02 December, 2006
SPEECH by Mr. Firoz Rasul
Karachi, Pakistan

SPEECH by Mr. Firoz Rasul, President of Aga Khan University


Bismillah-Hir-Rehman-ir- Rahim

The Chancellor, Your Highness the Aga Khan;
Honorable Chief Guest, Your Excellency, Mohammedmian Soomro, Chairman of the Senate;
Honorable Chief Minister of Sindh, Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim;
Honorable Ministers;
Members of the Diplomatic Community;
Chairman Saidullah Khan Dehlavi and Members of the Board of Trustees;
Graduates and Parents;
Members of the faculty and staff;
Alumni of the Aga Khan University;
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen;

As-Salaam-wa-Laikum and Good Morning

At this my inaugural convocation, I begin my remarks by expressing my profound gratitude to the Chancellor for the opportunity to serve as the second President of the Aga Khan University. I am honoured and humbled by the confidence and trust bestowed upon me to lead the effort to realize the vision for the University that bears the Founder’s name.

I am awed by the vision for this University and at the same time inspired by the ambitious goal to create an international institution, unique in its approach and dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life of peoples of the Muslim and developing worlds.

At the outset, I pledge my commitment and dedication to the Chancellor, the Trustees, the faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors, that I will serve to best of my ability, and with integrity and humility, to uphold the name and reputation of the University.

Having watched this University from a distance with great admiration and respect, I now have the privilege of being part of the team of outstanding individuals who have contributed to the stature and reputation enjoyed by AKU today. I will work fervently to earn their commitment and passion. In turn I will provide the opportunity for personal as well as professional growth and the satisfaction of success through the achievement of even higher performance.

My family and I are touched by the warmth of the hospitality and reception extended by the AKU family. It has made our adjustment and settlement smooth and pleasant and we look forward to getting to know our new city.

Before we look to the future of AKU, we must first look at its past. Continuing in the intellectual tradition of Al-Azhar University established over 1000 years ago in Cairo by the Fatimids, the lineage from which the Founder of this University hails, AKU is committed to becoming an international centre of excellence for learning and scholarship, research and service, relevant to its place and in its time.

The Aga Khan University has come a long way from its beginnings with the Charter in 1983. Ten years ago, the Chancellor’s Commission Report, highlighted the Vision for AKU and I quote: “as a highly distinctive international university; it will not have some conventional schools or faculties but will seek through institutes that combine different disciplines and draw on links to the Aga Khan Development Network to address major subjects like Islamic Civilizations, human development and economic growth in creative ways. It will be a university spread broadly both geographically and over the fields of pure and applied knowledge from the sciences to the humanities. It will have both spiritual and technocratic elements for the needs of its own students and those of the worlds it aims to serve.”

Inspired by this vision, our University has grown, developed, and matured. We started out some 25 years ago as a small institution with large aspirations. In our first quarter century, which is a very short time in the life of a university, we have established internationally recognized programmes in health sciences and education as well as an internationally accredited teaching hospital that has earned the reputation of being among the best not only in Pakistan but also in the region. Under the leadership of the first President, Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, a strong foundation has been established to enable the University to propel along a higher trajectory as it extends its reach and expands its impact.

Today, the Aga Khan University is perfectly positioned to make its mark as a comprehensive university that transcends national boundaries. Our membership of the Aga Khan Development Network with its economic, social, cultural, and educational institutions in several countries, gives us a differential advantage in our multiple contexts. While on the one hand we generate and impart knowledge, on the other, we represent an institution with a mission of producing leaders who will contribute to the well being of their communities and countries.

This morning I would like to share my view of the challenges that confront us and to offer a perspective on the opportunities that are ahead of us.

Let me first begin with you, our graduates. This is undoubtedly, a great day for you and your families, and for this institution. We are gathered here to celebrate your success, your hard work, and the completion of this phase of your academic life. Congratulations on achieving this great milestone.

We are living in a time characterized by many challenges and changes in the world, from significant political shifts and the growing misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim World, to a decrease in tolerance, to wider globalization, continued poverty, accelerating environmental degradation and more frequent health epidemics. But, there are also exciting advancements as we push the frontiers of knowledge, and invent breakthrough technology, as evidenced by the explosion in information, mass communications and medical innovation to name a few. During our time, the “world has gotten flatter” to quote the author, Thomas Friedman, and many barriers have been broken; but also during our time, we have witnessed the increase in xenophobia and nationalism, growing polarization, and creeping conservatism.

But, with the grace of Allah, we still live in a world of hope, optimism and opportunities, where we can control our destiny. You graduates are our hope and optimism. AKU has equipped you with the skills, the knowledge, and the discipline to bring your energy and passion to seek new solutions to persistent problems.

While you, our graduates, take on the challenge of confronting these issues, the University also has a critical role to play. Let me explain by giving you three examples.

At few periods in modern history, has the mission of building pluralistic societies been more important than at present. Celebrating the diversity of perspectives and opinions, faiths and cultures, languages and traditions is a prerequisite to building harmonious and successful societies. As the Chancellor has stated, that “a secure pluralist society requires communities that are educated and confident both in the identity and depth of their traditions and in those of their neighbours.” AKU’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations based in the United Kingdom is focused on the study and research of the rich history and pluralism within Islam, with the faith’s diversity of national backgrounds, cultures, peoples, languages and traditions. Through partnerships with the Global Centre for Pluralism, established in Canada by the Aga Khan Development Network and with universities around the world, we will look to create research and learning opportunities for our students and faculty.

My second example derives from the question about the kind of student we want to develop. Imparting knowledge is just one aspect of a good education but the measure of a great education is not what a student knows, rather what they don’t know but are able to figure out. Through our upcoming Faculty of Arts and Sciences, AKU will prepare students to analyze and synthesize; to articulate their ideas and arguments; to appreciate different perspectives; to question existing paradigms; to be life long learners; to make the difficult choices in life within an ethical framework, and above all to serve humanity. In doing so the institution aims to create an environment of academic inquiry, of educational responsibility, of research, of compassion and of humility. Our graduates will have more than just a technical presence in this world. They will also have a spirit of generosity, a sense of aesthetics and art and erudite character.

My last example derives from the dichotomy of growing interconnectedness and widening divide in the world today. Within this context, AKU will work to develop global citizens equipped to deal with different or changing environments. AKU has a unique international character. A university that has the capacity to provide distinctive experiences to our students, and faculty through mobility between campuses, various cultural, political and social environments and opportunities to learn with students in South Asia, East Africa, the UK and Central Asia. Over time we plan to establish a broader network between AKU’s teaching sites, the University of Central Asia and the Aga Khan Academies.

Looking at my focus, as the new President, I will be driven by two forces - aggressive goals and an impatient boss.

In fulfilling this Vision:

AKU will continue to be a premiere academic institution, attracting the energetic, dynamic, brightest young men and women who will attend on merit and with no regard for their financial situation. The University will set and maintain the highest standards in teaching, research and service

Our students will be taught by dedicated learners and mentors who are on the cutting edge of knowledge, research and inquiry. Our faculty is the cornerstone of this institution. Excellence in teaching will be recognized and rewarded.

We will have an entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging people to take initiative and enabling innovation through an empowering environment

Research will be a priority as we aim to become a center of excellence, by creating new knowledge through rigour and discipline and with the highest ethical standards.

Financial sustainability will be essential in ensuring vibrancy and quality. While our donors and international partners continue to assist us, AKU will also generate new sources of income that can fund our plan for new academic programs and for financial assistance for students and patients.

To keep us at the leading edge, the extensive use of technology will play an important part. Telecommunications for distance learning; knowledge management for sharing of libraries, research and academic programmes, links to enable telemedicine to benefit patients in one country who can be diagnosed by experts in another are a few examples.

Our Donors, volunteers and supporters of AKU are the pillars of this institution, without which much would not have been possible. We will provide more opportunities for generosity of time, professional advice and financial resources. Your contributions will live with this institution for generations to come.

Graduates as you leave AKU today, you leave us as Alumni, who in the great tradition of this institution, continue to be our ambassadors and champions. Today you are formally inducted into the AKU alumni association where you join the ranks of our 6,000 graduates who have walked the halls before you. We hope that you will continue to support us as volunteers and donors as you venture out into your professional lives.

Our graduates. I hope you leave here today with big dreams for yourselves, your families and the communities in which you live. All that you learnt at AKU will serve you well to deal with new challenges and opportunities. But most significantly, I hope your education has enabled you to become a “citizen of the world”. And by that I mean the ability to understand and value perspectives other than your own.

Please accept our sincere congratulations on your achievements at AKU, and take with you our best wishes and prayers for success.

Thank you

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