Beirut, Lebanon, 25 June 2005 - His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), was today conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, by the American University of Beirut.
In its citation, the University praised the Aga Khan as “an avid philanthropist standing at the head of a network of service institutions focused on the have-nots of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.”
In his acceptance remarks, the Aga Khan praised the American University of Beirut for its commitment to developing future leaders for the region throughout its 139-year history, noting that AUB was not deterred from its mission of building tolerance and understanding even during the difficult period of the Lebanese civil war.
“The University’s fidelity to its founding notion, that disciplined, objective inquiry is the property of all humanity, attracts faculty and students of high calibre from dozens of countries and cultures, challenged not only to excel in their chosen fields, but to place their knowledge in the wider context of humanity’s pluralist heritage and foundations in the fields of education, health, social and economic development and culture,” he said.
“Clearly, it has chosen with great wisdom those areas of knowledge which are particularly important for the future of the peoples of this part of the world, educating men and women to graduate with outstanding qualities of leadership.”
He said AUB’s commitment to the universality of knowledge “is a core principle of my own faith – Islam – that learning is ennobling, regardless of the geographic or cultural origin of the knowledge we acquire.”
Such a commitment to learning historically had inspired the Islamic world to create universities that were symbols of “new waves of adventure in the realms of the spirit and the intellect,” including the University of al-Azhar and Dar al-Ilm, established by the Fatimid ancestors of the Aga Khan in Cairo, and counterpart institutions in Baghdad, Cordova, Bukhara, Samarkand and other Muslim centres.
Other honorary degree recipients were:
- Richard Debs, long-serving member of the University’s Board of Trustees, and known for his many services to international finance, the Arab world, relations between the Arab world and the West, philanthropy, and international education.
- Fairuz, born and educated in Beirut, the renowned Lebanese singer is a cultural icon for Arabs around the world, working closely with local composers such as the Rahbani brothers and starring in films written by them. Fairuz’s songs are said to have served to unite all Lebanese during the civil war strife.
- Ghassan Tueni, journalist, and long time editor-in-chief of the An-Nahar newspaper, which has been at the forefront of Lebanon’s struggle for freedom of press, independence and civic, economic and political rights. Tueni has also been described as a statesman, a humanitarian and a man of letters.
- Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the first Arab to win a Nobel Prize in science. Currently he is the director of the California Institute of Technology’s Laboratory for Molecular Sciences.
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The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies whose mandates range from the fields of health and education to architecture, culture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. Its agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central Asia and the Middle East.