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  • Honorary Degree recipients Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and His Highness the Aga Khan, in conversation with the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
    University of Cambridge
Aga Khan awarded an Honorary Doctorate at Cambridge University; UCA Scholars to study at Cambridge

Cambridge, United Kingdom, 12 June 2009 - His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, today received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Cambridge’s Pembroke College – the third oldest of the Cambridge colleges.

The Aga Khan becomes the first Muslim to receive the distinction in the University’s 800 year history.

“As we celebrate our eight hundredth anniversary, it is perhaps fitting that we first honour a man who traces his ancestry to the sixth century, and to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him,” said Dr Rupert Thompson, classicist and Fellow of Selwyn College, in a citation read out in Latin in keeping with the College’s tradition. He went on to say: “Since becoming the fourth Aga Khan, he has worked tirelessly through his Development Network to ensure that those who are opressed by the worst poverty should enjoy a reasonable standard of healthcare, education and financial security. And this is not humanitarianism, as he says, but the requirement of his faith.”

“The Honorary Doctorate of Divinity is awarded to individuals who have made a global impact through their religious leadership," said Tim Winter, Academic Secretary in the Faculty of Divinity. "I am delighted that His Highness the Aga Khan, whose charitable and spiritual leadership has a truly worldwide reach, and whose support for scholarship has impacted profoundly on Islamic Studies, should have been chosen for this well-deserved honour.”

The Aga Khan was among a distinguished group of 12 people who were presented Honorary Degrees by the Chancellor of the University, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. Bill and Melinda Gates, who both received Doctor of Law degrees, and Professor Amartya Sen, who received a Doctor of Letters, were among the other recipients.

Honorary Doctorates are the University's highest honour. Recent recipients of the Honorary Doctorate of Divinity include John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of Cape Town, and the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks.

The award of an honorary degree to the Aga Khan coincided with the signing of a scholarship agreement between the Cambridge Overseas Trust and the University of Central Asia (UCA). The UCA will eventually comprise three campuses being built in moutnainous areas -- in Khorog, Tajikistan; Tekeli, Kazakhstan; and Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic.

The  University of Central Asia Cambridge Scholarships, whichare fully funded, will enable outstanding young students from Central Asia to study for higher degrees at Cambridge. The agreement was signed by the Director of the Cambridge Overseas Trust and the Director of the University of Central Asia.  The signing was witnessed by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Alison Richard, and His Highness the Aga Khan.

While at Cambridge, the Aga Khan, who was accompanied by members of his family, visited the Pembroke College Library and a special exhibition of the College’s treasures.

Earlier in the week, he received at Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta in recognition of his efforts in  improving the lives of millions of the world's poorest people and for building a global culture of tolerance.

For further information, please contact:
Department of Communications
Secretariat of His Highness the Aga Khan
60270 Gouvieux, France
Tel: +33 3 44 58 40 00

Salma Lalani
Ismaili Council for the United Kingdom
Tel: +44 7766 77 11 88


His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The Network’s nine development agencies focus on social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. The AKDN’s underlying ethic is compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is in excess of US$500 million.

The University of Central Asia (UCA) was created to offer an internationally recognized standard of higher education in Central Asia and create knowledgeable, skilled and creative graduates who will contribute leadership, ideas and innovations to the transitioning economies and communities of the region. UCA was founded in 2000 by the governments of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, and His Highness the Aga Khan. It is the world’s first internationally chartered institution of higher education.

Cambridge University is one of the world's leading research universities and celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2009. Its rich history reflects on the myriad achievements and world-changing ideas born within its walls, from the establishment of the fundamentals of physics to the discovery of the structure of DNA; from the transformative thinking of great Cambridge philosophers, poets and artists; to the groundbreaking work of its many Nobel Prize winners. Cambridge affiliates have won more than 80 Nobel Prizes, more than any other institution in the world. Some of the most famous scientific minds in history have studied, researched or taught here.

Cambridge Overseas Trust is a charity established for the University of Cambridge in 1989. Its purpose is to enable outstanding international students to study at the University of Cambridge.