Culturally very diverse, the Ismailis are spread across the globe, mostly as a minority, in more than twenty-five countries, in South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. In recent decades they have also established a substantial presence in Canada, the USA and Western Europe. Since succeeding to this office as the 49th Imam in 1957, I have been concerned with the development of the Ismailis and the broader societies in which they live. The engagement of the Imamat in development is guided by Islamic ethics, which bridge faith and society. It is on this premise that I established the Aga Khan Development Network. This network of agencies, known as the AKDN, has long been active in many areas of Asia and Africa to improve the quality of life of all who live there. These areas are home to some of the poorest and most diverse populations in the world.
— Mawlana Hazar Imam, Leadership and Diversity Conference, Gatineau, Quebec. May 19, 2004
In the course of their long history, the Ismailis have, through the diversity of their literary and intellectual traditions, made important contributions to Islamic thought and culture. A distinct Nizari religious tradition, based on the Persian language, developed during the Alamut period (1090–1256) when the Ismailis of Persia (modern-day Iran) had a state of their own centered on the stronghold of Alamut.