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Speech of Mowlana Hazar Imam made a the Key of the City of Lisbon presentation ceremony 1996-12-17

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Event - 1996-12-17
Tuesday, 1996, December 17
H.H. The Aga Khan being presented with the Key of the City of Lisbon  1996-12-17
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Your Worship the Mayor,
City Councillors,
Honoured guests,
Citizens of Lisbon.

It is with a sense of profound privilege and great personal honour that I accept the "Freedom of the City" which you have so graciously bestowed upon me today. I am most sincerely grateful that the city fathers have chosen this particular occasion to accord me this distinction.

Not only am I in your nation's capital as the official guest of the country's President, but I am also here to attend the ceremony which will mark the establishment of a permanent, physical presence which you have willed and assisted in every way, in the heart of Lisbon, of the Ismaili Muslim community of which I am the Imam.

Whilst Lisbon and I share the fact of a Muslim past, it is particularly meaningful that it is in its built environment that we find the historical links that provide a bridge to the present. Standing here in this magnificent hall, I am reminded by the medallion of Gil Vicente above us, of this renowned sixteenth century satirical playwright. In one of his most well-known plays, Comedia da Rubena, Vicente includes a very popular medieval song of the troubadour tradition - Qalbi Arabi.

The troubadour pines nostalgically for an Islamic past. Today a contemporary historian reminds us that whilst much of the Islamic past may have been abandoned, and I quote there are still many Alis, many Bassams, many Fatimas. And as you may know, Ali and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet are among my earliest ancestors.

Centuries after, the Qalbi Arabi was first recited in the 1970s, a Portuguese poet, an Arabic scholar, adopted the name of this song as the title of an anthology of Andalusian Muslim poetry. It is perhaps not so coincidental that the space for cultural interaction which I hope to create in the Centro Ismaili, together with my fellow Lisboetas, will draw some of its inspiration from Andalusia.

The Centro's architectural language will seek authenticity from the Manueline vocabulary of search and exploration, linking religious inspiration with the nautical imagery which recalls the great voyages of discovery that were launched from this serene harbour, Alis Ubbo, or in its Moorish rendering, Al Usbuna.

I find myself contemplating whether this serenity will still reign in the Lisbon which will emerge in the twenty-first century. As the city expands, this nation's economic epicentre will radiate within the European Union and like its ancient voyages of discovery, Lisbon will continue to strive to link Europe with Africa, Asia and South America.

I have little doubt, also, that its soul will continue to aspire for spaces of contemplation, for peace, for learning and for sharing. If my own humble role in this search can be to help create such a physical and intellectual space through the Centro Ismaili, I shall feel doubly proud that its beginnings should coincide with the granting to me of the Freedom of the City of Lisbon.

Thank You

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