Karachi, Pakistan

Tuesday, February 24, 1976

Maulana Kauser Niazi, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It was good of you to invite Me to this occasion not least because, although I enjoy and appreciate most of the art forms, I claim no special expertise in any of them.

Pakistan has an astonishingly rich cultural tradition. The international seminar entitled "Sind Through the Centuries" organized quite recently in this city and attended by leading scholars from all over the world, bore witness to this fact. I understand your council played a leading role in organizing this event and I hope it will be only the forerunner of many more official and private efforts in other provinces of Pakistan as well which will make this nation aware not only of its great artistic heritage but also of the need to build on these foundations so that a second golden age of Muslim culture may become a reality.

In these days of economic recession, the contribution of private patronage is necessarily restricted. Yet the State has nothing to lose and a great deal to gain by a systematic encouragement of the arts at every level. This is especially true of your folk arts and the production of articles such as carpets, pottery,tiles or ceramics. In a nation where the population is of a relatively high density and where, in your northern regions, for example climatic factors keep men idle for long periods, there is surely considerable scope for the encouragement of handicrafts at the village and family level. As mass production leads to greater and greater standardization in the West, the export value of the truly hand-made article will correspondingly increase and then become a significant factor in the national economy.

No art form in the Muslim world has suffered from the insidious influence of alien cultures as much as architecture. Yet it was only a few hundred years ago - a fragment of time in the great span of human history - that architecture became the greatest of Islamic cultural art forms.

I have spoken of this subject before and no doubt I shall do so again and again. It is of great personal significance to Me. Whilst the sheer size and complex functions of many modern buildings may require the assistance of Western expertise, this is no reason for continuing to import the Western styles of architecture which are so often unsuitable and indeed unsightly in this environment.

I fear the day when Islam will be our faith, yet its outward manifestation in the building we work and live in, the painting and works of art we behold and the music we listen to, will be dominated by foreign cultures which have their roots neither in our spiritual beliefs nor in our great artistic heritage. In saying this, I am not advocating a narrow or chauvinistic approach to the nation's artistic development, nor is this a question of simply copying the forms of the past. Islamic art has always thrived on a liberal adaptation of contemporary influences and at its greatest, was neither restrictive nor insular.

How then are we to answer to future generations who will grow up in this great Muslim country asking themselves why it is that the genius of Islamic architecture has left behind only time worn historical monuments, monuments to a past that is gone forever and without relation to the living present?

Hundreds and thousands of new buildings are now being constructed in Muslim countries in the wake of great oil boom. How many of their designers have seriously studied or taken account of the spirit of Muslim architecture and adapted it to modern functional requirements? I am sad to say that the answer is very few.

In Karachi, you will see at least one building, carrying the name of My family which will have made an attempt. The design of the Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College has been the work of a team consisting of an American architect who is a specialist in hospitals and who, before putting one pencil to his drawing board, went on a tour of the great monuments of Muslim architecture in Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, Iran and this continent. The tour was led by an eminent Iranian architect who has continued to act as design consultant so that the end result is planned as a fusion of the most up-to-date functional technology with the particular spirit of Muslim architecture in terms of layout, landscaping and the use of local materials and finishes.

This has not been an easy process. It has taken time, trouble and not a little expenditure. Only posterity can judge if the attempt has been successful. But for Me, at any rate, it was essential to make that effort. I hope this effort will be repeated, not once, but hundreds of times all over the Muslim world, for it is only by such endeavour that the Muslim of today may hope to create a lasting artistic tradition for tomorrow.

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