represents - the Ismaili
          community worldwide, and the agencies of the Aga Khan Development
          Network - will devote their energies to making Portugal's leadership in this
          creative and uniquely exciting initiative the success it must be. Social
          harmony coupled with the freedom and respect of religious expression is a
          prerequisite for all human progress.

          Thank you.

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