by KEERTHI MOHAN AGA KHAN OPENS ACADEMIC CENTRE IN LONDON AS BRITAIN PAYS TRIBUTE TO ISMAILI LEADER ON HIS DIAMOND JUBILEE AS IMAM OF THE COMMUNITY ISMAILI spiritual leader the Aga Khan met British prime minister Theresa May, international development secretary Penny Mordaunt as well as Prince Charles, as the latter inaugurated the Aga Khan Centre in north London last week. This year marks the diamond jubilee (60 years) of the Aga Khan as the 49th hereditary imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims and the UK government celebrated the milestone by hosting a series of events in his honour. Last Tuesday (27) saw the opening of the Aga Khan Centre (AKC), an academic building for teaching, research and cultural exchange, in London’s King’s Cross. The Prince of Wales praised the Aga Khan for being a source of inspiration to the more than 15 million Ismaili Muslims spread across 25 countries. the Aga Khan shakes hands with Prince Charles at the launch “In holding dear the values of humility, honour, magnanimity and hospitality, the Ismaili community takes its inspiration from their imam, and from his extraordinary greatness of soul,” Prince Charles said. Designed by renowned architect Fumihiko Maki, the AKC will be the new permanent home for three institutions – the Aga Khan Foundation (UK), the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) and the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (ISMC). The centre will serve as an academic centre, and will not have a religious function. In his remarks at the launch, the Aga Khan said he hoped that “from this new home, these education-oriented institutions would contribute powerfully to building new bridges of understanding across the gulfs of ignorance”. “One of the central challenges that faces our world today is the challenge of harmonising many highly diversified voices within an increasingly globalised world,” the Aga Khan noted. “I use the word ‘harmonising’ carefully – for our ideal here is not a chorus that sings in unison, but one that blends many distinctive voices into an intelligent, resonant whole. But to do that requires a deep understanding of what makes each voice distinctive. And that is the essential function of the educational endeavours that will make this place their home.” The centre features terraces and courtyards inspired by different Muslim civilisations around the world, including North Africa, Spain, the Middle East, Iran and India. The gardens will be open to the public from September and serve to enhance understanding of the values of Muslim culture. All six gardens take cues from the Islamic world – for instance, the Garden of Life is inspired by the gardens of the Mughal world, and the Garden of Light reflects the Islamic courtyards of Andalusia. “We see the garden not merely as an adjunct to other constructions, but as a privileged space unto itself,” the Aga Khan said. Describing them as an eloquent tribute to the diversity of the Muslim world, the spiritual leader added, “What they will make possible for those who walk these pathways, the people who will live and work here and public visitors as well, is a wonderful journey of refreshment and discovery”. The Aga Khan also pointed out that King’s Cross was the “ideal” location for the AKC as the north London hub is one of the “central connecting points for a city which itself has been one of the great connecting points for the entire world” and it has been shaped by many diverse influences. “And among them we now welcome the rich traditions of Islamic architecture,” he said. from left) Prince Amyn, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim, Princess Salwa and Prince Hussain join guests at the opening of the Aga Khan Centre The Aga Khan was accompanied at the inauguration by members of his family including his brother Prince Amyn Aga Khan, his daughter Princess Zahra, his son Prince Rahim with his wife Princess Salwa, and sons Prince Hussain and Prince Aly Muhammad. Also in attendance were London mayor Sadiq Khan, who tweeted that he was “humbled” to visit the Aga Khan Centre, and Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon. Lord Ahmad said the AKC was a “concrete example of the privileged relationship the UK enjoys with the Aga Khan and the Ismaili community and is the ideal way to mark the diamond jubilee tour of His Highness the Aga Khan”. “The work we do together makes a huge difference to people’s lives, not least in Afghanistan where 300,000 more girls are going to school thanks to our girls’ education programme there,” he added. “One of the foreign secretary’s key priorities is ensuring the world’s poorest girls receive 12 years of quality education. Appallingly, 90 per cent of the world’s poorest children leave school unable to read and write. That’s why we have committed £500 million of UK aid to help more than 1.5 million vulnerable girls to learn,” Lord Ahmad said. Last Wednesday (28), the Aga Khan met May, who congratulated him on his longstanding leadership of the Ismaili community. the Aga Khan in conversation with (from left) Lord Tariq Ahmad, Sadiq Khan, the Prince of Wales and head librarian of the Aga Khan library Dr Walid Ghali Reiterating the British government’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental right, the prime minister spoke of working with the Aga Khan and other faith leaders to promote “better respect, collaboration and tolerance between religious communities internationally.” In his remarks, the 81-year-old spiritual leader praised the UK for being a leader in the field of development and noted their partnership in girls’ education, with the impact felt not only on young people today but for generations to come. “For over 40 years, our institutions have contributed actively to the fabric of British civil society and its rich heritage of academic endeavour and international development, while fulfilling an international mandate which has a far-reaching, global impact,” he said. According to a Downing Street spokesperson, the prime minister also thanked the Aga Khan for his foundation’s activities around the world to improve understanding of Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion. In addition, she praised him for his support of the government’s activities to improve understanding of Muslim cultures. Aga Khan Centre in London “The prime minister welcomed the educational and cultural contribution to the UK made by the Aga Khan’s institutions, demonstrated by the new Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross. She also commended the vital work being done between the Department for International Development and the Aga Khan Foundation to deliver girls’ educational programmes in Central Asia, Tanzania and Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said. Among other events to mark the Aga Khan’s diamond jubilee celebrations, Britain’s secretary of state for international development and minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, hosted a luncheon last Wednesday at London’s Lancaster House. It was aimed at commemorating the long partnership between the UK government and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) – the global network founded by the spiritual leader. The organisation, which spends around $925 million (£704m) on non-profit social and cultural development activities, employs more than 80,000 people across 30 countries. The AKDN also operates more than 90 project companies, including a large-scale hydropower project in Uganda and a mobile phone company in Afghanistan, which generates more than $4.1 billion (£3.1bn) in revenues. the Garden of Tranquility by Maki & Associates Britain has partnered with the AKDN on several projects designed to help improve the quality of life for people worldwide. Girls’ education, community development, clean energy, financial inclusion and conflict resolution are some of the projects that aim to benefit not just the Ismaili community, but people from other backgrounds too. The spiritual leader, whose full title is His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, is currently on a worldwide tour to launch new initiatives that benefit the Ismaili Muslims and the communities where they live. These new initiatives are part of his diamond jubilee celebrations, which kicked off last year. New projects that have been launched to commemorate his diamond jubilee celebrations include programmes to alleviate poverty, increased access to finance for health, housing and education and infrastructure projects in developing countries. the Garden of Light by Thomas Woltz The Aga Khan and the UK government have a long history of co-operation. In 1988, the overseas development administration of the government signed a strategic partnership with AKDN for the improvement of the quality of life of disadvantages communities across the world. This partnership led to development projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan, central Asia and east Africa. The programmes are built on the principle that women and girls should be involved for development to be effective and sustainable. The Aga Khan, who assumed the role as iman of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community at the age of 20, believes that tension and violence in today’s world was due to a clash of ignorance and not because of a clash of cultures, especially between the Islamic world and the West. Born in Geneva, Switzerland, and educated in Harvard in the US, the Aga Khan has been exposed to the best of both the Islamic and the Western world, and believes in collaboration between different people and faith communities. “When I came to my role as imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community just 60 years ago, I found it impossible to accept the notion of inevitably clashing civilisations,” the Aga Khan said. “My own early life experiences were in both worlds, and so were those of millions of Muslim peoples. “So rather than talk about clashing civilisations, I began to talk again and again, as some of you may recall, about a clash of ignorances. And the assumption behind that phrase was that ignorance could yield to understanding through the power of education.” This continuing conviction is what keeps him going, he said during the AKC launch. “The world we seek is not a world where difference is erased, but where difference can be a powerful force for good, helping us to fashion a new sense of cooperation and coherence in our world and to build together a better life for all,” the Aga Khan said. In recognition of his work to improving the lives of the under privileged, the Aga Khan has received numerous decorations, awards and honours from nations across the world. with Penny Mordaunt He was bestowed the title of “His Highness” by the Queen in 1957, the same year he became the leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2004. In 1960, he was conferred the honour of “Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry” by the Portuguese government and in 1977, he was invested with the “Order of the Knight of the Grand Cross” by the then prime minister of Italy, Guilio Andreotti.