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Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the new High School at Nairobi 1961-12-10

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Event - 1961-12-10
Sunday, 1961, December 10
Paigham -e-Imamat 1957-1983 – pg 79 -83
His Highness The Aga Khan IV
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Your Worship, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am most happy indeed that it has been possible for me to make this brief visit to Nairobi on my way back from the Independence celebrations in Tanganyika and to be able to open this fine new Secondary School.

When I listened on Friday evening to the Duke of Edinburgh’s humorous reference to the fact that his list of engagements had enabled Tanganyika’s Independence Day to be put forward by a week or so, I thought to myself that there was at least one person in Nairobi who would have welcomed a postponement in this particular “Uhuru”. Not only has our Education Administrator Mr. Jimmy Verjee had to contend with the constantly changing date for the opening ceremony, he has also had to battle against an almost complete breakdown of communication following the floods and finally with the contractor who had the misfortune to suffer from acute financial embarrassment at the most critical stage of the building’s construction.

How he managed to overcome all these difficulties, I cannot imagine. But we all owe Mr. Verjee and his hard working team a very real debt of thanks for their fine achievement. What pleases me most however, is to know that Mr. Verjee will make certain that the quality of the staff is equal to that of the building.

This school brings very nearly to a close our education building programme in Kenya. I think you all agree that it is a very pretty and worthy monument to the contribution which my community has made to the educational fabric of this country. It will be the first we have built which will enable pupils to be taught up to Higher School Certificate standard, and thus qualify for entrance to Universities – both in East Africa and in the United Kingdom.

Part of the cost of this building has been borne by the Kenya Government and we are indebted to the Minister for all the help that he has given us. The rest has been paid by the Ismaili Community and myself. But I would like to make it quite clear that although this is a strictly speaking Ismaili project, we have built it not for our own community alone but for the whole of Kenya. Ismaili children will naturally be in the majority to begin with, for after all it was their parents’ financial sacrifice which made this possible. But from the very beginning, the doors of this school, as all Ismaili schools, are to be open to children of all races, to anyone in fact who can meet the standards of knowledge we intend to maintain.

A great many things have changed in Kenya during the past few years, more still will change in the years immediately ahead. The days of exclusive community development in our opinion, are over. There will be no place for it in the new independent Kenya which lies ahead. But in our private lives, and in some of our social customs, and certainly in our religion, we believe we have not only a right but the duty to retain our identities and our freedom. So far as I am aware, there exists no political party which would deny us these rights. But in the vast arena of social services, in education and in health, most particularly, we Ismailis know long ago that our efforts should increasingly be directed to the service of the nation, and I think the Platinum Jubilee Hospital is a very good example of this trend. It is no longer regarded simply as an Ismaili hospital, nor even as an Asian hospital. It has become a part and, I think an efficient one, of the hospital service of Kenya.

As with the hospital so with our schools. So they will, I hope, always keep our name and the very sound tradition of teaching which we have created in them. It will not be long before they become an integral part of Kenya’s educational system.

Very soon now Kenya will have to decide, as Tanganyika did a year ago, how an integrated school system is to be brought into being. There is little doubt that an independent Government will insist that grant-aided schools and private schools are another matter – should be open to all who possess the necessary academic qualifications, and as the southern states of America are finding to their cost, the problem is an extremely difficult one, and arouses all kinds of complex emotions.

Yet it has to be faced and in a country like Kenya, the sooner we face the better.

I would like to add a footnote to these comments. I feel assured that the anxieties caused by the multiracial education are felt today more keenly by the parents than by the children. Surely it is a fact of which we can take advantage. If we sincerely seek to build a country which under African rule permits people of different races to live happily, the page to start it is in the schools.

If Mohammed and Jonathan and Njoroge can take school certificate together and play football together, the chances are that they would get to know and understand each other far better than their parents were able to. For my sake, I believe that it is a great mistake to underestimate the power of good, of the brotherhood of the young, and we can be certain that education and school will receive a tremendous stimulus after independence, and that a large proportion of the international resources would be devoted to this service.

In education, as in so many other fields of activity, there is certain to be a big gap between the ideals and the practical limit set by available finance. That is why it is so important that private community, as well as purely Government resources are drawn upon. Beyond this there is as well as the prospect of international aid. As Muslims we are naturally anxious that a fair proportion of such outside assistance is contributed by Muslim countries and spent in such a way as to strengthen Muslims education throughout this continent. Such is an aim of the East African Muslim Welfare Society – a society with which my own family and my community had been intimately connected.

This is the first public ceremony which I have performed since leading a delegation of the Society on a visit to Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. It gives me great pleasure to announce that His Majesty King Hassan of Morocco has most generously given us a new Muslim Secondary School for Dar es salaam, and I would like to take this occasion to thank publicly His Majesty’s representatives who are with us today.

No doubt, most of you are aware that we plan to carry our good will visit still further afield in the new year, and it is my duty to state publicly what are our aims in carrying out this mission. The Welfare Society was founded in 1945, and up till last year the Muslims of East Africa have carried the burden of their own development with little help from outside. We decided last year that we must seek support whenever possible from our brother Muslims, and I think you will agree that there is nothing particularly strange in this idea. After all, Christian and Jewish communities all over the world help each other in a similar way. What seems to me extremely important is to make it clear, as I hope to do so, that we are not and never will be a political institution.

Our aim is to support our Muslim brothers in every way possible so that they may become respected and worthy citizens of these territories. We do not wish to indulge in politics and we will not do so. But we see no harm in receiving help from outside as long as this help is given out of the love of one Muslim for another, and not for ulterior motives. In fact, I think that the officers of the Society will support me if I say that we will not accept any help if we believe that it is given for other reasons than those we expect. Nor do we wish to restrict ourselves to receiving help from certain geographical areas of the world – be they South East Asia, Asia or the Middle East.

But I think in these endeavours the most important fact is that we wish to use the support we receive by grafting it on to the different national programme. If we build schools, we want them to fit into the pattern of the national education. If we give scholarships, the students must prepare to work for their own country after the completion of their study and if we are rich enough at a later date, to build sports clubs, I hope that our athletes will carry the national colours with pride and dignity.

I do hope that the national Government of these territories will in the future never have occasion to look upon us with a jaundiced eye or to mistrust us. It would be a great success for the Society if it were to be considered by the Government as a private non-political organization, supporting as far as it can, Muslims of this country and sharing with the Government the burden of the national developments.

We intend, and we hope to make solid progress in the future not by basking in the reflective glory of one glamorous showpiece – but by creating solid institutions capable of producing really worthy elements for the future of this country.

This, then is how we see the pattern of educational developments taking shape in East Africa. As a community, we are determined to play our part and make our own distinctive contribution to the national effort. As Muslims, we shall also seek to enlist financial and other assistance from Muslim countries overseas, and in each sphere – international, national and communal – we are already active.. In this fine School which I declare open today, the Ismaili community have given evidence of their determination to do everything they can to help build this new nation of races, for here a new generation will be taught the art of civilization and elements of good citizenship.

Thank you.

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