Ten days after the conclusion of celebrations marking the diamond jubilee of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan in Lisbon, one of Portugal’s premier news magazines published their interview with His Highness.
Below is a cross-section of 7 out of 25 questions asked by the Expresso magazine interviewer, Alexandra Carita and the corresponding responses by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.
Religion is for him the premise of peace, but also of well-being, wisdom and economic development.
On a sunny morning, he spoke with Expresso about the beginning of his mandate and the present times, about religion and politics, about the community and himself, in a singular refuge where, with the warmth that has always characterised him, he let us talk, carried by a warm breeze.
It was a long, dense conversation, with an intelligent man who is both a leader of the spirit and the mind, a thinker and a true master of the 21st century.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: I know this is not an easy question, but I wanted you to explain to me the role of religion in today’s world.
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: I will begin by saying to you, that all civilized societies need to have an ethical framework. Otherwise, civil society cannot function in a serious and planned way. If civil society wants to be a major force at the national level, this is how I see the developed world accepting it. And so, civil society needs to be anchored in a set of ethical premises. I think these ethical premises are often anchored in faith, in religion. So I think this is the relationship I would establish and which I consider to be very, very important. However, with regard to this issue, we are obviously interested in countries that have pluralist attitudes towards faith, in relation to society, etc. And Portugal has them. We are very, very honoured and grateful to have been able to establish our religious institutions in Portugal, which, in fact, have a global goal, because this is what Portuguese law allows and encourages. In addition, we will continue to use Portuguese civil society to be able to develop our institutions in the developed world.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: Is the Imamat going to work in Portugal?
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: This does not mean that we do not work in other countries as well. We will. Particularly, because our community is a very pluralistic one. It is not based in a part of the world, nor in any language or anything of the sorts. We have to be as flexible as possible to meet needs wherever they require. And like any community that is global, we cannot handle all of these issues at the same time. We have to identify priorities; we have to try to respond to the needs that occur. But this is essentially anchored in institutional capacity, not in individual capacity. We are looking, for example, at the role of higher education. And where higher education does exist, is it satisfactory? Where is investment needed? Where is it necessary to think more broadly in geographical terminology, because often higher education is limited to a geographical area? We are trying to make globalisation in our institutions a reality so that we can serve the communities, wherever they may be. But it is a process. We never reach a full result. That is not realistic.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: You have dedicated your life to trying to end poverty and inequality. What do you think about the political and social tensions we are experiencing? I am talking about migration, of nuclear weapons, of violence, of the climate, of unemployment …
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: I begin with the premise that society cannot develop itself if it does not live in peace. And I think peace is the premier premise for all of us. But either you are in a country where there are internal conflicts, or you are where there is a regional conflict. And that, in my opinion, is the end of development. Hence the number one premise is the consensus on national goals. What are the national goals? Are they consensual? Are they egalitarian and just? Do we have the right resources to make them work? I look at society as a set of capabilities that need to be developed together so that the sum is greater than the addition of small numbers. And I think we are beginning to see that. I go back to the fifties and sixties, when there was still what I call a colonial heritage. That form of approach to a national consensus was not very strong. Many of the colonies have been developed through the division of people rather than through their unity around a common goal. I think this no longer exists today. Do not forget that in those decades we had an extraordinary situation because the process of decolonisation happened simultaneously with the Cold War. And the Cold War was very, very aggressive. Movements of independence and national policies were seen not only in the light of national issues, but also in the face of the Cold War. That no longer exists. So between that time and today, a great source of tension has disappeared. This has changed the dynamics of the world. If we think about Africa’s situation then, it necessarily reflects the effects of that War. Regimes and political leaders had to choose between the West and the East. Today they do not have to do so. Today these movements are related to their own dynamics. I think today the notion of performance is probably the greatest driver of political thinking. Which regimes perform well and build their capacity to deal with populations and have them under control? It is very interesting to see how everything has changed.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: I would also like to ask you what the Portuguese can expect, by having the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Lisbon?
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: Well… the context is between the relationship between religious institutions and modern governance. This is the real context. A context in which religious institutions are improved in what they do, that is, they need a safe environment to enable them to function. These institutions, such as humanitarian institutions, have taken on certain objectives and developed their civil society capacity. And it is very important that country laws allow religious institutions to thrive, as it is even in the national interest. And Portugal is the ideal country for this relationship and has been extremely considerate to me, as Imam. I think the country has been very intelligent, in what concerns the building of bridges so that religions work well and always with a result that is of national interest. When problems arise, and they are not here, but they arise in other countries, it is when religious institutions and national goals are not compatible. That is when we have trouble. However, Portugal has been very smart to work with religious institutions. We are not the only religion with which the Government works. There is a very, very strong national precedent for this relationship to work. As a religion, we are working in the domain that is already very well positioned for the two sides to work together and as it should be. We are very grateful and honoured for that.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: Has the Portuguese Government awarded you many privileges?
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: I would not call them privileges. What the Government did was look at this relationship between religion and governance. The Portuguese began doing this with the Concordat signed with the Vatican. This was the first domain with which they worked, and they worked very well. That is why the experience of the Concordat was the springboard for our relationship and it has been a very, very happy relationship. We have benefited as a religion from this precedent called Concordat. The Concordat was a very important step in the formation of your country in political terms and was extended to us by the Government. Portugal is dealing with difficult problems in a very efficient way. The Portuguese are strong in their convictions, it is the general opinion when I talk to my friends and we compare what is happening in various parts of the world. Portugal has made very important choices in modern history, courageous decisions. It is therefore a country we all admire.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: And are we not gaining anything, with the establishment of the Imamat here?
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: Ah yes! We are going to create several institutions here but with international objectives. But we will continue to deal with each other under a great basis of friendship. There will be aid as there will be for countries like Mozambique and for Portuguese-speaking countries. It will be a very supportive relationship. And I hope we can share the interests of Portugal, not only here but also abroad. We have a set of common interests.
Expresso – Alexandra Carita: And are you moving here?
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: I do not know. But I know I will come much more often. I’m still contemplating if I will move or not. You will see me more often, I am sure of that.
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Earlier & Related
Presidencia.PT Video: Remarks by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa honouring His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan at the National Palace of Queluz
Expresso Interview (English translation): “This is a Faith of Reason,” explains His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan