A thematic presentation of His Highness the Aga Khan’s message on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan

Princess Zahra addresses guests at AKU's Convocation of the Class of 2022, which also marked AKU’s 40th anniversary, and the inaugural Founder’s Day celebrations.

Princess Zahra Aga Khan, oldest child of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, attended the 40th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Aga Khan University held in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 18, 2023. She delivered a message from Mawlana Hazar Imam, the founder and Chancellor of the University, which is being reproduced in full below in a thematic form. Barakah has prepared a brief report of the Karachi event HERE which also includes links to external websites containing links to Princess Zahra’s speech  — Ed.

The Aga Khan’s Message

Aga Khan University Seal Logo Barakah Simerg
The Seal of the Aga Khan University – at the centre of the Seal is a star, or sun. Light is a universal symbol for the enlightenment that education provides. The light emanating from the star is also symbolic of Nur (Divine Light). The star incorporates 49 rays to commemorate the University’s founding by His Highness the Aga Khan, the forty-ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

1983: Historic Occasion


Forty years ago, the Aga Khan University received its Charter from the Government of Pakistan as a vast crowd of well-wishers looked on. It was a truly historic occasion — the kind that comes only a few times in one’s life. It filled my heart and the hearts of many others with joy and pride.

40 Years On: The University’s Growth and Transformation and the Original Battle to Bring it into Existence

Four decades later, we have gathered to celebrate a trio of milestones. This time we have done so on three continents and before a global audience, a testament to the University’s enormous growth and transformation. And if our joy and pride were great in 1983, how much greater they should be today, given all that we have achieved together, and the promise of our graduands.

Some in the audience today were here in Karachi on the 16th of March, 1983. They will surely remember the high spirits of the day. If you ask them, they may also recall that the size of the audience far exceeded expectations and the number of seats available!

Some will recall as well the ceremony that followed two years later, at which we inaugurated the Aga Khan University Hospital and the Faculty of Health Sciences. I spoke then about the arduous journey from the project’s announcement in 1964 to the completion of its first phase in 1985. For the creation of AKU was an immense task, involving moments of exhaustion as well as moments of exultation. I remain grateful to all those who, with me, battled to bring the University into existence.

Devotion, Generosity and the Establishment of Founder’s Day

Yet, exemplary devotion to the University’s founding vision has not ceased in the decades since. AKU’s donors continue to build its endowments with boundless generosity; its faculty and staff to serve as the guardians of its culture and values; its volunteers and partners to freely share their invaluable expertise. It is to celebrate such ongoing commitment and all that it has made possible that the University has established Founder’s Day as an annual tradition. Founder’s Day refers not to one person, or even one generation. Instead, it acknowledges the collective work that moves AKU ever forward in line with its distinctive mission: to bring knowledge, leadership, and excellence to bear upon the challenges facing the world, especially in Asia and Africa, and to build bridges of understanding between countries, cultures, and faiths.

An older portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in the Aga Khan University's convocation regalia, known as the Jamiapoash.
An older portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in the Aga Khan University’s convocation regalia, known as the Jamiapoash.

Revisiting Past Convictions and Principles; the 5th Decade Ahead and the Chancellor’s Wish

Underlying that mission are a number of fundamental convictions. As we step confidently into our fifth decade, there has never been a better time to revisit them.

Knowledge and Faith are complementary

These convictions include the belief that the pursuit of knowledge is not a threat to faith but its natural complement. As the philosopher Al-Kindi wrote more than a thousand years ago, “No one is diminished by the truth, rather does the truth ennoble all.” The conviction that Africa and Asia can make mighty contributions to global innovation. That high standards are not a luxury to be dispensed with in low-income settings, but the wellspring of progress. That diversity is a blessing rather than a burden, and that half the world’s talent – at least – lies in the minds of women.

A New Era: The Knowledge Society and the Modern University

To these principles can be added several important observations. Among them that the world has entered a new era, that of the knowledge society, in which intellectual achievement decisively shapes the fate of individuals and peoples. That in an age of polarization, strong civil society institutions can reknit the torn threads of community. And, crucially, that all these insights can be united and made real in millions of lives via a uniquely powerful institution. Namely, the modern university.

Swimming Against the Tide

While it was founded in deeply held convictions, no one should imagine that AKU’s success was inevitable. The University was conceived amid the chill of the Cold War, as the high hopes that followed decolonization were encountering stubborn realities. It took shape in a time of crisis for higher education in the developing world. Across Asia and Africa, universities struggled to meet lofty expectations, leading to many questioning their value altogether. Abroad, experts argued that low-income countries ought to spend their scarce funds on elementary education rather than higher education. AKU’s planners were swimming against the tide.

University’s Greatest Growth Amid Uncertainty

The University’s greatest growth occurred during a period of local and global transformation, as the bipolar era thawed into one of tremendous uncertainty. I must say: our boldness in such circumstances caused us some trepidation. Questions abounded. Would the University’s vision galvanize the support of its diverse constituencies? Could it attain international benchmarks of quality while remaining accessible to the least advantaged? If it could strike that balance in an institution of limited scale, could it do so in one of growing scope?

AKU Global Ranking: Achievement Vindicates Faith of its Champions

Forty years on, these questions have been answered in the affirmative – if not for all time, then at least for the time being. The University has amply vindicated the faith of its champions. AKU’s achievements are many, varied, and increasing in number. They are a source of great happiness to me. Among the most recent is its appearance on the global rankings of leading universities. It seems that AKU is, as I hoped it would, “catching the imagination of the world.” That it has done so is thanks to the dedication of its people, the achievements of its alumni, the generosity of its donors and volunteers, and the support it has received from government and private-sector institutions at home and abroad.

AKU: Source of Hope

But rather than list laurels, I will cite here only what seems to me the most indelible of the University’s accomplishments: that it has become a source of hope for so many. From the patients who seek relief from suffering at its hospitals, to the parents who dream of seeing their children don its graduation robes – AKU’s name conjures hope. There is no force more powerful or more needed today. When we plant hope in people’s lives, we lighten all their burdens. It is a source of energy and inspiration that is endlessly renewable.

Evolving and Adapting to New Circumstances

Obstacles to AKU’s ambitions will not cease to arise in the years ahead. Change in our various contexts will be ongoing – if anything, it looks likely to accelerate. The University must keep one eye fixed on the horizon, evolving and adapting to new circumstances. At the same time, it must keep its founding vision firmly before it. A great university is not built in a few decades, or even in a lifetime.

AKU’s purpose must remain lucid and constant, transcending the generations even as it is reborn in each new generation’s passion and commitment.

Wherein Lies the Future Success of the AKU

Today, as in 1983, the future of the University lies in the hands of its leaders, faculty, staff, and supporters. It depends no less on the excellence of its students and graduates. I have the utmost faith that the Class of 2022 will continue to add luster to the University’s name, whether from within its own classrooms and clinics, or from institutions equally vital and renowned.

Together, all of us are the custodians of the founding vision. Our history gives us every reason to believe that so long as we remain true to that vision, AKU’s light – the light depicted in the University’s seal – will grow ever brighter, helping to illuminate the path to a better future for the people it serves.

The Chancellor’s Wish for the Graduands

Graduands, my wish today is that you will know the joy of planting hope in people’s lives, of building bridges of understanding, of venturing into the uncharted waters where new knowledge is discovered. May your futures be rich in challenges embraced and overcome. May you be bold amid uncertainty, and see your boldness rewarded.

Thank you.

Date posted: April 3, 2023.



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Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Home Page or Table of Contents for links to more than 300 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Also, visit our two sister websites, Simerg and Simergphotos. Barakah’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@barakah.com. Please follow him @Facebook and @Twitter.


  1. The Aga Khan’s vision and goals for his murids (followers) and humanity at large is clear. Education will bring people out of lifetime poverty and vulnerability. His contributions and the blessings that will come from his projects are priceless.

    Thank you for taking the time to share knowledge through your platforms. Stay blessed always.


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