17 October 2000
Your Highness, Prince Karim Aga Khan,
Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha,
Members of the Steering Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me special pleasure to be here to inaugurate the Conference on Indigenous Philanthropy. In fact, as a Muslim, one should feel a sense of obligation to participate in an event that concerns one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. Islam enjoins upon us to care for our families, neighbours, communities, and the whole of humanity. Based upon this golden principle, our religion has evolved a well-developed tradition of giving in diverse contexts and across time. I see this Conference as another historic moment in that long and constantly evolving tradition.
In Islam charity does not end only with an act of 'giving'. It enjoins upon the believers to help the needy in such a way that his pride and self respect is not injured in any manner whatsoever. Charity is not confined only to giving out material things to the needy, but it also includes voluntary service, a piece of good advice, solace and a healing touch of a hand or even a smile. By institutionalising receipt and disbursement of charity for the empowerment of the underprivileged and to improve their quality of life, the Aga Khan Development Network has taken the much-needed step in the right direction. With its new initiative to encourage indigenous philanthropy the network has set yet another example for others to emulate.
We all know that Pakistan has huge human needs. There is much poverty, illiteracy and disease. Our population continues to grow at a rate that exceeds our resources and infrastructure. We all need to work together to solve these major problems. The Government is taking initiatives, but needs help. The silver lining, however, is that Pakistan has a great tradition of care for the poor and those in distress which goes back to our Islamic roots and which guided us to overcome our difficulties at the time of independence in 1947.
Over the past few years, there has been an encouraging new awareness in our society. Those who have been blessed by Allah are increasingly recognising the need to give more of their time and resources towards charity, and in particular to establish new institutions dedicated not only to provide relief to the suffering, but also to reducing poverty. We have pioneers who have endowed private universities, schools and hospitals making immeasurable contributions to the society. However in view of the quantum of poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy, much more is needed to be done. We have vast areas where even clean drinking water is not available. Having been faced with this grave situation, the philanthropic impulse, that is already there, needs to be immensely enhanced. We should respond without reservation to those in immediate distress - the hungry, the destitute, those struck by tragedy - and seek to relieve their immediate suffering. We should also apply ourselves to the task of rehabilitation of the less fortunate members of our society. We should channel our charitable impulse to support programmes that pursue long-term sustainable development and empowerment of the underprivileged with a view to improving their quality of life. This great task is now put to the Conference delegates to think about ways and means to render more and better service to the underprivileged.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I commend the Steering Committee for its commitment to a better future for Pakistan through our own efforts at enhancing charity. I would also like to sincerely thank the international development agencies that have been particularly effective in their assistance to community self-help efforts and social programmes. I hope the delegates of this Conference will be able to lend their expertise to building a partnership between indigenous philanthropy, voluntary organisations, and Government policy. As social investments, philanthropy and poverty alleviation efforts must be encouraged to build a society assuring basic human needs to every citizen.
Finally, I am pleased to inaugurate this Conference on Indigenous Philanthropy. I wish you great success in this undertaking and I look forward to seeing the results of your efforts.
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