12 February 2006
Minister of State & Foreign Affairs Freitas do Amaral,
Rector Manuel Patricio,
Professor Adriano Moreira,
Members of the University Senate, Scientific Board and Faculty,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am deeply touched by your warm welcome and generous remarks. I accept this honour with the utmost gratitude and humility, conscious of the great distinction and achievements of past recipients.
Today’s occasion is of special happiness since it continues the long-standing relationship that the Ismaili Imamat and community enjoy with the Republic and people of Portugal. Our ties are the stronger for being rooted in a shared sense of responsibility to strive together for the greater good of all.
The University of Evora is an ancient bastion of this sense of equitable and moral order which supports its tradition of academic excellence, nurturing merit wherever it exists.
These are the values which the Iberian Peninsula radiated as an inspiring beacon of light, representing the truly glorious epochs in human history when the Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds developed constructive linkages, enriching their civilisations and empowering their institutions of higher learning with new sources of knowledge.
It is a privilege to be associated with a University which has remained true for so many centuries to the principle that the fruits of learning are to be at the service of all humanity.
In Islam, this is a core principle of belief. In that tradition, my forefathers, the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs of Egypt, who founded Al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo a thousand years ago, viewed the acquisition of knowledge as a means to understanding, so as to serve better, God’s creation.
For them the true purpose of scholarship, and the gift of reason was to help build society and guide human aspirations. Lest it be forgotten, the society of their times was richly pluralistic when the Quranic notion of the Ahl al-Kitab – the People of the Book – and of one humanity were the driving force for tolerance and respect for difference.
One of history’s great lessons is that a society can underwrite human progress only when it overcomes its insularity and suspicion of “the other,” and instead, looks upon difference as a source of strength. For, while our new century continues to be marred by conflict and tension, the effective world of tomorrow is a pluralist one which comprehends, welcomes and builds on diversity.
That is why I passionately view the struggle against poverty, and respect for the values of pluralism, as two of the most significant tests of whether the 21st Century is to be an era of global peace, stability and progress.
These two challenges engage the entire spectrum of the institutions and programmes of the Ismaili Imamat which constitute the Aga Khan Development Network, cornerstones of which are its educational endeavours from the pre-school to the tertiary level. The Network’s agencies and programmes are non-denominational and open to all without discrimination, guided by the Imamat’s policy of replacing walls that divide with bridges which unite.
Their ethic is that of global convergence and the development of civil society that manages, and harnesses the forces of pluralism so as to elicit the best in human endeavour.
I am profoundly honoured that this historic institution of higher learning, that has contributed so much to the human cause, has seen fit to consider me henceforth as one of its esteemed graduates.
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