Civil societies are “the most powerful forces in our time” to change the world, the Aga Khan said on Thursday.“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,” he said in a historic speech, the first by a Muslim non-head of state to the Canadian Parliament.Only five individuals outside heads of state have been offered this privilege. The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.
“Faith should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges, and for improving the quality of human life,” he saidThe Aga Khan said an active civil society frees individuals’ energies and talents, facilitating diversity and tolerance in progressive societies. “It means welcoming plurality,” he said in a speech that cited false alarms over presumed differences and potential clashes between Islamic beliefs and western values.
“This Muslim belief in the fusion of faith and world is why much of my attention has been committed to the work of the Aga Khan Development Network,” he said of AKDN’s global investments in health, education, infrastructure and financial sectors.
AKDN has over the years collaborated with governments, like-minded individuals and institutions, including in Uganda, to undertake investments that lift people out of poverty or empower them.“Our work has always been people-driven. It grows out of the age-old Islamic ethic, 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,” the Aga Khan said.
He cited a research done in South America which found that citizens care more about the quality of life than the character – democratic or otherwise – of their governments.
Much of the world’s instability today, he said, is because governments are seen to be inadequate to existing development challenges.“We believe that our permanent presence in the developing world will make us a dependable partner, especially in meeting the difficult challenges of predictability.”
The Aga Khan commended the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for leading a country whose exemplary civil society espouses the principles of “pluralism, meritocracy and cosmopolitan ethic.”Contrary to widespread perceptions, the Aga Khan said only minority Muslims don’t share common, overarching values of the West, downplaying widespread narratives of an inevitable clash of the industrial West and Islamic civilisations.
He announced the Aga Khan Universities in Karachi and East Africa were expanding to create a new Liberal Arts faculty to establish eight new post-graduate schools in collaboration with Canadian universities.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor