Djenne, Mali, 11 October 2003 - "Today, we face a delicate situation in which all Muslims of peace need to unite to present to the world a face of an Islam of peace, unity, intelligence and conviction."
His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims today addressed a crowd of over three thousand people who had gathered at the Great Mosque of Djenne, a stately edifice dating back to the 14th century. Mali's Prime Minister Ahmed Mohamed Ag Hamani accompanied the Aga Khan on the overland drive and ferry crossing that brought them to this city on the south-eastern edge of the Niger River's interior delta.
The Aga Khan's visit to Mali has included opportunities to meet with elders and scholars who function as custodians of the country's heritage. Their discussions have touched upon the nature of this heritage and what is required to sustain it in contemporary times. The Aga Khan saw this patrimony as a reminder and source of inspiration for meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow.
"As a Muslim," said the Aga Khan, "I see the great mosques of the Ummah as symbols of the past but also as hopes for the future. "We should not forget," he continued, that "the great periods of Muslim history have always been marked by intelligence, by competence and by knowledge-- of science, of astronomy - and of everything that was important, at the time, for the quality of life of men and women of the Ummah." "We should draw great learning from the past and project it towards the future."
Later in the day, the Aga Khan called briefly on the Imam of the Great Mosque of Mopti and visited the Medical Centre in the city that had been a recipient of one of the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture in 1980 for responding "with sympathy both to the culture and to the sensitive surroundings." The linkage between culture and social development has been a recurring theme of the Aga Khan's visit.
Earlier in the day, the Aga Khan witnessed more recent initiatives in both fields. In Bamako, he visited the Hopital Mere-Enfant "Le Luxembourg" sponsored by the Fondation de l'Enfance and was an honoured guest at the inauguration of the National Museum of Mali by President Amadou Toumani Toure.
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The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of Africa and Asia. Active in over 20 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.