A prince of the Islamic world
Last week, Prince Charles of Great Britain and Prince Karim Aga Khan of the Islamic world paid a rare royal visit to a remote organic village Nank Soq in Skardu, and the under restoration Altit Fort in Hunza. Yes, ‘Prince of the Islamic world’ because in one’s humble views he and his family have contributed more for the well-being of the world, and the world of Islam, more than any other Muslim prince, king, prime minister, president, general, or philanthropist in the contemporary history of the Islamic world.
Before one says more let me make it clear that one does carry Ismail as his second name, and traces his roots to the northern areas but the author is not a follower of the Ismaili sect of Islam of which Prince Karim Aga Khan is the spiritual leader. One says this only as a humble Muslim citizen of the world which is currently undergoing one of the most depressing phases of its history. By the way, show me one Sheikh, one Ayatollah, one Maulana who has done more for contemporary Islamic societies , or presents a better strategy to meet the multi-faceted and cut throat globalisation of the social, economic, cultural and political order, and one would change his opinion.
The most impressive contribution of the Aga Khan is in the field of education. His motto has been education for the sake of social and economic empowerment, education on scientific lines to produce leaders, education which can enable individuals to comprehend global changes, which prepares her or him to face new challenges — a kind of education so lacking in the world of Islam today.
For the Prince, education is a family tradition as knowledge runs in his blood. After all, it was his forefathers — the Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt – who established Al Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo. It was his grandfather Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah Aga Khan who was the moving soul behind the Aligarh University and a network of schools imparting quality education during those equally depressing years of colonialism. It is the Prince himself who founded the Aga Khan University in Karachi, and the University of Central Asia’s campuses are spread over three central Asian republics. Not to mention the countless schools, study centres, and professional development institutes which have sprung up lately under his various education initiatives.
At a time when the Muslim world is groping in all directions for viable economic and development models, they should go and see how the Aga Khan Development Network the world’s largest private development network operates. How it has helped millions to free themselves out of the poverty net. The Aga Khan Development Network includes the Aga Khan Education Service, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, Aga Khan Foundation, Aga Khan Health Service, Aga Khan Panning and Building Service, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance and so on. The work and contribution of the agencies mentioned above has been critically assessed and acknowledged by experts at the global level. The fact that Aga Khan does not enjoy the luxury of state resources, an army, a police, oil wells, political parties and state guarantees for unlimited loans, makes his achievements that much more special.
He is one Muslim prince who lives in the present and works for the future. The difference between Aga Khan and other princes is their basic philosophy of life. There is no doubt that being borne, bred and educated in the western world Prince Karim and his other family members enjoy life as it comes to them but never make worldly pleasures the purpose of their lives. Despite his western orientation, he has a strong conviction in his roots. The advantage however with him is that he doesn’t have to spend his days and nights worrying about his throne, in suppressing opponents, quelling revolts and fanning extremism as an instrument of state policy, instead he focuses his energies to improve the lives of the people, otherwise how in the world would one manage such an intricate network of businesses and development initiatives spread from North America to Europe and from Africa to Asia.
Nank Soq, the little village in Skardu where Prince Karim Aga Khan took the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for a brief tour is the first fully organic village in Pakistan. Situated behind the solitary mountain in the middle of Skardu valley deflecting the Indus and Shigar river which also houses the imposing Kharpocho fort over looking the city, Nank Sok village is so remote that there is not even a paved road up to the village hardly visited by officials posted to the region, let alone enjoying a double royal retreat that too in November. Here the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) has been working with the villagers to persevere their traditional organic agricultural practices and products. The AKRSP has been working in the Northern Areas for the last 23 years and has already become a major success story in rural development – a model since been replicated at the national level and in many developing countries.
The next royal destination was Altit village in Hunza, where a 900-year-old Altit fort is being restored by the Aga Khan Cultural Services. This is part of the cultural development initiative undertaken by the agency which included award winning restoration work such as the Baltit fort, Shigar fort, Ganish village, Amburiq Mosque etc. Usually in all these initiatives, restoration of physical space is complemented with adaptive reuse and integrated improvement in livelihood conditions of the communities around historic settlement.
Just an example of the many great things the prince has been quietly doing for Pakistan.
The writer is from the northern areas and is currently based in Islamabad. He has a background in media, public policy and governance. Email: ismail.k2@ gmail.com