Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Jamat Khana and Center London U.K.
September 6 1979
Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am particularly happy to welcome our distinguished guests this morning and to thank them for their presence on this occasion which is one of special significance to members of my community. Your presence to me is a symbol of the friendship which the different countries and institutions you represent have shown to Ismailis all over the world, to my family and to me personally. It gives me deep satisfaction to be here today at the Foundation Ceremony for the new Ismaili Centre in London. Not only do I welcome most warmly the creation of this important focus for the religious and social life of the community but I also appreciate the strengthening of the traditional ties with Britain which it represents. For, while there are a number of Ismailis permanently resident in the United Kingdom, many more come to London from all over the world and particularly the Commonwealth, to renew old bonds of friendship, language and culture dating from the numerous and close associations in the past .
The Ismailis are grateful to the British people for their understanding, especially at the time when so many of them arrived as refugees after their expulsion by ex-President Amin from Uganda not so long ago. Ismailis are proud of their reputation for industry and self-help which I think is correct; but none of their achievements including the new Centre which we shall soon see rising from this ground would have been possible without the faith and cooperation of their neighbours.
In this connection I should like particularly to thank the Greater London Council for all their care and patience in helping us to acquire this site. I am also grateful to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and the local amenity groups for making it possible to construct a building here which, by its nature and location, must seek to bridge the cultures of East and West.
In drawing up their plans, the architects faced a new and unusual challenge as this Centre must serve the requirements of the Ismaili Community as well as establish a presence worthy of its proximity to the distinguished public and historic buildings which surround us. The mass and silhouette of the new structure are therefore strong and simple and in no way attempt to compete nor interfere with the varied and imposing facades of the neighbouring buildings. The Ismaili Centre being designed for a Muslim Community must reflect, even if only discreetly, an Islamic mood whilst being sympathetic to the character of its surroundings. In this endeavour, I have been patiently and constantly helped by the architects and other participants who are too numerous to name individually. To all of them I express my deepest thanks for the imagination and sheer hard work with which they addressed a singularly unusual commission.
The buildings will rise three storeys and the second floor will be a large hall for prayer. The remaining floors will accommodate a library and reading room areas for education, social rooms and a roof garden. There will also be space available for a public art exhibition gallery and for use by the institutions of the Ismaili Community in the United Kingdom.
It is my conviction that the building of this Centre is symbolic of a growing understanding of Islam. For some centuries past, the Muslim world has lived in shadow as far as the West was concerned. Muslim civilization and society were poorly understood, or not understood at all. Apart from a few exceptional and dedicated men, there was no communication and almost no desire to be informed. Now we see that conditions have changed. This building and the prominence of the place it has been given indicate the seriousness and the respect the West is beginning to accord Muslim civilization of which the Ismaili Community, though relatively small, is fully representative. May this understanding so important for the future of the world, progress and flourish.
I sincerely believe that when this centre is completed it will be both by its presence and the function it fulfils, an important addition to the institutions of London, a source of pride to all who took part in its creation, and a pledge and token of understanding between East and West.
Few men alive today have done so much in breaking down historic and traditional national barriers and replacing them by common objectives in the hope of a better future than Lord Soames. He is not only a very close family friend but his achievements as a statesman bring to this ceremony today its special significance. His outstanding contribution to Britain's entry into the European Common Market is known to all; but what would never have been possible, had he and those who worked with him not also convinced the Commonwealth nations, particularly those of the developing world, that such a partnership would eventually be as much in their interest as of Europe's and of Britain herself.
It is as a highly creative internationalist and in the best and broadest sense a Man of the World that I welcome Lord Soames today and request him to perform this Foundation Ceremony.
Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here today for the official opening of this new Ismaili Centre in London.
I am most grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan for the honour he has done me in inviting me to perform the opening ceremony.
The building of this splendid new Centre, which will provide facilities for religious observance and for social functions within the Ismaili Community, must reflect a sense of stability and confidence in the future.
But I know that many members came here comparatively recently, having been uprooted from settled and successful lives in East Africa.
For them, leaving East Africa must have been a sad, deeply disturbing and in some cases, terrible experience.
But clearly the Ismaili community who made Britain their new home triumphed over these adversities and have found here a new sense of security and belonging.
This Centre is a powerful symbol of that feeling of belonging, and in return Britain, like so many other parts of the world where there are Ismaili Communities, benefits from the contributions that Ismailis make to society.
The Ismaili community in London is self-sufficient and independent, energetic and highly talented. It contributes to society in every sort of way and at the same time its powerful sense of community, both spiritual and cultural, provides a firm and unchanging basis for living.
Many migrants who have come to this country to settle in recent years have had to come to terms with a life that is very different from their old one.
In the process of change and adaptation they have been sustained by a sense of purpose derived from a firm faith and a valued heritage.
Britain is now, more than ever, a society of many cultures. And I think that we are beginning to appreciate the challenges and the opportunities that this diversity offers.
There are many practical examples to show how much your community values service to the wider community.
Many of the Aga Khan hospital and educational services are open to all regardless of race or creed.
The work of the Aga Khan Foundation in other continents also shows how your community adopts this positive approach.
I am proud that the British Government, with the Foundation, are together financing projects of benefit the people of Pakistan. And I understand and welcome that many of the facilities of this Centre will be available for other Londoners to use.
London itself is enhanced by the construction of the new centre, for which we are all most grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan. It is a splendid contribution to the architecture of London, fitting in easily with the other fine buildings of South Kensington, yet having its own distinctive and beautiful character.
It is a monument to the determination of your community to play a full part in the life of our society, while at the same time retaining their own identity and independence.
As I believe a great Islamic poet of the 19th century, Mohammed Iqbal, said:
"For the individual to be bound to society is a blessing: it is in a community that his work is perfected".
This new centre is a splendid testament to the words of the poet to the vitality of the Ismaili community here, and it is with great pleasure that I now formally declare the Ismaili Centre open.
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