The Aga Khan advocates for pluralism and tolerance

(with photos) GENEVA, May 31 (KUNA) -- HH AGA KHAN expressed hope that pluraliism can prevail in the Islamic world, in addition to tolerance and pluralism, linguistic pluralism and pluralism in the interpretation of faith.

The Aga Khan, talking to a select group of reporters in Geneva, added that he will be working with Canada to establish a global center for pluralism.

"We need in the 'Umma' to move away from the normative attitudes towards the acceptance of pluralism of the 'Umma', and that pluralism starts from the time of the Prophet himself and 'Hadith' (Sayings of the Prophet Mohammad) as well as the Prophet's historical footprints show that in the life time of the Prophet himself he knew that there would be pluralism in the interpretation of the faith," added the Aga Khan.

Asked about the challenges he faces in the new Century the Aga Khan said that ethics is one of those issues, meaning that the absence of such values impedes development, in the sense that corruption across the board is that which calls for a revitalization of values and ethics.

Pluralism and Ethics, he stressed are two of the forces that are of concern for all of 'us' today.

The Aga Khan was addressing the select group of reporters on the occasion of the merger of the Bellerive Foundation with the AGA KHAN Foundation which would result in the creation of USD 10 million Fund dedicated to environmental projects and named in the memory of the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan.

The Bellerive Foundation was founded by the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in Switzerland in 1977. Its major programs focused on the link between the scarcity of natural resources and poverty in the developing world; the preservation of fragile mountain ecosystems; animal protection; and initiatives in environmental education.

The new Fund will concentrate its activities in six main areas: environmental education; natural resource management in fragile zones; nature parks and wildlife reserves; environmentally and culturally appropriate tourism infrastructure; environmental health; and research.

The Aga Khan Foundation's present environment-related activities include: rural development projects that have planted over 26 million trees and transformed 33,000 hectares of degraded land into productive use, in northern Pakistan.

In addition the Fund took care of natural resource management in drought-stricken areas of Kenya and India that encompass rainwater harvesting systems, tree planting, conservation education and reservoir construction; and rural water and sanitation projects designed to reduce the prevalence of disease in Afghanistan. - The Aga Khan Award for Architecure has awarded Palestinian architects and others several awards for their preservation programs in old Jerusalem.

The Welfare Association - a Geneva-bassed non-governmental organization established in 1983 to support Palestinians in all development areas - was one of the award winning institutions in 2004.

Dar al Aytam, in Jerusalem, is one such example, and this historical orphanage, comprising five monumental buildings from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, including a soup kitchen and bakery established by the wife of Sultan Sleyman, is being upgraded incrementally as an educational institution.

By the end of 2003, eighty-two residential projects and twenty-six public and fifty-five commercial buildings had been restored through the program of the Welfare Association in old Jerusalem providing decent living conditions for residents, creating new spaces for the community and ensuring the preservation of the rich historic fabric of the old city.

The Aga Khan noted that his foundation will continue to concentrate more heavily on Central Asia, but would look for research capabilities in Europe, North America and Asia, which are lacking in Central Asia.

On the earthquake regions in Central Asia, the Aga Khan noted that his foundation did assist in seismic regions, and that his Foundation will be involved in the reconstruction of a number of areas, and some planning has been done for Bam, following its dreadful earthquake, and on both sides of Kashmir, and looking at areas of risk.

"This is a very complex exercise, and includes educating high mountain peoples to build differently than what they have done traditionally," he added.

Responding to the issue of poverty and despair, he said that the fact that despair could be replaced by hope through the Aga Khan Foundation projects does have an impact on people's willingness to look to the future with confidence and very often that is the key issue.

"We are trying to create new processes of change, and encourage others to look at those new forms of change and to assist them to create capacities, and this is where education comes in," he added.

The AGA KHAN FOUNDATION has numerous programs across the globe mainly in Muslim communities, and when it comes to Architecture the Foundation is involved in the renovation of buildings of Islamic heritage which are part of the history of the Muslim world.

HH Aga Khan stressed that all the programs undertaken by his foundation are non-political, what 'we' do is to choose pockets of extreme poverty, and pockets of cultural assets which have been degraded over time and start a process of change.(end) hn. rk

KUNA 311828 May 06NNNN

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