The UK welcomed the Imam (spiritual leader) of Ismaili Muslims, His Highness Prince Karim Agha Khan, for the opening of a new academic centre in London on Tuesday (27).
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales officially opened the new Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross as part of the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee tour. Also in attendance were London mayor Sadiq Khan and the foreign office minister for human rights Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon.
Prince Charles commented on the values of the Ismaili community, saying: “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.”
The new Aga Khan centre, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki includes gardens, terraces and courtyards inspired by different Muslim civilisations, although the centre will serve as an academic centre only and will not have a religious function.
The centre aims to be a positive symbol of diversity, cross-cultural learning and shows Britain as a multicultural, multi-faith and tolerant nation.
In his speech, the Agha Khan called the centre ‘a beautiful new architectural accomplishment’ and spoke of his expectations for the institutions that will call the centre home, including the Institute of Ismaili Studies, the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, and the Aga Khan Foundation (UK).
“These institutions – through their teaching and research, their rich library and archival resources, as well as their tours and public programmes – will enrich the lives of people from the entire world,” he said.
“For those of us who have seen these institutions grow from infancy, it will be a special joy to see them pursue their mission from this beautiful setting.”
The new development will be home to institutions and agencies including those of the non-profit Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN), a group of international agencies dedicated to improving the quality of life in the poorest countries of the world.
The UK government works closely with the AKDN in Central Asia and Tanzania, as well as in Afghanistan where the Agha Khan Foundation implement Department for International Development (DfID) programmes including delivering an education programme under the Girls’ Education Challenge.
Speaking at the opening, Lord Ahmad said: “The opening of this spectacular new building in London is 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.
“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 world’s poorest children leave school unable to read and write. That’s why we’ve committed £500 million of UK aid to help over 1.5 million vulnerable girls to learn.”
On Wednesday (27), Agha Khan will be attending a lunch at Lancaster House in his honour hosted by the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, with foreign office permanent under-secretary, Sir Simon McDonald, attending.
The UK office of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) was established in 1973 to support the broader AKDN by forming strategic partnerships with UK and European institutional partners including government agencies, policy institutes, corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, associations and professional networks.