SUNDAY, JANUARY 9th 1983
Paigham-e-Imamat, pp. 22-26
Silver Jubilee Speeches, I, pp. 42-47
Hidayat, (March 1983), pp. 4-5 and 9
Hikmat, II, 3 (January 1984), pp. 16-17
Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests
It is a great pleasure for my wife and I to be in Singapore again and to see for ourselves what tremendous developments have taken place here over the last few years. Your government, Mr. Rajaratnam, deserves congratulations for the economic miracle you have achieved, in spite of the recession in the industrialized countries.
In the last few days, members of my community have come from many parts of Asia to take part in the celebration of my Silver Jubilee. They have come from as far as Australia, from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere. I could not speak here this evening without saying how pleased I am that they have done so, or without expressing my heartfelt thanks to my Council for Malaysia and Singapore for all the work they have done to make this visit so happy.
This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of my accession to the Imamat of the Ismaili Muslims and, although some of you are already well-informed about our community, it may be appropriate for me to say a few words about the office which I hold.
Ismailis are Shia Muslims who believe that the successor to the leadership of the Muslim community after the death of Prophet Mohammed was the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and that this leadership, in both spiritual and temporal matters, was to continue by heredity through Ali in the Prophet's family. Today, we are one of the few Shia sects led by an hereditary Imam, my grandfather having been the forty-eighth and I myself being the forty-ninth.
Ismailis live in over twenty-five different countries including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Syria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, south-west China, Australia, Indonesia, and of course Malaysia and Singapore. Being responsible as the Imam for this Ismaili community of some 15 million people, I have necessarily become a student of social problems of all kinds. Islam, I should like to underline, is an all-encompassing faith. It gives direction to man's life, urging the individual to achieve a balance between material progress and spiritual well-being. But no man, woman or child can hope to achieve such a balance in sickness, illiteracy or squalor.
My grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, initiated health and education services a hundred years ago, in the 1880's, which are now on their way to becoming an internationally-linked system of voluntary, non-profit, Muslim institutions serving all communities, and which through their welfare activities are contributing to improving the quality of life in the Third World.
When I assumed the responsibilities of the Imamat in 1957, I was eager -- as I still am -- to see that the countries where my followers live are sound and stable, that they are countries with clear development horizons, countries where, following my grandfather's example, I could help to underwrite the integrity of the state and to contribute to improving the quality of life for all communities, not just my own. I hoped to help bridge the gulf between the developed and the developing worlds. This aspiration, I felt, was particularly appropriate to the Imamat because of its commitment to broad social objectives without political connotations, save in its concern for the fundamental freedom of its followers to practise the faith of their choice.
Just as a few moments ago, I stressed the all-encompassing nature of Islam. So I must emphasize the non-political character of the Ismaili Imamat. Far from seeking to interfere in politics, I have always urged Ismailis to be loyal to the countries where they live and to whatever government is responsible for their security and well being. This respect for integrity of nations, coupled with our fundamental aspiration to improve the quality of life in the Third World countries is, I believe, the reason why the role of Ismailis and of the Imamat is today generally perceived as being a positive and constructive one.
This evening I should like to explain very briefly how we try to realize our aspirations in practice.
I mentioned health and education. The Aga Khan Health Services in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Tanzania comprise some 200 health care units, from major hospitals down to village dispensaries. Well over a million and a half out-patients, the majority non-Ismaili, receive treatment every year through these institutions. We run over 300 educational establishments in the Third World, from nursery schools upwards. Like our health facilities, they are open to all-comers. I hope you will forgive a moment of pride when I mention the foundation of the Aga Khan University, which was evolved out of the Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College we are building in Karachi. This University will address itself to Third World problems in a way that many existing universities have not done, especially taking into account the fact that Third World populations are predominantly rural, not urban, and we plan for it to have faculties in other countries. It is being assisted with advice from the universities of Harvard, McGill and McMaster in North America.
The University is the largest project sponsored by the Aga Khan Foundation which I established in 1967 in Geneva to build further on the structure of welfare services originated by my grandfather, and to help resolve social development problems in the Third World. The Foundation now has affiliates in seven countries, collaborates with other international agencies, and was officially recognized by the United Nations Development Programme in 1980. Its activities range widely: a highly successful goitre control programme through rural health centres in northern Pakistan, combating diarrhoeal diseases in Bangladesh, originating programmes to improve the farming of the rural poor both in the remote areas of northern Pakistan and in India; co-sponsoring with the World Health Organization an international conference on the role of hospitals in primary health care. I am told the Aga Khan Foundation is today among the larger international foundations when measured in terms of its yearly commitments in the developing world.
Where the Aga Khan Foundation acts as a catalyst in generating social programmes, our Industrial Promotion Services companies have been established since 1963 to be an agency of the Imamat's economic developments in the Third World. We have promoted industrial, financial and tourism projects in many countries including the Ivory Coast, Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, not simply to make a profit but to invest in constructive development that is of genuine value to the countries concerned.
The Imamat's social and economic institutions are all privately managed because it has no single home country and, therefore, its activities are necessarily international and institutional as opposed to governmental. But all the Imamat activities, agencies and services seek to identify themselves with the objectives of the developing countries, and my intention is that the benefits of their enterprise should be recirculated within the Third World.
Furthermore, I encourage the institutions of the Imamat to aim for the highest standards of performance in all that they do, from the lowest levels of management upwards. I also try to encourage excellence across a wider spectrum in the Third World. In 1978, I established the Aga Khan Awards Foundation in Geneva to honour exceptional achievements in the Arts and Sciences. Our architectural Award gives up to $500,000 in prizes every three years. We also publish a quarterly journal called MIMAR -- which translated means 'Master Builder' -- here in Singapore, which is concerned with architecture and development in the Third World.
In Singapore, Mr. Rajaratnam, your government has established an environment which manifestly enables merit to be rewarded. This enabling environment is created by political stability, democratic institutions, a framework of law which protects all citizens and encourages enterprise. Unhappily, it is not so easy for most Third World countries with predominantly rural populations to weather the effects of the current recession, let alone to prosper, as you have done. Nonetheless, making rural populations more productive must be the key to successful development in much of the Third World, and I believe profoundly that effective achievements in all fields of endeavour -- in business, in health care, in education and in government -- depend upon a pragmatic and creative approach to problems.
If I may leave you with one thought this evening, I would like it to be that the limited sources of the Third World can only be made the most of by good management and the encouragement of merit, at all levels and in all walks of life.
Thank you very much.