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Updated: Dec. 7 2008
Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Canada - December 6, 2008
His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), inaugurated the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in the presence of the Prime Minister of Canada, Steven Harper
Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-RahimPrime Minister Stephen Harper and Mrs. HarperChief Justice Beverly McLaughlin and Mr. McCardleMadame Adrienne Clarkson and Mr. John Ralston SaulYour ExcellenciesHonourable MinistersDistinguished GuestsLadies and GentlemenJe voudrais commencer mes commentaires aujourd’hui en vous souhaitant la bienvenue dans le nouveau bâtiment de la Délégation de l’imamat ismaili à Ottawa. Nous sommes ravis que vous participiez à cette journée importante pour nous.My warmest thanks go out to all of you for being part of this wonderful occasion. I particularly want to thank the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper, for the honour of his presence, at a time of immense global challenges for those who bear the responsibilities of national leadership.Let me also express my gratitude to the former Governor General of Canada, Madame Adrienne Clarkson. She was present at the Foundation Stone Ceremony for this building - and she thoughtfully predicted then, that this edifice would not be just another monumental structure, but would, both in its unity and its transparency, represent, as she put it, “the way in which the world can work when we are all at our best.”I am also deeply grateful to the National Capital Commission and to all those who helped to design, construct and decorate this Delegation building, including all those who so generously volunteered their energies. This is the third important new Canadian building with which I will have been associated over the last five years. It affirms our intent to share, within a western setting, the best of Islamic life and heritage. This new Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, like the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum to be built in Toronto, reflects our conviction that buildings can do more than simply house people and programmes. They can also reflect our deepest values, as great architecture captures esoteric thought in physical form.When I invited Professor Maki, a master of form and light, to design this building, I made a suggestion to him - one that I hoped would help connect this place symbolically to the Faith of Islam. The suggestion I made focused on creating a certain mystique, centred around the beautiful mysteries of rock crystal.Why rock crystal? Because of its translucency, its multiple planes, and the fascination of its colours - all of which present themselves differently as light moves around them. The hues of rock crystal are subtle, striking and widely varied - for they can be clear or milky, white, or rose coloured, or smoky, or golden, or black.It is because of these qualities that rock crystal seems to be such an appropriate symbol of the profound beauty and the ever-unfolding mystery of Creation itself – and the Creator. As the Holy Quran so powerfully affirms, “Allah is the Creator and the Master of the heavens and the earth.” And then it continues: “Everything in the heavens and on earth, and everything between them, and everything beneath the soil, belongs to Him.”But in Islamic thought, as in this building, beauty and mystery are not separated from intellect - in fact, the reverse is true. As we use our intellect to gain new knowledge about Creation, we come to see even more profoundly the depth and breadth of its mysteries. We explore unknown regions beneath the seas - and in outer space. We reach back over hundreds of millions of years in time. Extra-ordinary fossilised geological specimens seize our imagination - palm leaves, amethyst flowers, hedgehog quartz, sea lilies, chrysanthemum and a rich panoply of shells. Indeed, these wonders are found beneath the very soil on which we tread - in every corner of the world - and they connect us with far distant epochs and environments.And the more we discover, the more we know, the more we penetrate just below the surface of our normal lives - the more our imagination staggers. Just think for example what might lie below the surfaces of celestial bodies all across the far flung reaches of our universe. What we feel, even as we learn, is an ever-renewed sense of wonder, indeed, a powerful sense of awe – and of Divine inspiration.Using rock crystal’s irridescent mystery as an inspiration for this building, does indeed provide an appropriate symbol of the Timelessness, the Power and the Mystery of Allah as the Lord of Creation.What we celebrate today can thus be seen as a new creative link between the spiritual dimensions of Islam and the cultures of the West. Even more particularly, it represents another new bridge between the peoples of Islam and the peoples of Canada.Many of you may remember that my personal involvement with Canada dates back more than three decades when, at a time of great upheaval in Uganda, many members of the Ismaili community and others found here a new home in which they could quickly re-build their lives. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and expressing habits of mind and spirit which have long been central to the Canadian character, this country provided a welcoming haven to those who had been victimised by history.Since that time, Ismailis from other parts of the world have also come to Canada, contributing not only to Canadian society, but also to the diverse mosaic of the global Ismaili community.One of the principal reasons, I believe, for the great rapport between the Ismaili and Canadian communities through the years is our shared commitment to a common ethical framework - and especially to the ideals of pluralism. By this I mean not only social pluralism, which embraces a diversity of ethnic and religious groups, but also pluralism in our thinking about government, and pluralism in our approach to other institutions. One of the reasons governments have failed in highly diverse settings around the world is that dogma has too often been enshrined at the price of more flexible, pluralistic approaches to political and economic challenges.Within Islam itself, we can see a broad sense of pluralism, including a variety of spiritual interpretations, and a diversity of governments and social institutions.The spirit of pluralism, at its base, is a response to the realities of diversity – a way of reconciling difference on the one hand with cooperation and common purpose on the other. It is an attitude, a way of thinking, which regards our differences not as threats but as gifts - as occasions for learning, stretching, growing - and at the same time, as occasions for appreciating anew the beauties of one’s own identity.The challenge of pluralism is particularly important for those who are called upon to lead diversified communities and to act in diversified environments. It is a challenge to which Canadians have responded nobly through the years - and it is also a challenge which has been central to our work through the Aga Khan Development Network, what we callAKDN.The AKDN’s principal focus, as you know, has been the under-served populations of Central and South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Our approach has observed the principles of neutrality and pragmatism, but this has not always been an easy matter. Turbulence and discontinuity have characterised these regions, including the transition from colonial rule, the struggles of the Cold War, the tensions of the nuclear age, the rise of new nationalisms - of both the right and the left, as well as revolutions in communications and transportation which have so dramatically increased encounters among different peoples. Our Network has inevitably been drawn into a tangled variety of social and cultural contexts - including highly fragile, conflictual and post-conflictual situations. Our response has always been to focus on the pursuit of pluralistic progress.Even against the most daunting challenges, social and economic progress can and must be a shared experience, based on a cosmopolitan ethic and nurtured by a spirit of genuine partnership.When we have talked of development in this context over the years, we have always found responsive interlocutors in Canada. We recognise together the interdependence of economic progress on one hand and inclusive governmental structures on the other. We affirm together the centrality of communication and education in any progressive formula. We both embrace the interdependent role of various social sectors - private and governmental and voluntary - including the institutions of pluralistic civil society.For the last quarter century, Canada, especially through CIDA, has been actively collaborating with the Aga Khan Development Network to support sustainable development in marginalised communities in Africa and in Asia. In the course of this work we have seen at first hand Canadian global leadership at its best – thoughtful, empathetic and avoiding both intellectual pretensions and dogmatic simplifications.Our work together in northern Pakistan is one rich chapter in this story. Our newer efforts in places like Tajikistan and Afghanistan have opened further horizons. We could also point directly to early childhood programmes in Africa. Or we could speak of our projects in higher education, working with Canadian universities such as McMaster, McGill, University of Toronto, University of Alberta, and University of Calgary.The establishment of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat represents yet another step on a long path. It will give us another platform for strengthening and extending our relationship. It will be a site for robust dialogue, intellectual exchange, and the forging of new partnerships –with government, and with the institutions of civil society and the private sector of Canada and so many other countries. To be able to site this building on Confederation Boulevard, in close proximity to your major national institutions as well as representations from abroad, is itself a symbol of the outgoing, interactive spirit which must guide our response to global challenges.It is our prayer that the establishment of the Delegation will provide a strongly anchored, ever-expanding opportunity for rich collaboration - in the devoted service of ancient values, in the intelligent recognition of new realities, and in a common commitment to our shared dreams of a better world.Thank you.
Speech by the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Canada - December 6, 2008
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you your Highness for your kind introduction.
Ya Ali Madad. It is a great pleasure to see you again. May I also say what a great pleasure it is to welcome your family to Canada.
Your Highness, though we met for the first time only three years ago, I feel like I have known you a long time. My long-time university roommate, Alnoor Lakhani, is an Ismaili, and he kept a picture of you in our room. He told me much about you, but I have to admit that when I think of that picture and see you today, I still have one question: how is it that you never age?
Off the top, your Highness, let me congratulate you on your Golden Jubilee as Imam of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. For half a century you have provided spiritual guidance for Ismailis and worked to improve the quality of life in their communities.
Your name has also become synonymous with humanitarian aid and development in countries beset by conflict and poverty.
And perhaps most importantly of all, you have acted as a bridge-builder between faiths and cultures. In a world still riven by sectarian strife, this is very important work indeed.
Your highness, I am honoured to be with you today on the occasion of the opening of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat. And on behalf of the government and people of Canada, I want to thank you for choosing to build the Delegation – the world’s first – in our nation’s capital.
This architectural masterpiece is a spectacular addition to our magnificent mile of history here in Ottawa. And like a giant quartz crystal plucked from the Canadian Shield, this beautiful atrium illuminates the openness and timeless purpose of the Delegation. The work done here will help lift the darkness of poverty, ignorance and inequality that afflicts so many in our troubled world.
Your Highness, Canada is a fitting choice for the Delegation. Our country and the IsmailI Imamat are bonded by our shared values; tolerance, compassion, community service and, especially, our devotion to pluralism – the essential ingredient for harmony in our modern, interconnected world.
We are also bonded by a long and fruitful relationship. Canada has been providing generous support for the health, education and economic development work of the Aga Khan Development Network for over 25 years.
And, of course, we are bonded by the tens of thousands of Ismailis who call Canada home. Beginning with their flight from brutal repression in Uganda, Ismailis have adapted quickly and successfully to life in Canada, becoming leaders in our communities. Their success has demonstrated that in a genuinely pluralistic society, social integration can occur without sacrificing cultural identity.
In a very real way, this glorious building will serve as a permanent Canadian monument to that success. In its modern, state-of-the-art design and essentially secular purpose, the work done here will be infused with the ancient traditions and tenets of the IsmailI faith, as embodied by your tireless efforts to teach the world there is more that unites than divides us.
This is the Ismaili way, as your Highness noted when you initiated the delegation here in 2005, and I quote: “Ismailis are a transnational community who are, first and foremost, active and loyal citizens of the countries where they live.”
So it is with the Ismailis of Canada. The blossoming of the Ismaili community in Canada offers a ray of hope to the world. By demonstrating that diverse congregations of the great faiths can co-exist and flourish peacefully here, we are proving that there indeed can be unity in diversity.
It is crucial that this message be heard in countries and regions where religious persecution and sectarian violence destroy the lives of innocent human beings. This message will be transmitted from Canada to the world through the programs, policy and diplomacy that will emanate from this Delegation of the IsmailI Imamat.
These efforts will complement the work of the Global Centre for Pluralism, also here in Ottawa, which was initiated last year as a partnership of our government and the Aga Khan Development Network. Working together, your Highness, we are effectively making Canada the headquarters of the global effort to foster peace, prosperity and equality through pluralism.
Sectarianism has been part of the human condition for millennia; it will not easily give way to pluralism and harmony. But this vision has been the inspiring lifelong goal of the Aga Khan.
And when it is achieved, ladies and gentlemen, I believe the world will look a lot like Canada.
Coverage at the Prime Minister's Website
Audio of the Prime Minister's Speech
City News video featuring Farah Nasser at the Delegation opening My schoolmate's daughter, yay!
An Essay in Glass - Ottawa Citizen article Awesome account!
Esoteric Symbolism of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat by Khalil Andani
Pictures taken at the event by Farhan Devji click on featured picture to see more
Speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan
Golden Jubilee Tribute View some of Mowlana Hazar Imam's achievements, amazing!
Index of Speeches made by Mowlana Hazar Imam at AKDN site
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