Gouvieux, France, July 2007 – His Highness the Aga Khan will complete his 50th year as the Imam of the Ismaili community on 11 July 2007. Fifty years ago, at the age of 20, the Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
The Aga Khan leads a community of 15 million Ismaili Muslims living in some 25 countries, mainly in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America. He 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.
In keeping with the Shia tradition of Islam, the mandate of the Imam extends to both spiritual and worldly matters. Since assuming the office of Imamat in 1957, Prince Karim Aga Khan has taken upon himself his grandfather’s concern for the well-being of the Ismaili community, the wider Muslim community, and those amongst whom they live. He has emphasised Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith that teaches compassion and tolerance and upholds the dignity of mankind.
In the Ismaili tradition, the Imam’s jubilee celebrations offer occasions to launch new social, cultural and economic development projects. In keeping with the ethics of the faith, these projects aspire to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable in society. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan’s jubilees led to the creation of schools, hospitals, housing projects, insurance companies and cooperative banking programmes.
In accordance with traditions of that era, symbolic weighing ceremonies were held for him on three distinct occasions, the last in 1956. The contributions from these ceremonies were used to strengthen existing institutions and establish new institutions to serve the Ismaili community and the societies amongst which they lived. The ceremonies were not specifically related to Shia Ismaili Muslim faith or tradition. They were fundraising events used by various religious and ethnic communities in India of that time to collect funds for specific projects.
Such ceremonies have never been held for the present Aga Khan, yet the tradition of generosity associated with jubilees has continued. At his Silver Jubilee 25 years ago, the current Aga Khan launched new social and economic development institutions and projects that have improved the lives of millions in the developing world.
These initiatives are now part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a group of agencies with mandates ranging from health and education to architecture, microfinance, disaster reduction, rural development, and the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities – all of which are catalysts for development. Guided by the Islamic ethic of compassion for those less fortunate, the AKDN works for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion.
The AKDN spends in excess of US$ 320 million annually on social and cultural development activities. It operates more than 200 health care institutions – including nine hospitals – and over 300 schools in the developing world.
Following in the tradition of his forefathers – going back a thousand years to the establishment of the earliest universities and institutions of learning in the Muslim world – the Aga Khan has continued to place emphasis on the importance of education. His recognition of the need to engage the global “Knowledge Society” led to the establishment of the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Pakistan 25 years ago — the first private self-governing university in that country. The AKU has since grown into an international university, and today operates on nine campuses around the world. Separately, the University of Central Asia was founded in 2000 to respond to the higher education needs of remote mountain communities. The Aga Khan’s conviction of the need for home-grown intellectual leadership of exceptional calibre is also driving the development of a new network of centres of educational excellence at the school level around the world, known as the Aga Khan Academies.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) – another key AKDN agency – has been involved in a number of cultural projects that range from organising exhibitions of Islamic art to rehabilitation of historic sites, buildings and neighbourhoods from Hunza in the north of Pakistan to Kabul in Afghanistan to Cairo, Egypt and Mali in northern Africa. The AKTC is currently negotiating private public partnership agreements with the authorities in India, Pakistan, Egypt and Syria for the rehabilitation of historic sites in those countries. The agreements represent a largely pioneering effort to expand the use of Public Private Partnerships from the economic domain to the cultural sector.
The Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia – part of the AKTC — has worked to preserve, safeguard and promote Central Asia ’s rich but relatively little known musical tradition.
Yet another AKDN agency, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), makes bold but calculated investments in post-conflict and fragile economies. It operates on a for-profit basis, but all profits are reinvested in other development projects. AKFED is one of the largest employers in countries such as Afghanistan and Burkina Faso, and generates annual revenues of US$ 1.5 billion.
Over the course of the next twelve months, in keeping with the tradition of launching new development initiatives during a Jubilee year, His Highness the Aga Khan will announce the creation of new development institutions and projects and the significant expansion of existing ones.
The event on 11 July will be private. However, a press release, a video news release and photos of the event will be made available to the media on the day.
For more information, please contact:
The Information Department
Secretariat of His Highness the Aga Khan