Reflection on the Aga Khan's Speeches

Thematic Analysis of the Aga Khan's Speeches



We analyzed more than 162 speeches of His Highness Aga Khan IV, the 49th Imam of Ismailis, from 1957 until 2021, and we extracted about 350 distinct quotations out of them.

We utilized thematic analysis method in analyzing these speeches; in that, we searched and secluded patterned themes or ideas, and built them as categories. Each category is a concept the Aga Khan has systematically used. We found that the Aga Khan has used near 40 basic concepts in His speeches. We grouped these concepts and selected quotations that provide exapmles of how the Aga Khan expresses these concepts.

The Index of the Concepts:
1.Progress and Growth

1.1. Material Progress

1.2. Moral and Ethical Progress


2.1.Open Inquiry

2.2. Transformative Power

3. Faith

3.1.The Limitless Divine



3.4.Engagement in the World

3.5.Culture of Islam

3.6.The Role of the Imam

3.7.The Ismailis


4.1.One Humanity

4.2.Creative Encounter

4.3. Cosmopolitanism

4.3.1.True Sensitivity


5.1.Genuine Partnership

5.2.The Aggregate

5.2.1. Institutional Capital

5.2.2. Management

5.2.3.Complexity Multiple Inputs

5.2.4. Human Capital

5.3.Enabling Environment

5.4. Voluntary Work

5.5.Civil Society

5.6. Knowledge Society

5.7.Habitat as Site and Agent of Development

6.Quality of Life

6.1.Higher Standards of Living

6.2. Positive Freedom

6.3. Personality

6.4. Effective Democracy

6.4.1. Governance


7.Historical Continuity




Progress and Growth

The Aga Khan approaches and uses the concept of Progress and Growth comprehensively and broadly. Human beings must pursue achieving progress and make higher growth; this is their destiny and their role in this world. In other words, Progress and Growth seem to be a sacred call or a divine call. Hence, material progress is not enough, and it is only a condition to achieve spiritual and ethical progress and growth. Therefore, we see that progress/growth is not per se the endpoint or the essential telos. Rather, it is a role human beings take to achieve self-realization, reflection on God's creation, and the one's potential that is given by God.

-"Science is a wonderfully powerful tool. But it is only a beginning in the new age we are entering . . . Islam does not perceive the world as two separate domains of mind and spirit, science and belief. Science and the search for knowledge are an expression of man's designated role in the Universe, but they do not define that role totally. " 1987

Moral and Ethical Progress

Progress and growth should sustain our moral values, such as devotion and reflection on God's creation

-["Looking at it from a Moslem point of view, the industrialized world has attached a very great premium to materialism. Has there been, as a consequence to that, a dehumanization of society? Has the individual lost his sense of identity? What has been the impact on ethical standards, generally speaking? Have ethical standards fallen? These are not just questions Islam raises; these are questions that thinking people around the world are asking. And I think that, insofar as possible, the development of the Islamic world's built environment should seek to answer these questions. Because Islamic architecture historically has paid specific attention to God's creation, particularly his manifestations through the beauty of nature. I think Islamic designers will have the sensitivity to help find creative, new answers." 1983]

-[“But wealth is not all that matters. Our religion teaches us that a spirit of humility and devotion is of first importance” ( 1957]

Any human endevor, such as architecture, should aim at creating a well-being (which is both material and spiritual). If such endeavors are not planned and directed for this developmental/well-being goal, then they will backfire

-[“Architecture is, in my view, a method of creating development, well-being. And I think architecture, if it goes wrong, can be a source of conflict or destabilization." 1983]

Progress can be ideally achieved or directed to make the society a place where all forces and activities are harmonized and integrated (instead of being isolated from each other; such as economic activities are not planned in line with educaitonal activities, for example)

"Architecture must integrate cultural wealth and creative spirit, I would even venture to say the dreams of a society aiming to become itself a force of integration of space and time where all creative and productive activities and human exchange take place." 1986

Material Progress

Material Progress is necessary to achieve the goal of the growth, which is preserving and practicing a balanced life between material and spiritual well-being.

"It [Islam] urges the individual to lead a balanced life, one that strives to accommodate both material progress and spiritual well-being. But no man, woman or child can hope to achieve this balance in sickness, illiteracy or squalor." Hence, improving the life of people is stepping stones towards "mankind's self-realization and growth." 1982

Material Process that is unbridled and unguided by ethics can make human beings brutal and even can lead human being to lose herself in terms of controling and understanding (i.e., realizing herself).

However, it should not be believed that material progress is all that counts. As so many advanced nations are finding to their cost, man's mastery of physical forces has far outstripped his mastery of himself. (, 1957

"What has been called the permissive society, where anything goes, nothing matters, nothing is sacred or private any more, is not a promising foundation for a brave and upright new world. This fearful chase after material ease must surely be tempered by peace of mind, by conscience, by moral values, which must be resuscitated. If not, man will simply have converted the animal instinct of feeding himself before others and even at the expense of others, into perhaps a more barbaric instinct of feeding himself and then hoarding all he can at the cost of the poor, the sick and the hungry." 1967


Education is a sine qua non condition for individuals, societies, and states to achieve progress and growth and also to nurture moral values. It is an avenue not only to survive the seemingly accelerating change and growing complexities in the world, but also to lead the change, steering it towards both spiritual and material progress.

"When I say education, I mean more than acquisition of knowledge, more than mere facts, figures and book work. Education is a life-long experience in which qualities such as integrity, mental discipline, humility and honesty should be formed, particularly during the early years. This is why the quality of your teachers is all important." ( 1957

Open Inquiry

Open Inquiry is the essential condition for high-quality and productive education. It means that education should be led by intellectual curiosity, by the morality of honesty, by creativity, and it should be free from inculcation of dogmas.

"But above all, it is my hope that these schools will stimulate creativity, intellectual curiosity and honest inquiry so that their students can adapt and thrive in a world of rapid change; can make informed judgements on life’s daily challenges, and place those judgements in an ethical framework." 2004

"The temptation to inculcate rather than to educate is understandably strong among long frustrated populations. In many such places, public emotions fluctuate between bitter impatience and indifferent skepticism - and neither impatience nor indifference are favorable atmospheres for encouraging reasoned thought." 2008

Education of leadership should not be of rote skills but science of thinking...schooling on science of thinking and art. 2008

"More than perhaps any other contemporary type of institution, universities can provide a forum in which a creative, enquiring and logical approach can be made to significant issues of the time. They possess -- or should possess-- the capacity to bring independent thought and original research to bear on the many challenges facing our civilisation." 1985

"Our mission had to be one of collective searching for solutions in a spirit of open-mindedness… If we are to respond adequately to the challenges facing us, we must always look to the future. The search for solutions is a voyage of discovery on which we must neither fail to gain from experience nor fear to explore further." 1983

And, the open inquiry implies searching for solutions to particular contexts, not importing "universal" simple solutions because they do not exist. Research is then an important value/method to enrich our intellect, and research in particular contexts enriches the universal understanding.

"the goal is not simply to provide education, it s to provide quality education so that the young boys and girls can succeed in a merit based system . . . The people of Pakistan are very diversified. The areas in which they live are very different. And, unless research is carried out, it will be impossible to focus education in curriculum training on the particularities and the idiosyncrasies of the needs of education in various parts of the country." 2000

"By nature I am suspicious of fashion, of isms, of dogmas, because I think human society changes all the time. And the moment you get frozen into a mental prison, then, you know, things actually start becoming very damaging. " 2000

Open inquiry implies continuity as well, which is necessary to cope with changes. Said that, education should be future-oriented since change is anchored in the future.

The Aga Khan said that the accelerating pace of change make skills easily outdated, so people need to focus on continuous learning as the most important skill. 2008

"We must also help young people build ‘Bridges to the Future’ - that is the name, in fact, of one of our new scholarship programs. Our philosophy is to build leadership for tomorrow by educating the young on the basis of academic potential – not on social status or family income. That philosophy is at the core of our Aga Khan Academies program." 2007

"My conclusion was that the deficit of knowledge is in many areas which are not being offered in education, which are not being taught. Because what have been inherited are curricula of the past, reflections of the past, attitudes of the past, rather than looking forwards, asking what do future generationsneed to know. And that is the central question which needs to be asked, and on which an academy such as this can have such a massive impact." 2009

The Aga Khan talked about the importance of education, looking for future, and investing in technology, in the age of Space even for the new independent African countries in his speech, 1966:

Open inquiry produces knowledge that can protect human beings from unpleasant changes and control for pleasant changes; this knowledge is what provides humanity with peace.

"[A]nother lesson that we learn from this great philosopher [Khusraw] is that, in the ebb and flow of history, ‘knowledge is a shield against the blows of time’. It dispels ‘the torment of ignorance’ and nourishes ‘peace to blossom forth in the soul’. " 2003

And, knowledge is the best tool that we have to predict changes in the atmosphere of complexities. The Aga Khan used the world "empathetic knowledge," which, we think, add to Open Inquiry an additional emphasis on sophistication and competence.

"Perhaps the biggest quandary we face in our economic and social development programmes is the problem of “predictability”; knowing what changes are going to arise, and then deciding what is more or less likely to work in a given situation. But again, progress is possible when complex issues are subjected to competent, intelligent, nuanced and sophisticated analysis, free from dogmatism, and based upon what I would describe as “empathetic knowledge.” This happens best in open, meritocratic societies, where people’s responsibilities are based on their competence. It also happens best when the intellectual resources of the world’s great universities, like Brown, are brought into play." 2014

Transformative Power

Intellect, nurtured by education, is a great transformative power ennobling individuals, developing societies, enriching peace and the unity of humanity, and it helps individuals reach spiritual wisodm.

"…Shia Ismaili belief in the transformative power of the human intellect," 2014

Spiritual and secular knwoledge/education is a unity; hence, education is also about gaining wisdom.

"I can not illustrate this interdependence of spiritual inspiration and learning better than by recounting a dialogue between Ibn Sina, the philosopher, and Abu said Abu -Khyar, the Sufi mystic. Ibn Sina remarked, "Whatever I know, he sees". To which Abu Said replied," Whatever I see, he knows"." 1985

Education enables us to develop our communities, to comprehend and reflect on God's creation, the environment, and ourselves. Thus, education transforms us.

"The truth, as the famous Islamic scholars repeatedly told their students, is that the spirit of disciplined, objective enquiry is the property of no single culture, but of all humanity. To quote the great physician and philosopher, Ibn Sina: ‘My profession is to forever journeying, to travel about the universe so that I may know all its conditions.’ It is these journeys of the mind which our students must make, for what is the study of science but man's endeavour to comprehend the universe of God's creation, the immediate world around him and himself? The laws of science are not bounded by cultures, nor should there be any basic conflict between loyalty to high academic standards and the service of practical development needs. A good doctor, lawyer, economist, manager or engineer is not simply a person committed to social good; he or she must have acquired the searching curiosity and the disciplined habits of mind which enthusiasm and commitment cannot alone supply, but which the modern university can." 1983

The problem of third world universities is that "Many universities educated away from, rather then towards, the needs of our new pluralistic world, in which multi-party democracy in governments, and the free market credo have become so powerful that they can even condition countries' access to international development resources." So, universities "must increase its capability to operate on a world scale in order to be effective at a community level," especially that only few, if any, civilizations across history have grown greatly without asserting the role of knowledge and intellectuality. 1996

"university should not only teach, but it should relate properly to the society in which it lives so that the work of its faculty, of its students, would benefit the wider community." 1996

It is important to note that knowledge should be rooted socially (i.e., people should be aware of developmental projects), so development and change become effective.

"For, even if we create an architecture worthy of praise, we would have partly failed unless we form ourselves the men and women who will realize that architecture." 1980

This transformative power of the intellect opens new horizons for us and awakening of civilizations.

"God has given us the miracle of life with all its attributes. The extraordinary manifestations of sunrise and sunset, of sickness and recovery, of birth and death. But surely if He has given us the means with which to remove ourselves from this world so as to go to other parts of the Universe, we can but accept as further manifestations the creation and destructions of stars, the birth and death of atomic particles, the flighting new sound and light waves… our children will be born to brighter horizons." 1963

"They brought an impressive array of academic disciplines to bear on a reflection of how the revelation of Islam, with its challenge to man's innate gift of quest and reason, became a powerful impetus for a new flowering of human awakening and civilization." 2003

Education is critically important nowadays to bolster cosmopolitan ethics and understanding and to teach us about the one humanity; that is, we need education to make the increasing globalization an era of peace and productive pluralism. Education, the Aga Khan stated, can reshape the way in which our world thinks of itself. ( 2008)

The Aga Khan asserted that it is impossible to accept the notion of inevitably civilization clashes. Rather, He described these clashes as clash of ignorance. Power of education is essential, because ignorance yields to understanding through education. 2018

At the individual level, education is the best asset that can empower the indivdaul in her daily life and generally. The Aga Khan stressed that If you have a well educated mind, even if you have nothing, you can start again. ( 2008).

"As a result I am now deeply convinced that man's position in society, wherever he may be, will depend less and less upon his cultural or family heritage and more and more on the power and development of his mind." 1963

"Learning is ennobling. Teaching is one of the most valued professions because it opens minds to greater self-awareness as well as to the knowledge that gives learners greater control over their destinies." 2000

Finally, the Aga Khan focused on three topics as essential ones on which education should invest in to achieve peace, stability, and development.
They are pluralism, ethics that are enrooted in the civil society not in dogmas, and types of governance or political systems.

In the third world countries, three type of knowledge deficit are determined: (1) knowledge and education about pluralism, (2) ethics that are not born of dogma but in civil society, (3) and constitutionality (governance/political systems). Htt2ps:// 2009


The Aga Khan has used the concept of Faith as an overarching concept including the following sub-concepts: the finititude of human being in front of the endless, the dimensionless Divine [The Aga Khan said in 1969 that There is no dimensions of the power of God (]; the Oneness as reality; the Intellect as central to the Faith; and engagement in the world as a faith-based task. The Aga Khan also explained many times His roles as the Imam of Ismailis, and the role of Ismailis. In addition, we see that the Aga Khan has described the culture of Islam in details, giving it its unique charactersitcs.

The Limitless Divine

Allah is continuously creating the created world, and His creation never stops. So, in front of this endless creation, human beings should show modesty and sincere desire to discover more and more about God's creation. That is why education should be characterized by open inquiry. We can never embrace the whole creation of God.

"Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation. For many of my generation, the greatest technological miracle of this century has been sending men into space, and a remark made by an astronaut on one of the first flights in space has always remained in my mind. Looking down upon the earth he had just left he has said emotionally, "It's one world." He was not a Muslim. But this remark substantiated two fundamental aspects of our faith: the limitlessness of God's power and the brotherhood of man. This is the inspiration which guided the great Islamic centres of learning in the past and which must guide the Aga Khan University in the future." 1983

"A central element in a truly religious outlook, it seems to me, is the quality of personal humility—a recognition that strive as we might, we will still fall short of our ideals, that climb as we might, there will still be unexplored and mysterious peaks above us. It means recognizing our own creaturehood—and thus our human limitations. In that recognition, it seems to me, lies our best protection against false prophecies and divisive dogmatism…But if freedom of religion deteriorates into freedom from religion—then societies will find themselves lost in a bleak and unpromising landscape—with no compass, no roadmap and no sense of ultimate direction." 2006

Since God's creation is infinite and human beings are finite, then human being settles in, is located in God's creation, or, as the Aga Khan amazingly said, human being is a "steward" of God's creation; thus, he or she is responsible in all directions in front of God.

"The Holy Quran asks Muslims not to be passive recipients of our Natural Habitat but instead to be faithful stewards of the divine creation; we need to expand our commitment in all directions. This means not merely conforming to the power of nature, but actively engaging with its challenges. At the same time we must be careful not to exaggerate the capacities for human mastery – trying to defy nature is counterproductive in many ways. A reflective dialogue between natural realities and human capabilities is also at the essence of architectural excellence." 2019

This finitude in front of the infinity of the Divine is captured by the fact that we have two resources of knowledge, that revealed by the Divine itself through the Prophet and that we acquire by our own intellect.

"In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. 1983


Oneness or the Real unity of realms and realities has appeared in the Aga Khan's speeches as essential and fundamental inextricability: (1) between the body/the material and the spirit, (2) between this world and the next, (3) between the everyday life and religion, (4) between the human being and nature, and (5) between thought and existence.

"We found too that the overwhelming unity of Islamic life which sees no division between body and spirit, between this world and the next was a powerful influence on Islamic architecture. The desire to bring to this world some of the beauty of the hereafter acted as a constant barrier to the discordant or the haphazard in Islamic styles." ." 1979

"The reason, I think, is that in many parts of the world there is a feeling the religious authorities should not become entangled with the mundane matters of everyday life, let alone with the basic material issues of enterprise. People feel that the world's highest moral authorities and institutions endanger their authority by entering the evil domain of materialism." He explains that a man should not shy away from participating in the everyday life issues, "he must be enterprising, contributing of his best to his family and the society in which he lives, so long as the content of his endeavour is within the terms of our social and moral conscience and so long as the objectives of the enterprise are equally acceptable." 1983

The Aga Khan explained that In Islam, everyday life is not separated from religion. So, The Prophet himself was a trader. 1975

"A third dialogue that commands architectural attention is the dialogue between nature on the one hand and human creativity on the other. Both the natural world and the world of human capacities are divine gifts, but it is tempting sometimes to embrace one without thinking much about the other...The Holy Quran asks Muslims not to be passive recipients of our Natural Habitat but instead to be faithful stewards of the divine creation; we need to expand our commitment in all directions. This means not merely conforming to the power of nature, but actively engaging with its challenges. At the same time we must be careful not to exaggerate the capacities for human mastery – trying to defy nature is counterproductive in many ways. A reflective dialogue between natural realities and human capabilities is also at the essence of architectural excellence." 2019

"Spirit and body are one, man and nature are one. What is more, man is answerable to God for what man has created. Since all that we see and do resonates on the faith, the aesthetics of the environments we build and the quality of the interactions that take place within them reverberate on our spiritual lives." 2002

"It [Faith] is true that the power of integration of the classic Islamic culture at one time rested on the recurring spiritual energy which is called faith: faith expressed in ritual behaviour repeated daily but also in ethical rules and laws, the relationship to nature, even with visible and invisible worlds stressed in the Qur'an, thus creating a unity of thought and existence." 1986

"For Muslims the relationship between a person's life and his or her physical surroundings is a particularly critical matter. For us there is no fundamental division between the spiritual and the material: the whole world is an expression of God's creation and the aesthetics of the environment we build are correspondingly important." 1984

The Aga Khan discussed the responsibility of human being in front of God, and how the architecture is a reflection on the hereafter life, such that: "Since all that we see and do resonates on the faith the aesthetics of the environment we build and the quality of the social interactions that take place within these environments reverberate on our spiritual life." 1982

Since this existence is a reflection of God's creation and man and nature are one, it is so logical to conclude that humanity is one and brotherhood is a fundamental element of the Faith.

"As we work towards that vision of the future we will remember the Surah of Light from the Quran. It tells us that the oil of the blessed olive tree lights the lamp of understanding, a light that belongs neither to the East nor West. We are to give this light to all. In that spirit, all that we learn will belong to the world and that too is part of the vision I share with you." 1979

"Wherever they live, they faithfully abide by the Quranic ethic of a common humanity and the dignity of man. They willingly pool knowledge and resources with all those who share our social ethic to help improve the quality of life of less fortunate men, women and children." 2005

This brotherhood means that the physical borders and the modern concept of nation-state is alien to Islam.

"I would like to essence of the Faith to be more predominant in everyone's life. Go back to the origins of Islam. It was a Faith practiced in a land with no physical frontiers. The concept of the modern state is not really an Islamic concept. Islam was a brotherhood, is a brotherhood. That is the first thing - the free movement of people, the generosity of people's attitudes towards their brothers around the world. That is itself I think is important.” 1985


For the Aga Khan, faith is eminently based on logic, is iteself logical, and is based on reason. We can conclude easily from the Aga Khan's speeches that no intellect means no faith; and the intellect itself is a continuous effort to know and realize the one's Self, the environment, and God's creation, which seem to be the basic telos of our existence.

"Indeed, I would say the contrary. Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God''s creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason." 2006

"The relationship between the intellect of man and Faith has always been of fundamental importance to Muslims. How can a modern University respect and re-enforce that relationship? The divine intellect Akl-e-kul', both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dedicated by the Faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given and that he should know himself. It is the light of intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal and developing that intellect requires free enquiry… Eleven hundred years ago, Al-Kindi wrote: ‘No one is diminished by the truth, rather does the truth ennoble all’ … If the frontiers of Physics are changing, it is due to scientist discovering more and more about the universe, even though they will never be able to probe its totality, since Allah's creation is limitless and continues. " 1985

Engagement in the World

Considering Oneness, the faith ignites us to be actively engaged in the world; by laboriously working to improve the quality of life, to respond to nature, to reshape the habitat positively, and to test and question the essentials of the faith in the everyday life. The everyday life is so important for the faith because it is the place where the faith's elements and teachings are hardly questioned and, thus, better understood. That is why the Aga Khan has asserted that Islam is a way of life and not just a fatih. ( 1989)

"Faith, rather, is a force that should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges, and for improving the quality of human life." 2014

"Here we can, myself, the Ismailis and all Muslims, play a role through what I may call ‘humanistic infiltration’ of the industrial society in such a way that Islam may be looked upon not only as a religion, but also as a way of life, as a history of rare intensity, as a tradition and as a total culture. They will then have to integrate one way or the other with the cultural stream and with the humanistic tradition." 1986

The Aga Khan was asking how Muslim countries can know where they will be and what the firm ground that they have in facing this changing and globalized world: "There is no justification for delaying the search for the answer to this question by the Muslims of the world, because we have the knowledge that Islam is Allah's final message, the Quran His final book and Mohammed His last Prophet. We are blessed that the answers drawn from these sources guarantee that neither now, nor at any time in the future will we be going astray... Islam, as even non-Muslims have observed, is a way of life. This means that every aspect of the individual's daily existence is guided by Islam: his family relations, his business relations, his education, his health, the means and manner by which he gains his livelihood, his philanthropy, what he sees and hears around him, what he reads, the way he regulates his time, the buildings in which he lives, learns and earns." 1976

"[B]elieving that you can return to the past, and bury today's problems under the dust of the past. That's not our belief. That's not why there is an Imam of the Time to guide the Jamat and I will certainly during My lifetime never wish that to happen, to any of our Jamat in any part of the world … Therefore the ostrich policy is not for us and I would like to feel therefore, that in dealing with the issues that lie ahead of us, we will look at them straight in the face, we will ask the hard questions. If we cannot find immediate answers, we will go on asking the same questions until Inshallah, we are inspired to find the answers, but we will not give up." 1986

"Islam is a way of life, much more than Christianity. That's an old, boring thing to say, but it's true." Then He explained that if one's faith is to be part of one's life then it has to come under questioning. The essential is that it should be understood, that's what would justify questioning. 1965

Culture of Islam

The Aga Khan has nicely summarized the culture of Islam and its values by analyzing and presenting the Islamic architecture designs. The Islamic culture includes serenity, equilibrium, tranquilities, modesty, and balanced relations between human beings and the nature.

: "One of our major conclusions centred on the serenity of form. In Islamic design the basic forms are balanced and ruled by geometry. There is a sense of stability, tranquility and equilibrium. And with serenity goes modesty. There is a lack of domination and pride. The superiority of man-made structures over natural environment is a concept alien to Islamic belief . . . And we were reminded that Islamic homes are sanctuaries, places of retreat and refreshment from the noise and movement of public life. Those aspects of our idiom that engender this sense of peace should come with us in our designs for the homes of the future." 1979

Garden possesses a great place in the Islamic culture; it is a site for reflection and meditation, asserting harmony between the nature and the human capabilities, reminding of human modesty in front of the infinite Divine blessing that is never stoppable and Divine creation, and it is the site where the specific and the particular (as made by human hand) and the eternity (whose emblem is the continuity of water flow and the vastness of the ecology) meet and are fused.

“Part of what makes this site so captivating, is that it links the natural environment with the built environment, the Divine Creation, on the one hand with human creativity on the other. Here endless seascapes humble us in the face of the eternal and unknowable – while a splendid cityscape expresses the confident accomplishments of particular historic moments.” ( 2009

"The Garden has for many centuries served as a central element in Muslim culture. The Holy Qur’an, itself, portrays the Garden as a central symbol of a spiritual ideal – a place where human creativity and Divine majesty are fused, where the ingenuity of humanity and the beauty of nature are productively connected. Gardens are a place where the ephemeral meets the eternal, and where the eternal meets the hand of man." ( 2015

The Role of the Imam

The Aga Khan has described His role, as the Imam of Ismailis, by assigning two main tasks to his office (the Imamat Office): interpreting the faith to the Ismailis and helping them to achieve material and worldly progress. The former belongs to the absolute and sole spiritual authority that the Imam has over his murids (the Ismailis), while the latter can be achieved only by working with Ismailis and their institutions. The Imam works with and guides Ismailis councils to make Ismailis live ahead of their times (i.e., fulfilling progress and growth) and to secure their everyday life. In order to do so, the Aga Khan has asserted that his office is apolitical; such that, development efforts and being away from contesting over political power enables the Ismailis to play respected and important roles in their communities.

"As the Imam, I think it would be important to try to have been an interpreter of the faith which enabled people to continue to look to a spiritual world and a world of faith, which is not only a material world. I feel very, very strongly about that. So interpretative nature of the role of the direction it gives seems to me central to the nature of the office that I have. " 2000

"One of the central elements of the Islamic faith is the inseparable nature of faith and world. The two are so deeply intertwined that one cannot imagine their separation. They constitute a ‘Way of Life’. The role and responsibility of an Imam, therefore, is both to interpret the faith to the community, and also to do all within his means to improve the quality, and security, of their daily lives." 2006

"But there is world change, and the role of the Imam of the time, amongst others, is to guide the murids to live in their time, hopefully ahead of their time, prepare future generations to live well in the world as it will be when they grow up." 1994

"The Imam must direct Ismailis on the practice of their religion and constantly interpret the Qur'an for them according to our theology. On the spiritual plane, the Imam's authority is absolute. Ismailis believe therefore that what the Imam says is the only true interpretation possible." And, He said that His role is also to help Ismailis for their material progress; however, the Imam cannot do so by Himself alone; thus, Ismaili Councils function for purpose. 1975

"In the first place, I live in the West so that people may not think that the ‘Imamat’ is an institution belonging to this or that state. In this way, the Imamat will remain a world, non-political institution." 1986

“The position which I occupy as Imam of Shia Imami Ismailis ... is not and never will be a political one." ( 1957

The Aga Khan said that He instructs Ismailis to stay loyal to their national governments which are responsible to their security and well-being and to respect the national integrity. In other words, given the international and religious position of the Ismaili Imamat, Ismailis may be seen as a threat to nation-states' integrity where they live (as an international, non-national group), so asserting the loyality to the nation integirty rules out this threat.

The Aga Khan explained that the non-political nature of the Imamat with its developmental endeavor form two pillars of the Ismaili communities in their societies; this case is a privilege: "Far from seeking to interfere in politics, I have always urged Ismailis to be loyal to their countries where they live and to whatever Government is responsible for their security and their well-being. This respect for the 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 the Imamat is today generally perceived as being a positive and constructive one." 1982

Since the Imamat office is non-governmental and is not based in any country as a national institution, all this office's asset differs from capital accumulating institutions; the Imamat office has nothing to do with unrestricted capitalism.

This understanding of non-political and developmental role of the Imamat office is coupled with the fact that the assets of the Imamat is not based on a country, rather it is institutional and international, so its endeavors should not be confused with "unrestrained capitalism", such that, "The Ismaili Imamat has no single home country and so its activities are international and institutional as opposed to Governmental." 1982

The Ismailis

When the Aga Khan talks about Ismailis and Ismailism, He assigns certain features and instructions to them, such as keeping the unity of the Jamat as one group centered around the Imam; helping each other; pursuing education; and keeping a balance between the worldly, material progress and the spiritual values and well-being since the Ismaili Faith is what can bring peace to them. He also encourages Ismailis to be more active in their communities. Ismailism as a faith is described by him as an esoteric religion that only serious scholars who study it can understand its essence.

In His speech to the Ismaili Jamats in the USA, He asked them to clearly plan for their future on strong foundations. These foundations, He said, should be built in the following premises: 1-regulat practice of their faith which is necessary for their individual happiness and for the Jamat happiness; 2-education is the priority even over earning dollars; 3- Islam is misrepresented, "Islam teaches peace, unity, humility, kindness, help and generosity" and "truth and integrity"; 4- to keep the unity of the Jamat and to build stronger institutions; 5- maintain the Jamat own culture, take what is good of the western society and avoid what is not good, and keep a balance between the spiritual progress and the worldly progress. 1986

"My aspiration for the Jamat to play an even more active part than in the past in the mainstream of life in the societies in which it lives." 1986

"the strength of the Jamat, in many ways comes from this spirit of brotherhood, the spirit of service, the spirit of concern for people of the same faith, the same family." 1983

“although there is no country or capital for Ismaili -- they have a center, which is the Imam.” 1969

“[Question:] Am I right that the Ismaili Faith is an esoteric one, that's to say, only real scholars and experts have read all the crucial texts that enable them to understand the inner nature of your religion?
The Aga Khan: "Yes, this is so."” 1965

The Aga Khan said that “the faith by which we live is the only sure guarantee that our problems will be surmounted. The younger people among you must be especially aware of this… Only the faith of your fathers will enable you to live in peace.” ( 1957


Pluralism has increasingly and essentially been presented in the Aga Khan's speeches since, specifically, the 1990s. Pluralism is not a pragmatic compromise and maneuver but a sacred religious imperitive and a necessary condition for human survival. It goes beyond merely accepting the Other as it implies seeing him (the Other) as he sees himself, which requires a laborious work, education, and dedication to reach this level of interacting with the Other.
Pluralism is a human-specific reality and is what distinguishes the human being from other living creatures. This notion roots pluralism deeply in the human ontology, in the nature of human beings.
Nowadays, and thanks to the rapid globalization, diversity becomes an undeniable reality; we meet the different other in the same street, while we were meeting that different much less frequently. This intensive diversity is a blessing from the Divine as we all together can understand God's creation better when we meet productively together. Hence, the Aga Khan firmly rejects the theory of the clash of civilizations. Instead, He argues that it is clashes of ignorance not of civilizations.
Pluralism to be a productive and to show its essence (i.e., its blessing), we need to embrace cosmpolitan ethics, to work hard to understand the reality of one humanity (He calls this hard work true sensitivity). To incorporate pluralism in our mental and moral system, we need, firstly, to understand that pluralism is a process not a event; it is an open process that never ends.

In 2000, the Aga Khan clearly stated, "The notion of pluralism, and the legitimacy of pluralism in human society is a massively important issue for us in development."

Pluralism, as depicted by Aga Khan, is featured as: (1) rooted in the essence of human race; (2) Quranic/religious reality/imperative since human beings descend from one soul; and (3) a contemporary reality as we live now in the age of cosmopolitan age, which demands balancing the universal with the particular, the personal freedom and human responsibility. 2014

What distinguishes human beings from other livings is pluralism

The Aga Khan was speaking about the unity of human race, then He said, "This remarkable verse [the verse talking about creating human beings from a single soul] speaks both of the inherent diversity of mankind -- the ‘multitude’ -- and of the unity of mankind -- the ‘single soul created by a single Creator’ -- a spiritual legacy which distinguishes the human race from all other forms of life." 2006

Pluralism is a process not an event having a beginning and an end point ( 2002)

"Pluralism is a process not a product…the world is becoming more pluralist in fact, but not necessarily in spirit. 'Cosmopolitan' social patterns have not yet been matched by 'a cosmopolitan ethic. . .” Then, the Aga Khan mentioned this Quranic verse is central to His life, "Oh mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women." 2014

Pluralism is vital to our existence

“Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development, it is vital to our existence." 2003

With this respect, He praised inclusiveness and global cities that are inclusive

"These diverse interactions are particularly fitting, of course, as we remember the origins of this city [Cairo]. The Fatimids, after all, prided themselves on a broadly inclusive approach to knowledge. What they founded here would become a truly global city – to use contemporary parlance. Pluralism was indeed the hallmark of a Golden Age of the City Victorious 1000 years ago. I am happy that I can feel in this time also, like during the time of my predecessors, that there is true pluralist consensus surrounding our endeavours – all of us working together - to revive the Islamic city." 2007

One Humanity

Humanity is one. We are created from one soul and we need each different Other to understand the creation of God. The unity of humanity can be grasped when we do see each individual and each unique particuality of human endeavors as an effort to seek truth, so our task becomes to help each other to achieve our God-given potential. This can occur only with a sense of unity, of embracing the diversity (i.e., the unique particulars) within the resonant whole, the particulars within the universal.

"The world is becoming more pluralist in fact - but not in spirit. ‘Cosmopolitan’ social patterns have not yet been matched by what I would call ‘a cosmopolitan ethic’. . . One of the great stumbling blocks to the advance of pluralism, in my view, is simple human arrogance. All of the world’s great religions warn against self righteousness - yet too many are still tempted to play God themselves - rather than recognising their humility before the Divine. . . The Holy Quran speaks of how mankind has been created by a single Creator . . . a profound affirmation of the unity of humanity . . . The spirit of pluralism is not a pallid religious compromise. It is a sacred religious imperative. In this light, our differences can become sources of enrichment, so that we see ‘the other’ as an opportunity and a blessing - whether ‘the other’ lives across the street - or across the world." 2007

It is our task to help each life to reach its God-given potential

"In the words of the Quran it is as if the entirety of humankind had suffered a death with every life that was so brutally ended. The shared destiny of the ethos of the Abrahamic tradition that unites Christians, Jews and Muslims is governed by the duty of loving care to help nurture each life that is born to its God-given potential." 2002

We must be humble before the Divine since none has the whole answers to God's creation

"The spirit of the Knowledge Society is the spirit of Pluralism—a readiness to accept the Other, indeed to learn from him, to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat. Such a spirit must be rooted, I believe, in a sense of humility before the Divine, realizing that none of us have all the answers, and respecting the broad variety of God’s creation and the diversity of the Human Family." 2006

Individual conscience is a gift from God, and each one is a Truth seeker, a fellow that we need to understand the limitless creation of God.

"The spiritual roots of tolerance include, it seems to me, a respect for individual conscience -- seen as a Gift of God -- as well as a posture of religious humility before the Divine. It is by accepting our human limits that we can come to see The Other as a fellow seeker of truth -- and to find common ground in our common quest." 2006

Each distinctive voice is necessary to stay as such and to be harmonized in a resonant whole (that does not annihilate its distinctiveness but enriches it)

One of the central challenges that face the world today is, the Aga Khan said, "harmonising many highly diversified voices within an increasingly globalised world.”
He explained that harmonsiation as a word is used, because it refers not to a chorus that sings in unison, but "one that blends many distinctive voices into an intelligent, resonant whole," which requires a deep understanding of what makes each voice distinctive. 2018

Creative Encounter

The Aga Khan used the term Creative Encounter in a speech in 1994 in the wake of the Soviet Union collapse. Creative Encounter refers to the specific moment of meeting, interaction, or the collide between two or more persons, cultures, or groups; this encounter has complex outcomes as a result of the particular moment of the meeting, the collide, and as a result of the general repertoire from which the meeting, encountering parties or entities form their general understandings and attitudes. An encounter is creative when the meeting entities allow for the complex productive outcomes to emerge, when they free themselves from priori dogmas, and when they desire to acheive a new understanding or a new horizon from this encounter. Hence, creative encounter is the opposite to the clash of civilizations (which is indeed nothing but the clash of ignorance) because creative encounter works actively on both sides: (1) the general repertoire that form the attitudes and general ideas of the encountering parties; and (2) the particular moment, and its conditions, of the encounter. These two sides impact each other, and in the case of creative encounter, they produce a complex productive outcome.

Read the full speech here: (1994)

"Among history’s great truths is that a society is only able to advance to newer horizons of greater promise when it overcomes insularity, and recognises strength in difference...pluralism helps creativity, curiosity and inquiry, to thrive in sharing the best of human knowledge and talent from whatever individual, or group, it originates. " 2004

Creative encounter requires sustaining, not escaping, diversity (the Aga Khan uses the term of Global Citizen to allude to this reality) and building a positive identity, which is an identity that is defined by what it is and for what it is not by against what it is.

“You will readily understand why such words seem appropriate for a Peterson Lecture. They speak to the fundamental value of a universal human bond- a gift of the Creator - which both requires and validates our efforts to educate for global citizenship.”
The Aga Khan said that with the increasing interdependence between people across the globe, a blessing and risk exist. The risks are Hegemony which is against diversity (the most beautiful gifts of the Creator) and Fragmentation which implies that the quest for identity becomes an exclusionary process; “so that we define ourselves less by what we are FOR and more by whom we are AGAINST. When this happens, diversity turns quickly from a source of beauty to a cause of discord.” 2008

The Aga Khan asserted the centrality of pluralism in the way of thinking; in that, pluralism is not about accepting, but also embracing human difference. It is not centered around homogenization, but around individual identity that enriches the world.
"Pluralism means reconciling what is unique in our individual traditions with a profound sense of what connects us to all of humankind" 2009

''that the affirmation of cultural identity in no way inconsistent with the idea of encouraging intercultural cooperation. Indeed, the two movements sustain each other." 2012 Ottawa.

Creative Encounter implies tolerance, is rooted in religion (although regligion can also host intolerance), and is nurtured by education; thus, creative encounter is the opposite of the Clash of Ignorance, which is the real name of the so-called Clash of Civilizations.

"When people speak these days, about an inevitable ‘Clash of Civilizations’ in our world, what they often mean, I fear, is an inevitable ‘Clash of Religions’. But I would use different terminology altogether. The essential problem, as I see it, in relations between the Muslim world and the West is ‘A Clash of Ignorance’. And what I would prescribe -- as an essential first step -- is a concentrated educational effort . . . Intolerance can thus result from one sort of presumably religious attitude, but profound tolerance can also be a deeply religious commitment." 2006

"For pluralism, in essence, is a deliberate set of choices that a society must make if it is to avoid costly conflict and harness the power of its diversity in solving human problems . . . The problem of ignorance is a problem that can be addressed. Perhaps it can even be ameliorated—but only if we go to work on our educational tasks with sustained energy, creativity and intelligence." 2006

"Our histories have taught us the value of dialogue, and that rarely, indeed very rarely, does anything good come out of conflict. " 2005

Dubai is a good example of the Creative Encounter as the following quotation shows:

"The transformation of the small trading port that was once Dubai into a vibrant metropolis has paralleled its demographic growth and cosmopolitan evolution. The intermingling of cultures that so enlivens this thriving city is one of the strengths on which Dubai has built its renown as a point of global convergence." 2003


Cosmopolitanism is the soul of pluralism, without which diversity will result in devastation. Cosmopolitanism is a set of ethics and necessitates secure and positive identity (i.e., an identity that is defined by for what it is not against what it is), and productively responds to the increasing complexity in the world.

The Aga Khan asks why intolerance is increasing? Because, He says, partly, of globalization (communication, and refugees). He continues, "But societies which have grown more pluralistic in makeup, are not always growing more pluralistic in spirit. What is needed -- all across the world -- is a new ‘cosmopolitan ethic’-- rooted in a strong culture of tolerance. . . There is a human impulse it seems -- fed by fear -- to define ‘identity’ in negative terms. We often determine ‘who we are’-- by determining who we are against. This fragmenting impulse not only separates peoples from one another, it also subdivides communities -- and then it subdivides the subdivisions. It leads to what some have called the ‘fraying’ of society -- in which communities come to resemble a worn out cloth -- as its tight weave separates into individual strands… And often the more secure we are in our own identities, the more effective we can be in reaching out to others." 2006

"The world is becoming more pluralist in fact—but it is not keeping pace in spirit. ‘Cosmopolitan’ social patterns have not yet been matched by what I would call a ‘cosmopolitan ethic’." 2006

Three critical underpinnings of a quality civil society were determined by the Aga Khan: (1) commitment to pluralism; (2) meritocracy; and (3) a cosmopolitan ethic… "A cosmopolitan ethic is one that welcomes the complexity of huma society. It balances rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. It is an ethic for all peoples, the familiar and the Other." 2014

True Sensitivity

Activating cosmopolitan ethics requires TRUE sensitivity, which is a hard working task, going behind a mere feeling of accepting the Other and going towards seeing the Other as he sees himself. This requires in turn concentrated education.

"[A]nd that embracing diversity is a way to learn and to grow - not to dilute our identities but to enrich our self-knowledge. . . What is required goes beyond mere tolerance or sympathy or sensitivity - emotions which can often be willed into existence by a generous soul. True cultural sensitivity is something far more rigorous, and even more intellectual than that. It implies a readiness to study and to learn across cultural barriers, an ability to see others as they see themselves. This is a challenging task, but if we do that, then we will discover that the universal and the particular can indeed be reconciled. As the Quran states: ‘God created male and female and made you into communities and tribes, so that you may know one another’. (49.13) It is our differences that both define us and connect us.” 2008

"Surely, one of the great questions of our time is whether we can learn to live creatively with both the global and the tribal impulse, embracing the adventure of a broader internationalism even as we drink more deeply from the wellsprings of a particular heritage.”
This can materialize by informative media and "the ability to respect that which is truly different, to understand that which we do not embrace," the Aga Khan said.
And, "It is not as easy as it sounds. For it means much more than tolerance and forbearance. The word sensitivity is one of the most overused words of our time - and one of the least honoured. Why? Because sensitivity is too often seen as an emotion which can simply be willed into existence by a generous soul . . . In truth, cultural sensitivity is something far more rigorous, something that requires a deep intellectual commitment. It requires a readiness to study and to learn across cultural barriers, an ability to see others as they see themselves. Cultural sensitivity is hard work ." 1996

"The second great historical lesson to be learnt is that the Muslim world has always been wide open to every aspect of human existence. The sciences, society, art, the oceans, the environment and the cosmos have all contributed to the great moments in the history of Muslim civilisations. The Qur’an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God’s creation."


Development is a complex concept as it appears in the Aga Khan's speeches, and it has constantly appeared in His speeches since 1957. The following quotation shows the systematic nature of development in the Aga Khan's doctrin.

"Six principles from the foundation of the Imamat’s work in development : breadth of responsibility, an apolitical stance, pluralism, a long view, work across disciplinary boundaries, and work across political boundaries. The breadth of responsibility is based on the belief in Islam that people must attend to both their spiritual development and their physical needs. The apolitical stance is in recognition that there is value in listening to the widest spectrum of culture, religious, economic and political views, seeking wisdom where ever it is to be found. Embracing pluralism, I have found that a wonderful variety of people can collaborate effectively in the advancement of the well-being of people around the world. The long view is an acknowledgement that fundamental profound change are needed to permanently improve the circumstances of people usually take time, so one should not shy away from undertakings with a long time course. Working across disciplinary boundaries allows for synergy of efforts, as when improvements in health and enhancement of economic circumstances improves opportunities for better health and education. Working across political boundaries allows the crafting of regional solutions of problems that cannot be solved locally, as the Aga Khan Development Network as found in its work in East and West Africa and South Asia." 1995

Genuine Partnership

Genuine partnership refers to the need to bring various actors of civil society, government, people, professionals, volunteers, national, local, and international, private sectors and public ones to work together to achieve the goals of development.

The Aga Khan has asserted many times that State in newly independent states cannot provide education alone, they need the help from NGOs; for example, his speech in 1961:

"If it can avoid abuse and greed, private enterprise can unquestionably give the social and economic systems of the developing world, the balance which modern civilisation demands." 1985

"The old saying that man's material progress can be achieved by a judicious application of both the carrot and the stick has a great deal of truth in it. It could be argued today that efficient management in many of the world's mixed economies has reached a point where the public sector could benefit from a little more stick and where private initiative would readily respond to a few more carrots." 1976

"I would like to move to a topic, which I do not think is receiving enough attention here at the Summit and in other Year of the Mountain fora. In Central Asia there are problems and unrealised potentials that can only be addressed by involving two or more countries, or working on a truly regional basis. This, as has already been pointed out, must be due at least in part, to the irrationality of national boundaries." 2002

"Partnerships are critical. It is essential to work closely with national and local authorities, with international and national development agencies, with nongovernment agencies, and with communities themselves to seek complementarities and to make the best use of available resources and capabilities" 2000

"The notion of regionalism where there is an attempt to optimize the use of resources for people in a way which goes past frontiers, and gives them the capacity to function more effectively in a wider context." 2000

"The key ingredient in all of these efforts - within Mozambique and in its regional neighborhood, is a spirit of genuine partnership - an understanding that we can do things together that we can never do separately. The institutions of our Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) have experienced that spirit of partnership here in many ways, over many years - including our Agreement of Cooperation, signed nearly ten years ago." 2007

"We have much to build with. A common Abrahamic, monotheistic tradition. Common ethical principles, founded on shared human values. Common problems of yesterday, resolved together. Common challenges of tomorrow, that we can best face together. " 1996

The Aga Khan again asserted the importance of cooperation between government, private agencies, profit and non-profit agencies, international organization, and the most important partner of development: people. 1986

"it is more than ever desirable for Third World governments to utilize private initiative in the development of their countries' resources, both material and human." 1982

"At the end of this sporting event, the two boys shook hands and stood together to be photographed. To me this symbolized the partnership between different races which I am convinced is the only condition of peace and prosperity." (, 1957

The Aggregate

In 1980, the Aga Khan told the story of the Conference of Birds, Mantiq al-Tayr, to elaborate on the idea that the ideal "king" is the aggreage of the workers, the actors (or the birds, as we read in the first quotation). The Aggregate refers to this ideal notion of working together, which goes beyond the mere and practical cocnept of institutions and of a given community living in a certain geographic site. The Aggregate is the supreme power of reaching the ideal through working together; institution is the modern and the practical avenue to approach this ideal.

"Let me close, therefore, by reminding you of Attar's great poem, the Conference of the Birds, Mantiq al-Tayr. The birds, you will recall, in huge quantities went in search of the Simurgh, the ideal and perfect king. After many tribulations, thirty of them do reach the end of the journey and come to the gate of the Supreme Majesty. The chamberlain tests them and then opens the door and they sit on the masnad, the seat of the Majesty and Glory. And, as an inner glow came into them, they realised that it is they together who were the Simurgh and that the Simurgh was the thirty birds. Is this not what these Awards [of Architecture] mean? From the travails and labours of thousands, humble masons or expensive experts, there have emerged those works made by us and for us, which we can present as being, all together, as an aggregate, as a group," 1980

Buidling on this ideal of The Aggregate, participation of a targeted community is a necessary and sine qua non condition

to overcome poverty and problem, the Aga Khan said, ". . . we must emphasize the community's participation, innovation, equity and safeguarding the environment." 1988

Also, the community's participation means that the institutions of (Muslim) developing countries should emerge in a way resonating with the everyday practice of the people.

In a speech, the Aga Khan raised few questions such as: What kind of nation state do we hope to emerge in the Muslim world in the next century? what types of institutions we look forwards? ... Then He explained that the problem that most of the Muslim world faces is that it had not tested its political thoughts, its philosophy, and its elites had not tested their abilities to manage and rule and design on the harsh realities. That is, most of the Muslim world came under the western colonization, and while the West were developing in policy and industry, the Muslim world was restrained and did not have enough time to develop its institutions. In order to develop our institutions, we need to look at the society; how institutions should be formed out from everyday practice? How Islam, the faith, can be incorporated in making these institutions, while the material developments are anchored in the West? One possible answer is that we need to invest in out past, to re-introduce the pillars of the greatness of our past. 1970

"you can build new buildings, but if you cannot find quality men and women to implement the programmes and to give them the confidence that their programmes will be able to continue and grow in the future, you have achieved nothing." 2000

In the same line of community's participation, ownership that is distributed among people is a virtue as the example He gives from the Press Project in Kenya

The Aga Khan talked about the importance of private enterprise, such that it helps countries to develop and to protect human rights These private or individual initiatives should not harm the nation as a whole. He gave a nice example of how a foreigner and private enterprise could help a developing country: Press in Kenya in 1957. At that time Kenya was not independent and all media outlets were controlled by and target the white majority of the people. Press initiative started, managed by local people, used both English and Swahili, then it developed to be self-sufficient by engaging in printing and packaging industry, then it was open to local people as stakeholders. Now it is almost owned by locals, and it is free which is something unusual in the developing countries. 1976

Institutional Capital

The Aga Khan has described the ideal (development) institutions in details. In the following quotations, the required aspects of institutions to be effective are described and summarized.

Institutions constitute the most important factor for development and the science of management is critical

“When the U.S. was roughly the same age as most Third World nations are today, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: ‘Nothing, in my opinion, is more deserving of our attention than the intellectual and moral associations of America . . . In Democratic countries, the science of association is the mother of science; the progress of all the rest depends on the progress it has made . . . It is precisely this ‘science of association’ that must be enhanced in the Third World today.” 1987

Institutions shuold achieve self-sustainability, meritocratic, specialization, open-minded, and pragmatism

"Bolstered by a long tradition of self-reliance, and a strong system of Community organisations, Ismailis have established themselves quickly as productive members of society in their new homelands. " 2002

"Meritocracy does not apply only to the individual. Meritocracy applies to institutions, to countries. I have been concerned at whether our institutions would themselves become meritocratic . . .you will be more and more demanding upon yourselves, upon your institutions, more and more eager to bring competence and knowledge and wisdom and understanding from generation after generation into these institutions." 1994

"This pragmatism and open-mindedness underlines the importance of specialist expertise in approaching the challenges of development." 2004

Then the Aga Khan determined four centers around which the developmental works evolves: (1) education, (2) community-oriented healthcare, (3) improving work and income in rural areas, and (4) helping third world countries to manage their natural resources. He also praised the importance of pragmatism and realism in discussing and planning the rural problems. 1983

And institutions should not be entrapped in "data,"  but they should go deeper to gain wisdom out of knowledge and information and should very well design their priorities

"As we work our way back again from Information to Knowledge and from Knowledge to Wisdom, a rigorous sense of priorities will be a central requirement." 2006

Institutions must uphold ethics

The Aga Khan said that ethics at the individual and institutional levels are important. We need to educate people about ethics. 2009

Planning for the future, taking our dream seriously, and holding future visions are basics for institutions works.

"I think the first thing is to analyse what it is that you want your children, your grand-children, your great grand-children, to represent in Canada. Have you that vision? If you have that vision, are we structured to attain it?" 1992

"It's not a challenge which is going to be won in one generation, nor in two generations. It may take ten, fifteen, twenty generations, but I don't think that matters. I think what matters is a clear vision of the future." 1986

"In everything we do we must look to the future, seeking always to think creatively, to innovate and to improve." 1983

"That may still be too ambitious a dream; but it is essential to give free expression to the dreams haunting all contemporary minds. Talking about dreams already ensures an initial incarnation for them, a necessary stage in making them a reality in our daily behaviour patterns, our institutions, our surroundings." 1982

Institutions should invest in innovation and creativity

to overcome poverty and problem, the Aga Khan said, ". . . we must emphasize the community's participation, innovation, equity and safeguarding the environment." 1988

. . . And efficiency

"This style [the Western style of work] includes, among other things, working under pressure and seeking a minimum standard of efficiency. It could be that all these things combined give such an impression of me." 1986

Institutions should be held accountable to people they serve

"I believe that there is no such thing as an underdeveloped country - only undermanaged countries and for me the most important word is Accountability. We must be accountable at all times to the organizations we serve and to the people we serve." 1986


The Aga Khan has given wide, yet precise, ideas about how institutions should exercise management, including vizualizing problems, planning, and having a general outline. The Aga Khan always asserts that managing civil society and development institutions should utilize the same high standard and quality management used by business sector.

The Aga Khan said that dialogue between people to visualize problems is important even if we cannot find an immediate solution. 1989

"Quality control is generally thought of as an industrial concept, but surely it is equally if not more desirable to apply it to the standards of a hospital." 1983

"there can be no distinction between the management standards demanded in social welfare and those required in business." 1982

Indeed, in this regard, one of the biggest problem the Third World is facing is that of low quality management

"First, it seems to me that the challenge of health care in both the developing and developed worlds is one of management -- rather than values. None of us questions the right of every person to good health and to health care." 1981

The Aga Khan said that any human endeavor, whatever it is, has three imperatives to succeed: goals are set, time and plan are designated, and continuous evaluation. Moreover, testing ideas on "harsh realities" is an inevitable to develop a robust management system

In a speech, the Aga Khan raised few questions such as: What kind of nation state do we hope to emerge in the Muslim world in the next century? what types of institutions we look forwards? ... Then He explained that the problem that most of the Muslim world faces is that it had not tested its political thoughts, its philosophy, and its elites had not tested their abilities to manage and rule and design on the harsh realities. That is, most of the Muslim world came under the western colonization, and while the West were developing in policy and industry, the Muslim world was restrained and did not have enough time to develop its institutions. 1970

The Aga Khan used the term of Tapestry to denote a tool to achieve development without losing the direction and the goals of the development process and without losing the unique cultural elements; it is an integrative mechanism.

The Aga Khan used the term tapestry to denote the outline, the framework, and the dominant themes (such as Islamic culture and values in previous centuries); such that, this tapestry absorbs new ideas, new lands, and functions as a machine to import and adapt. It protects the identity from being lost while it imports new ideas. . .Tapestry is the milieu in which artists, scientists, philosophers act, do, perform in line with their identity. He said, "Tapestry is a work of labour and love" 1964


The Aga Khan adopts a complex approach in His development work: (1) intervening in a society using multiple inputs is a necessary condition for success; (2) squaring multiple scales such as the local and the universal is another condition; and (3) searching for solutions pertaining to and resonating with local conditions is more effective than adopting simple dogmas claimed to be universal solutions.

Multiple inputs

About the multiple inputs, the Aga Khan said that they cannot always tell which aspect of welfare work will be most effective at village level. But they can, as it were, compound impacts by integrating assistance in health, education, sanitation, building, agricultural expertise and other areas." 1982

"I think the first one would be that you cannot rehabilitate communities by single input actions. That's the first thing I would say. If you go in there with a rural support program but you don't go in there with a simultaneous education program, or a health care program, or a micro-credit program, it's not going to do the job. So, the first answer is what I would call the multiplicity of inputs into these environments. " 2002

"In the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, I was concerned about instability within a given area such as health care of education. Today, development is such a multiple process that you really can only be effective if the agencies work together--and that's what's happening." 2000

Planning at both the macro and micro level simultaneously

"It is critically important to tackle concrete development problems at the grassroots level while at the same time addressing policy issues" 2000

About squaring various scales, the local and the international, the rural and the urban is important especially that simple systems or dogmas such as communism, extreme capitalism and nationalism do not work in all contexts:

The Aga Khan said that we need to reconcile the local and global, the rural and urban, and the regional and national. We know that simplest systems do not work: capitalism, communism, nationalism, colonialism in their extreme forms. 2009
Also, read this important speech 2008

The reality is, by itself, harsh and complex, so no panacea and no simple solution or a single actor can find a solution to big problems and achieve social progress, especially in the developing world. Hence, adopting complex apporach is a must. This approach can be adopted only by supporting education, however. It also requires open-mind and genuine partnership.

"There has always been a human tendency to seek a simple, all-powerful answer to the world’s problems. Those who have lived or worked in the developing world know this pattern particularly well. When progress seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, we are easily persuaded that there must be some “quick fix.” And thus we have lurched from one panacea to another, from dogmatic socialism to romantic nationalism, from embattled tribalism to rampant individualism. For a period of time we behaved as though our political systems or economic institutions or cultural traditions could save us—or perhaps that some heroic leader was the answer. I suspect that many of us have hoped, from time to time, that education would be the solution—and that if we could create the right learning institutions, then everything else would fall into place...The hard reality of life is that there is no single button we can push that will set off an unstoppable wave of progress. ...Social progress, in the long run, will not be found by delegating an all-dominant role to any one player—but rather through multi-sector partnerships . . . For the key to future progress will lie less in traditional top-down systems of command and control—and more in a broad, bottom-up spirit of coordination and cooperation. Similarly, the key to intellectual progress will not lie in any single body of instruction, but in a spirit of openness to new expression and fresh insights." 2006

The Aga Khan said that the modern man’s mind cannot grapple with the complexities his hands have created. That is why my grandfather attached so much importance to education in our community." ( 1957

The Aga Khan warned the reality that we shield our selves from this complex (because of the growing complexity of the world) by spinning off around our simplicities, and specialties. 2014

Tourism is a sector that can very well serve these ideas of complexity, especially that of fulfilling the multiple input process.

“Tourism is, first of all, a highly lucrative source of foreign exchange. Secondly, it is a very labour-intensive industry. Thirdly, as it has the advantage of being essentially non-political, there are few dangers of becoming involved in a conflict of power blocs." 1970

"Of all industries, tourism is probably the greatest creator of jobs, for its capacity to draw on all levels of the labour force in terms of education and skills, and all types of enterprises from family businesses to international corporations. Tourism, to the extent that it covers all parts of a country and is respectful of the differences that characterise them, be they natural, cultural, traditional or other, can act as a strong force for unity and peace while recognising, and indeed underlining and relying upon, diversity and pluralism." 2002

Human Capital

The Aga Khan has frequently asserted the essentiality of individual intellect and conscience and He described people as the main carrier and goal of development. Human capital refers to the development efforts that are dedicated to improve human capacity and quality of people to be the real actor of development in their own communities.

"We are living in a time of vacuum, we are living in a time of search, and I do not believe that it is wealth, or military power, that will bring the Muslim world back to what you and other Muslims and I aspire for it to be. What will bring it back? Only one thing, the quality and the capability of the people of the Muslim world" 1994

"Our work has always been people-driven." 2014

"The emphasis on human investment is increasingly recognised by such international agencies as the World Bank as a prerequisite to economic development and quality of life" 1991

Huamn being is an extraordinary creation:

"There is a better understanding that man is an extraordinary creature, a creation, and that assisting him to become creative, productive within his national context, is the most productive thing an institution can do." 1981

So, healthcare system is critical

The Aga Khan clearly asserted the importance of health care system as "Apart from the fundamental aim of alleviating suffering, a healthy population is vital for a country's development to proceed with one of its most valuable resources -- the human element -- playing its role to the full." He also mentioned necessity to cover the rural area in terms of health care, not only focusing on the urban population. The theme that He focused more on is linking hospitals and the primary health system. The nursing school's aim, He said, is primarily to rise the standards of the profession itself. 1981

And meritocracy is on which new aristocratic class is based

The Aga Khan explained that this time differs from previous times in sense that leaders should take their way based on their merits and that class of aristocracy should give way to the class of merit. 2008

indigenous Leadership must be developed and educated (to achieve development) and it is a critical part of human capital

The Aga Khan explained that the capacity, in the developing world, to realize the human resources is so limited. Those who should be the leaders tomorrow are left behind today. "And even those students who do manage to get a good education often pursue their dreams in far off places - and never go home again. The result is a widening gap between the leadership these communities need – and the leadership their educational systems deliver." 2008

The Aga Khan explained about the Aga Khan Academies Program’s goals by framing them within human capital building: 1- indigenous leadership is the key for making progress in the developing world AND 2- as the pace of change accelerates, human mind and heart are the main factors to determine the social wealth. 2008

Enabling Environment

Enabling Environment is a central concept in the AKDN work and has been asserted many times by the Aga Khan. Enabling Environment implies providing sustainable development projects, agency to people who are targeted by development. Thus, Enabling Environment can be defined as the environment (it is an environment not a "machine," tool, or program) in which people and institutions can "naturally" realize and fulfil their potential.

"But I know from experience that neither profit nor non-profit ventures can be fully effective in serving societies unless there exists what I call an enabling environment for development." 1987

Providing people with agency means that they can control their own destiny and their choices

"The development process is enabling people to make permanent changes, to make choices of their own and that means building civil society and it means placing the pillars of civil society under the control of good leadership and enabling environments." 2002

"then insuring that it [Development] continues under its own momentum with the people primarily involved leading and making decisions on their own destinies is really the goal." 2000

"Will it not be equally important to develop capacity in the developing world to enable institutions and individuals to be more than users -- even interactive users -- of the new information technology? " 1999

"Africans must take charge of communication and the flow of information. The communication process in Africa should be sourced in Africa by qualified men and women and should not just be received from foreigners" 1997

"The importance of the "One World" broadcasting initiative this week cannot be overlooked. The public has the right to know what we are doing, and we have a responsibility to provide information in as lively a form as possible" 1990

" . . . I cannot predict what the years ahead will bring but I do know that we will stand on our own feet, with hard work and honour, that we will not be a liability on Britain's economy, that we will not seek unfairly to take advantage of Britain's readiness to provide us shelter form the tragedies of modern political turmoil." 1979

Agency should be wanted to be possessed by the people; it is eventually is an inner wish and belief.

The Aga Khan stated that He has dedicated effort for economic development aiming at making people self-sufficient "I am not in a political office. I am in a religious office. But I have reached one conclusion which is important, which is that there can be no development unless man himself wishes to develop. In English you say, ‘You can take a horse to the water but you can't make him drink’." 1981

The Aga Khan was talking about transforming knowledge from the first to the third world: "The knowledge exists and its adaptability is proven, the material resources can be found, but the social and cultural empathy which prepare any successful long-term process of human change from one society to another, are still deeply lacking [in the third world; this inner empathy here refers to agency, the disposition towards holding your own agency, we argue]." 1996

Everyone, including the poor, has agent.

"That factor is individual enterprise, the determination of ordinary people to improve their own circumstances by whatever means possible. The Executive Director of the [EU] Commission has referred to the 'inherent ingenuity and capacity for survival' of the poor, and he is right. God has given even the least privileged among us the blessing of his spirit and that is a more important resource than any other available to man. The question is, how can we bring it to bear on the problem of shelter? . . . The poor are not mere inanimate, unmotivated, units of deprivation. They are living, thinking, people like the rest of us and the closer we can come to making a synthesis between that which they are capable of doing themselves, and that which the State or voluntary agencies can provide, the closer we shall be to achieving shelter for the world's homeless." 1983

This agency is a sine qua non condition for democracy

“The promise of democracy is that the people themselves best know how to achieve such progress [quality of human life]. But if that promise is disappointed, then democracy is endangered.” 2015.

Enabling environment is to help people materialze their potential

"Nations and continents can emerge from depression. Men and women of goodwill and solid intellect can change the course of events." Then the Aga Khan said that it is our task to create an enabling environment that pave the way for human potentiality to grow: "the basic topic of our discussions, therefore, is how to create the conditions of confidence, predictability and mutual trust that will enable people and institutions to realise their full potential." 1986

Creativity needs this type of environment

"creative activity is needed and that the only way to stimulate it is by providing an environment which enables it to flourish." 1982

Sustainabiliy is another important compnent of enabling environment; it is a religious sacred task to sustain and develop this world not only for one generation but for the coming generations.

"Indeed, it is my very faith - Islam - which articulates that concept - God has entrusted His world to the living, in order that they may improve it from generation to generation." 1993

It is about permanent change, not conditioned changes on factors located outside the targeted society

"The development process is enabling people to make permanent changes, to make choices of their own and that means building civil society and it means placing the pillars of civil society under the control of good leadership and enabling environments." 2002

sustainability/agency requires full participation of people

"Development is ultimately about people about enabling them to participate fully in the process and to make informed choices and decisions on their futures." 1992

"...Developing World, helping local people to work together for productive community action and self-reliance." 1992

However, enabling environment is conditioned on political stability, on democratic institutions and on the rule of law

"If government, through its laws and attitudes, created a climate of stability, then those professional people will not merely contribute to development, they will of their own volition seek to improve standards. But if the environment is wrong, if it is disabling, then standards will fall, the quacks and the crooks and the corrupt will flourish and the good men and women will despair and leave." 1982

"political stability, democratic institutions, a framework of law which protects all citizens and a constant dialogue with government and parastatal organisations on national objectives. This is the environment which enables business to develop and benefit the entire nation." 1982

"Both the development of the economy and the success of social institutions depend on the creation of the right environment for progress, an environment which enables both businesses and people to realize their full potential . . . This enabling environment is created by various things. Confidence in the future. Reliance on the rule of law and a system of laws which itself encourages enterprise and initiative. Democratic institutions. Protection of the rights of citizens." 1982

Voluntary Work

Voluntary work is an important pillar for development. It is, at the individual level, a path towards self-enlightenment and fulfillment and is a vital power, at the social level, to initiate programs and projects.

"I would like My spiritual children to know that our unique tradition of voluntary service must continue to lie at the very heart of our institutions of health and education. The choice of incorporation as a form of organization reflects only the need to select a legal structure that will be helpful to our purpose and activities in the years ahead, not a change in our philosophy" 1986

"The voluntary worker is the lifeblood of our institutions, both in education and in health." 1982

The Aga Khan talked about the importance of voluntary, "The business and voluntary sector can work together to unleash the creative energies of the informal sector." 1987

"First, how can the voluntary sector itself find ways to increase its management capabilities? Some parts of the voluntary sector are already well-managed with a clear vision of objectives and of the means to achieve them. These parts can help to increase the overall management capacities through example, training and through their active encouragement of participation by local communities. Other parts of the voluntary sector need help to ensure that their efforts are both effective and efficient." Then He was describing how voluntary sector can get benefits from business to improve its ability to manage… "Let me conclude with a personal vision of the human energy contained in that idea. We have all seen examples of God's most wonderful creature, the person, whether in a government bureau, a business, or a private development agency, who is inspired to give generously of himself, to go beyond the mechanical requirements of a task." 1986

Englightened Self:

The Aga Khan was commenting on importance for someone to voluntarily contribute his/her energies to improve the lives of others, then He said, "It is not a matter of philanthropy, but rather of self-fulfillment – ‘enlightened self-fulfillment’." 2014

Civil Society

Civil society is defined by the Aga Khan as non-commercial (as slightly different from non-profit) set of private, voluntary, formal, and informal organizations which are concerned mainly with the common good. The civil society, then, is wider than the NGOs term. It is the anchor of ethics, the deep root for development, and the atmopshere (or the organized environment) that is better able to improve community participation and to deal with complexity.

Beside defining civil society organizations as non-commercial, the Aga Khan said, "I prefer to think of civil society in the widest sense, including all sorts of organisations and initiatives. It includes much more for example than is captured by the term NGO. I would for instance include professional organisations that aim to uphold best practices, or that serve and contribute to a vibrant and effective business sector, such as chambers of commerce, and associations of accountants, bankers, doctors, lawyers and the like . . .The sector combines energy, creativity, with a social conscience. Together these constitute a powerful impulse and should be nurtured. At the same time capacities for management, programme design and implementation, fundraising, and self-study and evaluation need to be strengthened. " 2003

It is necessary for development

"No country to my knowledge can achieve stable continuous growth if its civil society is constrained by inherent institutional instability." 2003

Civil society is a channel connecting development and democracy as it is a basic condition to establish an effective democracy because it acts at the grassroots level and because it implies higher participation. Civil society is what sustains positive distinctive identity of a given community; thus, it serves pluralism and provide a healthy umbrella for development under which it can thrive.

Civil society, the Aga Khan said, which is "powered by private voluntary energies, but it is committed to the public good" can protect and nourish deep pluralism and democrace: "As communities become more pluralistic in fact, they must also become more pluralistic in spirit. A vibrant civil society can give diverse constituencies effective ways to express and preserve their distinct identities, even as they interact with new neighbors." 2006

Civil society to be successful must pursue cosmopolitan ethics, meritocracy, and a deep belief in pluralism

The Aga Khan determines three underpinnings of a successful civil society: Meritocracy, believing in pluralism, and quest for cosmopolitan ethics. Civil society can face the complexity because, simply, it can provide diverse inputs for the society that needs many different and diverse needs to be met as the complexity and diversity are growing in the recent age. 2014

Three critical underpinnings of a quality civil society were determined by the Aga Khan: (1) commitment to pluralism; (2) meritocracy; and (3) a cosmopolitan ethic… "A cosmopolitan ethic is one that welcomes the complexity of huma society. It balances rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. It is an ethic for all peoples, the familiar and the Other." 2014

Civil society is more akin to complexity:

The Aga Khan commented that civil society is complex with multiple inputs and various partners. It is the private and voluntary endeavors that are driven by public concerns. 2009

Civil society is also more akin to participatory since people spend thier lives in the civil society more than they do in any other institutional atmosphere

"Rather, civil society is properly recognised to be a pluralist collection of the groups, associations and localities in which we actually spend our lives." 1992

Finally, it is worthy to note that civil society is the gound in which Islamic values and culture are implanted; hence, state is kept secular while the Islamic values are active at the civil society level. This solves the dilemma of secularism and state in the Islamic world, reconciles many conflicts, and helps pursuing development (which, to recall, requires ethical commitment)

"So I think the answer is most of them are going towards a secular state, but I would want to avoid the notion of a secular state without faith. What we are talking about are states that want to have modern forms of government but where the ethics of Islam remain the premises on which civil society is built. And I think that's where we see this -- to me very exciting -- effort to maintain the ethics of Islam, but in a modern state. And I think when we're talking about the ethics of Islam, it's easier to have civil society institutions built on the ethics of the faith, than a theocratic state in the full form." 2002

Knowledge Society

Knowledge society is the society  taking place in our world after the industrial and agricultural societies. Since knowledge is the blood that gives life to sustainability, enabling environment, and lies at the center of development, knowledge society seems to be one of the best promises to create the desired development.

"All of these changes suggest that we are moving into a new epoch of history, a new condition of human life. Many observers describe this new world as the ‘Knowledge Society’." 2006

It is knowledge which can protect and lead us in this changing world:

"Human genius is found in its variety which is the work of Allah. Harnessing that genius to the fullest should be one of the goals of all modern societies and nations in addition to mobilizing creative capacity from all segments of society. It is essential to nurture it, by providing a variety of educational opportunities suited to the talents of different individuals and the demands of a rapidly changing world." 1998

"It is hardly possible to over-emphasise the importance of developing the intellectual capacity available to the Northern Areas. No one community or country has a monopoly of intelligence, wisdom or creativity and it seems extremely important to Me that in the years ahead every individual in the North who is creative or capable and has had access to education - whether academic or practical - should make that knowledge available for the good of his or her homeland. It does not matter which area or community that individual comes from. He or she can contribute to developing an intelligentsia which will be a permanent asset to the region and provide a genuine foundation for self-generating progress in the future." 1983

Therefore, transfering knowledge between institutions and countries is necessary to make development

"I am glad that this hospital has become an integral part of the Government's Health service in various ways, drawing on the wide experience we have acquired in the developing countries. I am a great believer in transferring knowledge from one institution to another, from one country to another." 1982

The role of the Ismaili Center is, according to the Aga Khan, "[to] enhance, facilitate and, indeed, encourage mutual exchanges and understanding, all of which are so critical to a country's sustained development." 2003

Habitat as Site and Agent of Development

Habitat is the site where people live and ought to live; it is both, at the one hand, a target for development as it hosts human life and reflects the relations between human and nature and, thus, between the creation of God and human capabilities, and, on the other hand, it per se impacts human life by its natural and made-aspects. Habitate is the site where we can sustain our particularities in front of the hegemonic globalization. It calls us to carve out its aesthetics - through architecutre - as our relation with it is a shadow of our relation with God's creation. It imapcts our life as much as we, humans, imapct it.

Protecting the rural sites and developing them; and the necessity to sustain the cultural uniqueness of each site.

According to the Aga Khan, developing rural area where people live is critical; however, this development should not damage the regional differences and the culture, and it should be guided by intelligence that does steer technology since technology when is not guided by intelligence makes the situation worse. The Aga Khan used the term "habitat" and explains it as a place where people live and also as the place where people ought to live. The Aga Khan remarked that we have to make the countryside a place where people wish to live and where they can build a great well-being. 1981

Enhancing the aesthetics of the environment and the buildings because of the habitat impacts on us

"Because of our traditional concern with our environment, and the impact it has on us and on others, we have sought that this building should enhance the aesthetic quality of life in the neighbourhood." 1982

The encompassing power of architecture on us

"Architects wield a strange and encompassing form of often unrecognized power . . . This is indeed the exercise of power, a power which has a deep and permanent impact on every aspect of our lives, on our relations with each other and on our attitudes towards this world and the universe around us." 1980

A historical example of the impact of nature (as a part of habitat) on human destiny

“All the empires which covered these regions, whether they were Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim or Ottoman Turk, all have broken up. You will no doubt say that this is the fate of empires generally. But is it not over-expansion one of the causes for this? Over-expansion means the inclusion of remote peoples into the framework of a society whose ways of living and ideals are born, guided and sometimes dictated from a focal point, the capital. A concrete example of this is that during the life of the Caliphate the poor agriculture and the lack of natural resources useable in those times of the focal point, Saudi Arabia, clashed with that which the Muslims found in the more fertile countries such as Persia and Spain. One of the major problems during the life of this empire was land-holding and the conquests of the great generals such as Khalid and Amr ibn al-As made this problem particularly acute.
The Caliphate was rapidly growing from a dry and sandy sub-peninsula into an empire, which embodied some of the most fertile part of the earth. Once the armies had made their conquests, they did not want to return to Mecca or Medina -- they preferred to set up their own farms elsewhere. The problem of soldiers becoming land-owners was prominent not only in Islamic times but also in the previous Byzantine days. It was a problem which owed its existence to the layout of the land.
Here, then, one can understand the strains which were put on the successive rulers of the area by all the varied forms of territory which they had to govern. Environment, the climate and the very formation of the soil have played an immense part in the creation of today's patterns of life in the Middle East. We still look for ways to solve the problems which nature puts to us." ( Dar-es-Salaam, November 1957

The necessity to include not marginalize rural areas and to protect their particular cultures from hegemonizing globalization. In this regard, the Aga Khan uses the term dialogue to be established between rural and urban areas.

"Establishing a free, constructive and continuing dialogue between the rural and urban populations of the Third World appears to me quite as important an objective as the more popularly canvassed one of achieving a dialogue between the North and South." 1983

According to the Aga Khan, developing rural area where people live is critical; however, this development should not damage the regional differences and the culture, and it should be guided by intelligence that does steer technology since technology when is not guided by intelligence makes the situation worse. The Aga Khan used the term "habitat" and explains it as a place where people live and also as the place where people ought to live. The Aga Khan remarked that we have to make the countryside a place where people wish to live and where they can build a great well-being. 1981

“It is important that opportunity should be left to the rural societies and not simply pushed away by the process of modernisation” 1981

Habitat, as we noticed, is not a matter of only material progress. City, according to the Aga Khan, is a poem to be read

The Aga Khan introduced Arakun's concept of reading city; that is, we read a city not only look at it or experience it. He added, "The city is a novel full of dramas, of tragedies, of comedies, of unexpected upsets and predictable outcomes. . . The city is a book of history and of philosophy," in that, the formation of a city is a reflection of needs expressed into a space, it is imbued with symbols, ideas, either they belong to national ideologies or not, and so are the squares, buildings, and streets designed. Then He described the city as a poem; that is, "each city has the same streets, houses, schools, governmental and religious establishments. And yet, poets have shown great skill in giving forms and a quality to ordinary feelings that go beyond triteness; and similarly, whether in the heart of the inhabitants or in the imagination of strangers, many cities -- perhaps all cities -- have a poetic aspect, a quality that makes all of them unique, even if the statistics so often make them ordinary." 1982

Quality of Life

Quality of Life is what development should produce. It means (1) higher living standards and spiritual well-being (such as better education and healthcare, beautiful architecture, and better housing); (2) positive freedom; (3) personality; (4) effective democracy; and (5) developed and asustained culture (which includes values that are comprehended and uniqueness that is protected).

Higher Standards of Living

Development mainly aims at lifting up the standards of living, which are the basic needs for all human beings.

“Human nature does not alter very much, and nor do human needs, however strongly the winds of change may blow. The same is true of nations. The search is always for a workable ideology and rising standards of living.”, 1960, Oxford

Education, healthcare, and housing are basics needs to be achieved and necessary to reach self-realization at the national level. Here, it is critical to assert that high standards of living do not form by themselves the eventual telos of human endeavors; rather, they are necessary to make progress and growth, which aims at helping human beings to fulfil their God-given potential, self-realization, and understanding of God's creation, divine oneness and divine limitlessness.

"To me, basic health, education and housing are crucial stepping stones in the process of personal and national self-realization and growth." 1981

Architecture, in this vein, is critical because it shapes the environment in which we live; it is highly related to how we define high standrads:

The Aga Khan was discussing that in the past, Islamic architecture and the great buildings, mosques, and so on were preserved and designed by and for persons and dynasties, not for mass man although mass man got benefits from them; therefore, today, "the Awards [of architecture] have recognised that other part, perhaps now much more important than in the past, the part of the common man creating for himself and his neighbours a setting for life and health, preserving and utilising what nature has created, developing ways to maintain his identity rather than accepting the elephantine massiveness of so much of today's world." 1980

Development should generate happiness because happiness is a necessary condition for Faith (not only vice versa). Happiness, however, is not reduced to the material life; it is about living in harmony and searching for art, science, and higher life.

"It has often been pointed out, and I think correctly so, that the very layout of the land has formed many of the tendencies we observe at present. The harshness and inclement nature of the Saudi Arabian peninsula must have had its effect on the minds of those who lived there long before us. I do not believe that human relations are of sufficient interest, nor of sufficient permanence to keep a man happy all through his life. He must have something else to turn to. This need may express itself in this form of art, of scientific studies or mysticism, but more often it takes the form of a search for higher life. It is understandable, therefore, that the three great monotheistic religions of today -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- have been born in this area where human existence was restricted to its barest forms." ( 1957, Dar-es-Salam, November

“Only thus shall we achieve the harmony and happiness which is necessary for the true advancement of our faith.” (, 1957

Development aims to generate betterment for humans and a secure background against which people live their daily life.

"If a man is enabled to buy or rent a reasonable roof over his head he will have been provided with the first vital ingredient of his self respect. He will feel it worth working harder to have a little more to spend on food and clothing. If he has children he will be more inclined to educate them and take proper care of their health. Perhaps more important than anything, his children will grow up against a secure background, with all that implies. By building new homes we lay the social foundation of man's betterment." 1983

Hope is the most important factor making people incorporate an inner desire to develop

"One of the central lessons I have learned after a half century of working in the developing world is that the replacement of fear by hope is probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress." 2006

"The right to hope is the most powerful human motivation I know" 1996

"focusing on hope in the future rather than looking backwards in despair [is what we need] . . . That looking backwards in despair is probably one of the most divisive forces that you will ever find in Third World countries." 2002

Equity between gender and between classes (through people's ownership of projects) is another telos

"Jim Wolfensohn, you have changed the very nature of the World Bank, creating an ethic that recognizes that the development of individuals and communities are as important as return on equity." 2005

The Aga Khan mentioned that if education is not equal among citizens, second class may emerge and it will be full of anger and grievance., 1961

Gender equity:

About women, "I think the message of Islam, is the dignity with which we must treat women in society. Now, the notion of how that happens in practice, is very much a question of interpretation. But the basic premise, is the dignity and equality of women in society. And that goes right through the revelation of Islam, it goes to the tradition and the life of the Prophet, and the Prophet's wife, Khatija, was a woman who participated actively in daily life. " 1997

About women, "There is neither democracy nor meritocracy in a society that excludes half its members." 1990

In His visiting to a school in Pakistan, the Aga Khan asserted the importance of education for men and women as well. He said at the end of His speech that He wishes to see not only leading men (graduating from the school) but also leading women., 1970

Equity of participation and people's ownership

With respect to the Aga Khan Fund for economic development, equity is the direction of its activities: "Hence the Fund is unusual, if not unique, in that 94 per cent of its current investment is in equity participation." 1985

"As a merchant banking house DTK, in addition to providing loan finance, will be able to help growing companies raise permanent capital by 'going public': that is, by selling shares to the public through the stock exchange." 1982

Positive Freedom

Freedom, in the Aga Khan's thoughts, is a necessary condition for progress and growth and a necessary condition to celebrate the individual conscience that is gifted by God. Freedom is defined clearly as positive freedom, which is being free to do and to act, not merely to be free from restrains; freedom is, therefore, wedded to responsibility, the responsibility of human beings in front of God, of people, and of themselves. Freedom paves the way for us to wider growth, whereby the whole that we work for and in becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. This can be achieved only when freedom and responsibility are replete with ethics. At the end of the day, we need to know why and how and for what goals we are using our freedom. Materialism and obsessive indivdualism are not the goals that should guide our freedom's usage; rather, ethics (such as helping the less fortunate) form the direction that we should steer our freedom to.

In the following quotations, negative freedom is asserted as a necessary condition, but not sufficient, for development . . .

“As a minority group, widely scattered yet strongly united by our religion, we have benefited enormously from the British tradition of respect for individual rights of conscience, freedom of thought and speech, freedom of worship and the rule of law.”, 1960, Oxford

Freedom for press is a necessity for democracies and for developing countries 1981

The following quotations explain how the Aga Khan understands and defines the various aspects of positive freedom

Freedom is the base for public integrity; it is sustianed by two pillars: (1) sharing power and (2) understanding for what we use this power.

The Aga Khan asserted "the need for a sense of greater public integrity" whereby "expanding the number of people who share social power is only half the battle. The critical question is how such power is used. How can we inspire people to reach beyond rampant materialism, self-indulgent individualism, and unprincipled relativism." which is related to positive freedom "classical philosophers – in the East and West alike – have described as human “virtue” – not merely the absence of negative restraints on individual freedom, but also a set of positive responsibilities, moral disciplines which prevent liberty from turning into license."
positive freedom is related to "Narrative of Progress" which is "The right of individuals to look for a better quality of life within their own life-spans – and to build toward a better life for their children – these are personal aspirations which must become public values."
Faith is a sine qua non condition for the positive freedom and to achieve this progress narrative and for the public integrity: "But a healthy sense of public integrity, in my view, will be difficult to nurture over time without a strong religious underpinning. In the Islamic tradition, the conduct of one’s worldly life is inseparably intertwined with the concerns of one’s spiritual life – and one cannot talk about integrity without also talking about faith . . . But if freedom of religion deteriorates into freedom from religion – then I fear we will soon be lost on a bleak and barren landscape – with no compass or roadmap, no sense of ultimate direction . . . Let me finally emphasize my strong conviction that public integrity cannot grow out of authoritarian pronouncements. It must be rooted in the human heart and conscience. " 2006

Positive Freedom is necessary to unleash human potentials to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts

“In the textbooks, most discussion of freedom centers on the prevention of absolute power. It is about checks and balances. The time has come to evolve concepts and practices of ‘positive freedom’, the links between individuals and institutions and the rules of the game that encourage mutual trust, promote cooperation, unleash human potentials and make possible a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.” 1987

Responsibility is the cornerstone of positive freedom. In this vein, responsibility is institutionalized as accountability in front of the community, but the community is not the majority [of voices] in a given moment, but the pluralistic, organic whole.

The Aga Kahn explained that press should make a balance between press freedom and responsibility, and He said that we should be aware of being so much entrapped with ‘obsessive individualism’ that cares about meritocracy and ignores those who are hurt and He stressed that we should be careful not to make press liberty becomes press license which can happen easily when the press becomes free form social responsibility and from its obligations towards the social order.
So, the Aga Khan continued to explain, press should be accountable: "Accountable to whom? To the political leaders of the moment? Never. To the larger community and the cultures that comprise it? Always - provided we see the community not as a mere majority of the moment, but as an organic, pluralistic entity." 1996

So, meritocracy should be held with compassion

"I am hopeful that, through interventions of this type, our youth will learn to recognize that, whilst true success must be determined largely by merit, meritocracy and competition must not be permitted to erode their traditions of compassion and care for the less fortunate -- for it is those traditions, rooted in our faith and history, that should temper the harshest consequences of free market economics." 1994

Individual success should be used as a venue to serve the community

"For example, we encourage our students to achieve great individual success in their profession, but we try to help them retain a sense of responsibility to serve the community from which they come." 1991

Those who had left their countries to gain higher education in the West should go back to their original homes to develop them

"In our search for a solution, I am convinced that we must call upon our own men and women, who have achieved positions of eminence anywhere in the world, and persuade them to return, for us to benefit from their knowledge, their learning and their work." 1976

And, in Islam, the telos is not to accumulate power and wealth, but to contribute to community development

"The object [in Islam] is not to achieve status, wealth, and power, but to contribute to society's overall development." 1987

Responsibility is the burden that we love

Responsibility is the burden we love. 1969

Freedom should never lapse into a license (becasue it lacks the responsibility part).

the Aga Khan said that “living in the context of the moral discipline of Islam, I think, is important. Because living in a society where freedom eventually becomes equated with license, is not what I would want." 1985

This collapse of freedom into a license has been explained in its relation to media and press

Freedom for press is a necessity for democracies and for developing countries 1981

When democracies may be strained under the pressure of economic hardships, the Aga Khan said, "Striking a balance between freedom and unbridled license demands constant pragmatic adjustments in all areas of life." 1983

And for universities as well; they should espouse responsibility

"However, academic freedom also imposes responsibilities, both to the University's defined academic mission and to society. Freedom must not be allowed to degenerate into license, whether in universities or in society as a whole. When it has so degenerated, it has invariably destroyed the very civilizations which gave it birth. Throughout man's history, there have been periods when political stability and seemingly assured economic growth have tempted educational institutions to stray from their true academic tasks, and given rein to political involvement, social ambition or moral indulgence: in other words, to allow freedom to lapse into licence." 1983

Pragamtism is one way to show and practice our positive freedom (dogmas blocks prgamatism and dogmas do not make us free fully)

One basic change after the dismanteling of the USSR is that "One result of these changes is that the imposition of certain long-held political and economic dogma on the human mind is disappearing, leaving greater space for the human intellect to make pragmatic decisions," as the Aga Khan explained. 1992


Personality is the ability and the right of a community to maintain and nourish its particularity and its identity, and to develop its own system of working, management, and solutions. Personality means that solutions and development come from within not from the outside. It is the independence from imposed dogmas and hegemonies.

The Aga Khan said that the African states can and have to build their independent national personality while keeping neutrality in the cold war, and that they can get benefits from and build cooperation with Europe, but the problem is that self-interest [of Europe] in trade may conflict with the African personality building. 1962

After talking about inflation of Communism and its threat to, for example, Japan and Iraq, the Aga Khan said, "What we have to do, it seems, is to prevent large numbers of relatively uneducated people from falling victims to one ideology, without at the same time imposing our own. This is not easy because while each nation is gradually developing its own political philosophy there is bound to be a vacuum.", Oxford 1960

The Aga Khan said that universal war will be devastating, so states in the UN have to work to keep peace and that "They [states] will need immense wisdom and singleness of purpose to be able to influence the two power blocs without being committed to either one.", 1961

"The concepts of searching and experimentation are worth special emphasis because there is no existing formula, whether ideologically or technically defined, that can simply be identified and applied." 1998

In this quotation, He is talking about the worthiness of vernacular architecture that is not predated by hegemonic architecture "It includes the modest wisdom of a vernacular architecture organically linked to a site and a way of life, and the soaring, awe-inspiring achievements of unique architects which have shaped our understanding of elegance, harmony, and form." 1989

"All cultures naturally influence each other to a greater or lesser degree; the strongest are those in which the dominant elements remain dominant and refuse to be overwhelmed by external forces. They become stronger still when they retain the ability to select, to absorb that which invigorates and enriches and to reject that which is inimicable. This is what the Western world did in building upon the stronger Muslim civilization to pull itself out of the Middle Ages. " 1978

"Many of us here speak several languages, and I am sure we would agree that our ability to communicate in several tongues sometimes impedes our expressing ourselves clearly in any one of them. If our command over several languages can erode our precision of expression, I wonder how much more quickly our eyes lose their ability to discern the integrity of a visual language. The undiscriminating exposure to many different kinds of visual languages must not lead to blindness. Surely one day we will be asked why we have done nothing to develop our own system of a physical environment rather than replacing it wholesale with a garble of other languages." 1978

"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." ( 1976

The Aga Khan emphasized that Special cultures, traditions, and wildlife of Kenya should not only preserved for tourism but also for their own sake, His Highness said. 1976

Personality is a must because there is neither one universal solution to every problem nor one dogma that can save communities from their challenges

"The real question for Muslim countries is to discover how Islam is going to find expression on the environmental level in the Muslim world of the future. I do not personally believe that we should look for a universal reply; each part of the world must seek its own solutions. This problem, therefore, was imminently worth considering." 1982

So, we have to save our particularities

"You can completely eliminate the social roots, the cultural roots. You can weaken the economic strength of the community by bad development, by bad building." 1981

From our particularities, we can get economic benefits

"You can completely eliminate the social roots, the cultural roots. You can weaken the economic strength of the community by bad development, by bad building." 1981

Effective Democracy

Effective democracy is necessary for the whole humanity to control for the rapid change in the world. It propels people to live to their potential. Democracy can be understood as the institutional side of positive freedom, can never be reduced to the Western type of democracy, nor to voting; rather, it is established on knowledge rooted at the societal level among people; on civil society and grassroots participation; and on ethics.

Is democracy a solution to the problems our world is suffering from? "What makes this sense of impasse especially disturbing is that it so often represents a failure of democracy. For many centuries, it was the conviction of enlightened people that societies would truly come to grips with their problems once they became democratic. The great barrier to progress, they said, was that governments listened to the special few— rather than the voice of the many. If we could only advance the march of democracy, they argued, then a progressive agenda would inevitably fall into place . . .
Often, the more democratic governments were the more effective and responsible. But this was not consistently true—and I have recently found it to be decreasingly true. In fact, nearly forty percent of UN member nations are now categorized as ‘failed democracies’. . . Frequently, democratic failures grow out of sheer incompetence. Publics are asked to vote on issues that bewilder them. Candidates obscure their own views and distort their opponents’ positions. Journalists transmit superficial rhetoric and slight underlying realities. People are appointed to jobs they cannot do—but are rarely held accountable . . . Corruption for some becomes a way of life. Meanwhile, the Media tell audiences what they want to know rather than what they ought to know. And what too many people want today is not to be informed-- but to be entertained" 2006

Question: "Whenever I sit down with leading thinkers and policy makers – I come away with a haunting question. Why is it, given the scope of our collective learning – unprecedented in human history – that we have such difficulty in controlling these developments? Why is our growing intellectual mastery of the world so often accompanied in practice by a growing sense of drift?" Response: democracy. "My response to that question focuses increasingly on the fact that democratic institutions have not lived up to their potential. In both the developed and the developing world, the promise of democracy has too often been disappointed." 2006

Democracy has also Islamic roots and it proceeds election to consultative system.

“My democratic beliefs do not go back to the Greek or French (thinkers) but to an era 1,400 years ago. These are the principles underlying my religion. During the prophet’s life (peace be upon him), there was a systematic consultative political process. And the first imam of the Shiites, Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, emphasized: ‘No honor is like knowledge, no power is like forbearance, and no support is more reliable than consultation’." 2006

The Aga Khan explained that knowledge can reinforce the compatibility between the faith and the world: "Hazrat Ali's regard for knowledge reinforces the compatibility of faith and the world. And his respect for consultation is, in my view, a commitment to tolerant and open-hearted democratic processes." 2006

Civil society is necessary to activate democracy because - as described in Development - it is more able to increase the community participation, respond to complexity, and resonate with diversity. Civil society for effective democracy shows how much democracy and development are fundamentally connected.

"This means realizing that a democratic society requires much more than democratic politics. Governments alone do not make democracy work. Private initiative is also essential, including a vital role for those institutions which are collectively described as ‘civil society’." 2006

Public capacity, which is knowledge that people gain about their political system and their government performance, should be nourished and sustained by both education (which also targets training leadership) and through media (which must be free and responsible, and must not only aim at making entraintment and profit).

"rigorous, responsible and relevant education. We must do a better job of training leaders and shaping institutions to meet more demanding tests of competence and higher standards of excellence." 2006

"Often, when old autocratic orders yielded, new democratic orders were not ready to thrive or were called in by political and ideological dogmas . . . When the pace of history accelerates, democratic governments often deadlock." The Aga Khan asserted that development of democracy is fundamental to improve the quality of human lives. However, the prime concern of people is the quality of life. So, four elements He suggested to improve the effectiveness of democracies:
(1) Improved the public constitutional understanding; (2) independent and pluralistic media; (3) potential of civil society; (4) genuine democratic ethics. For the first suggestion, He thinks that balanced authority and healthy federalism are the best solution for our time societies, and for making decision. He also refers to the education system and media as two fields where constitution is not highlighted. Additionally, He alluded to the recent growth of autocratic governance in the Islamic world, and he asserted that only by electoral process these autocracies should be tested, so people would understand the process of secularism.
Regarding media, He pinpointed some hints. (1) The Greek democracy postulated the "crier's voice," i.e., the direct and easy communication between people, but nowadays, population is more scattered and huge, so no direct or easy communication is ensured, and in this regard, people define themselves in terms of against whom they are not for whom or for what (more polarization).
(2) Development in media and quantitative media does not lead to an enhancement in qualitative communication, as easy distribution of truth is also an easy diffusion of falsehood.
The Aga Khan made it so clear that Media is important for democracy, as democracy is conditional on public knowledge.
Speech in New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, 2015,

The Aga Khan said that the qualities that must continue to characterize a healthy media are: spirited debate, intelligent inquiry, informed criticism, principles disagreement. 2010.

"In Kenya and around the world, the role of a free and independent press is not to check the government, not to cheer for the government, not even to chastise the government. That is for the public to do. Those are the people's prerogatives," so "The role of an independent press is to give the public the information which it needs to carry out its responsibilities." 1997

Press has a basic task which is to educate and illustrate governmental issues to the public, to detect the problems, and to help diagnose the causes and maybe suggest solution. The Aga Khan added, "A free Press is not simply a Press free to criticize as an end in itself. In many developed countries, freedom of the Press has often come to mean licence to behave irresponsibly." 1977

No democracy can last without ethics because if democracy is about sharing power between people, then people should know how they will use this power; for justice, security, equality, human dignity, and genuine dialogue.

The Aga Khan talked about "the renewal of ethical commitment," that is, "Democratic processes are presumably about the sharing of power, broadening the number who help shape social decisions. But that sharing--in and of itself-- means little apart from the purposes for which power is finally used... to speak of end purposes, in turn, is to enter the realm of ethics.... can we inspire people to a new set of aspirations—reaching beyond rampant materialism, the new relativism, self-serving individualism, and resurgent tribalism... The search for justice and security, the struggle for equality of opportunity, the quest for tolerance and harmony, the pursuit of human dignity—these are moral imperatives which we must work and think about on a daily basis. " 2006


The Aga Khan has talked about governance to maintain democracy; He urged creative solution for rule in the third world (since Western method of rule and governance may not work universally), good constitutions, respecting meritocracy, building healthy federalism, and understanding and practicing compromise as the way to have common ground on which democracy can thrive.

“To me the issue is how do governments change in developing countries, what are the processes. That's where I think the democratic system has caused problems. It has caused instability. Democracy with fifty, sixty, seventy national parties is not a very solid formula for stable government. So you know, I think that if you look at it from the point of view of the Third World, you can see that there are wonderful concepts but they do need to be worked through very, very carefully. Because if they fail, the concept is rejected." 2002

"The history of constitutions can be seen, as an oscillation between the two poles of centralization and diffusion - with new concentrations of power often amplifying the temptation to abuse, while new dispersions of power are often associated with stagnation, paralysis and even more opportunities for corruption. Arrangements that effectively balance power - through a federalist approach, for example, are elusive. What is critical is that constitutional arrangements should respect inherited traditions, ensure fairness to minority communities, respond to rural as well as urban concerns and underwrite equitable opportunity for a better life. Reconciling the global and the local, the urban and the rural, the regional and the national, is a formidable challenge - one that calls for the best of our intellectual energies and consistent fine-tuning over time... Let me emphasize that I am not opposed to the concept of coalition government. Indeed it may be an inevitable response to the intrinsic pluralism of many of the countries in which I work. But the high level of political instability and failure around the world illustrates the need for creative new thinking about this particularly demanding form of democracy." 2012

In this regard and as a response to these challenging, The Aga Kahn was talking about the governance question. It is a difficult issue, how to develop a new governance framework, but it achievable, He asserted. The Aga Khan gave an example of Washington who - 250 years ago - came to Brown university, trying to get a constitution of the United State that can manage the diverse 13 states. The Aga Khan shed light on two points, the first is the visiting of Washington to the university underpinning the role of university, and the second the concern Washington held at that time which is the “faction” spirit, which people have to challenge and face, then and now. Faction spirit, the Aga Kahn explained, is a different word of the same concept of centrifugal. “He [Washington] was worried . . . about what he called the spirit of ‘faction’ and its ability to undermine a sense of democratic nationhood. He described faction as a spirit, that ‘kindles the animosity of one part against another’, creating a ‘fatal tendency to elevate a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community’ against the whole. It threatened, he said, ‘a frightful despotism’, one that could ‘render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together…’
Such threats to bonding, and thus to balance, have long presented a central governance challenge, here and elsewhere. And these issues are now being addressed with new intensity all across the world.” 2014

The ethics of democracy is the "genuine dialogue to achieve a better quality of life." The Aga Khan asserted that the ultimate requirement of democracy is to "compromise," which happens when we find "common ground," and this common ground -between the competing leaders and groups in a social order - is "global aspiration for a better quality of life." They are all related to seeing diversity as blessings not burden, and finding hope for future. Speech in New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, 2015,

"For merit is not an anti democratic concept. On the contrary, I believe that creating opportunities for individual excellence is the very essence of democracy: its reason to be." 1990

"One of the prime qualities which recommends Mozambique as a model is your reliance on professional expertise rather than ideological caveats. In that spirit, you have built a broad consensus among many stakeholders - public and private, from civil society, and from the international community. In pursuing your great goals, you have been inclusive, rather than exclusive. In an era when frustration often breeds cynicism concerning the possibility of progress, Mozambique can provide inspiration and encouragement to other post conflict societies." 2007

The system in Western countries consists of, generally, two parties grappling over authority; one party forms the government and the other forms the opposition, the Aga Khan described. Therefore, He continued, accountability is highly guaranteed. However, wide range of parties emerge in developing countries, so parties find themselves enforced to come with coalition to form the government. This case can cause instability. That is, a broad array of parties depends on personalities and parochial identities, less than on clear predictable point of view. 2012 Ottawa.
Therefore, "But the high level of political instability and failure around the world illustrates the need for creative new thinking about this particularly demanding form of democracy." 2012

Countries can get benefits from their traditional powers to get benefits from each one and to harmonize them as an effective way for governance and developing effective democracy. Tajikistan is given as an example.

"Each of these three cultures [Islam, the West, Communism] has something to bring to the solution of the problems of Tajikistan. The West has many strengths, but prominent among them are science and democracy (with their public mechanisms for self- correction) and also private institutions, liberal economics, and a recognition of fundamental human rights. The Muslim world offers deep roots in a system of values, emphasizing service, charity and a sense of common responsibility, and denying what it sees to be the false dichotomy between religious and secular lives. The ex-Communist world, although it failed economically, made important investments in social welfare, with particular emphasis on the status of women, and was able to achieve in Tajikistan impressive social cohesion. These are a powerful array of strengths and goals. Just how to combine them to solve Tajikistan's problems is not clear. But if the outcome is to be sustainable, it seems necessary to concentrate resources on the development of private institutions, of accountable public institutions and of human potential.'' 1994

"Tajikistan has become the focus of one of the most interesting encounters of the day. It is here, and in the other Central Asian republics, that three great cultures encounter one another: the ex-Communist world, the Muslim world, and the Western world. It is here that those three cultures could forge a success that would contrast starkly with the brutal failure in Bosnia. The result of the encounter in Tajikistan may determine much about the way history unfolds over the coming decades, so it is worth thinking a bit about the stance that each of these cultures might take in preparing for this encounter.” 1994

“The result of the encounter in Tajikistan may determine much about the way history unfolds over the coming decades, so it is worth thinking a bit about the stance that each of these cultures might take in preparing for this encounter. That thought might lead one to ask what it would take for this, or any, encounter to be constructive. I suggest that there are four pre-requisites for success. For each of the cultures, the result should, first, draw on its strengths and, second, be consistent with its goals. Third, the result should be a sustainable improvement in the current situation. And fourth, the transition should be humane." 1994


Culture protects us from exclusion and alienation, is a way to bolster well-being, and its symbols can be a creative force in the time of globalization.

"If I could express one hope for all of you, as you leave this place today, it is that you will appreciate even more deeply how much culture matters in Muslim societies, and how deeply culture is entwined for Muslims with matters of faith. This is why we call this exhibition: 'Spirit and Life'. At a time when the forces of exclusion, alienation, and separation can often seem so threatening in our world, I am convinced that our ability to honor authentic symbols of pride and identity - and to share their beauty and their power with one another - can be a tremendous force for good. I hope you will feel the same way - let me thank you, most sincerely, once again, for sharing with us in this important moment." 2007

"They turned it into a city thriving in its culture, exploding in economic opportunity. The rebuilding of Mostar illustrated how powerful cultural continuity is in contributing to human well-being" 1993

"The third issue is people. Culture is by its nature rooted in people. Unfortunately, in the countries of Asia and Africa which I know, cultural expression as a life-long vocation nearly always leads to a dead-end. Artists in the industrialised world at least have the possibility of mobilising the resources necessary to live with dignity. The economic environment for cultural professionals in the industrialised world does not exist in the developing world. Indeed it is being weakened further by the collapse of traditional value systems and the cultural production they supported." 2000

In the age of the end of geography (i.e., globalization), the Aga Khan said, "This recovery of cultural identity can be a nourishing and creative force, to be sure. But it can also mean a world where we define ourselves by what makes us different from others - and thus a world of chronic conflict." 1996

Historical Continuity

The Aga Khan in many occasions has underpinned a continuity between the past and the present towards the future. This continuity seems to be more than a strategy or an idea to be pursued, but a necessity to be realized and managed. This continuity, however, is not preserving the past but dialoguing with the past.

"A second dialogue that advances the best in human architecture is an open dialogue between the past and the future. This means more than simply copying the past - or merely tacking some ancient arch or minaret or calligraphy onto a new building. On the other hand, it also means more than a heedless modernistic approach that ignores our rich heritage." 2019

To reconcile the conflict between culture and technology, the Aga Khan said, "We have hoped to inspire a new sense of direction, stimulating fresh thinking and creativity at the same time as appreciating the value of historical tradition and what can be learnt from the past." 1983

Legacy of Education: The Aga Khan talked about His Grandfather and how He built around 300 schools in the developing world; and then He said that this legacy goes more than 1000 years ago (Academy of Knowledge and Azhar in Cairo) 2008

"The Charter which His Excellency the President has been gracious enough to grant the new Aga Khan University creates the first university inspired by my family since Al Azhar was founded in the Fatimid dynasty's capital of Cairo in 970, a thousand years before we laid the foundation stone of the Aga Khan Medical College on this site in 1971." 1983

He said that the IIS is the first research center of Ismailis since the Fatimid period. 1977

"The guiding principles and criteria for the choice constitute a continuing regard for design excellence and sensitivity to the Islamic past and present and to the requirements of the future." 1978


The Aga Khan has described the relations between various scales (e.g., individual and community, man and environment, rural and urban, local and universal) as forming a unity that is unique and inseparable, although its compoenents (i.e., the scales forming a unity) are individually discernable. The first quotation shows this idea clearly. Elusiveness is something that we have to embrace and use in our actions as type of energy. Elusivenss is the deepest sense of the reality of change, or it is the engine of change.

About architecture, the Aga Khan said describing the various elements and factors making an architecture endeavor possible, "we are recognising as unique a creative and generative process in which the imagination of one architect or the expectation of Muslim patrons and users interact constantly. Within this continuum no single moment or decision can be isolated like the element of a chemical compound, because it is creative like itself; it is the elusive process of human existence which is the winner, not merely a monument…" 1980

His highness defined what reading a book is. It is the ability to re-read. A book enters our realm, and it becomes an integral part of our memory; hence reading a city "means the application of one's own world, through the knowledge of these experiences, to the experience of thousands of unknown people. Hence being able to read a city means enabling the city to become a link between an individual and his environment." 1982

"I think life changes, people change, buildings change. I think that they must be built to change. What I hope is that a building is permanent because it responds to a certain requirement but is flexible enough that people at a later time can make changes. I have seen a lot of frigid, rigid buildings that are built for a specific purpose at a specific time. Ten years later they not longer serve the function." 1983

In this quotation, we see that the relation between stability/ stagnation and change is also elusive: The Aga Khan said that Islam has put the individual in a very privileged position, meaning that eternal values are endowed to the individual; however, on the other hand, the West asserts the idea of evolving, growing, and is against the idea of stagnant individual. Hence, Islam is the bridge between these two philosophy: river is the same and you cannot step twice in the same river. 1985

"Still, the particular [here and now] can provide insight into the general, so my comments today will draw on the particular, in the hope of saying something of value about the general." 1994

From the following quotation, we take the concept of "squaring" various scales with each other.

His Highness speaks about "squaring the particular with the global." 2008


The Aga Khan has diagnosed several problems from which this world is suffering and to which developmental efforts should respond.

The problem of extreme capitalism is that it does not recycle its gain into the society

"Private entrepreneurial thinking and good management," the Aga Khan said, "are becoming the driving forces behind economic development in the Third World." While applauding this trend, He expressed his concern that "it could result in the erosion of the social conscience of developing societies and lead to the disappearance of their remarkable traditions of mutual support and generosity." He warned of the danger of "‘frontier capitalism’ which fails to recycle its gains into society."
"we must retain a certain creative skepticism as to the effects of the free market system at the same time as we take advantage of the utility and energy created by the freedom of the marketplace." 1995

Extreme capitalism can also damage the enviornment

The role of architecture: "A second area which really worries me considerably are the consequences of the liberalization of the economies of the developing world, where more and more initiative for economic change will be driven by individual entrepreneurs. These men and women are usually not particularly concerned with damage to the environment around them, and therefore I am worried about how we can help make this process of change occur in an appropriate manner." 1998

Extreme capitalism can also destroy the traditional dynamics of a society

The limits and problems of modernity, the Aga Khan said, "The efforts of industrialization, modernization of agriculture and urbanization have, in certain countries, already reached the limits beyond which social solidarity - in families, groups, villages -and systems of exchange production - upon which rested all the symbolic wealth of local traditions, enriched and reinforced by an Islamic contribution - are threatened by disintegration and annihilation and therefore, disappear without even having had, as is the case in the secular western world, a process of re-casting their symbols, of creating cultural institutions and practices capable of maintaining, even of increasing, the cultural dynamics of societies." 1986

The problem of injustice

The Aga Khan explained that Justice is important for the peace in the world; problems occur in the middle east, for example, because of injustice. 2002

Globalization has a negative side when it is not well managed. The Aga Khan used the term "End of Geography" to describe globalization where distance stopped to mean what it was in the close past.

"The ‘end of geography’, after all, can also mean the end of isolation - and the end of isolation can mean an end to ignorance and impoverishment [however] The communications revolution is a two-edged sword, opening exciting doors to the future, yes, but also threatening venerable cultures and traditional values.”
[With globalization,] ‘tribalism’ surges (to protect the special culture, language, and it can be either negative or positive): "It is not surprising, of course, that the global and the tribal impulse should surge side by side. The desire to protect what is familiar intensifies in direct proportion to the challenge of what is different ." 1996

"The notion that our planet is shrinking is a commonplace one - but it has recently taken a radical new turn. It is no longer a simple matter of geography, with cultures bumping up against one another - and struggling over borders and territories. Thanks to new methods of communication, cultures now increasingly intermingle - mixing with growing familiarity."
This change which was brought about by the collapse of the communism and the end of the Cold War has led to: "Some say that the fall of communism has brought us to ‘The End of History’. But an even more profound development has been ‘The End of Geography’. The connection between community and geography has been broken. A single community can thrive across immense distances, while a tiny dot of land can be home to many communities." 1996

One of the central challenges that face the world today is, the Aga Khan said, "harmonising many highly diversified voices within an increasingly globalised world.”
He explained that harmonsiation as a word is used, because it refers not to a chorus that sings in unison, but "one that blends many distinctive voices into an intelligent, resonant whole," which requires a deep understanding of what makes each voice distinctive. 2018

"Today's world is a living environment in which you will have to adapt much faster than your parents did in order to have a positive and constructive impact on the future. Having said this, the means at your disposal to achieve such an impact have multiplied exponentially during the last decade. Never before has there been so much knowledge available about so many different people. Never before have we known more about the physical world in which we live. Never before, therefore, have there been opportunities greater to make a better life for more people around the globe." 1996

Change is rapid, and we should prepare our children to this rapid change by religion and education. It can widen human beings’ horizons. 1962

"the world is now a different place. It is different from what it was forty years ago, five years ago, different even from last month's world" 1996

FRagility of the AKDN's work

"There are fragilities that worry me every day, frankly. And they do, from time to time, turn around and hit us in the face. The fragility can get worse, turn into a problem, and then you have to turn around and say, ‘What do we do about this?’ And so these are issues we have to face all the time. I am far from a confident person in terms of the overall activity of what we are doing. I am well aware of the fragility. And, I'm worried. I say very frankly, if we fail to provide food, or if microcredit is mismanaged, or medical ethics, these sorts of things are things that we're dealing with. These are sorts of things that really, really worry me. And the bigger our network gets, the more societies it functions in, the more these issues have to be addressed." 2000

Uncontrolled modernization

“Indeed, my fear is that urban modernisation will lead to an increase in property speculation and the uncontrolled development of tourist infrastructures which will eventually swallow up the mosques within the urban fabric. Sadly, we see that in many large Muslim cities, the minarets of our mosques, those towering symbols of our faith from the top of which the call to prayer rings out, are lost amid blocks of local authority housing, drowned out by the hubbub of the city." 2008

Environmental Degredation and unevenness

"I feel there are grounds for serious concern. Rapidly expanding populations, increasing environmental degradation, and the unevenness of development and resources, all contribute to the growth of an underclass that has never had sufficient opportunity or support for participation in cultural activities. More recently, the seemingly universal increase of migration to the cities, and the tragedy of dislocated populations seeking refuge from civil strife in many parts of the world have brought further pressure. " 1998

Problems that we are facing today everywhere and that architecture can address, according to the Aga Khan: "Everywhere we seem to find rising inequities in societies, an emerging urban under-class, homelessness, and strife between neighbours, as well as growing environmental degradation, the sense of alienation in mega-cities that are no longer humane, and the avalanche of images that destroy identity." 1995

Resistance to change

The new challenges facing the world after the Cold War, the Aga Khan said, "Experimentation in statehood and uncertainty in economic direction, including the reversal of long held dogmas, have confronted new efforts for major social progress. New initiatives are delayed, sometimes even frustrated by resistance to the pace of technical and policy change which is required to meet the increasing reality of competitive globalized economies and information availability . . . [So volatility and change must be] characteristic of our future environments." 1996

Universal uncertainty or uncontrolled development

In 1996, in the wake of the collapse of the bi-polar system, the Aga Khan said, "we are facing a world of doubt and questioning and universal uncertainty, the new hallmark of our time" 1996

Polarization and Othering

"The last few years have brought a distressing polarisation between the industrialised nations and the Third World, between economic and political philosophies and within faiths. Such polarisation divides the rich nations from the poor, divides socialism from free enterprise, divides religious beliefs including my own faith. It is achieving the exact opposite of the brotherhood of man, and makes it crucially important that communities and nations should try harder to learn from each other and to understand each other… 1982

"What we are now witnessing is a clash of ignorance, an ignorance that is mutual, longstanding, and to which the West and the Islamic world have been blind for decades at their great peril." 2002

"The words Muslim and Islam have themselves come to conjure the image of anger and lawlessness in the collective consciousness of most western cultures. And the Muslim world has, consequently become something that the West may not want to think about, does not understand, and will associate with only when it is inevitable."
The West cannot turn its back to the Muslim world because after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the Aga Khan explained, "the Muslim world is one of only two potential geopolitical forces vis-a-vis the West on the world stage; the other being the East Asian Tigers" 1996

The Aga Khan addressed the misconception of Muslim world: (1) The hatred and terrorist attacks are conducted by "minority" of Muslims, while a huge portion of the Islamic heritage is about inclusiveness; (2) Al-Azhar, which is one of the oldest university in the world, contributed to sharpen the cutting edge of human knowledge; and (3) little people know names such as Khwarizmi, who is not less important than Plato. 2014


The Aga Khan asked why intolerance is increasing? Because, He said, partly, of globalization (communication, and refugees). He continued, "But societies which have grown more pluralistic in makeup, are not always growing more pluralistic in spirit. What is needed -- all across the world -- is a new ‘cosmopolitan ethic’-- rooted in a strong culture of tolerance. . . There is a human impulse it seems -- fed by fear -- to define ‘identity’ in negative terms. We often determine ‘who we are’-- by determining who we are against. This fragmenting impulse not only separates peoples from one another, it also subdivides communities -- and then it subdivides the subdivisions. It leads to what some have called the ‘fraying’ of society -- in which communities come to resemble a worn out cloth -- as its tight weave separates into individual strands… And often the more secure we are in our own identities, the more effective we can be in reaching out to others." 2006

Centrifugal forces and misinformation

The Aga Khan explained that information flows more quickly and cheaper. However, more information may mean more misinformation, more confusion, more manipulation, more superficial snapshot, and lacking nuance. 2010.

The Aga Khan described the today created communication technology as "centrifugal force" and "fragmentation." These forces (fragmentation and centrifugal) threaten the coherence of democratic society, and the effectiveness of democratic institutions. The recent technology can enhance the communication, but also can push people to live isolated into superficial "smaller information bubbles," in more isolated groupings. Today, great connectivity does not mean necessarily greater connection. 2014

“When I look back, 18 years back,” The Aga Khan said, I" think I actually under-estimated how many things would change in the years ahead" He was referring to the social media, basically, communication-technology. He again asserts the technology, as it has been developing since printing, telegraph and onwards, beared both hope and disappointment. The hope, then, is due to how human being use the technology, he added. 2014

Time Trap

“Thus it is My profound conviction that Islamic Society in the years ahead will find that our traditional concept of time, a limitless mirror in which to reflect on the eternal, will become shrinking cage, an invisible trap from which fewer and fewer will escape." 1976

Lacking values

"I have observed in the Western world a deeply changing pattern of human relations. The anchors of moral behaviour appear to have dragged to such depths that they no longer hold firm the ship of life. What was once wrong is now simply unconventional, and for the sake of individual freedom must be tolerated. What is tolerated soon becomes accepted. Contrarily, what was once right is now viewed as outdated, old-fashioned and is often the target of ridicule." 1976


"Our reports tell us that the new structural symbols of power in our world have not sprung from our spirit, from our understanding of who we are, or what we believe, but have been merely copied from foreign images of political and commercial power." 1979

"The same consideration also applies to ideas. Concepts such as meritocracy, free-world economics, or multi-party democracy, honed and tested in the West may generally have proven their worth. But valid though they may be, responsible leadership in the Islamic world must ask if they can be adapted to their cultures which may not have the traditions or infra-structure to assimilate them. There is a real risk that political pluralism could harden latent ethnic or religious divisions into existing or new political structures. There is a real risk that market place economics could lead to ruthless competition, and increased concentration of wealth, further marginalising the existing poor. There is a real risk that meritocracy could exacerbate, for example, the existing problem of equitable access to quality education and sophisticated health care. Although the modern page of human history was written in the West, you should not expect or desire for that page to be photocopied by the Muslim world." 1996

"In addition, the mountainous areas of the region contain islands of cultural history and social identity that must not be lost in the face of the globalisation of communications." 2000

"I am not convinced yet that the total free market approach is healthy for all of human society today as it is. I am not totally convinced that democracy without the understanding of the way and the precondition of democracy is a healthy exercise. I think probably it's important to educate about democracy so that people can understand what are its goals" 2000

The Aga Khan denoted that two numerous movements are still affecting the today world in terms of what the type of governance state can adopt and exercise. These movements are the dismantling the British and French colonialization and the collapse of the Soviet Union. 2012 Ottawa.

"For the last fifty years, our planet has been frozen by a paralysing bi-polar political vortex which we call the Cold War. During those years, many allowed their views to stagnate and harden into notions so dependable that they became unrevisable dogmas. My capitalism versus your communism. Your eastern bloc versus our western bloc, left versus right. But like the Berlin Wall, our old bi-polar system was dismantled almost overnight and with it, the black and white world to which we had grown accustomed. Unfortunately views and thought habits, although intangible, are less easily broken than bricks and politics. Learned human behaviour dies hard." 1996

Anti-religion attitude

"I know you will find nothing unusual in this discussion given your own spiritual foundations. But it is striking to me how many modern thinkers are still disposed to link tolerance with secularism -- and religion with intolerance. In their eyes -- and often in the public's eyes I fear -- religion is seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution." 2006


The Aga Khan said that violence either structural or direct and physical, and in both cases is brutal, is threatening the whole globe, and it is wrong to link Islam to it. 1996

Gap of civilization in Islam

"The Muslim world, once a remarkable bastion of scientific and humanist knowledge, a rich and self-confident cradle of culture and art, has never forgotten its past. The abyss between this memory and the towering problems of tomorrow would cause disorientation even to the most secure societies." 1996