Tutzing, Germany, 20 May 2006 – His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), said today that the revolutionary impact of globalisation and record levels of international migration require development of a new “cosmopolitan ethic” to support constructive pluralism and greater tolerance among different cultures and societies.
He was speaking at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing (Evangelical Academy of Tutzing) where he received the Tolerance Award in recognition of his efforts to promote greater understanding and respect between peoples and cultures and for his dedication towards social, cultural and economic development in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In accepting the Award, the Aga Khan noted that increasing global migration means “peoples who once lived across the world from one another now live across the street”.
“But societies which have grown more pluralistic in makeup are not always growing more pluralistic in spirit,” he said. “What is needed – all across the world – is a new “cosmopolitan ethic” rooted in a strong culture of tolerance.”
It meant overcoming animosities that are often born out of fear or a lack of understanding of those who are different as well as learning to work together in the hope of a better future.
“The replacement of fear by hope is probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress,” he said. “When hope takes root, then a new level of tolerance is possible, though it may have been unknown for years, and years, and years.”
Germany’s Evangelische Akademie Tutzing is renowned for bringing together leaders of political, cultural and religious thought. The Tolerance Award was established by the Academy in 2000 and is presented every second year to an individual whose life work is committed to building greater understanding and tolerance between different cultures and traditions.
“The Aga Khan promotes a culture of tolerance defined by a pluralistic view of the world,” the Academy said in its Award citation. “He believes that respect for pluralism, and valuing and protecting the diversity of cultures, nationalities and religions around the world are essential for ensuring peace.”
German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, delivered the laudatory address for the Award presentation and praised the Aga Khan for his philanthropic activities and his efforts to promote greater tolerance in the world.
During his laudatory address, Dr Steinmeier described the Aga Khan as a “fortress for democratic progress, as someone wishing to bring about sustainable, pluralistic, civil societies”.
“We honour an exceptional man, we honour a huge friend of humankind, we honour a courageous visionary and we honour a person building bridges between societies,” he said. Elaborating on the work of the Aga Khan Development Network, he said, “Only when people have access to education and training, and when healthcare is provided, can democratic and pluralistic societies emerge. This is your guiding principle, your leitmotiv.”
The Aga Khan drew on his personal experience as an individual educated in the West, while having spent nearly 50 years working largely in the developing world, saying that his commitment to the principle of tolerance grows out of his religious faith and his role as hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.
Contrary to the historical tendency of the West to separate the secular from the religious, the Aga Khan explained that one of the central elements of the Islamic faith is the inseparable nature of faith and the world. “The two are deeply intertwined,” he said. “They constitute a ‘Way of Life.’ The role and responsibility of an Imam, therefore, is both to interpret the faith to the community, and also to do all within his means to improve the quality, and security, of their daily lives.”
He said the ancient teachings of Islam, like those of other great religions, affirmed both the unity of humanity and the diversity of mankind. Despite the long history of religious conflict, he noted, there is also a counter-history of religious focus on tolerance as a central virtue.
“It is striking to me how many modern thinkers are still disposed to link tolerance with secularism – and religion with intolerance,” he said. “In their eyes – and often in the public’s eyes I fear – religion is seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
“When people speak these days, about an inevitable “Clash of Civilisations” in our world, what they often mean is an inevitable ‘Clash of Religions,’ explained the Aga Khan. The essential problem in relations between the Muslim world and the West was, rather, a “Clash of Ignorance” which had to be addressed by “a concentrated educational effort”.
“Instead of shouting at one another, we must listen to one another and learn from one another,” he said. “As we do, one of our first lessons might well centre on those powerful but often neglected chapters in history when Islamic and European cultures interacted cooperatively – constructively and creatively – to help realise some of civilisation’s peak achievements.”
The Aga Khan is the fourth recipient of the Tolerance Award. The first winner in 2000 was former German President Roman Herzog, who received the award for his efforts towards intercultural and interfaith dialogue. Daniel Barenboim, distinguished pianist and conductor, received the second award in 2002 for his extensive efforts to bring Palestinians and Israelis together through music. The 2004 award winner was Swedish author, theatre producer and director Henning Mankell who endeavoured to raise awareness as a keen activist for development and change in Africa, particularly during the apartheid regime in South Africa.