Houston, Texas, USA, 23 June 2002 — “Nine eleven has scarred America, but not just America. It has scarred the Islamic world, and hundreds of millions of devout and practicing Muslims for whom the word of the Quran is the word of God. We have clarity and direction enough when the Quran affirms that to save a life is, as if , to save humankind altogether.”
His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of some 12-15 million Ismaili Muslims, was speaking at the inauguration of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Describing the multipurpose Center which will combine cultural and education facilities with spaces for quiet contemplation, the Aga Khan said “it will be a place of search and enlightenment, not of anger and of obscurantism.
“It will be a center,” he continued, “which will seek to bond men and women of this pluralist country to replace their fragility in their narrow spheres by the strength of civilised society bound together by a common destiny.
Earlier, the Aga Khan described how the Center’s architecture sought to reflect “who we are in terms of our beliefs, our cultural heritage and our relation to the needs and contexts in which we live in today’s world.
The Aga Khan cautioned against stifling “the strength which comes from the diversity and pluralism of Muslim societies, past and present.” “Unfortunately, there are forces at work in the Islamic world that seek to establish such a norm,” he warned. “This makes it all the more important that we strive to counter such efforts by employing all the means of intellectual discourse – research, discussion… celebration of innovative projects.”
Governor Perry echoed some of these sentiments when he spoke of the need “to heed the lessons of centuries past: that peace among men can never be achieved through division…it can only be achieved when we realise our common hopes, our common bonds, our common humanity.
The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center is designed by Indian-born Montreal resident Ramesh Khosla, whose previous credits include the World Trade Center concourse. Architect Khosla, himself not a Muslim, has fused design concepts of Islamic inspiration, some going back a thousand years, with materials indigenous to the Southwestern United States. The 11.5 acre site, set by a lake, with a fountain, landscaped gardens and a collection of Islamic decorative art includes exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, space for private prayer and offices for Ismaili community institutions.
The Aga Khan, who is accompanied by his wife, Begum Inaara Aga Khan and his eldest son, Prince Rahim Aga Khan, is on an official visit to Texas at the invitation of Governor Perry, whose guest he will be in Austin tomorrow.
On Tuesday, the Aga Khan departs for Washington DC where he will be an honoured guest at the inauguration of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall, exceptionally dedicated this year to the theme of the Silk Road and for which the Aga Khan Trust for Culture is a lead funder and key creative partner.