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On his Diamond Jubilee, Aga Khan renews commitment to improved quality life for vulnerable societies

GOUVIEUX, France: On 11 July, 2017, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili community His Highness Aga Khan will mark his Diamond Jubilee, 60th year as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. 

According to a statement by Aga Khan Development Network, this worldwide celebration brings together the global Ismaili community, partners of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and government and faith community leaders in over 25 countries. 11 July begins a year of milestone announcements by the Aga Khan for a global commitment to partnerships based on the principles of ethics in action, peace and pluralism.

“Over the past six decades, the Aga Khan has transformed the quality of life for millions of people around the world. In the areas of health, education, cultural revitalisation, and economic empowerment, he has worked to inspire excellence and improve living conditions and opportunities in some of the world’s most remote and troubled regions”, says the press statement.

“The Aga Khan leads a global community of some 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims, living predominantly in South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and the Far East. Like the Muslim world as a whole, the Ismaili community represents a rich diversity of cultures, languages, and nationalities. His role as Imam includes the interpretation of the faith and responsibility for religious institutions and activities of his followers worldwide.”

The statement adds: “Driven by the ethics of his faith and the Imam’s hereditary responsibility to improve the quality of life for his community and for those amongst whom they live, the Aga Khan has been at the forefront of innovation in development during his 60 years as Imam. He is Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the most comprehensive development networks in the world today.  The AKDN operates in over 30 countries principally in Central and South Asia, Eastern and Western Africa and the Middle East. It has grown to 80,000 staff, one of the largest development organisations in the world.”

The AKDN’s agencies have mandates ranging from health and education to architecture, microfinance, disaster reduction, rural development, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities—all of which are catalysts for development. Together, they contribute towards building a vibrant civil society that addresses the needs of vulnerable populations.

AKDN spends US$ 925 million dollars annually on non-profit social and cultural development activities – a threefold increase over the past ten years. It operates more than 200 health care institutions, 2 universities spanning 6 countries, and 200 schools and school improvement programmes in some of the most remote and poorest parts of the developing world.

At the same time, AKDN operates over 90 project companies in post-conflict and transitional economies, helping to lay the foundations of economic development in these countries.  These companies, which range from a large-scale hydropower project in Uganda to a mobile phone company in Afghanistan, now generate over US$ 4.1 billion in revenues.  Surpluses from these activities are re-invested into development projects overseen by the Aga Khan.

Following in the tradition of his forefathers—going back over a thousand years to the establishment, by the Ismaili Imams, of the earliest universities and institutions of learning in the Muslim world—the Aga Khan has also emphasised the importance of education for both men and women. He has established centres of learning that are at the forefront of international teaching practice, knowledge and scientific research, including the Aga Khan University, the University of Central Asia, and the Aga Khan Academies.

Each year, among numerous other interventions, the AKDN provides quality health care to five million people, improves teaching for two million students from preschool to university level, generates electricity for ten million people, and helps eight million to achieve greater food security, raise household incomes, and improve their overall quality of life.

In keeping with tradition, the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations will include the launching of new social, cultural, and economic development projects.

New projects and initiatives to be announced or dedicated this year include coordinated programmes to alleviate poverty, increased access to finance for education, health and housing, early childhood development, and infrastructure (principally, water, energy and telecommunications) projects in developing countries. Additional resources and capacity will be added to the institutions of the AKDN, including the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.

The Aga Khan believes diversity should inspire, not divide, and that enhancing pluralism is a crucial building block for constructing peaceful and successful societies. In 2006, the Aga Khan and the Canadian government established the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa to conduct research and advance knowledge about the values that underpin inclusive pluralistic societies.

The Aga Khan has enhanced dialogue and fostered collaboration between faith communities and has been a strong advocate for an improved understanding of Islam. He has emphasised Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith that teaches compassion and tolerance and upholds the dignity of mankind. Rejecting the notion of an inevitable conflict between peoples, he has called this a “clash of ignorance” rather than one of civilisations.

In his own words: “The world we seek is not a world where difference is erased but where difference can be a powerful force for good, helping us to fashion a new sense of cooperation and coherence in our world and to build together a better life for all.”

In the continuingly turbulent times the world finds ourselves in, it is hoped that the Diamond Jubilee will also provide occasion to improve understanding of Islam and Muslim civilizations and foster collaboration between different peoples and faith communities around the world.

The Profile

His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. In the context of his hereditary responsibilities, His Highness has been deeply engaged with the development of countries around the world for close to 60 years through the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

The AKDN is a group of private, international, non-denominational agencies working to improve living conditions and opportunities for people in specific regions of the developing world. The Network’s organisations have individual mandates that range from the fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise.

AKDN’s social development agencies include the Aga Khan Health Services, Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, Aga Khan Education Services, Aga Khan Academies, the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, the Aga Khan Foundation, Focus Humanitarian Assistance as well as two universities, the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture co-ordinates AKDN’s cultural activities, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Historic Cities Programme, Aga Khan Music Initiative, Aga Khan Museum, and Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (at Harvard and MIT). The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) is a for-profit development agency dedicated to building enterprises in tourism, banking, insurance, media, aviation, industry and infrastructure. AKFED reinvests profits in further development initiatives.

The Ismaili Muslims are a global, multi-ethnic community whose members, comprising a wide diversity of cultures, languages and nationalities, live in Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America.

The Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims in 1957 at the age of 20. Since taking on his role in 1957, he has dedicated his efforts to improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable populations, while emphasizing the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith: one that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds human dignity.

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