12 July 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is for my wife and I to join you this afternoon in celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Highness The Aga Khan’s succession to the Imamat.
It is, if I may say so, London’s great good fortune that His Highness has chosen to open his Golden Jubilee celebrations with the ‘Spirit and Life’ Exhibition which my wife and I have just seen – we had to drag ourselves away from it! I understand that this is the first time these masterpieces of Islamic art have been seen in London. They are of quite exceptional historical importance and beauty. But, perhaps still more importantly, they also convey the clearest possible message about the close ties between the Abrahamic Faiths. For example, the magnificent Eleventh Century Canon of Medicine, which originated in Iran, was equally indispensable to Western scholars for the better part of five hundred years.
And it was fascinating when I was recently at the British Library to see there in fact another fascinating exhibition called ‘Sacred’, which another very dramatic demonstration of the close way in which these faiths have been so close for so long.
So much attention is paid to the outward differences between Faiths. Almost reflexively, this becomes translated into seemingly impenetrable divisions between people; people who – if they did but know it – are in fact linked by much and separated by rather little. How refreshing it is, then, to be reminded by this marvellous exhibition of the spirituality from which our Faiths draw their real strength, and of the heritage and traditions which we share.
It is, of course, His Highness’s own leadership and vision which has brought this collection together. It is, if I may say so, it is that same leadership and vision which has enabled the Aga Khan Development Network to grow into an organization of international importance, addressing development needs in some thirty-five countries around the World, bridging boundaries of race and religion. My darling wife and I were privileged to see some of this work, towards the end of last year, in Altit and Nansoq villages in Northern Pakistan - in fact I was devastated when I had to leave behind the gift I was given, in Altit: a very beautifully shampooed Yak! I got a crate to bring it back, and actually I think a Yak is the only rare breed I haven’t got.
Can I also just say a brief word about the Ismaili community in this country, and the contribution they make to modern British society. I can only applaud your emphasis on intellectual and cultural exploration as a means of integration, and your determination to discharge your obligations as citizens of this country without losing your own distinctive traditions. I suspect it is no coincidence that the younger members of your community have among the highest participation in tertiary education, helping to create strong role models for all young people in Britain. The reasons behind this are probably more a subject for a Doctoral thesis than a short speech. But I have no doubt that the existence of shared values is a key defining factor. These values celebrate humility, greatness of soul, honour, magnanimity and, indeed, hospitality. They form the bedrock of the excellent outreach work of the Ismaili Centre. These shared values are perhaps, the greatest of the treasures displayed here today…
Your Highness, in concluding, and on behalf of my Wife and myself, can I offer our most affectionate and heartfelt congratulations on your Golden Jubilee and our fervent hope, Insha’ Allah, many, many more years of outstanding service to your community lay ahead.
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