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His Highness the Aga Khan

Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Signing Ceremony of the Protocol of Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Portugal and the Ismaili Imamat (Lisbon, Portugal)

19 December 2005

 

Please also see: Press Release and Speech in Portuguese

President Sampaio,
Prime Minister Socrates,
Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Freitas do Amaral,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:


I am deeply touched by the generosity of remarks by Prime Minister Socrates. I also thank President Sampaio, the Prime Minister, and the Government of the Portuguese Republic, for their kindness and warm welcome.

In its contemporary history, when our world, at times, has seemed to descend into chaos, and moral leadership into oblivion, Portugal has been an outstanding example of integrity and compassion. When crises have erupted beyond her shores, she has welcomed displaced populations of different cultures and ethnicities. This is, therefore, an appropriate occasion to acknowledge the lasting gratitude and permanent commitment of the Ismaili Imamat and Community to Portugal, a land of harmony and opportunity, that rejoices in her diversity as a wellspring of national strength.

It is a great honour and an immense source of happiness for me to be at this historic Palace of Ajuda to mark a milestone, as our valued relationship moves confidently forward. The Protocol of Co-operation between the Government of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, which we signed this evening, is the first such Agreement that the Ismaili Imamat has signed with a Western Government, and I am deeply convinced that it will bring clear benefits to our peoples and to many others.

For the Ismaili Imamat, the Ismaili Community worldwide and me, this is a highly important day. I, therefore, wish this evening, to illustrate the full significance which it has in our eyes, and which is the context in which His Excellency Professor Freitas do Amaral, the Foreign Minister, and I spent some exceptional time together in putting our final touches to this Agreement.

Portugal is a small country, with a long history, and its role in the world has been illuminated by peaks of glory. The Ismaili Community is a small community with a long history also illuminated by peaks of glory. Our respective histories have also, at times, been marked by conflict and internal challenges. They have often strengthened us. Portugal’s population is only slightly smaller than that of the Ismaili Community worldwide today. We have, therefore, very much in common, which underscores the logic of our new and formal relationship. But there are also differences.

Portugal is rooted in the centuries old Christian world, whereas the Ismaili Imamat is rooted in the centuries old Muslim world. Portugal’s influence has been essentially in Africa and South America, with an occasional presence in Asia. The Ismaili Community is significantly present in Central and South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, but it is nearly totally absent from South America.

What brings us together is not only our historical similarities and our mutual respect for our past, but our wish to work together better to address the opportunities and the problems which will confront us in the decades ahead. Our respective histories have taught us to place our trust in human values and to root them in an ethical view of life.

Our histories have taught us the value of dialogue, and that rarely, indeed very rarely, does anything good come out of conflict. Our world view is to engage with the problem of social exclusion in our societies and to contribute to building bridges across faiths and across nations, by linking diverse parts of the world.

I have no doubt that for you, whose historical roots are in the Christian world, it is as painful as it is for us Muslims, with our roots in the East, to watch an increasingly deep gulf growing between significant parts of our respective worlds. We cannot stand by as passive observers letting this gulf grow wider and wider, at the cost of future generations. If we have the will, which I am certain we share, we have the historical knowledge and the ethical foundations to move our world forward, to make it a better and more hopeful place, and to put an end to the storm of hatred which appears to be building up around us.

We are concerned, and most rightly so, that there is poverty among our respective peoples, and we cannot stand by watching this inhuman indignity become a permanent part of our societies, of our generations of today and tomorrow. We must work together to develop an arsenal of peaceful weapons to attack this plight which blights our times, and to try to make sure that those who are marginalised today can be certain that we are not blind to them, that we will not let their future generations live in the same hopeless world in which they themselves are seeking, often only in despair, to survive.

In confronting this situation we share the same need to build our civil societies for we both recognise that it is the civil society institutions of today, that, strengthened and expanded by tomorrow, have the highest probability of enabling people to help themselves out of the quagmire of poverty. Working together in the East and the West, we certainly have the greatest chance of being successful in multiple situations, such as responding to the needs of aging populations.

There are those who say that faiths divide. This may be true. But today we must explore every opportunity to have different faiths come together in addressing the problems of our respective societies. We come from the same common religious heritage, descendants of Abraham, and it is enjoined on us to address the problems of society on the same ethical premises.

You have created here in Portugal a moral and enabling environment for faiths to live in equity and mutual respect. I intend to do all in my power to work with other faiths here and elsewhere, to give practical meaning and quantifiable outcomes to our future partnerships.

The acute challenge for all faiths, both in terms of their principles and practice, is the scourge of poverty which, unfortunately, also afflicts sections of populations, especially minorities, even in the industrially advanced countries of the West. The tragedies they endure and the unknown dimensions of their plight have been highlighted by recent natural and other events. To their credit, their citizens and governments recognize it is intolerable that these pockets of misery should persist in self respecting societies.

It is in this light that, encouraged by the Government, and after careful assessments through years of independently commissioned studies and programmatic engagement, particularly in Early Childhood Education development, the Aga Khan Development Network has embarked on an Urban Community Support Programme in Portugal. This is designed to help marginalised groups, including cultural and ethnic minorities living in urban settings, develop their own capacity to move out of the poverty trap and achieve the benefits of social inclusion.

The Government and municipalities, the European Commission, leading civil society and business organisations are our partners in this moral enterprise known by its local name of Kapacidad, reflecting the conviction that people are inherently capable to look after themselves. I am most happy to acknowledge and welcome the presence here this evening of their representatives.

In global terms our numbers may be small, but our openness to addressing the issues of our time and of tomorrow, our willingness to bring mature judgment to our pluralist societies, are so strong, and so vigorously shared, that I believe the partnership we are founding today would enable us, with God’s support, to have a positive influence in the future which could far surpass the sizes of our demographies.

These are the reasons that have given birth to my conviction that this is truly an historic day.

These are the principles that underpin our long standing and fruitful relationship, inspiring the joint work we already do in Portugal and abroad in Mozambique, Afghanistan and … Pakistan. It is on these principles and experience that the Protocol of Co-operation builds. Both the Government and the Imamat are determined it does not remain just an expression of pious hope.

Thank you.

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