Inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship Awarded to the Aga Khan for His Commitment to Advancing Pluralism 

Always worth noting the Aga Khan’s comments on multiculturalism, diversity and pluralism:

“One enormous challenge, of course,” observed the Aga Khan, “is the simple fact that diversity is increasing around the world. The task is not merely learning to live with that diversity, but learning to live with greater diversity with each passing year.” The Aga Khan fully recognizes the frustrations of the pluralism story. The challenge, he noted, was that as we become aware of the diversity of the world we live in and come into contact with people who are different than us, difference becomes a source of conflict rather than an opportunity. “We talk sincerely about the values of diversity, about living with complexity. But in too many cases more diversity seems to mean more division; greater complexity, more fragmentation, and more fragmentation can bring us closer to conflict.”

It is not just proximity that creates this awareness, and often tension. Technology and media, while seemingly bringing us together, recognized the Aga Khan, often pull us apart, feeding ignorance and insularity. The antidote, however, isn’t ignoring difference. “We often hear in discussions of Global Citizenship that people are basically alike. Under the skin, deep in our hearts, we are all brothers and sisters – we are told – and the secret to a harmonious world is to ignore our differences and to emphasize our similarities. What worries me, however,” said the Aga Khan “is when some take that message to mean that our differences are trivial, that they can be ignored, and eventually erased. And that is not good advice. In fact, it is impossible.”

“Pretending that our differences are trivial will not persuade most people to embrace pluralistic attitudes. In fact, it might frighten them away. People know that differences can be challenging, that disagreements are inevitable, that our fellow-humans can sometimes be disagreeable,” he continued.

Too often people think that embracing the values of Global Citizenship means diluting or compromising one’s own bonds to country or peoples. This is not the case emphasized His Highness. Rather, “the call of pluralism should ask us to respect our differences, but not to ignore them, to integrate diversity, not to depreciate diversity. The call for cosmopolitanism is not a call to homogenization. It means affirming social solidarity, without imposing social conformity. One’s identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world, but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.”

How one goes about achieving this is no easy task. He ended the evening with a recipe-of-clarity-and-wisdom in charting a future for global citizenship: “a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference.”

The Aga Khan’s full speech can be found here.

Source: Inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship Awarded to the Aga Khan for His Commitment to Advancing Pluralism | Huffington Post

Ismaili Centre: place of prayer, cradle of friendship – Aga Khan

The Aga Khan’s speech at opening of the Ismaili Centre in Toronto:

What we dedicate today is what we identify as an Ismaili Centre – a building that is focused around our jamatkhana, but also includes many secular spaces. These are places where Ismailis and non-Ismailis, Muslims and non-Muslims, will gather for shared activities – seminars and lectures, recitals and receptions, exhibitions and social events. These meeting halls and lounges, work offices and conference rooms will serve the organizational needs of the Ismaili community. But they will also, we trust, be filled with the sounds of enrichment, dialogue and warm human rapport.

Soaring above it all is the great crystalline dome that you have observed, through which light from the prayer hall will provide a glowing beacon, symbolizing the spirit of enlightenment that will always be at the heart of the centre’s life.

In its origins, in its design, and in its programs and activities, the complex we inaugurate today is animated by a truly pluralistic spirit. In this respect too, it reflects the deep-set Ismaili values – pluralistic commitments that are so deeply embedded in Canadian values.

Ismaili Centre: place of prayer, cradle of friendship – The Globe and Mail.

Aga Khan Museum will prove to be of historic significance: Siddiqui

Look forward to visiting it during one of our visits to Toronto:

The museum was planned for London but ran into bureaucratic hurdles. The Aga, spiritual leader of Shiite Ismaili Muslims, could have located it anywhere — in Europe, which is where he lives and works France and Switzerland or Africa or Asia which is where much of his nearly $1 billion development and cultural work is done or the United States. He chose Canada instead as a tribute to our pluralism and also to make a contribution to it “in the best way possible.”

England’s loss is Canada’s gain.

This is no ordinary museum.

  • It has not cost Canadian taxpayers a penny.
  • It is an architectural jewel, inspired by great Islamic structures and taking its inspiration from the Qur’anic theme of light, “God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth,” light that basks all humans equally, and that lights up the heart and soul, etc.
  • It uses the familiar geometric patterns of Muslim lands to let in all the light possible. But it has no minarets and no huge domes.

“His Highness did not want this building to use overtly Islamic forms or references,” reveals architect Fumihiko Maki of Japan. “He wanted to have a modern building appropriate to its context.” References to Islam are “sublimated.”

Aga Khan Museum will prove to be of historic significance: Siddiqui | Toronto Star.

Aga Khan Interview

Good and thoughtful interview with the Aga Khan:

Some people refer to it as Islamification. I can’t think of one single country where that has succeeded. The reason is the diversity within Islam, the different types of attitudes towards inheritance, towards zakaat. The attempt to bring a Muslim country that has a multiple of interpretations of Islam around one single interpretation of Islam has never worked. They may try to force it. That’s a different issue. I’ve never seen it work where it wasn’t followed by some form of dictatorial government.

Text of speech before Parliament here:

I believe that Canada is uniquely able to articulate and exemplify three critical underpinnings of a quality civil society: a commitment to pluralism, to meritocracy, and to a cosmopolitan ethic. A cosmopolitan ethic is one that welcomes the complexity of human society. It balances rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. It is an ethic for all peoples, the familiar and the other, whether they live across the street or across the planet….

Address of His Highness the Aga Khan 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Only unfortunate aspect was partisan exclusion of other political parties from Toronto event. The Government never seems to learn that when it rises to the occasion, as in the residential schools apology and the Mandela funeral, it benefits; when it plays partisan games, like the Toronto event, the mission led by Minister Baird to Ukraine etc, it loses. It is not the only government to play such games, but seems to show less sense of when and where.

And the quasi-trolling of event attendees for political follow-up, while an understandable temptation (not convinced that other parties would behave better) does cheapen the Government:

The Aga Khan: the singular appeal of a pluralist – The Globe and Mail

Good piece by Janice Stein on the Aga Khan:

Not only Quebec struggles with the contours of pluralism. Canada is redefining the meaning of citizenship in an age when many are citizens of more than one state. What obligations, some Canadians ask, do we have to those who spend most of their time abroad? When at risk abroad, should they be rescued? And what responsibilities fall to those who come to Canada seeking refuge and opportunity? What should “they” learn and be required to do?

Such concerns are new to the debate on pluralism – and come at a time when we, too, are aging and need new faces, new cultures and new talents if we are to flourish.

We may need new immigrants badly, but our approach to pluralism cannot be purely pragmatic. We must, as the Aga Khan has said in the past, recognize that “the other is both present and different, and appreciate this presence – and this difference – as gifts that can enrich our lives.”

The Aga Khan: the singular appeal of a pluralist – The Globe and Mail.