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His Highness the Aga Khan

Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Dinner hosted by the Governor and First Lady of Texas (Austin, Texas, USA)

12 April 2008

 

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Governor Perry and First Lady Anita Perry
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Governor Perry, you have been very generous in your remarks - even as you have been most gracious in your hospitality. We are deeply grateful for the warmth of the Texas welcome which you have extended to us. Of course we have known from previous experience about the wonders of Texas hospitality. As I am told one might say in Texas, “this is not our first rodeo”. But I must also say that you have outdone yourselves today - and you have our deepest appreciation.

Of course, I know that Governor Perry is highly experienced as an official host - I understand you are about to become the longest serving governor in Texas history. And this accomplishment has only been the recent culmination of your long career in public service.

I am also looking back at a long career this year, as I mark my fiftieth anniversary as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. I have been celebrating this Golden Jubilee by visiting places which have been of particular importance to the Ismaili Community over the last half century.

As many of you know, I was studying in the United States when I succeeded my grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as Imam in 1957. My ties here thus go back to the very beginning of my Imamat.

It is fitting that the first stop on this current visit is in Texas. Of course, Texas is known around the world as a place which likes to be first and foremost in just about every area of accomplishment! So it should come as no surprise that for the Ismaili community - as for so many others - Texas is a place where superlatives apply.

Our community’s life in the United States began only a few decades ago - as our people, like so many others, found here a welcoming land of opportunity. So many of them settled in Texas, in fact, that the Ismaili community here has recently been the fastest growing anywhere on earth.

At the heart of that growth of course, is the fact that Ismailis have felt so welcome here. And the critical reason for that compatibility, I believe, is captured in the word “opportunity”. The American ethic and ideal – the Texan ethic and ideal - has always been one of openness to others and openness to the future. It is an ethic of opportunity, which the Ismaili Community deeply shares.

This commitment to opportunity is exemplified in the vitality of your diverse multi-ethnic society. It is rooted in a deep respect for the individual human being - independent of one’s background or origins.

The Governor has cited words from the Quran about the affinity of our religious commitments. The teachings of the Quran, like those of the Bible, also resonate with the words that rang out from Philadelphia in 1776: affirming that “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Those words express our common ideal.

One of the purposes of my trip this week is to meet with the Ismaili community - all across this country. But another purpose is to meet with civic and government leaders, and to discuss ways in which the Ismaili Imamat, the institutions of our Community and the Aga Khan Development Network can partner with them even more effectively.
We would like to build, for example, on the encouraging start we have made, working with educational institutions here in Texas and elsewhere, to span the cultural gap which too often has separated the Islamic World from the West. As you may know, I see this problem not as a clash of civilizations but rather a clash of ignorances - on all sides - and ignorance is a condition that we can do much to remedy.

Similarly, I believe that we can work together to encourage the development of sustainable democracies in parts of the world where democracy has not flourished - reflecting even more rigorously on the conditions which make democracy possible, and helping democratic institutions adapt more effectively to local conditions.

Thirdly, I believe we can partner effectively in applying the world’s most advanced expertise to the challenges of development in parts of the world which are less advanced.

The United States’ position as a world leader, in my view grows directly out of its accomplishments as a Knowledge Society - and this Knowledge - rightly applied - can continue to be a resource of enormous global value.

I thought it might be appropriate for me to say a few words at this point about the Ismaili community and my role as Imam. The Ismailis are a diverse community within the Shia branch of Islam, living in many parts of the world, and encompassing numerous ethnic and linguistic traditions. Their diversity reflects the profound pluralism of the Muslim world. The diverse Ismaili community has been united over many centuries by an allegiance to the living hereditary Imam of the time.

Let me also emphasize the inseparable nature, within Islam, of faith and world: the intertwining of spiritual responsibility with the conduct of daily life. My responsibilities as Imam for interpreting the faith are thus accompanied by a strong engagement with issues relating to the quality of life, affirming the dignity of all peoples.

As many of you know, Ismaili institutions everywhere are anchored in the community’s Jamatkhanas, our places of congregation. Governor Perry has honored us by being present at the ceremonies in years past when we have laid the foundations and opened our Jamatkhanas in Texas, both in Sugarland and Plano. Most recently, the Governor’s encouragement has been instrumental in our decision to build the Community’s first high-profile Ismaili Center in the United States - and to situate it in Houston. For this support, Governor, we are profoundly grateful.

This new edifice will take its place along with six other Ismaili Centers - now located or soon to be located - in London, Vancouver, Lisbon, Dubai, Dushanbe and Toronto. You have mentioned, Governor, your own visit to the Dubai Center, which I had the honor of opening officially last month. We are confident that the new Ismaili Center in Houston, like the Center in Dubai, will not only enhance the physical fabric of the city, but will also serve as a tangible symbol of the values we share with our good neighbors here in Texas.

Shared values are what underly successful partnerships. We look forward to continuing and expanding our partnerships with the people of Texas as we work to extend the blessings of opportunity throughout our communities - and throughout the world.

My thanks to all of you for sharing in this memorable evening.

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