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The Aga Khan’s spirit for a better world is “amongst the purest expressions of human fraternity”

BY THE LATE RENÉ-LÉVESQUE
23RD PREMIER OF QUEBEC (IN OFFICE 1976 – 1985) 

René-Lévesque
René Lévesque (1922-1987)

The following remarks were made by the late René Lévesque, Premier of Quebec, on the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Silver Jubilee visit to Montreal between April 24-26, 1983. The speech appeared in French and English in a special Silver Jubilee souvenir published by His Highness Prince Aga Khan Regional Council for Quebec and Maritime Provinces.

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“The colossal work which you achieve day after day towards a better living standard in the most deprived countries is not unknown to us. The spirit on which this action is based is amongst the purest expressions of human fraternity. I wish with all my heart that on the occasion of your visit not only do we become more clearly aware of the extent of the mission you carry out, that you have set for yourself, but also that we remember it as a lesson, if I may say of ‘savoir-vivre’, a true way of living in a world that needs it so badly.” — René Lévesque addressing the Aga Khan on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee.

The Aga Khan and Rene Levesque have an animated conversationThe Aga Khan in an animated conversation with René Lévesque during his Silver Jubilee visit to Montreal in April 1983. Photo: Aga Khan Regional Council for Quebec and Maritime Provinces. 

Your Highness,

I am delighted, for many reasons, with your visit here on the banks of the Saint-Lawrence where, almost four and a half centuries ago, a francophone America was born, a minority “America” in numbers, but which remains no less lively, dynamic and confident of the future. Of course, four and a half centuries of history is very little compared to the millenary tradition that you incarnate. But as far as North America is concerned, speaking in North American terms, I think you know that it takes us back 450 years, directly to the origins of colonization. This old corner of America, thanks you deeply for having included us in the more than heavy itinerary of your Jubilee year. We also know that our co-citizens of Ismaili faith, as you told me, I think Ismailis is the right way of saying it, consider your too short a visit to us as a moment of deep joy and we rejoice with them for the honour you have given us in allowing us to welcome you.

It is said, perhaps too generously, that Quebec’s hospitality is warm and spontaneous. I must say that having had the opportunity of talking with you, of briefly discussing the work you pursue with exemplary persistence, that you are yourself a very spontaneous and extremely warm man. We would like to keep you longer with us. Besides, it is the essential quality of faith and civilization that you represent of constantly having an open mind and the hospitality towards others, which you raise to a universal dimension. And that, Your Highness, you personally incarnate.

The colossal work which you achieve day after day towards a better living standard in the countries, and most of the time, in the most deprived countries, wherever you can, is not unknown to us. The spirit on which this action is based is amongst the purest expressions of human fraternity. This relates to what we, in the West, call humanity and I wish with all my heart that on the occasion of your visit not only do we become more clearly aware of the extent of the mission you carry out, that you have set for yourself, but also that we remember it as a lesson, if I may say of “savoir-vivre”, a true way of living in a world that needs it so badly.

The attention that you constantly give to issues on education, health, housing, affect the foundation, the changes of life itself, in all societies and especially in the most disillusioned societies, and God knows how many there are of those in the world.

Premier René Lévesque speaking in Montreal during the Aga Khan's Silver Jubilee visit to Montreal.Premier René Lévesque speaks at a luncheon hosted at the Ritz Carleton Hotel by the Government of Quebec during His Highness the Aga Khan’s Silver Jubilee visit to Montreal in April 1983. From left to right: Prince Amyn Mohamed, Mme Corinne Côté-Lévesque, the Aga Khan, René Lévesque, Princess Salimah and Mayor Jean Drapeau. Photo: Aga Khan Regional Council for Quebec and Maritime Provinces. 

You carry out your activities in more than 25 countries throughout the world including ours, and I wish to underline publicly, and I hardly apologize for underestimating your modesty, I wish to underline publicly that this intervention is as much characterized by an open mind to the diversity of cultures and religious convictions of people. Without a sense of tolerance, there is  no hope for the future of humanity and alas, we get proof of it almost every day. We have to hope that examples such as yours become more and more convincing and communicable.

There is also another field where your experiences or the way you use your power is particularly worth remembering and can serve as an example to the people of Quebec here. Please allow me to quote here a few of your grandfather’s words when he designated you as his successor.

“I am convinced,” he said, “that it is in the best interest of the Shia Muslim Ismaili Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.”

You have successfully faced this challenge and your achievements are a proof of adaptation to new circumstances and today, your community has made this transition which was extremely difficult, and in which you succeeded admirably. These profound changes which you undertook, which you guided since 1957 did not prevent the maintenance with all their strength of the fundamental values and the essential traditions as well as the beliefs of your community. And  this is again, an example from which many societies in the world could and should inspire themselves and we also have a lesson to learn from that flexibility. I mean that societies that are faced with the challenge of change and the double requirements it always carries, that is not only to adapt, of course, but also to adapt without weakening or losing one’s identity, that is that very difference which contributes to the richness of the world.

Aga Khan toasted by Rene Levesque, Montreal 1983Premier René Lévesque toasts the Aga Khan at a luncheon hosted by the Government of Quebec at Montreal’s Ritz Carlton Hotel in April 1983. Photo: Aga Khan Regional Council for Quebec and Maritime Provinces. 

Your Highness, I do not intend, in these few moments to pronounce a panegyric to you, but simply to express to you what we in Quebec remember as the essence of your hard work over 25 years and to tell you that we too feel the benefits of it here. I therefore join all those here representing constituted bodies, with all my heart, your co-citizens of Ismaili faith in wishing that your active presence to the service of humanity and civilization, in the true sense of the word be ensured to us for a long time to come. I myself can assure you of the sincere friendship of the people of Quebec and whatever be the drink served, I would request everyone to raise his glass to the health of their Highnesses and to the success of your humanitarian enterprises.

Date posted: April 9, 2017.

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René-LévesqueRené-Lévesque, was the founder of Parti Québécois and as its leader and the Premier of the Province of Quebec led the “Yes” side to the first referendum on Quebec’s political independence from Canada in 1980. His side lost the referendum by a wide margin.

He had risen to political prominence in the 1960s, after pursuing law, which he did not finish, and working as a reporter, during a global era of radical and often violent nationalism and took Quebec’s separatist movement, which was dominated by hardliners and gave it to the everyday people of the province. He pursued his objective in the legislature, and respected the democratic process. When his side lost the referendum  he accepted the result and urged Quebeckers to find ways of working with the federal government. When he resigned as PQ leader in 1985, it was partly to protest the party’s move toward a more hardline position. However until his very last days before his death in 1987, he continued to believe on the notion of an independent Quebec.  

(Profile compiled from The Globe and Mail and Wikipedia).

Visionary media executive on the Aga Khan: “I was serving no ordinary man”

His Highness the Aga Khan being greeted by Mr. Michael Curtis of the Nation Group. Photo: Azhar Chaudhry. Sultan Jessa Collection.His Highness the Aga Khan with Mr. Michael Curtis (1920 – 2004) of the Nation Media Group. Photo: Azhar Chaudhry. Sultan Jessa Collection.

The Aga Khan’s wisdom and judgement at age 20

AN ANECDOTE BY LATE MICHAEL CURTIS
(Position held: Oversaw the Aga Khan’s worldwide activities for over 40 years)

(Adapted from a piece written for a special souvenir published by Kenya’s Daily Nation on the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s wedding to Princess Salimah Aga Khan in 1969).

It was twelve years ago in Dar-es-Salaam in October 1957. Prince Karim, His Highness the Aga Khan, was to be installed as successor to his grandfather in the first of a series of elaborate ceremonies to be held that year throughout Africa and Asia.

As personal aide to His Highness, I had gone ahead as part of an advance party and was greeted by the local leaders who told me that a serious problem had arisen. The only other such ceremony in living memory had taken place 72 years before in Bombay, when Aga Khan III had succeeded to the Imamate.

Not surprisingly, there was some doubt about the form the service would take and it seemed that an acute difference of opinion had arisen as to which verses of the Koran should be included. There was clearly nothing to be done but to await a ruling from the Aga Khan himself.

It was an unforgettable scene and took place in one of the state rooms of Government House where the Aga Khan was guest of the Colonial Governor at that time, the late Lord Twining. The Ismaili leaders were seated, as is their custom, cross-legged in a semi-circle around their young Imam and the two factions elaborated their different points of view.

To a non-Muslim the arguments were difficult to follow, but it was clear to me that a strong difference of opinion existed and that the Aga Khan would be called upon to resolve a ticklish point of theological doctrine.

This was the first occasion on which he had been called to exercise the responsibilities bequeathed to him by his grandfather. Still an undergraduate at Harvard, he looked very young, a trifle pale and tense as he listened to the rival claimants. There was a pause as they finished. Then the Aga Khan asked a question which obviously puzzled his followers. “Who,” he asked, “will recite the verses you wish me to decide upon?”

A chorus of voices assured him that a young man from Zanzibar had been procured for the recitation and that his fame as a psalmodist of the Koran was acclaimed far and wide.

“If that is so,” said His Highness, “let this young man suggest those verses in which his ability is most outstanding and thereafter I shall decide which particular chapters and verses will be selected.”

It was a solution that delighted everyone. The opposing factions accepted it gladly, for neither had lost face. The choirboy for certain would sing as he had never sung before — which in truth he did the following afternoon. It was a decision which reflected the instinctive simplicity of true wisdom and first revealed to me that I was serving no ordinary man.

I have related this tale before, and if I repeat it today it is because I know of no other anecdote which more aptly illustrates his wisdom and judgement.

Date posted: April 05, 2017.

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For links to all the posts in this special project on His Highness the Aga Khan, please see the drop down menu bar at top of this page or click on Table of Contents. Also join/like Barakah’s faceboook page http://www.facebook.com/1000fold.

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. You may choose to remain anonymous. Please note that we never show your email address when we publish your comment, and don’t share it with others without your express written permission.

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His Highness the Aga Khan being greeted by Mr. Michael Curtis of the Nation Group. Photo: Azhar Chaudhry. Sultan Jessa Collection.Mr. Michael Howard Curtis, shown at right with His Highness the Aga Khan, was a British Fleet Street editor and executive and  went on to serve the Aga Khan for several decades as his media executive in Kenya as well at his headquarters in France. He was born in Cambridge, England, in 1920 and was introduced to His Highness the Aga Khan just as he had been proclaimed the 49th Ismaili Imam. His recruitment as a staff of the new Imam was intended as a short term assignment as a speech writer and publicity organizer during a series of public appearances related to the Aga Khan’s installation as Imam in East Africa and South Asia. This brief assignment, however, grew into an engagement with the Aga Khan that spanned several decades. Noted by the British Guardian news paper as “50 years ahead of his time” the visionary Fleet street editor and executive, Michael Curtis, was asked to establish the Nation Media Group, which started publishing the Sunday Nation and subsequently the Daily Nation in Kenya, competing successfully with the existing colonial newspapers, the Tanganyika Standard and the East African Standard. At the culmination of the process of Africanising the Nation Group, Michael Curtis stepped down in 1977, after pioneering the introduction of the first web-offset presses installed outside the United States as well as increasing the Nation’s circulation to 165,000 and a readership reputed to touch three million. He then moved to the Aga Khan’s Headquarters in Aiglemont, France, where he oversaw the Ismaili Imamat’s rapidly expanding non-denominational health and educational activities throughout South Asia and East Africa, until his retirement in 1994. He died from cancer in 2004 at the age 84.

(Profile of Mr. Michael Curtis compiled from Wikipedia, and UK’s Guardian and Daily Telegraph newspapers. For specific links to his obituaries please see the references cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Curtis_(journalist).

The Aga Khan: From an Ismaili Muslim Imam to a global citizen and virtual head of states

BY NIZAR A. MOTANI, Ph.D

The Aga Khan receiving the symbolic sword of justice during his ceremonial enthronement ceremony held on Dar-es-Salaam, October 19, 1957 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika).The Aga Khan receiving the symbolic sword of justice followed by the signet ring during his ceremonial enthronement ceremony held on October 22, 1957 in Nairobi, Kenya. Similar public ceremonies, known as takhnashinis, were held in Dar-es-Salaam, Kampala, Karachi, Dacca and Bombay. Photo: 25 Years in Pictures, The Silver Jubilee of the Imamat of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, volume 1.

On December 13, 2016, His Highness Prince Karim al-Hussaini Aga Khan IV, henceforth the Aga Khan, celebrated his 80th birthday. Inshallah, his Ismaili Muslim followers, henceforth the Ismailis, will be joined by the Aga Khan’s many well-wishers across the world to commemorate his Diamond Jubilee starting July 11, 2017.

The purpose of this essay is to portray the Aga Khan as an exceptional, exemplary global leader as well as practically a head of states, as seen through the eyes of his non-Ismaili admirers and that of this writer.

Upon succeeding his illustrious grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III (1877-1957) on July 11, 1957, as the 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Ismailis, he immediately embarked on an extensive and intensive familiarization tour of the sub-Saharan and South Asian countries in which his followers lived in considerable numbers. He could not visit Afghanistan and Tajikistan or China and Russia, which also have large Ismaili communities.

During this multinational visit, the British Colonial establishment in East Africa gave him a princely welcome and also enabled him to hold the spectacular enthronement (as the Ismaili Imam) ceremonies. Interestingly, the hard-drinking District Officers were instructed to entertain the Aga Khan at the exclusive Europeans only clubs but not to serve any alcohol at their “garden” parties or sundowners!

The post-colonial African countries continued this precedent and received him with reverence and deference as a visiting religious dignitary of international standing. Subsequent visits much later culminated in the Silver and Golden Jubilee darbars (celebrations including audiences and religious ceremonies). Such official visits to African and South and Central Asian countries strengthened the Imamat’s relationships with successive governments and heads of state leading to more investments and projects to improve the livelihoods of their populations.

President John F. Kennedy meets with the Aga Khan at the Oval Office, White House, on March 14, 1961. The 49th Ismaili Imam had first met the President in France some six years earlier. Photo: Robert L. Knudsen (Robert LeRoy), 1929-1989.President John F. Kennedy meets with the Aga Khan at the Oval Office, White House, on March 14, 1961. The 49th Ismaili Imam had first met the President in France some six years earlier. He had also been invited to the White House by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1959. Photo: Robert L. Knudsen (Robert LeRoy), 1929-1989.

The Aga Khan and Tanzanian President Hassan Ali Mwinyi signing the Accord of Cooperation for Development at the State House in Dar-es-Salaam on July 12, 1991. The Accord stated Tanzania’s recognition of the Aga Khan Development Network’s long contribution to the development of the country and agreed that the Government would promote an enabling status to accelerate the economic, social and cultural development of Tanzania. Photo: The Ismaili USA, December 13, 1991.The Aga Khan and Tanzanian President Hassan Ali Mwinyi signing the Accord of Cooperation for Development at the State House in Dar-es-Salaam on July 12, 1991. The Accord stated Tanzania’s recognition of the Aga Khan Development Network’s long contribution to the development of the country and agreed that the Government would promote an enabling status to accelerate the economic, social and cultural development of Tanzania. Photo: The Ismaili USA, December 13, 1991.

The Prime Minister of India, Shri P. V. Nasarimha Rao hosted a lunch in New Delhi for the Aga Khan during his official visit to India in November 1992. They are pictured here sharing a light moment during their private meeting. Photo: Ismaili Canada, March 1993.The Prime Minister of India, Shri P. V. Nasarimha Rao hosted a lunch in New Delhi for the Aga Khan during his official visit to India in November 1992. They are pictured here sharing a light moment during their private meeting. The AKDN activities span numerous states across India and address a spectrum of development issues ranging from education, financial inclusion to healthcare, agriculture and environment to civil society strengthening. These initiatives include 28 schools and educational centres, a 162-bed multi-specialty acute care hospital in Mumbai, a rural support programme that has benefited over 1 million people in five Indian states and the restoration of a World Heritage site in New Delhi, the nation’s capital. Photo: The Ismaili Canada, March 1993.

The photograph shows former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s family, friends, colleagues, and official guests in attendance to observe his passing. His son, Justin, now the Prime Minister of Canada, rests his head on the casket of his father. Margaret Trudeau, in the front pew with son, Alexandre, is flanked by the beloved prime minister’s later life partner, Deborah Coyne, and their daughter, Sarah. The former prime minister’s sister, Suzette Rouleau, is on the far side of the same first row. Leonard Cohen on the right. In attendance next to Cuban President Fidel Castro are former Governor-General Romeo Leblanc, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Other notables present at the ceremony not shown in this photograph include past Canadian Prime Ministers John Turner, Joseph Clark, Brian Mulroney, and Jean Chrétien. Photo: Copyright Jean-Marc Carisse.The photograph shows former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s family, friends, colleagues, and official guests in attendance to observe his passing. His son, Justin, now the Prime Minister of Canada, rests his head on the casket of his father. In attendance next to the then Cuban President Fidel Castro are former Governor-General Romeo Leblanc, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who were all honorary pallbearers at the funeral. Other notables present at the ceremony not shown in this photograph include past Canadian Prime Ministers John Turner, Joseph Clark, Brian Mulroney, and Jean Chrétien. Photo: Copyright Jean-Marc Carisse.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes the occasion of the foundation ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum, Centre and their Park held in Toronto on May 30, 2010, to formally present the Aga Khan with the honorary citizenship of Canada. The Prime Minister said: “Welcome to our home and native land, your Highness. It is now and forever your home as well.” A motion introduced to the House to grant the Aga Khan with Honorary Citizienshi, and passed unanimously by all parties on June 10, 2009, recognized the exquisite symmetry between the Aga Khan’s values and Canadian values, and noted the Canada’s deep appreciation for the extraordinary contributions he was making to Canada and the world through the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Website of the Prime Minister.Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes the occasion of the foundation ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum, Centre and their Park held in Toronto on May 30, 2010, to formally present the Aga Khan with the honorary citizenship of Canada. The Prime Minister said: “Welcome to our home and native land, your Highness. It is now and forever your home as well.” A motion introduced to the House to grant the Aga Khan with Honorary Citizenship, and passed unanimously by all parties on June 10, 2009, recognized the exquisite symmetry between the Aga Khan’s values and Canadian values, and noted Canada’s deep appreciation for the extraordinary contributions he was making to Canada and the world through the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: The Ismaili Canada, July 2010.

A distinguishing feature of all future socio-economic and quality of life improvement endeavors, under the umbrella of what grew into the multifaceted Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), was a thorough study of local needs and peculiarities to ensure cost-effectiveness, relevance, and sustainability. The Aga Khan has often preached and practiced the importance of “continuing education”. This has been reflected through a pluralistic, inclusive and meritocratic approach in all his undertakings, employing the best brains wherever and whoever they may be. One might call this his “Fatimid Approach.”

This approach has endeared him and his network to a host of donors, philanthropists, foundations of various stripes, universities, aid agencies, other NGOs, and local, national and international organizations. They have become solid partners in his efforts to alleviate global poverty, create hope and provide opportunities to improve the livelihoods of marginalized and most vulnerable segments of the population.

“Service to the world community is a family tradition for His Highness”, declared the UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim as he welcomed the Aga Khan to the United Nations on December 11, 1980. The Aga Khan was provided a forum to share the first results of ongoing research for a contemporary new Muslim architecture at the Trusteeship Council Chambers which were crowded with UN diplomats, architects, journalists and others for the special event. Fittingly, the event was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, the agency responsible for building the physical and economic infrastructures in the developing world, which was at that time led by Bradford Morse. Photo: Ismaili Forum, UK, July 1981.“Service to the world community is a family tradition for His Highness”, declared the UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim as he welcomed the Aga Khan to the United Nations on December 11, 1980. The Aga Khan was provided a forum to share the first results of ongoing research for a contemporary new Muslim architecture at the Trusteeship Council Chambers which were crowded with UN diplomats, architects, journalists and others for the special event. Photo: Al noor magazine Portugal, March 1981.

Such partners have enabled AKDN to become an extraordinary, multinational, non-denominational, non-governmental organization with some 80,000 employees and many more volunteers active in 30 countries.

Why the Aga Khan created this phenomenal network is summarized in his own words at yet another exceptional honor bestowed upon him by the Canadian Parliament. In his February 28, 2014 speech, he explained that the Imamat’s dual mandate is to interpret Islam and to improve the quality of life of his Ismaili followers and of the populations among whom they live.

He then described the glorious Fatimid Period (909-1171) when his ancestors were Imam-Caliphs (rulers), but now his job was “apolitical; all Ismailis being primarily citizen(s) of the country of birth or adoption. The scope of the Imamat is however considerably higher than those early days, as now (it) operates in many parts of the world.” In essence AKDN spans over more territory than the Fatimid Empire did.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Bill Clinton with His Highness the Aga Khan at the first White House conference on culture and diplomacy which was convened by President and Mrs. Clinton on November 28th, 2000. The Aga Khan was among the distinguished panelists invited to advise the president, and secretary of state on the role of culture in foreign policy. Photo: Official White House Photo.Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Bill Clinton with His Highness the Aga Khan at the first White House conference on culture and diplomacy which was convened by President and Mrs. Clinton on November 28th, 2000. The Aga Khan was among the distinguished panelists invited to advise the president, and secretary of state on the role of culture in foreign policy. Photo: Official White House Photo.

He further clarified his role as the Imam who “does not govern any land” and that there is no separation between the spiritual and the material worlds in the practice of Islam. He continued by stating that “This Muslim belief in the fusion of Faith and World is why much of my attention has been committed to the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.” The writer sees this as “Islam in Action” projecting Islam’s best principles and practices such as pluralism, tolerance, inclusion, meritocracy and a host of such admirable true Islamic values. Consequently, many like-minded institutions have rewarded him with an impressive range of honors, elevating him to the status of a distinguished, globally respected visionary leader. And they have saluted him as a head of state on such occasions.

In November 1997 issue of Vanity Fair, he was featured as one of the 65 leaders “who shape and rule the world today.” Some of the other leaders included presidents (Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin), philanthropists (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet), monarchs (Queen Elizabeth, King Carlos of Spain, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia), the Dalai Lama, and Pope John Paul II.

The Aga Khan delivered the Baccalaureate Address at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, on May 26, 1996. On the following day, he was the recipient of Brown University’s Honourary Degree of Doctor of Laws for “service to Islam and to all of human kind.” In the photo, the Aga Khan is seen leading the Honorary Degree recipients in the Academic Procession, which also included Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman judge on the United States Supreme Court, and James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank.The Aga Khan delivered the Baccalaureate Address at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, on May 26, 1996. On the following day, he was the recipient of Brown University’s Honourary Degree of Doctor of Laws for “service to Islam and to all of human kind.” In the photo, the Aga Khan is seen leading the Honorary Degree recipients in the Academic Procession, which also included Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman judge on the United States Supreme Court, and James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank. Photo: The Ismaili United Kingdom, July 1996.

James Wolfenshon, the then President of the World Bank, applauded the Aga Khan as one of the great leaders of the past several decades and AKDN as probably the best organization to combat global poverty. His comments came after his lecture at Atlanta History Center, in March 2004, in response to this writer’s comment on the World Bank’s partnership with AKDN. Later, representatives of CARE, Carter Center, Emory University, and the British Consul-General herself introduced themselves and enthusiastically endorsed Wolfenshon’s sentiments as well as sought additional information about the Aga Khan.

His Highness the Aga Khan receives an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University at commencement ceremonies June 5, 2008, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo: AKDN.The Aga Khan is conferred an honorary degree of laws during Harvard University’s commencement ceremonies on Thursday, June 5, 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Aga Khan was a 20-year-old junior at Harvard when on July 11, 1957, he became the 49th Ismaili Imam, upon the death of his grandfather, Aga Khan III. He left Harvard in 1957, but returned a year later and graduated in 1959 with an honors degree in Islamic history. Photo: AKDN.

The June 5, 2008 Harvard University citation recognized, with an honorary doctorate, his “abundant works and eloquent words which create hope across ancient divides.” AKDN was declared “the planet’s most important private organization which has stimulated economic opportunities, enriched cultures and the built environment, and founded hundreds of innovative schools.” The Aga Khan is a “strong voice of reason in a quest for mutual understanding between the Islamic World and the West” and a forceful advocate of “pluralism and democratic values.” These are Islamic values which the Aga Khan has been espousing for decades through his TALK and his WALK.

Interestingly, in 2010, Professor Abdul Karim Bangura, a prolific author with some 60 books and articles to his name, published a collection of essays on Islamic topics titled KEYBOARD JIHAD: Attempts to Rectify Misconceptions and Misrepresentations of Islam. He lamented the absence of two powerful forces in Islam: first, the lack of an enlightened, bold Muslim leader who would choose to interpret the Qur’an and the Hadith according to “space and time;” the second, the need for some government or organization to establish an institution to promote the Islamic values of tolerance and pluralism, to show the world a true picture of Islam.

During the inaugural board meeting of the Global Centre for Pluralism in October 2010, His Highness the Aga Khan and the Board were hosted at Rideau Hall, the official Governor General’s residence in Ottawa. Shown in the picture are, from left to right, The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, his wife, Mrs. Sharon Johnston, the Aga Khan, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson. Photo: AKDN/Denis Drever.During the inaugural board meeting of the Global Centre for Pluralism in October 2010, His Highness the Aga Khan and the Board were hosted at Rideau Hall, the official Governor General’s residence in Ottawa. Shown in the picture are, from left to right, The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, his wife, Mrs. Sharon Johnston, the Aga Khan, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson. Photo: AKDN/Denis Drever.

Significantly, the Aga Khan has fulfilled both these roles! The Harvard citation mentioned earlier clearly recognized his bold, beneficial and bridging words and works, as a Muslim spiritual leader. And in 2006, by establishing the Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP), in Ottawa, Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Government, he fulfilled Professor Bangura’s – and probably the silent Muslim majority’s – second wish! Among the speakers at GCP’s Annual Lecture Series were former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and current U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Notably, these lectures were delivered at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, which opened, also in Ottawa, in December 2008. The prominent location of this Imamat institution on Sussex Drive, besides other embassies, was the Canadian Government’s way of formalizing the head of state status that the Aga Khan had been enjoying since the 1970s.

On May 29, 2014 the then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, now the UN Secretary General, delivered the 3rd Annual Global Centre for Pluralism Lecture at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat located on Sussex Drive, Ottawa's ceremonial street. He was introduced by the Aga Khan, the founder and chairman of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Photo: The Global Centre for Pluralism.On May 29, 2014 the then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who has now become the new UN Secretary General, delivered the 3rd Annual Global Centre for Pluralism Lecture at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat located on Sussex Drive, Ottawa’s iconic ceremonial street. He was introduced by the Aga Khan, the founder and chairman of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Photo: The Global Centre for Pluralism.

Unfortunately, there is still much misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Islam resulting in what the Aga Khan has termed a “Clash of Ignorance”. This has escalated in the Post 9/11 period, fuelled by what this writer has termed Tele-Mullahs, Radio-Sheikhs, Print Media Distortionists, and Fake-News Peddlers on both sides of the religious divide, at an alarming rate. However, the Aga Khan’s own enlightened, multipronged, peaceful counter-jihad continues to earn him recognition and powerful partners. His countless words of wisdom, and significant on-going innovative good deeds, make him probably the most qualified and effective international personality to counter extremism, in a peaceful yet revolutionary manner.

Vanity Fair scored another interview in 2013 at the Aga Khan’s Secretariat, near Chantilly, France, which it described as “U.N. of the Aga Khan.” Regarding the Aga Khan’s extraordinary accomplishments, the interviewer wrote: “To be sure, few persons bridge so many divides – between the spiritual and the material; East and West; Muslim and Christian – as gracefully as he does.” For bridging the North – South divide, the Aga Khan received the prestigious North-South Prize in Portugal, the following year. As for AKDN, Vanity Fair was struck by how “staggeringly large and effective” an organization it was.

The AKDN has the unique honor amongst NGOs of enjoying diplomatic status almost everywhere it is active. As part of his Golden Jubilee (2007) Nazrana (gift and gratitude) from his followers, the Aga Khan asked for their TIME and KNOWLEDGE (TKN). Its purpose was to further accelerate and enhance AKDN’s global multidimensional undertakings. With thousands registering for and performing this voluntary and/or nominally-paid service, what emerged was an Ismaili domestic and foreign “Peace Corps!”

‘Blind today seeing tomorrow’ – Dr. Badrudin Kurwa performed 98 surgeries in Chitral, Pakistan, on individuals blinded by cataracts as part of his Time and Knowledge service to the Aga Khan. Photo: Badrudin Kurwa Collection. Copyright.‘Blind today seeing tomorrow’ – US eye surgeon Dr. Badrudin Kurwa performed 98 surgeries in Chitral, Pakistan, on individuals blinded by cataracts as part of his Time and Knowledge nazrana service to the Aga Khan. Photo: Badrudin Kurwa Collection.

The Aga Khan’s approach to all his myriad socio-economic projects displays profound knowledge of them all, according to Bonnie Burnham, president of World Monuments Fund. Commenting on the Aga Khan’s unique cultural restoration efforts, Burnham stated: “They really are very broad based and visionary. There are not many institutions that have the capacity to do this. He is incredibly energetic. He really …has … his finger on the pulse of life in the global Islamic community embracing every sect and manifestation of culture and he’s interested in all of it.” (Apollo, Dec. 2007)

His Highness the Aga Khan speaking after receiving the inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship in Toronto, Canada, on 21 September 2016. The prize - seen beside the Aga Khan - recognises an individual who has, through thought and dialogue, encouraged approaches and strategies that strive to remove barriers, change attitudes, and reinforce the principles of tolerance and respect. Photo: AKDN/Lisa Sakulensky.His Highness the Aga Khan speaking after receiving the inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship in Toronto, Canada, on 21 September 2016. The prize – seen beside the Aga Khan – recognises an individual who has, through thought and dialogue, encouraged approaches and strategies that strive to remove barriers, change attitudes, and reinforce the principles of tolerance and respect. Photo: AKDN/Lisa Sakulensky.

The Aga Khan’s Renaissance Man-encyclopedic-knowledge and erudition, explain his close to 100 keynote speeches at some of the world’s most important conferences and forums. This essay has already mentioned similar recognition of the Aga Khan’s depth and breadth of knowledge which has been devoted for the betterment of what he sees as a “frontierless brotherhood of mankind.” The most recent example of being recognized as a world figure was the unique honor of being the first recipient of the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship, in Toronto, Canada, in 2016. This speaks volumes.

Amongst the various other awards, citations, honorary citizenships, degrees, decorations, medals, and prizes the Aga Khan has received, the writer would like to highlight just the following three: Hadrian Award (New York, 1996), Tolerance Award (Germany, 2006), The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Honorary Degree (Toronto, 2016).

The Aga Khan is presented the World Monument Fund's Hadrian Award on October 25, 1996 by David Rockefeller. In the keynote speech at the presentation ceremony, Cyrus Vance, former US Secretary of State, noted the Aga Khan's lifelong labour to improve the lives of Islamic peoples throughout the world and his commitment to the preservation and renewal of societies. Photo: The Ismaili Canada, July 1997.The Aga Khan is presented the World Monument Fund’s Hadrian Award on October 25, 1996 by David Rockefeller, a previous recipient of the award. In the keynote speech at the presentation ceremony, Cyrus Vance, former US Secretary of State, noted the Aga Khan’s lifelong labour to improve the lives of Islamic peoples throughout the world and his commitment to the preservation and renewal of societies. Photo: The Ismaili Canada, July 1997.

Dr. Friedemann Greiner, Director and Chairman of the Jury (left), presenting the Tolerance Award 2006 to His Highness the Aga Khan as Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs (right), looks on. The Tolerance Award was established by Germany’s Evangelische Akademie Tutzing in 2000 and is presented every second year to an individual whose life work is committed to building greater understanding and tolerance between different cultures and traditions. During his laudatory address, Dr Steinmeier described the Aga Khan as a “fortress for democratic progress, as someone wishing to bring about sustainable, pluralistic, civil societies…We honour an exceptional man, we honour a huge friend of humankind, we honour a courageous visionary and we honour a person building bridges between societies,” Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji.Dr. Friedemann Greiner, Director and Chairman of the Jury (left), presenting the Tolerance Award 2006 to His Highness the Aga Khan as Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (right), looks on. The Tolerance Award was established by Germany’s Evangelische Akademie Tutzing in 2000 and is presented every second year to an individual whose life work is committed to building greater understanding and tolerance between different cultures and traditions. During his laudatory address, Dr Steinmeier described the Aga Khan as a “fortress for democratic progress, as someone wishing to bring about sustainable, pluralistic, civil societies…We honour an exceptional man, we honour a huge friend of humankind, we honour a courageous visionary and we honour a person building bridges between societies.” Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji.

The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, the oldest humanities research institute in Canada, on May 20, 2016 conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters upon His Highness the Aga Khan, in recognition of his work to advance, and advocate for, pluralistic societies across the globe. Richard Alway, Praeses of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies congratulates His Highness the Aga Khan upon conferring the honorary degree. Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji.The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, the oldest humanities research institute in Canada, on May 20, 2016 conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters upon His Highness the Aga Khan, in recognition of his work to advance, and advocate for, pluralistic societies across the globe. Richard Alway, Praeses of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies congratulates the Aga Khan upon conferring the honorary degree. Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji.

The Aga Khan’s honorary head of state status is further evident from invitations to address, or participate at, organizations such as EU, EAC (East African Community), British Commonwealth Conferences, landmark UAE events, UN agencies, NATO, World Bank and many, many more.

The government of India has long considered AKDN as “another government” and the Aga Khan “as another head of state.” This was stated by the Consul General of India, at a program featuring the restoration of Humayan’s Tomb, at Mercer University, in Atlanta, Georgia, in January 2017.

Through his inspiring words and innovative programs, the Aga Khan has meticulously laid the foundation of the seemingly insurmountable task of re-connecting Islam to its two elder Abrahamic siblings: Judaisim and Christianity, from which it has sadly become separated in the past decades.

aga-khan-addressing-both-the-houses-of-the-parliament-of-canada-2The Aga Khan seen addressing at the House of Commons Chambers to both the houses of Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Photo: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

In his address to the Canadian Parliament, he emphasized that these three Abrahamic religions had once co-operated and created flourishing communities which were pluralistic. “We find singularly little in our theological interpretations that would clash with the other Abrahamic faiths – with Christianity and Judaism.” He continued by saying “indeed, there is so much that is in profound harmony. Some of the most glorious chapters in Islamic history were purposefully built on the principle of inclusiveness and also deeply welcoming to Christian and Jewish peoples. Today, these Islamic traditions have been obscured in many places, from Muslim and non-Muslims alike.”

The Aga Khan went on to explain to the Canadian Parliamentarians that his interconnected cultural and architectural programs, and the soon to be opened Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, were designed to “revive the memory of this inclusive inheritance.”

Clearly, if any person or entity can restore Islam, the pariah member of the Abrahamic family, to its rightful place, it would be AKDN under the enlightened, visionary, and revolutionary, global leadership of the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and his successors.

The Aga Khan thanks the government of Portugal for inviting the Ismaili Imamat to establish its permanent Seat in Portugal; The Aga Khan signed the landmark agreement with Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete stablishing a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. The Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said that Portugal was honoured by the Imamat’s decision to establish its Seat in his country. Photos: The Ismaili/Gary Otte.The Aga Khan thanks the government of Portugal for inviting the Ismaili Imamat to establish a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. The Aga Khan signed the landmark agreement with Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete. The Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said that Portugal was honoured by the Imamat’s decision to establish its Seat in his country. Photos: The Ismaili/Gary Otte.

The Aga Khan has been called a “Prince without a Princedom,” yet he has been treated by dozens of nations as a “visiting head of state” with his red and green Imamat flag flying on his car and beside the host countries’ flags at official functions. The Portuguese Government,Church and civil society institutions have had  a long, mutually beneficial relationships with the Aga Khan and AKDN.  On June 3, 2015, these relationships were substantially upgraded by a historic, landmark treaty between the Government of Portugal and the Aga Khan, to establish the permanent Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in that country.

This process of ratification and approval having been completed, it formalized the hitherto informal head of state status accorded to the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims in Portugal. It follows another historic landmark agreement with the Government of Canada leading to the establishment of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, Canada.

What remains is the most richly-deserved and long-earned Nobel Peace Prize. This would indeed be a truly fitting Nazrana by other global leaders to this global citizen!

Date published: Saturday, February 18, 2017.
Last updated: March 10, 2017.

Copyright: Nizar Motani. 2017.

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About the Author:nizar-a-motani The author, Dr. Nizar A. Motani, Ph. D, was privileged to attend Aga Khan primary and secondary schools in Kampala, Uganda. He went on to the then University of East Africa, Nairobi Campus, for his bachelor’s degree and on to the University of London (SOAS) for his doctorate in African History, with specialization in British Colonial rule in East Africa.

His dream was to teach at Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda, but Idi Amin’s expulsion of all Asians shattered that, in August, 1972. He was fortunate enough to receive a very timely offer of a Visiting Lectureship in African history at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine (1972-1978), followed by two years as an Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

From 1980 to 1982, he served at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, UK, as its first Publications Officer. Upon returning to America he made a complete career switch, first living in Albany, Georgia (1982-1989) and then in Atlanta, Georgia, as a consultant in the financial sector. Among his publications is a monograph summarizing the central argument of his doctoral dissertation and several articles and chapters in books and scholarly journals, on the Ismailis, East African Asians, the Ugandan Civil Service, and the Makerere College. He has been a regular book reviewer for the Journal of Third World Studies on African and Middle Eastern subjects.

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The Aga Khan: Sweet and endearing stories of his childhood days in Kenya

FROM THE DIARY OF LATE KADERALI B. PATEL
(RELIGIOUS TUTOR OF PRINCE KARIM AGA KHAN AND PRINCE AMYN AGA KHAN)

Aga Khan III with grandsons Prince Karim and Prince AmynMawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, 48th Ismaili Imam, with his grandsons Prince Amyn (right) and Prince Karim, who succeeded him in 1957 as the 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam. The picture was taken in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1942. Photo: 25 Years in Pictures. Islamic Publications, London, UK, Volume 1.

His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), who became the 48th Imam of Ismaili Muslims in 1885 at the age of 7, was in the 51st year of his reign when his first grandson, Prince Karim, was born on December 13, 1936 in Geneva. Destined to become the 49th Imam some 20 years later in 1957, Prince Karim spent his  early childhood in Kenya with his younger brother Prince Amyn during the Second World War.

The three heartwarming stories, below, were recorded in Gujarati in a diary kept by Kaderali B. Patel, who was responsible for imparting religious training to Prince Karim and Prince Amyn while they were in Kenya. The stories are adapted from Farida S. Kassam’s English translation that appeared in a special edition of “Africa Ismaili,” published in July 1982 to mark the Silver Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga KhanA very early portrait photo of Prince Karim Aga Khan. Photo: 25 Years in Pictures. Islamic Publications, London, UK, Volume 1.

Prince Karim on a rocking horse. Photo: Africa Ismaili.Prince Karim Aga Khan on a rocking horse. Photo: Africa Ismaili, July 1982.

The Aga Khan on his “toto” days in Kenya

“When I speak of places that have played a major role in my life, no place comes to mind more quickly than Kenya. My ties here go back to my “toto” days – how can I ever forget our childhood house on Caledonian Road, now named the Denis Pritt road and the mega rhubarb I grew up the rain-water drain, or driving down the garden steps in the late Sir Eboo’s car? And how could I forget my brother’s despair when his pet bantam chickens were eaten one night by a visiting leopard? Little did I suspect that the next night my rabbits would suffer the same fate.” — Aga Khan, State banquet, Nairobi, August 13, 2007.

Charming Prince Karim in a volunteer uniform. Photo: Africa Ismaili.A charming portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan in a volunteer uniform when he was nine years old. Photo: Africa Ismaili, July 1982.

Prince Karim Aga Khan on his bicycle.Prince Karim Aga Khan on his bicycle. Photo: Africa Ismaili. July 1982.

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STORY #1: WORK BUILDS THE BODY: CHOPPING WOOD, GROWING CROPS AND CARING FOR THEM

“Just as we need food and water, so do the plants. Near our vegetable garden there are many large trees. The wind blows many leaves onto our crops. Young plants would get buried under the weight of these leaves, so every morning both of us collect all the leaves and burn them.” — Prince Karim

Prince Karim and Prince Amyn at play on a treePrince Karim (top) and Prince Amyn at play on a tree. Photo: Africa Ismaili, July 1982.

One morning, sitting on the ground, Prince Karim was chopping some wood with his axe. Rather astonished to find him thus occupied, I told him: “Prince Karim, you will hurt your hands with the axe because it is very sharp. If you asked the gardeners, they would chop the wood for you.”

Smiling, Prince Karim answered: “You are right, my axe is very sharp; but I am chopping the wood very carefully. I exercise my arms doing this job. Those people who do not exercise, do not work and are lazy, soon become weak.”

“In the evening, my brother and I will hoe the ground and plant some grain. Then we shall fetch water from the tap and water our crop. Small plants will soon grow from the seeds. Look, all these carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, etc., have been planted by us. There are some maize plants too. Soon we shall grow some flowers. We very much like to work in this way.”

Prince Karim Aga Khan and Prince Amyn Aga Khan measure the drop from a car bumper. Photo: Africa Ismaili.Prince Karim and Prince Amyn measure the drop from a car bumper. Photo: Africa Ismaili, July 1982.

Prince Amyn was standing nearby and I asked him which was his crop. He took my hand and led me to his section. “Here, these are carrots, beetroot, and a grain crop as well,” he said happily.

“Work hard. No doubt we must work hard. If we did not look after our cultivation and if we did not water the plants, how would the plants grow?”

Prince Karim added: “Just as we need food and water, so do the plants. Near our vegetable garden there are many large trees. The wind blows many leaves onto our crops. Young plants would get buried under the weight of these leaves, so every morning both of us collect all the leaves and burn them.”

The Princes looked after their plantation with keen interest. I have seen them doing different jobs regularly. “Work builds the body,” was Prince Karim’s motto, which I will never forgot.

STORY #2: EXCELLING IN SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

“The programme of religious instruction lasted an hour daily. The Princes enjoyed and listened attentively to the short stories of the Holy Prophets and Ismaili Pirs. They would never show any reluctance in saying their Namaz.” — Diary

Prince Karim and Prince Amyn with the Mobasa Aga Khan Scouts Band. Photo: Africa Ismaili.Prince Karim (holding flag) and Prince Amyn with the Mombasa Aga Khan Scouts Band. Photo: Africa Ismaili, July 1982.

Prince Karim and Prince Amyn always did their lessons. Their governess, Miss Lyon, paid great attention to their education. She taught them English, maths, writing and art with great care.

The Princes loved to colour pictures of animals and birds. They collected large and small pictures and carefully stuck them into an album.

When Prince Aly Khan and Princess Tajudaulah visited them in Nairobi, both the Princes would show them their albums.

Every morning the Princes came to their study-room to learn Namaz. The moment they entered the study room they greeted me with ‘As-salam-alaikum’ [Peace be unto you] and, standing up, with arms folded, l returned their greeting with ‘Wa-alaikum-salaam [And unto you, peace]. The programme of religious instruction lasted an hour daily. The Princes enjoyed and listened attentively to the short stories of the Holy Prophets and Ismaili Pirs.

Prince Karim and Prince Amyn would never show any reluctance in saying their Namaz. Whatever lesson was taught to them, they made a great effort to remember it and next day repeated it, trying to excel each other. They did not like to make mistakes. They were only satisfied when they were sure they had learnt the subject thoroughly and could answer questions without hesitation. They never became irritated.

As soon as the hour for lessons was over, Prince Karim and Prince Amyn would take me to their garden and tell me all about their cultivation.

“We have planted many different flowers along the paths. When all the flowers bloom, the paths will change their colour and we shall be very pleased,” they said.

As we were talking, we were joined by Miss Lyon. The Princes told her about their various plants and showed them to her.

As it was hot, Miss Lyon told the Princes to go and put on their hats. They ran into the bungalow, put on their hats and rode off on their bicycles to play tennis.

STORY #3: RECITATION OF IDD NAMAZ AT AGE 7, AND REPEATED IDD MUBARAK HAND SHAKES

“There were many children who attended the Idd Namaz. Most of these children came to wish us Idd Mubarak and shake hands with us. Among these children were some who shook hands with us and then, greatly excited, came back for a second handshake.” — Prince Amyn

Prince Karim Aga Khan reciting Idd Namaz on the occasion of Idd ul FitrPrince Karim Aga Khan leading the Idd ul Ftir prayers in Nairobi in 1944. Photo: 25 Years in Pictures. Islamic Publications, London, UK, Volume 1.

Prince Karim first recited the Idd Namaz in public in his childhood, at the age of seven, at Nairobi Chief Jamatkhana. It had been announced in the Jamatkhana the previous day that Prince Karim would lead the Idd Namaz at 10 a.m. All Ismailis were delighted when they heard the announcement.

Next day was Idd-ul Fitr. Early in the morning all Ismailis arrived dressed up in their best clothes. The officers all wore golden red gowns. This was a very unique occasion and everyone’s heart was filled with inner happiness.

At 10 a.m, Prince Karim arrived at the Main Jamatkhana on Government Road with his brother Prince Amyn. The Jamat’s chief officers welcomed the Princes.

Prince Karim took his place in front of the Jamat and recited the Namaz. Then Prince Karim and Prince Amyn stood in line with the officers and for hours shook hands with Ismaili brethren and wished them ‘Idd Mubarak’.

They gladdened the hearts of thousands of people who will never forget the ‘Idd Mubarak’ uttered by Prince Karim.

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan in a volunteer uniform when he was nine years old. Photo: Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1946, published by the Ismailia Association of Africa. The magazine was acquired from Sadruddin Khimani Family Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

In the evening, when I went to see the Princes at their bungalow, I found them talking to Miss Lyon on the verandah. I went nearer and greeted them with a salaam. Prince Karim asked me to come closer. I respectfully bowed before him and said: “You must be tired, standing for hours and shaking hands with so many people.”

Prince Karim replied, smiling: “We are not at all tired. In fact we are very pleased that on this holy occasion we were able to meet and shake hands with all Ismailis, young and old alike. Indeed, we are very happy.”

I asked Prince Amyn if he was tired. He replied: “Not at all. There were many children who attended the Idd Namaz. Most of these children came to wish us Idd Mubarak and shake hands with us. Among these children were some who shook hands with us and then, greatly excited, came back for a second handshake. Even though we knew this, we shook hands with them again. We were pleased to make them happy.”

I said: ‘You are right when you say some children came twice to shake hands with you. As this was their first occasion to shake hands with you, they were tremendously happy.’

I asked Prince Amyn if he would offer the Idd Namaz the following year. He replied: “I cannot promise you that. It depends on what my parents have to say. It is every child’s duty to obey his parents.”

Prince Karim added to this: “That’s true. We must obey our parents. God is not pleased with those children who do not listen to their parents.”

It seemed that flowers poured out of the Princes’ mouths when they said these words.

Prince Karim and Prince Amyn were extremely happy on that auspicious day.

Date posted: March 29, 2017.
Last updated: March 29, 2017, 21:21 EST.

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The Aga Khan: A spiritual guide, an intellectual guide who is committed to a humanistic attitude that is rooted in classical Islamic thought

BY LATE MOHAMMED ARKOUN
(POSITION HELD: EMIRITUS PROFESSOR OF ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY, THE SOBORNNE)

Mohamed Arkoun and the Aga Khan. The late Algerian scholar served for many years on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.Mohammed Arkoun (left) with the Aga Khan. The late Algerian scholar served for many years on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Photo: Mohammed Arkoun Foundation.

(This essay has been adapted from a speech the late Professor Arkoun presented in 1985 to a large gathering of members of the Ismaili Muslim community in New York, USA. The unedited transcript of the speech was obtained from the archives of Jehangir A. Merchant).

“His Highness the Aga Khan [is] also very open to the whole Muslim community, knowing its problems today, knowing its needs today and very eager to make a link, a historical link, a religious link, between the Ismaili community as it is today and the Muslim Ummah.”

I am really moved and impressed to be with you and to hear that you have come from all parts of North America. This is a great event for me too because coming from Algeria, which is my country, I can tell you that you represent in Islamic Ummah a very exceptional community.

The reason is that you have since 1957, His Highness the Aga Khan as a spiritual guide, as an intellectual guide, totally devoted to the community of course, but also very open to the whole Muslim community, knowing its problems today, knowing its needs today and very eager to make a link, a historical link, a religious link, between the Ismaili community as it is today and the Muslim Ummah, which is as you know suffering from a history which has been a very hard history for all Muslims especially since the 19th century.

It is very great and it gives great hopes to know that such a guide exists and that such a community like you exists today and is open to share all the abilities that you have according to your own history, to share it with all Muslims in the world. I tell this with all my faith and conviction. Every time I lecture in several Muslim countries I speak about you and I speak about you according to my experience since I have the honour to work with His Highness in the Aga Khan Award.

I would like to insist on the necessity for the Ismaili community as a whole to start, I say to start, because it is not yet done, neither by the Ismailis themselves nor by Muslims in general, to start to study afresh the history of [classical] Islamic thought in general, because Islamic thought until today is ignored by Muslims.

You may know that this Islamic thought has been developed from the first century of Hijra until the 5th century of Hijra in a very rich way, because this Islamic thought in this classical age has been open to many trends of thinking and we have many works, many thinkers who have done this work in a relatively more free atmosphere than the atmosphere which we enjoy today, or I should say we don’t enjoy today in Islamic countries and in Islamic societies.

This classical Islamic thought developed until 5th century has been characterized by what His Highness has presented several times as a humanistic attitude, to understand not only Islam as a religion but also to understand all the problems of our societies as Muslims. What is a humanistic attitude, what does it mean?

The humanistic attitude is that attitude which considers that everything that a man can do in his existence, all activities that a man can have in his societies are related to a sense of the absolute, the spiritual absolute of God, of an existing God who has manifested his existence in a revelation which is the Qur’an. And this is done with an open mind, with a tolerant mind to the existing of many schools of thought, existing together in the same society. This is very essential and that is why His Highness has always insisted on the humanistic attitude. Because you know that Ismailis have been perceived by the majority of Muslims, the Sunnite Muslims as a heretic sect, as Muslims who have left the truth which is delivered and which is supposed to be captured and to be known and taught only by this sect of Muslims named Sunnites.

“If we speak with our children with heresiographic mind we are totally lost. We are totally away from the humanistic representation like His Highness the Aga Khan is insisting to have among us. So this is a very important issue on which we have all to reflect and to develop our endeavor.”

This is not the humanistic attitude which has been developed in the classical age because in Baghdad, in Isfahan, in Shiraz, in Cairo, in Cordoba, in Spain, in Fez, in all these great centers of Islamic thinking in the classical age there has been an exchange between all the schools, many schools, not only the Ismailis, but other Shia Schools, other schools like philosophers, like Mutazalites in Sunni thinking. All these schools have developed their thinking and have exchanged in what is called the munadarat, which means lectures, lectures given in those schools existing in those centers in the classical age. This is the humanistic attitude which unfortunately we have forgotten. That is why I insist on the necessity for the Ismaili community, because you are in a especially good position to do this work, I mean to renew this link with this atmosphere of humanistic attitude towards knowledge, towards religion, towards the relationship of man existing together in the society which existed before.

And this can be done because today we are living in modern societies, we have new tools, new intellectual tools we can use, like it has been used in the classical age by Muslim thinkers and especially by Ismailis. I have no time to describe all the contributions made by Ismaili thinkers in this classical age. I would like just to mention, in the 4th century of the Hijra which is the 10th century of Christianity, this wonderful work which is known as the Rasail of the Ikhwan al Safa, the Brethren of Purity. This is an encyclopedia of knowledge written by the Ismailis, Ismaili thinkers in the 10th century and using all the knowledge available in Muslim civilization and culture in that time to explain the role of Islam, the role of Muslims, to build a city, a Muslim city open to all trends of thinking during that time. This is the characteristic of this encyclopedia which is not well known, not well studied and it is just one example we can give to show the openness, the humanist openness, the climate of tolerance which existed and which again we need today because as you know today we have, we are speaking more on fundamentalist Islam.

That is why we have to use the tools of modern thinking, the tools of modern knowledge, especially when we are in a favorable position like the one you have here to give a new impetus to the Islamic thought today.

If we don’t use the new sciences like anthropology, like linguistics, like history, and new methods used in writing history we shall not come to a true understanding of what [classical] Islamic thought is, what Islamic thought can give us today to master our problems as Muslims, as Muslim intellectuals, as Muslim thinkers. We must absolutely come through this exercise, this modern exercise to learn not only from ourselves, from our tradition, but to learn also from new sciences which are practiced today in all western societies, and especially here, as I said, in America.

Mohamed Arkoun with speakers of the Frontiers of the Mind Symposium in 1999 at the US Library of CongressMohammed Arkoun is seen above in the front row (7th from left), in a group picture taken with speakers of the “Frontiers of the Mind” symposium held in 1999 at the US Library of Congress. Photo: Pat Fisher/US Library of Congress.

When you want to do something on this level of thinking, of becoming acquainted with Islamic thought, you have today two kinds of sources, two kinds of information. You have the literature written by Muslims themselves, Muslims who have studied Islamic history, Islamic thought. And you have another information different from this one which is the orientalist erudition about Islam, orientalist study about Islam. Orientalists are Westerners, they work in their own societies and they use their own culture to look to the other cultures and they did it with our [Islamic] culture. We have to be aware of two things.

The first thing is that the literature written by Muslims themselves in English, or in Arabic or in Turkish or in Iranian language, all the languages, are mostly dominated by this need to protect ourselves and to show that we are better than those Westerners who criticize us. This is apologetic, it is not scientific. We have to do better, and we have to address these questions on another level which is the scientific level.

If we speak with our children with heresiographic mind we are totally lost. We are totally away from the humanistic representation like His Highness the Aga Khan is insisting to have among us. So this is a very important issue on which we have all to reflect and to develop our endeavor.

The second thing about orientalist literature. It has its defect, it addresses the questions of Islamic civilization and culture only as facts, they are studied as facts, they don’t study it with a spirit. It is this spirit we have to introduce, to know what are the values in Islamic thinking, what are the values in Islamic religion. To use these values today to face our own problems. So there is a lack also in this orientalist literature.

“When I met His Highness for the first time, I thought through [Imam] Jafar Sadiq to the present Imam. Jafar Sadiq was a thinker and he was thinking in the line of the revelation, the line of the absolute of God, in the line of how to relate his life to all human beings through the truth revealed in the Qur’an. This is absolutely great and when you have an Imam who is devoted only to this and not to political intrigues than you have something exceptional, absolutely exceptional.”

Then, where are the books you have to use when you speak with your children?  You have to speak with your children on all questions related to Islam as a religion, Islam as a culture, Islam as a way of life, Islam as a thought.

You have to learn, and where are you going to learn? In which books are you going to learn? On one side you have this Muslim literature which as I have said is more apologetic than scientific and we need a rigorous scientific approach to these questions. On the other side, you have the cold representation or facts in the orientalist literature. Yes, this is a fact. We must be aware about this fact. There is something lacking to face this practical question which is the involvement in the problems of our children. When we speak with our children, how to deal on all these problems, educational problems with our children, if we don’t have the relevant information, the relevant methods, the relevant vocabulary to speak on religion today, to speak on the relationships e.g. between Ismailis, Twelvers, Sunnite, other schools which could exist, to come out from the spirit, the dogmatic spirit which up to now many Muslims are having, which is the spirit imposed on us by the literature which is called the heresiographic literature.

This heresiographic literature describes all the sects in Islam from one point of view, the Sunnite point of view, the Shiite point of view, telling that ‘we, we have the truth, and the others don’t have anything’. This is the heresiographic interpretation of Islam which is totally irrelevant for us today.

And if we speak with our children with this heresiographic mind we are totally lost. We are totally away from the humanistic representation like His Highness the Aga Khan is insisting to have among us. So this is a very important issue on which we have all to reflect and to develop our endeavor. Everyone has to be mobilized and has to participate in this work because it is a work which is required by the societies in which we are living, because all the problems which you have because you live in America, we have them too in our societies because they come there through the technology and through the economy which is coming to these societies.

That is why if you do it well here in this society you will create a model, you will be the model to which all Muslims in the world will look and they will come to us for this model. I insist also on this responsibility. This is a mission, this is a ‘DAWA’, which in Arabic means cause, the noble cause.

Jafar Sadiq, the 6th Imam who is one of the greatest for his knowledge and I can assure you, when I met His Highness for the first time, because I studied precisely the life of ]afar Sadiq, I thought through Jafar Sadiq to the present Imam. I say this because I was extremely impressed by the personality of His Highness and by the wonderful initiative that he had by creating the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. This is a wonderful project. I have to say this because I have discovered through this project and through my contact with His Highness in the project the meaning which I learnt in books when I studied the life of Jafar Sadiq. He was a thinker and he was thinking in the line of the revelation, the line of the absolute of God, in the line of how to relate his life to all human beings through the truth revealed in the Qur’an.

This is absolutely great and when you have an Imam who is devoted only to this and not to political intrigues than you have something exceptional, absolutely exceptional. That is why I repeat you can create a model. And in Muslim societies like it is today because it has so many difficulties which I would like to describe to you but it would need many lectures and perhaps we shall have time to give it, you will understand the dimension of your responsibility. If you see the contrast between the handicaps existing between them, to find a model somewhere which could be used to solve the problems of all Muslims today and your chance here precisely to offer this model, to create this model, to incarnate it in concrete action.

Date posted: Monday, March 27, 2017.

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Mohamed Arkoun - Photo: Charlynn Spencer Pyne/Library of CongressDuring his lifetime, Professor Mohammed Arkoun (1928-2010)  was regarded among his peers around the world as one of the most influential scholars in Islamic studies contributing to contemporary Islamic reform. When he passed away, Algeria’s Minister of Culture, Khalida Toumi, said in a  tribute that Professor Arkoun “believed in dialogue between cultures and civilizations of which he was an ardent activist” and that “his sincerity and dedication to bringing people and religions together have made him a true messenger of peace and harmony between different societies.” Professor Arkoun was a member of the board of the Aga Khan Prize for Architecture and was himself the recipient of numerous international awards, including the prestigious French decorations of the Officier de la Legion d’Honneur and Officier des Palmes Academiques. He lectured and taught worldwide and was also widely published. He was emeritus professor of Islamic philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, a visiting professor at the Ismaili Studies Institute in London and editor of the academic journal Arabica.

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The Aga Khan bears serious responsibility of his office with “smile of a prince”

 BY LÉOPOLD SÉDAR SENGHOR
FIRST PRESIDENT OF SENEGAL  (IN OFFICE  1960 – 1980)

Léopold Sédar SenghorLéopold Sédar Senghor (1906 – 2001)

The following is an English translation of a speech made by Léopold Sédar Senghor at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, at a dinner honouring His Highness the Aga Khan. The speech was reported by Dakar Matin on March 20, 1968. The translation was published in Ismailia Association for Tanzania’s weekly magazine Ismaili Crescent, dated September 8, 1968.

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“What we admire in you is that you have been able to integrate a modern outlook with religion so that religion has been allowed its true role which is not merely to provide an all-embracing explanation of the universe but also to furnish the fundamental solutions of the problems which life poses us.” – the late President Senghor

Prince,

We are particularly happy to receive you in Dakar on an official visit because you are a friend known to us for a long time, because you are a leader of the Muslim religion and finally because you are a modern gentleman.

Yes, it was ten years ago when first we knew you at Chantilly. Already on leaving adolescence behind, you had the seriousness of a man called upon to bear responsibility. But you also had — and you have not lost it — “Smile of a Prince” of which Saint Exupery speaks, ‘that smile which comprises all that is most important, that smile which is the expression of friendship’.

However, that we are receiving you here officially and not just as a friend because you are an important leader of the Muslim religion. The members of your faith are counted in their millions. In a sense, therefore, Senegal is your home.

That we are honouring you as a religious leader above and beyond differences of sect and faith is because since culture has been for us the beginning and the end of development, religion as its highest expression must also be so.

What we admire in you above all is that you have been able to integrate a modern outlook with religion so that religion has been allowed its true role which is not merely to provide an all-embracing explanation of the universe but also to furnish the fundamental solutions of the problems which life poses us.

(tribute continues after photo)

19610407_Aga Khan and President Senghor at Senegal Independence Day Celebrations in DakarThe Aga Khan and President Senghor pictured in Dakar  on Senegal’s Independence Day celebration on April 7, 1961. Photo: Ismailimail.

It does not surprise us that your renowned personality is so great in Africa, that heads of state everywhere south of the Sahara greet you as a friend and counsellor. Even before Independence, you were equal to your responsibilities as a religious leader. In our peaceful struggle to recover our liberty, you, though an Asian or rather because an Asian, were always at our side.

I know that Islam, a universal religion which preaches brotherhood and equality overriding distinctions of race, caste and class has helped you here. But you also asked the member of your faith wherever they were to be found — and this again was long before Independence — to join us, to be ‘Africans with Africans’.

And once we had recovered our liberty, you recommended them to become active citizens of the countries which had given them hospitality. You have done more. Everywhere you have helped works of charity to flourish. You have done further. Whenever you could, you have favoured those productive investments which alone makes a modern state.

Prince, tomorrow, you are going to leave us. We have but one regret, not to have received you as we would have wished. I do not talk of material things, I speak of feeling, of attentions, of smiles, these things which constitute the truest hospitality.

Believe me, on leaving Senegal, you will leave behind only friends, only regrets and each time you have an occasion to visit us, you will be received as a great friend.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I call upon you to raise you glasses of drink to the health of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, to the prosperity of Ismaili community, and to the co-operation of monotheistic religions throughout the world.

Date posted: March 18, 2017.

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Léopold Sédar SenghorLéopold Sédar Senghor (9 October 1906 – 20 December 2001) served as the first President of Senegal after the country gained its independence in 1960. He was re-elected to the office on 3 occasions in 1963, 1968, and 1973, remaining in office until his retirement in 1980.He achieved major success as a poet, politician, and intellectual, and had a truly unique identity among African leaders. His development from tribal member in Senegal, to scholar in France, to head of the government back in Senegal made him a symbol of Africa’s shift from colonial domination to self-determination. He was born in Senegal’s predominantly Islamic province of Joal, and was raised as a Roman Catholic. He died at the age of 95. (Profile adapted from http://www.africansuccess.org).

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1995: The Aga Khan’s first visit to Badakhshan, a historic day the Ismailis will never forget

The Aga Khan wearing a black Persian hat, with a long, flowing purple coat covered with gold filigree, addresses his Ismaili followers during his visit to Tajikistan in 1995. Photo: The Ismaili, Special issue, 1995.The Aga Khan wearing a black Persian hat, with a long, flowing purple coat covered with gold filigree, addresses his Ismaili followers during his visit to Badakhshan in May 1995. Photo: The Ismaili.

Background: An Eyewitness Account of the Civil War

“I was at my uncle’s and there were about 15 of us living at his house. I didn’t understand why suddenly all the grownups started to cry and say SHUKR MAWLO, SHUKR MAWLO. Then the news said that humanitarian aids would be sent as soon as possible…Time went and we reached the most momentous day in our life: May 25, 1995, a historical date that no Badakhshani will ever forget. We were blessed with Mawla’s didar for the very first time…This was the day for which all our elderly and ancestors were longing, for centuries.”

BY GULNAR SARATBEKOVA

1992: THE CIVIL WAR IN TAJIKISTAN

There is nothing more devastating than a Civil War and it was indeed a path to devastation in my country. Neighbors were killing neighbors, people who were once friends, bore arms against each other. Too many innocent lives were taken and too much blood was shed. Children were left orphans and parents had to bear the loss of their children and grandchildren. The whole country turned completely black. Things we never imagined could happen in our land, happened, and unimaginable pain and grief filled most each and every home.

A WAR never comes alone; it’s ALWAYS followed by poverty, hunger, disease, despair, moral and physical damage, blockage…you name it. That’s exactly what happened in our country. It became something so normal to hear cries; and when you did, you knew that someone had been killed somewhere. The whole country came to mourn, and it continued to mourn. Thousands of people became refugees; my family and I were among them. We had to leave everything behind; our home, our clothes, our toys, our friends and our childhood.

My siblings and I were living with different relatives. My dad was the last one to make it to Khorog after the war had already started. We heard nothing about him for months. I remember clearly when one day I went to get some water not far from my uncle’s house where I was staying. I saw a strange, exhausted man with dirty clothes, long hair and beard come close to me and call my name. Only when he dropped on his knees and started talking to me and crying, that I realized it was my dad. I remember I could hardly breathe; the shock and joy that my daddy was alive was overwhelming. He had been trying to get to Khorog for weeks. He’d crossed mountains on foot together with several other people. The roads to Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomus Oblast (GBAO) were blocked and there were hundreds of checkpoints on the road that basically hunted men. Only women and children were allowed to leave Dushanbe and its surroundings. The only way for men to get to GBAO was by walking through the mountains or to hide inside trucks. I remember my aunt had to bring my 15 year old cousin under the bus seats covered with luggage. He looked older for his age and if he were unlucky to have been found, he would doubtlessly, have been killed just because he was Pamiri.

In short time, we were running out of clothes, food, medicine due to the blockade. People started to die because of starvation and illness. There was shortage of everything and I mean EVERYTHING. We hardly had food, especially during winter and spring. Those were the worst times, and there was hardly any electricity. I remember we had 1 pancake each (made of water, flour and salt) with tea in the morning and didn’t know if we’d have anything to eat for the night or the next day. Without power, people began to cut trees for wood to heat their houses. Since GBAO is mostly a mountainous region, after a while, there were hardly any trees left. Well-known politicians, professors, doctors, and scholars had to sell anything they could in order to survive. I remember I was very creative, so handy, that I made shoes for my sister and I with a piece of cloth and cut-off tires.

More than 2 years after the beginning of this chaos and nightmare, it seemed this was the end for us. We had lost all hope; life stopped making sense any more. Most people were convinced that if no help arrived soon enough, that this winter would be the last for many.

A MIRACLE

Then a miracle. I was approaching the age of 12 and it was  just before people lost complete hope.  I remember clearly when I saw Mawlana Hazar Imam on TV for the very first time (it was when we had electricity for some hours). I was at my uncle’s and there were about 15 of us living at his house. I didn’t understand why suddenly all the grownups started to cry and say SHUKR MAWLO, SHUKR MAWLO. Then the news said that humanitarian aids would be sent as soon as possible. I remember the day people ran to the main road to welcome all the trucks with AKF (Aga Khan Foundation) and WFP (World Food Programme) written on them. I remember seeing women cry, including my mother, because they finally had hope that they wouldn’t witness their children starving to death. We could finally eat as much bread as we wanted,  without thinking ‘we won’t have any left  for the next day’.

For us, the kids, the best part was clothes and shoes, even though they didn’t fit. We couldn’t believe how beautiful all those clothes were and that they were actually used! We couldn’t believe people would just give away  these clothes and shoes. I remember  an instance when we were all sitting, very anxiously, in our cold classroom and our teacher came in with a box. She opened it and without looking inside started putting one item on each table. It was like Christmas for us. I remember the  item placed on my desk was a pair of red overalls, about 5 size bigger, but oh boy, was I happy! I finally had “new” clothes!

FINALLY, MAY 25, 1995

Time went and we reached the most momentous day in our life: May 25, 1995, a historical date that no Badakhshani will ever forget. We were blessed with Mawla’s didar for the very first time. That is when we really knew that we would never be alone, ever again. This was the day for which all our elderly and ancestors were longing, for centuries. This is the date that changed our history forever. This is the day after which we knew that we would survive, no matter what, no matter how, no matter where. It’s amazing how lucky we are despite everything: because we are Mawla’s mureeds. We still have a long way to go even so many years after the war but I have hope for my country and people. I hope we will rise as high as the Pamiri mountains.

I end with a sincere prayer for all Ismailis around the world: May Mawla bless each one of us as we approach the celebration of his 60 years of Imamat, his Diamond Jubilee.

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Tajikistan

“In the years ahead, Insha’Allah, we will learn a great deal more about spiritual children from parts of the world with which we have had little or no contact, not only for decades but for centuries. And as they come forward, they will bring to us their traditions, their literature, their affection, their songs, their dress, their language, their practice; and this is what is so unique in our tariqah…we learn about the way the tradition has been continued even without contact with the Imam of the Time…A tradition that stems from Hazrat Ali.” – From remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan made in the 1980’s, and published in The Ismaili.

19950522-31_Aga Khan Portrait 1 of 4 200dpi Visit to Central Asia The Ismaili Special Issue
His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Imam of Ismaili Muslims.

Compiled and prepared by Abdulmalik Merchant
(Editor: Barakah, Simerg and Simergphotos)

“The Aga Khan is coming here, to the vaulting, nearly unreachable Pamir Mountains. Since early evening his followers have been arriving on foot, by car, by tractor or packed like bolts of brightly colored cloth onto the backs of trucks. Happy and excited over their Imam’s visit, many travelled on foot for hours to see him, while others made to the site on the back of trucks. In the morning, 50,000 people will greet him, and the men are busy cooking enough rice in the great caldrons so every person can feast.” – Kathy Lally, Baltimore Sun, June 4, 1995.

19950522-31_Aga Khan Visit to Central Asia With Murids Arriving in Lorries The Ismaili Special IssueHappy and excited over the Aga Khan’s  visit to the vaulting, nearly unreachable Pamir Mountains, many Ismailis travelled on foot for hours to see him, while others made to the site on the back of trucks. Photo: The Ismaili.

Volunteers off-load mats in preparation for the Aga Khan’s mulaqat (meeting) with his Ismaili followers and other Muslims during his visit to Badakhshan, Tajikistan, in May 1995. To make it fit for this historic moment, the Pamiris cleared and smoothed the rocky ground with their bare hands before laying the mats on the ground. Photo: The Ismaili.

“In our Jamat there is a long history of voluntary service, when people are in need, everyone contributes to resolving the problem, because you are all brothers and sisters and that is correct that you should always help each other. And I know that during the difficulties – the difficult years you have lived – this effort to help each other has been there” –  His Highness the Aga Khan, Badakhshan, May 26, 1995. The Ismaili.

19950522-31_Aga Khan Visit to Central Asia Hospitality Volunteers Serving The Ismaili Special IssueVolunteers cooked enough rice in great caldrons so every person – approximately 60,000 – who had gathered in Porshnev, near Khorog,  could feast after the Aga Khan’s visit. Photo: The Ismaili.

“No single visit by the Imam in recent times has been quite as complex in its magnitude and logistics. Given the prevailing uncertainty in the region, the visit drew upon the finest skills, dedication and courage of the jamat, both in Central Asia and outside. Volunteers faced challenging objectives: assuring the visit’s effectiveness with minimal strain on the host countries and facilitating the participation in mulaqaats, of the jamat and of our Muslim brothers and sisters — often in significant but almost inaccessible concentrations – whilst assuring their safety and comfort.” – The Ismaili.

19950522-31_Aga Khan Visit to Central Asia Mothers with children await arrival The Ismaili Special IssueA great moment for Ismaili adults and children alike as they await the Aga Khan’s arrival. None of  their ancestors had seen him before or any other Imam in centuries. The Ismaili.

19950522-31_Aga Khan Visit to Central Asia Hospitality Taking Morsel of bread The Ismaili Special IssueThe Aga Khan accepts his hosts’ hospitality by partaking of a morsel of bread dipped in salt,  two essentials of life, representing that which is of most value. Photo: The Ismaili.

19950522-31_Aga Khan Visit to Central Asia Received by Jamati leaders in Khorog The Ismaili Special IssueThe Aga Khan is received by Ismaili leaders in Khorog, the capital of Tajkistan’s Autonomous Province of Gorno-Badakhshan. Photo: The Ismaili.

Ismailis sit on rugs spread out before the stage where their beloved Imam, the Aga Khan is seated. Photo: The Ismaili.

“Essential to the creation of a higher order of human relationships is the acceptance of pluralism. Within the Muslim world, for example, thoughtful and heartfelt differences exist in regard to the interpretation of the faith. Nothing is gained by imposing one interpretation upon people disposed to another. Indeed, the effect of such coercion is a denial of the principles of the faith. Religious plurality in the Ummah is a tribute to the richness of the faith, and a source of its strength. Shia and Sunni can co-exist and cooperate, true to their own interpretations of Islam but confederates in the faith. Similarly, people of particular ethnic, cultural or political groups must grow beyond narrow conceptions of clan rivalry to an acceptance of differences. Human genius is found in its variety, which is a work of Allah.” – His Highness the Aga Khan, Khorog,  May 24, 1995.

The Aga Khan receives tokens symbolic of the Ismaili community’s historic cultural heritage during his visit to Badakhshan in May 1995. Photo: The Ismaili.

 In a setting of spectacular natural beauty, the Aga Khan on May 27, 1995,  addresses Ismailis and non-Ismaili Muslims in Ishkashim, Badakhshan. Photo: The Ismaili.

“The Qur’an refers very often to nature as a reflection of Allah’s power of creation, and it says, look at the mountains, look at the rivers, look at the trees, look at the flowers, as evidence of Allah’s love for the people whom He has created. Today, I look at this environment, and I say to YOU, I believe Allah is smiling upon you, and may His smile always be upon you.” – His Highness the Aga Khan, Rushan, Badakhshan, May 27, 1995.

Uniting the legacy of the past and the promise of the future in a jubiliant celebration, the Aga Khan’s visit brought together the old and the young in the Ismaili community. Khalifas and elders of the community came to Khorog to pay homage to their beloved Imam. Photo: The Ismaili.

Kyrgyzstan

The Aga Khan’s visit to Kyrgyzstan was suffused with warmth and colour from the moment of his arrival. Photo: The Ismaili.

“Today, the Ummah is constituted of hundreds of millions of people who are Muslims and who are bound by their faith – the Shahada, La-illaha-Illallah-Muhammadur-Rasullillah- and yet who over centuries have come to live in different climates, speak different languages, live in diffrent contexts, and who differ in some interpretations of their faith.” – His Highness the Aga Khan, Murghab, Badakhshan, May 26, 1995.

The Aga Khan in Murghab, Badakhshan, on May 26, 1995. Photo: The Ismaili.

Epilogue: Blessings and Prayers

“My deep and heartfelt prayers are with you for your happiness and well-being. Though I will be leaving you, please remember at all times you are in my heart, my thoughts and my prayers.” – His Highness the Aga Khan, Porshnev, Badakhshan.

Years on – Celebrating the Legacy of the Aga Khan’s Visit to Badakhshan

19950522-31_Aga Khan Visit to Central Asia Celebration of NoorIsmaili girls proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The was was taken in Alichur , a village at an altitude of 4000 metres which is comprised mainly of Ismailis. The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to Badakhshan. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Date posted: March 12, 2017.

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About the author: Gulnor Saratbekova, author of Background: An Eyewitness Account of this post, was born in Yavan, near the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. She fled to the predominant Ismaili town of Khorog due to the civil war in the early 1990’s. She has 3 siblings, 5 cousin-siblings whom she grew up with, a father and 2 mothers – her own bilogical mother, who passed away, and her aunt who then adopted and raised her.

The remainder of the material for the post was compiled and prepared by Abdulmalik Merchant from the following sources:

  1. The Ismaili (special issue), Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visit to Central Asia, 22 – 31 May 1995, http://www.theismaili.org;
  2. The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com; and
  3. The Economist, http://www.economist.com.

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Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. You may choose to remain anonymous. Please note that we never show your email address when we publish your comment, and don’t share it with others without your express written permission.

Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa hold their sons Prince Sinan and Prince Irfan. Photo: The Ismaili.

Prince Sinan Aga Khan: First official photos shared by Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa

Aga Khan Family: Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa with Prince Irfan and Prince Sinan, who was born on 2 January 2017. TheIsmaili
Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa with Prince Irfan and Prince Sinan, who was born on 2 January, 2017. Photo: The Ismaili.

The Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community, has just released the first official photos of two-month old Prince Sinan Aga Khan pictured with his parents, Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa, and his older brother Prince Irfan.

Prince Rahim and Princes Salwa were married in a nikkah ceremony in September 2013. Their first son, Prince Irfan, was born in Geneva on April 11, 2015. Irfan is an indirect Qur’anic name for boys and means “wisdom”. It refers to all that is good and true of thoughts and deeds. It is derived from the Ain-R-F root (to know, to recognize), which is used in many places in the Holy Qur’an.

Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa hold their sons Prince Sinan and Prince Irfan. Photo: The Ismaili.Prince Sinan in the arms of his father Prince Rahim, and Princess Salwa carrying his big brother, Prince Irfan. Photo: The Ismaili.

Prince Sinan was born in London, England, on January 2, 2017. Sinan is an Arabic name for boys meaning spearhead and is derived from the root word S-N-N which is used in the Qur’an. Sinan is pronounced [(SI)mple] + [(NA)p + (N)ew] with emphasis on the second syllable. In Ismaili history, the name Sinan is associated with the revered personality of Rashid al-din Sinan, one of the greatest and most valiant of the Syrian Isma’ili da’is of the thirteenth century A.C.

The birth of Prince Sinan in January was celebrated with great joy throughout the Ismaili world. We celebrated his birth with a poem on our sister website, Simerg. Barakah is pleased to reproduce the poem with the release of these beautiful photos made available to The Ismaili website by Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa.

A Child

Princess Salwa gazes lovingly at her baby boy, Prince Sinan. TheIsmaili
Princess Salwa gazes lovingly at her child, Prince Sinan. Photo: The Ismaili.

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

A miracle, a gift today a child that comes to us
Our bending is of gladness in the archers hand to us
He loves the arrow that flies, the bow so stable for us
The archer sees the mark upon the path for us
Bends it with his might, the arrow goes far for us

The name of Sinan brings the memory of
Aleppo and Masyaf to us
His philosophy as dai forever imprinted on us
The balance of the zahir and batin as it come to us
A reciprocal social relationship of balance within us
Weaving a tapestry of din-dunia

In this our Diamond Jubilee year, your birth bring to us
Great tidings of gladness and joy within us
Our many faceted diamond is aglow for us.

Date posted: March 4, 2017.

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Photo credits: http://www.theismaili.org, the official website of the Ismaili community.

shariffa-keshavjeeAbout the writer: Shariffa Keshavjee is a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk  and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. You may choose to remain anonymous. Please note that we never show your email address when we publish your comment, and don’t share it with others without your express written permission.

Videos of the Aga Khan from the Vincent Scully award ceremony held at the National Building Museum in 2005

INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT

There are numerous videos on the work and important milestones from the life of His Highness the Aga Khan that are in the public domain but unknown to a vast majority of his followers as well as other individuals, organizations and friends of the community who follow the Ismaili Imam’s enormous work. We present for our readers two such videos from the National Building Museum’s extensive library of recordings of lectures, seminars and award ceremonies made at the Museum.

VIDEO SUMMARY OF TWO EVENTS, AGA KHAN AT GALA AND PARTICIPATES IN SYMPOSIUM

The first video is approximately 32 minutes long. It beautifully captures the two day program in which the Aga Khan was presented with the Vincent Scully Award in Washington D.C. on January 25, 2005 and, on the following day, participated in a thoughtful and lively panel discussion on architecture. Please watch this video by clicking on the following link:

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FULL VIDEO: AGA KHAN IN SYMPOSIUM

For those who wish to follow the insightful symposium held on January 26, we provide below the entire proceeding in a 90-minute video. After the video we provide a downloadable PDF file containing the entire transcript of the two day event.

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COMPLETE  TRANSCRIPT OF AGA KHAN AT GALA EVENT AND SYMPOSIUM

PLEASE CLICK: agakhannbmtranscript-1

Date posted: February 26, 2017.
Last updated: February 28, 2017.

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The Aga Khan stands out as an icon of action

A TRIBUTE BY JAMES WOLFENSOHN
WORLD BANK PRESIDENT (1995-2005)

20050125james-wolfensohn-photo-at-vincent-scully-prize

James Wolfensohn, World Bank President (1995 – 2005), speaking on January 25, 2005 in Washington DC when the National Building Museum presented its sixth prestigious Vincent Scully Prize to His Highness the Aga Khan in recognition of his contributions to promoting design excellence and improving the built environment in the Muslim world.

Introduced by Abdulmalik Merchant
(Publisher/editor, Barakah.com)

On January 25, 2005, I was privileged to attend the award ceremony honouring Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with the prestigious Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C.

As I arrived at the Great Hall, with its spectacular eight colossal Corinthian columns, I had a fortuitous meeting with Bruno Freschi, the renowned architect who designed the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana in Burnaby, Canada (1985). At the time, Freschi was based in the US capital, and I took the opportunity to introduce him to the then National President of Canada’s Aga Khan Council, Firoz Rasul, who was standing a few feet away with Fumihiko Maki, the iconic Japanese architect. This turned out to be the first encounter between the two celebrated architects. Maki went on to complete the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa (2008) and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (2014).

The setting for the gala inside the majestic Grand Hall of the NBM grand was absolutely fabulous, with its spectacular structures. It was a most memorable evening for me that remains vivid to this day. I took detailed notes at the event, and upon returning to my hotel after the award ceremony, I prepared a lengthy description of the proceedings. A much shorter version was submitted for publication on the Ismaili Heritage website a few days later.

Carolyn Schwenker Brody, Chair of the National Building Museum's Board of Trustees, presents the Vincent Scully Prize, a crystal obelisk, to His Highness the Aga Khan. | AKDN / Zahur Ramji

Carolyn Schwenker Brody, Chair of the National Building Museum’s Board of Trustees, presents the Vincent Scully Prize, a crystal obelisk, to the Aga Khan on January 25, 2005 in a black tie gala event in Washington DC. Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji.

Subsequently, I began receiving distorted versions of speeches that were made that evening to honour the Aga Khan. I found inaccurate statements attributed to James Wolfensohn, the then World Bank President, who introduced the Aga Khan at the ceremony with a truly remarkable tribute. Unfortunately, after a brief hiatus, the embellished version of tribute is back in circulation – I received a copy only last week.

The tendency to recklessly forward emails without verifying the accuracy seems to continue. However, with the help of my detailed notes from 12 years earlier corroborated with the actual transcript on the NBM website – I can, hopefully, put the fake versions to rest for ever.

The authentic version of James Wolfensohn’s tribute to the Aga Khan is produced below.

His Highness the Aga Khan by James Wolfensohn

“….It is the extraordinary sense of humanity that he has. The great depth of real feeling for real people wherever they find themselves in society. He is a holy man. He is the leader of his faith. He’s a man who represents the very best in Islam.”

the-aga-khan-by-james-macdonald-l The Aga Khan. Photo: James Macdonald, Ottawa. Copyright.

Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen:

“I’m here because I’m the leader of the groupies of the Aga Khan, not so much for his work in the built environment (although I must say to you that I am deeply impressed by all that he’s done) but by his work in the human environment. And it is in that context that I’m given a few minutes to pay tribute to him and to tell you something about him.

“In my 10 years at the bank, I’ve had the opportunity of meeting many people in the so-called development business. People that are concerned with the issues of poverty, people that in various ways display their interest in humanity, their concern for history, their concern for hope and for the future.

“And in that 10 years, I can tell you that there is one person who stands out in my mind as an icon of not only thought and philosophy but of action. And I have to say this in front of His Highness, that I don’t say this about everybody in the development business. He has truly done the most amazing job not only for the Ismaili community throughout the world, but really for all the communities that he serves.

(tribute continues after photo)

His Highness the Aga Khan at a Press Conference announcing the launch of the new Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) in the company of James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (3rd left) and John Fergusson, AKDN Head of the Department of Public Affairs (2nd left). AKDN / Jean-Luc Ray

The Aga Khan (left) at a Press Conference on February 22, 2005 in Geneva, Switzerland, announcing the launch of the new Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) to help some of the world’s most vulnerable populations through innovative services including micro-insurance, small housing loans, savings, education and health accounts, and support for small entrepreneurs seeking to develop businesses related to restored cultural assets. The Aga Khan was joined at the news conference by Jim Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (right) and John Fergusson, AKDN Head of the Department of Public Affairs. Photo: AKDN/Jean-Luc Ray.

“He started The Aga Khan Development Network in 1967. It was his idea. And he has grown it in the most remarkable way, starting with the needs of education, dealing with all levels of education – from preschool education to particularly the education of women. He has looked through high schools, ordinary schools to universities. And I think many of you will know of the preeminence of The Aga Khan University in Pakistan, and the remarkable work that it has done in nursing, healthcare, management, and in everything that it touches.

(tribute continues after photo)

The Aga Khan and Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa laying the foundation stone for the expansion of the Aga Khan Hospital, Dar-es-Salaam. Speaking on the occasion on March 18, 2005, the Aga Khan stated,

The Aga Khan and Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa laying the foundation stone for the expansion of the Aga Khan Hospital, Dar-es-Salaam. Speaking on the occasion on March 18, 2005, the Aga Khan stated, “Unless we make significant investments in education as well as in new equipment and facilities, East Africa will fall behind in health care delivery.” This phase of the expansion resulted in five state-of- the-art operating theatres, a 12-bed intensive care unit, a radiology imaging department, new maternity facilities as well as an expanded pharmacy department. Photo: The Ismaili Canada, July 2005.

“Now he has expanded that into Tanzania and into other parts of Africa where he’s also set up recently The Aga Khan Hospital – I learned this only tonight – the first teaching hospital in East Africa which is giving Aga Khan University degrees. But even beyond that, when we were talking a couple of years ago about the work that we have done in information technology, His Highness said to me, “Well, we’re going to set up a university in the mountains in Tajikistan to serve Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan because these are high mountainous areas. And we are going to teach through internet and through using information technology, because people can’t move around. And so we’ll set up a university on top of a mountain.” And already he is providing courses in those areas, working with governments and with officials to strengthen capacity in terms of management.

“His work in health is legendary as is his work in education. And he also does it in a remarkable way, in that The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (which is another invention of his) deals with getting the private sector involved in income-producing projects that allow for the creation of work and for the profitable use of investment in the countries that he serves.

(tribute continues after photo)

The UCA Naryn Campus reflects the first of a multi-phase construction plan.The inset photo shows Kyrgyz Prime Minister, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and the Aga Khan unveiling the plaque on October 19, 2016 to officially inaugurate the Naryn Campus, the first of 3 campuses, of the University of Central Asia (UCA). The University has been created by the Governments of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) to be a catalyst for social and economic development in the region’s mountain societies. The Naryn Campus is to be followed by the construction of campuses in Khorog, Tajikistan (2017) and in Tekeli, Kazakhstan (2019). The undergraduates who joined the inaugural class in Naryn earned a seat through a competitive, merit-based and needs-blind admissions process and come from urban centres, secondary cities and small villages across the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nearly 40 per cent of the first 71 students who joined are women. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

“I have never met anybody who not only has the vision, but who has the personal management capacity to be able to take these visions and realize them. And I have to say that as someone who is in the professional field, he has a wonderful way of doing it, which perhaps gives him an advantage over most of the rest of us, in that he draws on remarkable experts, but he makes the decisions. I have dreamed of that at the World Bank. And so when I look at him, I not only admire him but I envy him terribly in the way in which he can operate and, indeed, bring to an effective end the work that he’s doing.

“And through it all, having seen him in many, many parts of the world, and having talked to him at length on many subjects, there is one thing which distinguishes him, which is not in the buildings and not in the organization. It is the extraordinary sense of humanity that he has. The great depth of real feeling for real people wherever they find themselves in society. He is a holy man. He is the leader of his faith. He’s a man who represents the very best in Islam. Something that all too often we tend to forget these days. That Islam carries with it values and a culture from which we can all learn. And so it is especially wonderful tonight that he’s being honoured with this prize for the built environment at a time that we’re also thinking of the work that he’s done at the human level and, indeed, the level of faith and morality which he does so remarkably well….We salute you, Your Highness.”

The Aga Khan pictured during a panel discussion on “Design in the Islamic World and Its Impact Beyond”, held at the National Building Museum on January 26, 2005, following the Vincent Scully Award ceremony that was held the previous evening. Photo: Vivian Rozsa, Washington D,C.The Aga Khan pictured during a panel discussion on “Design in the Islamic World and Its Impact Beyond”, held at the National Building Museum on January 26, 2005, the day after the Vincent Scully Award ceremony. Photo: Vivian Rozsa, Washington D.C.

Date posted: Friday, February 24, 2017.

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For links to all the posts in this special project on His Highness the Aga Khan, please see the drop down menu bar at top of this page or click on Table of Contents. Also join/like Barakah’s faceboook page http://www.facebook.com/1000fold.

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20050125james-wolfensohn-photo-at-vincent-scully-prizeJames Wolfensohn served with enormous distinction as President of the World Bank for ten years from 1995-2005. Untiring in his commitment to better understand the challenges facing bank member countries, he traveled to countries around the world meeting with the bank’s government clients and representatives from every walk of life. The result of this extraordinary commitment placed the bank at the forefront of addressing global challenges including primary education, basic health, HIV AIDS programs, the environment and biodiversity.

Described as a Renaissance man, Wolfensohn served as Chairman of Carnegie Hall in New York during the 1980s, and then became chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, serving in that capacity for six years until his appointment as president of the World Bank.

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The above piece includes textual material from the websites of the National Building Museum, http://www.nbm.org, and the Aga Khan Development Network, http://www.akdn.org.

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