Mr. Speaker of the Senate, Mr. Speaker of the House of Commons, parliamentarians, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honour to welcome His Highness the Aga Khan to the Parliament of Canada.
I am also pleased to recognize his family members and Ismaili leaders, who have come from across the country and around the world to hear His Highness address the Canadian people. Please, colleagues, welcome them all.
As we all know, Canada is home to a well-established and fast-growing Ismaili community. His Highness has therefore become an increasingly frequent visitor, and always a welcome one.
In fact, Your Highness, you are no longer simply a visitor. You are now an honorary Canadian citizen.
I remember well, Your Highness, the day you accepted honorary Canadian citizenship, something agreed to by all parties of this House.
It was during the foundation ceremony of Toronto's Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum and Park. I am told construction there has gone well and that the centre will soon portray Islamic contributions to the enlightened pursuit of knowledge.
Soon, everyone will be able to access this carefully catalogued history.
In any case, Your Highness, know this: when you are in Canada, you are home.
In a few moments, His Highness will share some thoughts with us.
Our decision to extend Canadian citizenship to His Highness recognizes the reality of values shared and values acted upon.
His Highness' life-long advocacy for humanitarianism, pluralism, and tolerance has gone far beyond words.
For example, the Global Centre for Pluralism, here in Ottawa, was established in partnership with our government at the very beginning of our mandate.
His Highness' Global Centre for Pluralism here in Ottawa advances good governance and engages with societies on the precipice of crisis.
Similarly, through the Aga Khan Development Network, His Highness has been tireless in humanitarian and development initiatives in Africa, in Asia, including in Afghanistan, where the network continues to be a brave partner in Canada's efforts to secure and improve the lives of Afghan citizens.
Over the years, then, we have built together a solid record of genuine assistance to some of the world's neediest people. Today that work goes on. In particular, our government and the network co-operate in the development priority that Canada assumed at the Muskoka G8, the promotion of maternal, newborn, and child health.
The fact that so many women, infants and children in developing countries are dying needlessly is an unspeakable tragedy—I would even call it disgraceful—when medical knowledge is so widespread.
In this work, Your Highness, we are delighted to have your personal support and the capable assistance of the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Aga Khan Development Network.
Canadians have the utmost respect for the work they do, and your leadership inspires us to hope for a better world.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, colleagues, Canadians are strongest when we have the support of those who share our values.
Although revered in the western world, deeply rooted values are not restricted to a single culture.
Those who love freedom and democracy, those who desire peace, those who will uphold the basic rights of every man and woman, and those who, such as His Highness, share our belief that pluralism, diversity within a united country, is the basis of all of these things—these are our friends.
Your Highness, we have met on several occasions and, like our country as a whole, I value your counsel and your friendship.
It has become clear that there is an exquisite symmetry, as I once described it, between your values and Canadian values.
You once said that we cannot make the world safe for democracy without first making the world safe for diversity. This is a most Canadian way of seeing things.
It is in that spirit that our government created Canada's Office of Religious Freedom last year, because we believe that freedom of religion and freedom of conscience form the basis of our freedoms.
Your Highness, the depth of our relationship suggests that more frequent and deliberate dialogue between the Imamate and the Government of Canada would be beneficial.
I am therefore pleased to announce that at the conclusion of these proceedings, the Imamate and the Government of Canada will sign a protocol of understanding that builds upon our broad, historic relationship.
I am, therefore, pleased to announce that at the conclusion of these proceedings, the Imamate and the Government of Canada will sign a protocol of understanding that builds upon our broad, historic relationship.
Let me conclude, Your Highness, by returning to the subject of Canada's Ismaili community, which began its life here more than 40 years ago as penniless refugees from Uganda. Yet, from that moment on, Canada's Ismailis have become one of Canada's most successful immigration stories.
Your Highness, the prosperity of your followers, their harmonious integration into Canadian society and the respect they have inspired could be considered a tribute to pluralism in Canada. That is very much the case.
The Ismaili combination of self-reliance and willingness to give for the betterment of others and of Canada itself is a reflection of your teachings and, Your Highness, it was a good day, a good day for all of us, when you told your followers to “make Canada your home”. You must be very proud of them. Certainly, we all are.
Now, Mr. Speaker, parliamentarians, please join me in welcoming a great friend and partner of Canada, His Highness the Aga Khan.
: Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
Prime Minister, Speaker Kinsella, Speaker Scheer, hon. members of the Senate and the House of Commons, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, hon. members of the diplomatic community, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the 's generous introduction has been very kind. I am grateful for this invitation, for our association, and for so thoughtfully enabling leading representatives of our community and institutions around the world to join us on this occasion. Thank you, Prime Minister.
I am thankful that these leaders of the Ismaili community will have this opportunity to see for themselves why Canada is a leader in the community of nations. I must also thank you, , for inviting me to become an honorary citizen.
May I congratulate you on the gold medals of your remarkable hockey teams in Sochi. As an ex-player myself, I was hoping you would require your honorary citizens to join your team. I am convinced that the Dalai Lama and I would have been a formidable defence.
Thank you again for the invitation, Mr. .
It is an unprecedented honour for me to be here today. This is both a personal feeling and an objective observation, since I was told that this is the first time in 75 years that a spiritual leader has addressed a joint session of the Senate and the House of Commons during an official visit.
It is therefore with humility and a feeling of great responsibility that I speak to you, the elected representatives of the Canadian federal Parliament, in the presence of the highest authorities of the federal government.
I have the great privilege of representing the Ismaili Imamate, an institution that reaches across borders and, for over 1,400 years, has identified itself and been recognized by a growing number of states as the succession of the Shia Imami Ismaili imams.
As the 49th Imam in that long history, for over 50 years, I have carried two inseparable responsibilities: overseeing the spiritual journey of Ismailis and, at the same time, improving their quality of life and the quality of life of the communities in which they live.
Although there was a time where the Ismaili imams were also caliphs, which means heads of state—for example, in Egypt in the Fatimid period—today, my role is not a political one, since all Ismailis are first and foremost citizens of their native or adopted country.
The purview of the Ismaili Imamate is much greater now than it was in those days, since today, it is active in many areas of the world. With that in mind, I would like to share some thoughts with you that I think are important.
I propose today to give you some background about myself and my role and then to reflect upon what we call the umma, the entirety of Muslim communities around the world.
I will comment as a faith leader on the crisis of governance in so much of the world today, before concluding with some thoughts about the values that can assist countries of crises to develop into countries of opportunity and how Canada can help shape that process.
First then, a few personal words.
I was born into a Muslim family, linked by heredity to the Prophet Muhammad. May peace be upon him and his family.
My education is blended in Islamic and western traditions. I was studying at Harvard some 50 years ago—actually, 56 years ago—when I became the hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. The Ismaili Imamate is a separate national entity, representing the succession of imams since the time of the Prophet. Let me clarify something more about the history of that role, in both the Sunni and the Shia interpretations of the Muslim faith.
The Sunni position is that the Prophet nominated no successor and that spiritual moral authority belongs to those who are learned in matters of religious law. As a result, there are many Sunni imams in a given time and a given place. Others believe that the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law Ali as his successor. From that early division a host of further distinctions grew up, but the question of rightful leadership remains central. In time the Shia were also subdivided over those questions, so that today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who throughout history have been led by a living hereditary imam in direct descent from the Prophet.
The role of the Ismaili imam is a spiritual one. His authority is that of religious interpretation. It is not a political role. I do not govern any land. At the same time, Islam believes fundamentally that the spiritual and material worlds are inextricably connected. Faith does not remove Muslims or their imams from daily practical matters in family life, in business, and in community affairs. Faith, rather, is a force that should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges, and for improving the quality of human life. The belief in this fusion of faith and world is why much of my attention has been committed to the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.
In 1957, when I succeeded my grandfather as Imam, the Ismaili community lived for the most part in the colonies and ex-colonies of France, Belgium, and the British Empire, or behind the Iron Curtain. This is still a highly diverse community in terms of ethnicity, language, culture, and geography. They continue to live mostly in the developing world, though increasing numbers now live in Europe and North America.
Before 1957, individual Ismaili communities had their own social and economic institutions where that was allowed. There was no intent for them to grow to national prominence, and even less vision to coordinate their activities across frontiers.
Today, however, that situation has changed, and the Aga Khan Development Network has a strong presence in several dozen countries where appropriate regional coordination is also useful. The AKDN, as we call it, is composed of a variety of private non-governmental, non-denominational agencies, implementing many of the Imamate's responsibilities. We are active in the fields of economic development, job creation, education, health care, as well as important cultural initiatives.
Most of our AKDN activities have been borne from the grassroots of developing countries, reflecting their aspirations and fragilities. Through the years, of course, this landscape has changed fundamentally, with the creation of new states, like Bangladesh; the horrors of ethnic cleansing, in Uganda; the collapse of the Soviet empire; and the emergence of new countries with large Ismaili populations, such as Tajikistan. More recently, of course, we have faced the conflicts in Afghanistan and in Syria, but through all of these experiences, the Ismaili peoples have demonstrated an impressive capacity to persevere and to progress.
Our work has always been people driven. It grows out of the age-old Islamic ethic that is committed to goals with universal relevance: the elimination of poverty, access to education, and social peace in a pluralist environment. The AKDN's fundamental objective is to improve the quality of human life.
Among the great common denominators of the human race is a third aspiration, a common hope for a better quality of life. I was struck a few years ago to read about the UNDP survey of 18 South American states, where the majority of the people were less interested in their forms of government than in the quality of their lives. Even autocratic governments that improve their quality of life would be more acceptable for most of those polled than ineffective democratic governments. I cite that study, of course, with due respect to governmental institutions that have had a more successful story, including certain very distinguished parliaments.
The sad fact behind so much instability in our world today is that governments seem to be inadequate to these challenges. A much happier fact is that in the global effort to change this picture, Canada is an exemplary leader.
Let me now describe a few examples of a quarter century of close collaboration between AKDN and Canada. One of our earliest collaborations was to establish the first private nursing school in Pakistan, in co-operation with McMaster University and the CIDA of that time. It was the first component of the Aga Khan University, the first private university in that country. The nursing school's impact has been enormous. Many of those who now head other nursing programs in hospitals in the whole of the region, not just Pakistan, are graduates of our school.
Canada was also one of the first donors to the Aga Khan rural support program in northern Pakistan, tripling incomes in this remote marginalized area. The approaches developed there have shaped our further collaborations in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, and in Mozambique.
Canada has also helped to establish the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development, in Karachi and East Africa, along with other educational initiatives in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan, including pioneering work in the field of early childhood development.
I could also speak about our close ties with Canadian universities, such as McMaster, McGill, the University of Toronto, and the University of Alberta, enhancing our own institutions of tertiary education, the Aga Khan University, and the University of Central Asia. The latter institution has resulted from the Imamate's unique tripartite treaty with the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. It serves some 22 million people who live in central Asia on hillside and high mountain environments, areas of acute seismic and economic vulnerability.
I could list many more examples in cultural development and in scientific research. We are especially proud of the Global Centre for Pluralism here in Ottawa, a joint project of the Imamate and the Canadian government.
In just three years, Canada will mark its 150th anniversary, and the whole world will be ready to celebrate with you. Sharing Canada's robust pluralistic history is the core mission of our global centre, and 2017 will be a major opportunity for doing so. Operating from its headquarters in the former war museum on Sussex Drive, perhaps 2017, and the celebrations, can be a catalyst with our neighbours to improve the entire riverfront area around that building.
Our partnership in Canada has been immensely strengthened, of course, by the presence, for more than four decades, of a significant Ismaili community. Like most historical global communities, the Ismaili peoples have a variegated history, but surely our experience in Canada has been a particularly positive chapter. I happily recall the establishment of the delegation of the Ismaili Imamate here in 2008, and the 's description that day of our collaborative efforts to make Canada “the headquarters of the global effort to foster peace, prosperity and equality through pluralism”. We are deeply pleased that we can today sign a new protocol with your government, further strengthening our ongoing platform for co-operation.
As we look to the next 25 years of the AKDN, we believe that our permanent presence in the developing world will make us a dependable partner, especially in meeting the difficult challenges of predictability. Against this background, let me move on to the broad international sphere, including the role of relations between the countries and cultures of Islam, what we call the umma, and non-Islamic societies. It is central to the shape of global affairs in our time.
I would begin by emphasizing a central point about the umma that is often unseen elsewhere: the fundamental fact of its immense diversity. Muslim demography has expanded dramatically in recent years, and Muslims today have highly differing views on many questions. Essential among them is that they do not share some common overarching impression of the west. It has become commonplace for some to talk about an inevitable clash of the industrial west and Islamic civilizations. However, Muslims do not see things in this way.
Those whose words and deeds feed into that point of view are a small and extreme minority. For most of us, it is simply not true. We find singularly little in our theological interpretations that would clash with other Abrahamic faiths, with Christianity and Judaism. Indeed, there is much that is in profound harmony.
When the clashes of modern times have come, they have most often grown out of particular political circumstances, the twists and turns of our relationships and economic ambitions rather than deep theological divides, yet, sadly, what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world gets mistaken for what is normal.
Of course, media perceptions of our world in recent years have often been conveyed through a lens of war, but that is all the more reason to shape global conversation in a more informed direction. I am personally aware of the efforts the has made to achieve this. Thank you, Prime Minister.
The complexity of the umma has a long history. Some of the most glorious chapters in Islamic history were purposefully built on the principles of inclusiveness. It was a matter of state policy to pursue excellence through pluralism. This was true from the time of the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Cairo over 1,000 years ago. It was true in Afghanistan and in Timbuktu in Mali, and later with the Sufavids in Iran, the Mughals in India, the Uzbeks in Bukhara, the Ottomans in Turkey. From the 6th to the 18th century, Al-Andalus thrived on the Iberian Peninsula under the Muslim aegis, but was also deeply welcoming to Christian and Jewish peoples.
Today, these Islamic traditions have been obscured in many places, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The work of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and our historic cities program, is to revive the memory of this inclusive inheritance. Another immediate initiative is the Aga Khan museum, which will open this year in Toronto, an important testimonial in a Canadian setting to the immense diversity of Islamic cultures.
Perhaps the most important area of incomprehension outside the umma is the conflict between the Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam and the consequences for the Sunni and Shia peoples. This powerful tension is sometimes even more profound than conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. It has increased massively in scope and intensity recently and has been further exacerbated by external interventions. In Pakistan and Malaysia, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon and Bahrain, in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan, it is becoming a disaster.
It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the umma to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring, over many centuries, that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities.
What would have been the consequences if the Protestant and Catholic struggle in Ireland had spread throughout the Christian world, as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries? It is of the highest priority that these dangerous trends be well understood and resisted, and that the fundamental legitimacy of pluralistic outlooks be honoured in all aspects of our lives together, including matters of faith.
I would now like to address you in your other official language.
I just spoke about the misunderstandings between the industrialized world and the Muslim world and the conflict that is unduly affecting relations between the major traditions of Islam. Nevertheless, our hearts, minds and faith—for those who have it—tell us that it is possible to live in greater harmony.
In fact, recent changes have opened a door for us. Among these changes, I would like to point out how important the constitutional approach is in correcting existing constitutions that are proving to be inadequate as societies change, particularly in developing countries. This is a crucial issue that the duties of my position do not allow me to ignore.
You may be surprised to learn that 37 countries throughout the world have adopted a new constitution in the past 10 years and that 12 countries are in the later stages of modernizing their constitutions, which gives us a total of 49 countries. In other words, this movement affects a quarter of the member states of the United Nations. Of these 49 countries, 25% have a Muslim majority. This shows that, today, civil societies' demand for new constitutional structures has become inevitable.
At this point, I would like to take a moment to mention a particular difficulty the Muslim world is grappling with. Because of the way religious parties are structured, they support the principle that religion and state are inseparable. Consequently, when those parties are negotiating the terms of a constitution with stakeholders who demand the separation of religion and state, it is difficult to reach a consensus on the supreme law.
However, one country, the Republic of Tunisia, has recently demonstrated that it is possible. This is not the time or the place to delve into the details of the country's new constitution. However, it is the result of a truly pluralistic debate, and it appears to contain the rules needed to ensure mutual respect among the various segments of civil society. In particular, the country is embracing the concept of coalition, be it at the electoral or governmental level. That is a great leap forward for the expression of pluralism, which both Canada and the Ismaili Imamate are calling for.
This change gives rise to hope. The debate and conflict that are inherent in any pluralistic society are no longer taking place in the streets or public squares; they are taking place in the constitutional court, where the rule of law prevails. Over and above the contributions of the Tunisian constitutional experts, the preparatory work was an opportunity to hold consultations on comparative constitutional law.
In particular, I would like to commend the role played by legal experts from Portugal, a country that I hold in high regard. It, like Canada, has developed a civilization of mutual respect between communities and religious tolerance.
I am referring here to the law that has governed relations between the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamate since 2010. I am pleased to inform this esteemed assembly that this law, passed unanimously, recognizes the Ismaili Imamate as a supranational entity.
To conclude my remarks on the Tunisian constitution, I would like to quote François Hollande, President of the French Republic, who said this in Tunis:
||...what sets your revolution—and your constitution—apart is the role played by civil society.
Clearly, the voices playing a major role in Tunisia are the voices of civil society. By civil society, I mean an array of institutions that operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are motivated by high public purposes. They include institutions devoted to education and culture, to science and research, and to commercial, labour, ethnic, and religious concerns. They include as well professional societies in law, accounting, banking, engineering, and medicine. Civil society encompasses groups that work on health and safety and environmental matters and organizations that are engaged in humanitarian service or in the arts or the media.
There is sometimes a tendency in the search for progress to focus solely on politics and government or on the private profit-making sector. Surely they both have roles to play, but in my view the world needs to pay more attention—much, much more attention—to the potential role of civil society. We see it expanding in many places, from sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and Egypt, from Iran to Bangladesh.
At a time of extreme danger in Kenya a few years ago, at the beginnings of a civil war, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, led the way to a peaceful solution, which rested heavily on the strength of Kenya's civil society.
Increasingly, I believe the voices of civil society are voices for change where change has been overdue. They have been voices of hope for people living in fear. They are voices that can help transform countries of crisis into countries of opportunity. There are too many societies where too many people live in a culture of fear, condemned to a life of poverty. Addressing that fear and replacing it with hope will be a major step toward the elimination of poverty, and often the call for hope to replace fear will come from the voices of civil society. An active civil society can open the door for an enormous variety of energies and talents from a broad spectrum of organizations and individuals. It means opening the way for diversity. It means welcoming plurality.
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.
The Aga Khan Development Network has worked over five decades to assist in the enhancement of civil society, and as we look to its future, we are honoured that Canada views us as a valued partner. Thank you, .
One key to Canada's success in building a meritocratic civil society is your recognition that democratic societies require more than democratic governments. I have been impressed by recent studies showing the activity of voluntary institutions and not-for-profit organizations in Canada to be among the highest in the world. This Canadian spirit resonates with a cherished principle in Shia Ismaili culture: the importance of contributing one's individual energies, on a voluntary basis, to improving the lives of others. This is not a matter of philanthropy but rather of self-fulfilment, enlightened self-fulfilment.
During my golden jubilee six years ago, and this is important, Ismailis from around the world volunteered their gifts not only of wealth but, most notably, of time and knowledge in support of our work. We established a time and knowledge framework, a structured process, for engaging an immense pool of expertise involving tens of thousands of volunteers. Many of them travelled to the developing countries as part of this outpouring of service. One-third of those were Canadians. Their impact has been enormous in helping us achieve best practice standards in our institutions and programs, making us, we hope, an even better partner for Canada.
Such efforts thrive when multiple inputs can be matched to multiple needs, which is why Canada's immense economic diversity is such a valuable global resource.
One of the foundational qualities of Canada's civil society is its educational emphasis. Studies show that Canadian students, whether native or foreign born, perform in the very top tier of students internationally and that, indeed, more than 45% of the foreign-born population in Canada have a tertiary degree. This record of educational opportunity resonates strongly with the Shia Ismaili belief in the transformative power of the human intellect, a conviction that underscores AKDN's massive commitment to education wherever we are present, not only education for our faith but also education for our world. To do this, we are engaged in all levels of education.
The Aga Khan University in Karachi and in East Africa is expanding to create a new liberal arts faculty and to establish eight new post-graduate schools, in collaboration with several Canadian universities.
We share with Canada a deep appreciation of the potential of early childhood education. Congratulations, , for your initiative on this. It is the period of the greatest development of the brain. This education is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve the quality of life for rural as well as urban populations. In this regard, let me take a moment to salute the late Dr. Fraser Mustard, whose work in early childhood development will impact millions of people around the world. The AKDN has been fortunate to have been inspired and counselled by this great Canadian scientist and humanist.
Quality education is fundamental to the development of a meritocratic civil society and thus to the development of pluralistic attitudes. The history of Canada has a great deal to teach us in this regard, including the long incremental processes through which quality civil societies and committed cultures of pluralism are built. One of the watchwords of our new Global Centre for Pluralism is that pluralism is a process and not a product. I know that many Canadians would describe their own pluralism as a work in progress, but it is also an asset of enormous global quality.
Finally, what will a quality civil society require from us?
Sadly, the world is becoming more pluralist in fact but not necessarily in spirit. Cosmopolitan social patterns have not yet been matched by a cosmopolitan ethic. In fact, one harsh reality is that religious hostility and intolerance seem to be on the rise in many places, from the Central African Republic to the South Sudan to Nigeria to Myanmar, the Philippines, and other countries, between major religious groups and within them.
Again, Canada has responded in notable ways, including the establishment just one year ago of the Office of Religious Freedom. Its challenges, like those facing the Centre for Global Pluralism, are enormous, and its contributions will be warmly welcomed. Surely it will also serve as a worthy model for other countries.
In summary, I believe that civil society is one of the most powerful forces in our time, one that will become an increasingly universal influence, engulfing more countries, influencing, reshaping, and sometimes even replacing ineffective regimes. I also believe that civil society around the world should be vigorously encouraged and wisely nurtured by those who have made it work most successfully, Canada first among all.
I am most grateful to the , and to you, who have given me this opportunity to share, from a faith perspective, some of the issues that preoccupy me when looking ahead. I hope I have explained why I am convinced of the global validity of our partnership for human development.
Let me end with a personal thought. As you build your lives for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Quran, which addresses itself to the whole of humanity.
It says, “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women”. I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race, born indeed from a single soul.