As Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Prepares to Deliver a Virtual Address for University of Central Asia’s First Ever Convocation, Barakah Brings You Some of the Earliest Speeches He Made on Building a University Specialized on Educating High Mountain Populations

University of Central Asia: From 1998 to 2000 to 2016 to 2021

Prepared and Compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

[Several months before Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee year began on July 11, 2017, Barakah compiled countless speeches that he had delivered since becoming the Imam in 1957 from multiple internet sources (including AKDN,, Nanowisdoms), printed speech books and magazines published by Ismaili institutions around the world as well as archives of the editor’s late parents, Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant. As Mawlana Hazar Imam now prepares to deliver a (virtual) address at the University of Central Asia’s first ever convocation on Saturday, June 19, 2021, we turn to our indispensable resource of speeches, and present to our readers excerpts from speeches that he made in the late 1990’s when the idea for the University was initially mentioned in Tajikistan in 1998 and further elaborated upon in a speech Mawlana Hazar Imam made in 1999 at the World Bank — Ed.]

1998: The Beginnings…….The Aga Khan Lycee (or High School) in Khorog is Where it Began

University of Central Asia Master Plan Khorog, reproduced in Barakah
Overall masterplan for the University of Central Asia’s Campus in Khorog, Tajikistan. Photo: UCA

(Excerpts from remarks made by Mawlana Hazar Imam in Khorog, Badakhshan, on September 24, 1998, at the opening of Aga Khan Lycee, during his 2nd visit to Tajikistan)

We gather this afternoon to open the first formal educational program undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network in Central Asia……The opening of the Aga Khan Lycee is an important moment for the Network, one of a number of outcomes of more than three and a half years of its work in Tajikistan since my first visit to the country in 1995….I would like perhaps this afternoon to pay compliments to men and women who were teachers in this school in the most difficult circumstances that human professionals could function in. There was a time when male and female teachers could not get to the school, the students could not get to the school, because they had no shoes to walk in the snow. And all through these terrible times of poverty, professional men and women did everything they could to sustain the educational system of Badakhshan. I think therefore that it is appropriate that at the beginning of this speech I should pay my compliments, my respects and my gratitude to the teachers who have kept education alive in Badakhshan.

In recent years there has been an absolute revolution in education. This revolution in education is driven by a number of new concepts. First of all communications, the capacity to bring education through the new electronic networks to the most isolated parts of our globe. The second one is the extraordinary volume of knowledge which each individual has to absorb during his or her lifetime. And therefore the necessity for continuing education. I consider it essential that these new technologies, these new methodologies of education should be made available to the most remote communities wherever they are located in Tajikistan or elsewhere in Central Asia.

The new Lycee represents another important component in the Network’s contribution to educational development in the country. In addition to providing assistance with school improvements, educational materials and teaching training, the Aga Khan Education Services’ experience shows that it is critical to develop centres of excellence that reach for the highest levels of student achievement. This is a means to develop models and set new standards for other secondary schools in a given country and to prepare students for the most competitive universities in the world. The opening of the Aga Khan Lycee as an academic program is particularly timely given the plans for the development of the new regional university in Khorog…. Inshallah, the new university in Khorog will be a resource of unique competence for the peoples of Gorno-Badakhshan and of all the mountain areas of Central Asia and even further a field.

…..the President [Rakhmonov of Tajikistan] mentioned that this [Aga Khan Lycee] was going to be a test-case institution in Badakhshan where we will be testing new methods of education, new principles of education to try to bring into Badakhshan the most sophisticated methods of education for young people.

Some of the principles on which we will function will be that education – and there will be an emphasis in education in the English language – to enable graduates to access the wider world of education and market economies. Information technology to enable teachers and students to better understand and communicate with the world around them. Ongoing opportunities for teachers to improve their pedagogical competencies, the collection of fees to ensure the sustainability of the institution, but as a reverse to that – the provision of financial aid to all admitted students on the basis of need. In other words it is the academic potential of students that will earn them the position of this school not their material means.

I ask you to join me in wishing this exciting new academic initiative every success for its development. I trust that in the years ahead we will look back on the opening of the Aga Khan Lycee in Khorog as the beginning of something very important for Khorog, Tajikistan and perhaps even Central Asia. (Excerpts are from transcripts of 2 speeches published at HERE and HERE)


1999: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Ambition to Create University of Central Asia

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan delivering the keynote address on the New Networked Economy at the World Faiths & Development Dialogue Conference held at the World Bank
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, delivering the keynote address on the New Networked Economy at the World Faiths & Development Dialogue Conference held at the World Bank. Photo: AKDN / Gary Otte

(Excerpts from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Speech at World Bank’s InfoDev Conference held in Washington DC on November 10, 1999).

My third case study is, in some senses, the most ambitious of all. It involves the creation of a new university, located in Central Asia in south-eastern Tajikistan, near the convergence of some of the highest mountain ranges in the world – the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and the Karakorum — and the border with north-eastern Afghanistan. The mission of the university is to develop research and educational programmes focussed on the mountain regions and peoples of Central Asia, and mountain regions more generally. The Commission that was charged with analysing the need for such an institution and developing a conceptual plan has completed its work, and steps are underway to develop the agreements and understandings with the governments of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic to establish it as a truly international university.

The location and nature of the proposed university is such that it cannot succeed without an aggressive use of computer based information technologies. The university would have three units: 

The first would be an undergraduate, residential, liberal arts programme with a special focus on the technical and managerial subjects required for development of mountain regions and peoples. These would include forestry, high mountain agriculture, engineering and natural resource management, and business, economics, and public administration. There would also be special attention given to the cultures of high mountain communities.

The second would be an interdisciplinary masters degree for development specialists in the government, non-government, and commercial sectors. English, now recognised as an international language by the governments of the region, would be the medium of instruction for both degree programmes to ensure that graduates are able to participate in global systems of all sorts.

The third division will offer non-degree programmes for people in isolated settings, and for mid career professionals in Central Asia. It will be offered in Russian and regional languages.

To accomplish this ambitious set of goals, the university will require a sophisticated learning resources centre that will constitute the technological core of the institution, and which is critical to overcoming the physical isolation of its campus. Together with the use of English as a medium of instruction, it will constitute one of the university’s most distinctive features and should play an important part in attracting prospective students, faculty, and donor support.

This is a very ambitious undertaking. It calls for a substantial initial investment in Internet access, a fibre optic-wired campus, and computing equipment, as well as regular investments thereafter to keep abreast of new developments. It calls for a faculty whose members are not only computer literate but, more importantly, prepared to change their methods of teaching and conducting research to take advantage of innovations in the rapidly changing field of communications. It calls for a rector and deans who arrive on the job with experience in and openness to, the new learning technologies. It calls for the inclusion of technology training into the preparation (and eventually recruitment) of incoming students.

It will also require the establishment of satellite learning centres in mountain communities across the region and certainly in Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic and other countries from which the university will draw students. For the master’s programme, it means opening distance learning links with leading institutions and scholars elsewhere who might develop special courseware for students on the home campus.

Why is a distance education initiative included in what otherwise is a residential research and teaching institution?

First, because there are thousands of persons who were trained to fill posts in the Soviet system whose skills must be updated if they are to survive professionally in the post-Soviet era. These include teachers, civil servants, and those responsible for nearly every sector of the economy. Graduates of the new university will themselves require in-service training and professional updating over the years. The kind of life-long learning this entails is rare or non-existent in Central Asia. The proposed division could provide it in such a way as to become a model for other institutions in the region.

Second, a market economy and civil society call for many new skills. Unless those beyond university age are simply to be abandoned, they too must have an opportunity to acquire such skills. (Read Full Speech at AKDN)


2001: Mawlana Hazar Imam on The Signing of the Treaty for the Foundation of the New University of Central Asia

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, addressing the International Convocation of the Association of American Universities (AAU). Photo: AKDN. Reproduced in
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, addressing the International Convocation of the Association of American Universities (AAU). Photo: AKDN

(Excerpts from speech delivered by Mawlana Hazar Imam on April 22, 2001 in Washington D.C. at the Centenary Celebration Meeting, Association of American Universities)

I will offer two rather different case studies of efforts by agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network to make more effective use of the Internet for educational purposes. The first is a project to develop a World Wide Web based resource to enrich the information available for architectural students, teachers, scholars and professionals interested in architecture in the Islamic world…..The project, called ArchNet, is being developed at MIT and is scheduled for launch in September. It will bring together and make available the visual and textual information amassed in collections in Cambridge and Geneva.

My second example relates to the new University of Central Asia. Last summer I signed an international treaty for the foundation of the university on behalf of the Ismaili Imamat with the President of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The University is dedicated to addressing the problems of poverty, underdevelopment and environmental degradation in the vast and largely forgotten mountain zone of Inner Asia. By doing so, I believe it will make a significant contribution to the establishment of peace and stability in the region by addressing some of the most important problems that currently plague it: poverty, isolation and a deep sense of hopelessness.

The University of Central Asia will provide training and research on the problems and prospects of the mountainous areas of Central Asia and the twenty to thirty million people who inhabit them. The new institution, which will begin by offering continuing education courses this year, will be private, secular, will recruit students and faculty on the basis of merit, and will be open equally to men and women. Its main campus will be based in South Eastern Tajikistan, in the town of Khorog on the Panj River, which serves as the international boundary between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Satellite campuses will be opened in mountain settings in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and in other countries in the region who decide to join the university in the years ahead.

Given the university’s location and mission, it has no option but to make an aggressive use of the latest developments in information and communication technologies. This is particularly true for its degree programmes, which will start with a Masters degree in integrated mountain studies in three years, and a Bachelors degree soon thereafter. These programmes will be taught in English, and will draw heavily on databases and human resources specialised in mountain studies to supplement the locally recruited and specially trained instructional staff. (Read Full Speech at AKDN)


Fast Forward 2016….A Dream from 16 Years Earlier Comes True as Mawlana Hazar Imam Inaugurates the Naryn Campus of the University of Central Asia

His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, escorted by Naryn Governor Amanbay Kayipov, arrives to the University of Central Asia Naryn Campus
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, escorted by Naryn Governor Amanbay Kayipov, arrives to the University of Central Asia Naryn Campus. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

(Excerpts from speech delivered by Mawlana Hazar Imam on October 19, 2016 during the inauguration Inauguration of the Naryn Campus of the University of Central Asia)

This is a great day for the University of Central Asia and for me, and for all those who have participated in the development of this University in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And I know that now is also a very special day for the people of the Kyrgyz Republic and for the leaders and the citizens of Naryn.

It is indeed a great pleasure to join with you in celebrating a truly historic moment as we inaugurate the Naryn campus of the University. It has been a great honor, and also a great pleasure, for my colleagues and for me to work with all of you in building here in Central Asia a great new institution….. Aga Khan Naryn Campus
Kyrgyz Prime Minister HE Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, unveil the plaque to officially inaugurate the campus in Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic. AKDN/Gary Otte.
From left: Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Prince Aly Mohammed, Prince Rahim Aga Khan meet with Naryn Mayor Rakhat Adiev. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

This event today brings back some wonderful memories for me.  It was just sixteen years ago that I joined the Presidents of the Founding States in signing an extraordinary International Treaty.  It was an unprecedented event.  The Treaty was then a unique example to the entire world of how these three countries could actually dream together about their common future.  And it was also a wonderful example of how they could join hands together, across national boundaries, to make their dreams come true. (Read Full Speech at AKDN)


June 19, 2021: University of Central Asia Convocation Ceremony

Please click on image to watch the historic first convocation live on Saturday June 19, 2021.

The University of Central Asia convocation ceremony on Saturday June 19, 2021 will honour the first class of undergraduate students at the School of Arts and Sciences and will be livestreamed from the University campuses in Khorog, Tajikistan and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.

Watch the convocation live at or on Saturday, June 19, 2021 at the following times: 8AM Toronto, New York etc. 5AM Los Angeles, Vancouver etc. , 1PM London, Lisbon etc. See image above for additional times.

Date posted: June 17, 2021.


This website, Barakah, is a special project by and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Home Page with links to more than 250 thoughtful articles, photo essays and tributes to Mawlana Hazar Imam.


  1. Dear Malik

    I just realise that you are son of Late Jehangir and Late Malek Sultan. Both were my most dearest family friends. I was on the National Board of ITREB(Pakistan) AND worked as Chairman of RSD before becoming Hon Sec of AKEPB (P). Your mother used to take Ginan classes in addition to Waz duties. We had long association. What beautiful souls they were who served the Imam of the time and Jamat devotedly. Your dad was down to earth and very knowledgeable. They must be smiling in paradise over good work you are carrying out.

    You are doing remarkably good in keeping Jamat upto date about Imamat Institution. God bless you.


    • Dear Zul Bhai:

      Thank you for remembering my parents, and for expressing your affection and warmth towards them. I am deeply touched by your letter and thank you for your prayers. Amen. While they might be smiling in paradise for the work I do, I thank them everyday for inspiring me to do what I am doing. My dad, when I was a very young and spoke very little English, because my childhood schooling was in Portuguese, would make me sit next to him and ask me to help proof read the articles in ITREB magazines that he edited or contributed to. This created in me an everlasting interest for publications. In the UK I co-edited with him Ilm magazine for a number of years. The internet provided me the opportunity to pursue my interest in publications, and thus the 3 blogs namely simerg, barakah and simergphotos My mum was my greatest supporter, and promoted my websites among all her friends!

      Thank you for your support.

      With Ya Ali Madad


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