France -- His Highness the Aga Khan commenced his
Diamond Jubilee, or 60th year as the 49th
hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili
This worldwide celebration brings
together the global Ismaili community, partners of the
Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and government and
faith community leaders in over 25 countries.
It also commences a year of milestone
announcements by the Aga Khan for a global commitment to
partnerships based on the principles of ethics in
action, peace and pluralism.
“During the Jubilee year and in the
future, poverty alleviation will continue to be a
primary area of focus for my Jamat and all the AKDN
institutions,” said the Aga Khan in an address to
the global Ismaili community.
The Aga Khan emphasised Diamond
Jubilee priorities, including the promotion of early
childhood and primary education, strengthening
institutions, and invigorating civil society.
He thanked partners of the AKDN for
their continued contributions.
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.
PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY OF AGA
KHAN DEVELOPMENT NETWORK
Over the past six decades, the Aga
Khan has transformed the quality of life for millions of people
around the world.
In the areas of health, education,
cultural revitalisation, and economic empowerment, he has worked
to inspire excellence and improve living conditions and
opportunities including in some of the world’s most remote and
In Islam’s ethical tradition,
religious leaders not only interpret the faith but also have a
responsibility to help improve the quality of life of their
community and the societies among which they live.
For the Aga Khan, this has meant
dedicating his life to addressing the concerns of the developing
Following in the tradition of his
forefathers—going back over a thousand years to the
establishment, by the Ismaili Imams, of the earliest
universities and institutions of learning in the Muslim
world—the Aga Khan has continued to emphasise the importance of
education for both men and women.
He has established centres of learning
that are at the forefront of international teaching practice,
knowledge and scientific research, including the Aga Khan
University, the University of Central Asia, and the Aga Khan
“Ours is an intellectual tradition
which premiates the pursuit of knowledge that is to be
used,” said the Aga Khan, “for the good of larger society.
Live your faith through acquiring knowledge with which to
The Aga Khan and the Shia Ismaili
The Aga Khan is a direct descendant of
the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) through
his cousin and son-in-law Ali, the first Imam, and his wife
Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter.
He succeeded his grandfather, Sir
Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan as the Imam of the Shia Ismaili
Muslims sixty years ago, at the age of 20.
Today, His Highness the Aga Khan leads
a global community of some 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims,
living predominantly in South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, the
Middle East, Europe, North America, and the Far East.
Like the Muslim world as a whole, the
Ismaili community represents a rich diversity of cultures,
languages, and nationalities. His role as Imam includes the
interpretation of the faith for his community and responsibility
for religious institutions and his followers worldwide.
The Aga Khan and the AKDN
Driven by the ethics of his faith and
the Imam’s hereditary responsibility to improve the quality of
life for his community and for those amongst whom they live, the
Aga Khan has been at the forefront of innovation in development
during his 60 years as Imam.
He is Founder and Chairman of the Aga
Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the most comprehensive
development networks in the world today.
The AKDN operates in over 30 countries
principally in Central and South Asia, Eastern and Western
Africa and the Middle East.
Its activities contribute to the
employment of over 80,000 staff, making one of the largest
development organisations in the world.
Inspired by the Islamic ethic of
compassion and responsibility to care for the needy, the AKDN
works for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their
gender, origin, or religion.
The AKDN’s agencies have mandates
ranging from health and education to architecture, microfinance,
disaster reduction, rural development, the promotion of
private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic
cities—all of which are catalysts for development.
Together, they contribute towards
building a vibrant civil society that addresses the needs of
AKDN spends US$ 925 million dollars
annually on non-profit social and cultural development
activities – a threefold increase over the past ten years.
It operates more than 200 health care
institutions, 2 universities spanning 6 countries, and 200
schools and school improvement programmes in some of the most
remote and poorest parts of the developing world.
At the same time, AKDN operates over
90 project companies in post-conflict and transitional
economies, helping to lay the foundations of economic
development in these countries.
These companies, which range from a
large-scale hydropower project in Uganda to a mobile phone
company in Afghanistan, now generate over US$ 4.1 billion in
Surpluses from these activities are
re-invested into development projects.
Each year, among numerous other
interventions, the AKDN provides quality health care to five
million people, improves teaching for two million students from
preschool to university level, generates electricity for ten
million people, and helps eight million to achieve greater food
security, raise household incomes, and improve their overall
quality of life.
In keeping with tradition, the Aga
Khan’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations will include the launching
of new social, cultural, and economic development projects.
New projects and initiatives to be
announced or dedicated this year include coordinated programmes
to alleviate poverty, increased access to finance for education,
health and housing, early childhood development, and
infrastructure (principally, water, energy and
telecommunications) projects in developing countries.
Additional resources and capacity will
be added to the institutions of the AKDN, including the Aga Khan
University and the University of Central Asia.
The Aga Khan believes diversity should
inspire, not divide, and that enhancing pluralism is a crucial
building block for constructing peaceful and successful
In 2006, the Aga Khan and the Canadian
government established the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa
to conduct research and advance knowledge about the values that
underpin inclusive pluralistic societies.
The Aga Khan has enhanced dialogue and
fostered collaboration between faith communities and has been a
strong advocate for an improved understanding of Islam.
He has emphasised Islam as a thinking,
spiritual faith that teaches compassion and tolerance and
upholds the dignity of mankind. Rejecting the notion of an
inevitable conflict between peoples, he has called this a “clash
of ignorance” rather than one of civilisations.
In his own words: “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 Diamond Jubilee provides an
occasion to improve understanding – including of Islam and
Muslim civilizations - and foster collaboration between
different peoples and faith communities across the globe.