Aga Khan Opens Ismaili Center, Middle East's First (Update2)
By Ayesha Daya and Zainab Fattah
March 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Aga Khan, leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims, opened a cultural center in Dubai for followers of the branch of Shia Islam.
The Ismaili Centre Dubai is the first base for Ismailis in the majority-Sunni Muslim Middle East. The Aga Khan, 71, is the 49th hereditary imam, or spiritual leader, of the Ismailis, the second-largest group of Shiites.
``This is a means of establishing a permanent cultural root in one area,'' the Aga Khan said today in an interview after opening the center.
He founded the Geneva-based Aga Khan Development Network, which has established several agencies in Syria and Egypt that focus on microfinance, education and culture to improve local living conditions. Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al- Maktoum, donated the land for the center in 1982, a gesture that is a ``symbol of the wonderful diversity that characterizes Dubai,'' the Aga Khan said.
Dubai has become a regional business and tourism destination, attracting expatriates who use it as a base for accessing the rest of the Gulf region.
The role of the Dubai Ismaili center, the fourth in the world after London, Lisbon and Vancouver, is to bring together the secular and the spiritual to emphasize the role of ``Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith,'' according to a statement from the Aga Khan's secretariat. The United Arab Emirates location includes a prayer hall, as well as a secular preschool, and will hold conferences and public exhibitions on Islam's heritage.
Tradition of Tolerance
``There is a long tradition, certainly in the Emirates, of tolerance and accommodating the practices and beliefs of the immigrant communities,'' Anthony Harris, former U.K. ambassador to the U.A.E., said in a telephone interview from Dubai.
Earlier this month, Qatar opened its first church since pre- Islamic times. Qatar joined Kuwait, the U.A.E. and Bahrain in allowing churches to be built to serve the 70,000 Christians living in the Arabian Peninsula.
The center's Egyptian architects, El Dahan & Farid Engineering Consultants, were inspired by the Fatimid Empire in Cairo, which dominates accounts of Ismaili history for about 400 hundred years after the founding of Islam in the seventh century.
``That's where Ismaili history lies,'' Azim Nanji, professor of Islamic Studies at Stanford University in California and director of the London-based Institute of Ismaili Studies, said today during a tour of the center. ``That period in Egypt was such a fertile time for creativity, and this center is a way to bring that ethos back again.''
About 85 percent of the world's Muslims are Sunni, while some 15 percent are from Shia and other minority branches.
Saudi king wants inter-faith talks to include Judaism
King Abdullah asks Christians, Jews to meet Muslim counterparts for dialogue among civilizations.
RIYADH - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Monday proposed inter-faith talks between Muslims, Christians and Jews in a first for the ultra-conservative kingdom, the official SPA news agency reported.
"I ask representatives of all the monotheistic religions to meet with their brothers in faith," the king told delegates to a seminar on "Dialogue Among Civilisations between Japan and the Islamic World."
SPA reported that top Saudi clerics had given the green light for the idea, and that Muslim leaders from other countries would now be consulted.
"If God wills it, we will then meet with our brothers from other religions, including those of the Torah and the Gospel... to come up with ways to safeguard humanity," the king said.
The news agency said he also intended to address the United Nations on the subject.
"We have lost sincerity, morals, fidelity and attachment to our religions and to humanity," the king said, deploring "the disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world -- a frightening phenomenon that all religions must confront and vanquish."
The monarch did not say where he hoped the proposed dialogue would take place.
He said he had discussed the project, which he has been mulling over for two years, with Pope Benedict XVI during his landmark visit to the Vatican last November.
Saudi Arabia and the Vatican do not have diplomatic relations.
US to attend inter-faith dialogue
By Our Correspondent
WASHINGTON, March 26: The United States on Wednesday welcomed Saudi King Abdullah’s initiative for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews and will send its envoy to participate in the proposed talks.
“The dialogue is always encouraging,” said Sada Cumber, special US envoy to the Organisation of Islamic conference. “We will attend the meeting.”
The Saudi king made an impassioned plea for dialogue among the followers of the three faiths in Riyadh on Monday and offered to call a meeting of their representatives in the kingdom.
The call – the first of its kind by an Arab leader – has generated much interest in such a dialogue and representatives of all three faiths have welcomed the idea.
The specifics of the proposed meeting are still being worked out.
Mr Cumber, who is an American Muslim of Pakistani origin and the first US envoy to the OIC, said the United States wishes to stay engaged with the Muslim community around the world.
The United States, he said, has proposed three areas of cooperation — science and technology, women’s rights and education — and noted that such cooperation would help promote a better understanding between the Islamic and Western worlds.
He said that five to seven million Muslims living in the US enjoy high quality of life, freedom of expression and a respect of their religion and they can play a significant role in bridging differences between the two worlds.
Mr Cumber said that while as a Muslim he condemns the cartoons that make fun of religious beliefs, he also understands that freedom of expression was an integral part of the Western culture.
“In the United States, what we do not like we can reject and I reject those cartoons” he said. “But if you are asking me to give away that freedom; I am not prepared to do that.”
His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, His Highness the Aga Khan and His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum at the opening of the Ismaili Centre Dubai. Photo at
Aga Khan opens the Middle East's first Ismaili Centre
His Highness the Aga Khan, Spiritual Leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims has recently officially opened an Ismaili Centre in Dubai - the fast growing metropolis of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
* United Arab Emirates: Sunday, March 30 - 2008 at 13:09
* PRESS RELEASE
The Ismaili Centre Dubai is the fourth such institution in the world and the first in the Middle East. The opening ceremony was attended by His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan - senior members of the ruling families.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Aga Khan hailed Dubai as a truly cosmopolitan city and global crossroads that thrives on diversity.
'The Dubai ethic is one that honours a generous exchange of knowledge and ideas, that welcomes the opportunity to learn from others, that celebrates not only our historic identities but also our open horizons,' he said.
'The ethic of exploration and interconnectedness is one that is deeply shared by the Ismaili Community,' said the Aga Khan. 'It is an ethic, in fact, that is firmly rooted in our faith - a value system which grows from spiritual roots,' he added.
His Highness the Aga Khan recalled that it was the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who donated the land for the construction of the Centre on the occasion of the Aga Khan's Silver Jubilee in 1982, and that it was His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum who attended the ground breaking ceremony for the building five years ago. He thanked the ruling family for their continued support and their presence at the opening event.
'I am particularly pleased that you, Your Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum have again honoured us with your presence today,' he said.
The Aga Khan was accompanied at the ceremony by his elder son, Prince Rahim Aga Khan and his daughter, Princess Zahra Aga Khan.
The Ismaili Centre is a domed structure inspired by the Fatimid architecture of old Egypt and Syria that is infused by the spirit of Islam. The Centre was erected with the use of traditional materials and craftsmanship. Its seven domes were built in brick and wood by Kashmiri masons equipped with increasingly rare traditional construction skills.
The 13,000 square metres of land located in Dubai's Oud Metha district was designed by Rami El Dahan and Soheir Farid of El Dahan & Farid Engineering Consultants from Cairo, Egypt. Adjacent to the Centre is also a 3,000 square metre park created by the renowned landscape architect, Maher Stino, who also designed the 74- acres Azhar Park in Cairo -- a project of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
The Ismaili Centre Dubai will house an Early Learning Centre which will offer an educational programme to young children on a secular and non-denominational basis at the highest international standards of excellence.
The Centre is the fourth in the world, comparable in scope and noted architectural standing to the Ismaili centres in London, United Kingdom; Vancouver, Canada; and Lisbon, Portugal. The Centres offer a range of cultural and educational activities, non- denominational in nature, in the cities in which they are located.
Ismaili Centres, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and Toronto, Canada, are in advanced stages of development.[url][/url]
04/18/2008 12:28 AM | By Ashfaq Ahmed, Staff Writer
The global Muslim "Umma" needs to develop a form of democracy that fits its social, ethnic, religious and economic structure, said Prince Karim Aga Khan, Imam of the Ismaili Muslim community.
"We have to look at the nature of democracy because I don't believe that one shape fits all. I believe the Umma, like many other parts of the world, needs to develop its own form of democracy to overcome the issues Muslims are facing," he said.
The Aga Khan noted that the Muslim Umma today is highly pluralistic and that it is going to function as a body of brotherly states.
"Acceptance of pluralism and investing in pluralism is to be one of the principles we have to look at to resolve issues facing the Muslims," he said.
In an exclusive interview with Weekend Review during his visit to Dubai, where he inaugurated the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan said the problems of extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam.
"I personally don't ascribe these to Islam. I ascribe these to a portfolio of political issues — be it issues in the Middle East, Afghanistan or Kashmir," he said.
The soft-spoken Aga Khan, who has a charismatic personality, has nearly 15 million followers around the world. Today, Ismailis live in some 25 countries — mainly in west and central Asia, Africa, the Middle East and in North America and Western Europe. The United Arab Emirates hosts some 5,000 Ismailis.
During the interview, the Aga Khan talked about the spirit behind Ismaili Centres, his development work in the fields of education, healthcare, architecture, culture, microfinancing and his vision to alleviate poverty.
He thanked His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for making the site available for construction of the Ismaili Centre in Dubai.
What are the issues facing the Muslim Umma?
First, the globalisation of the knowledge of the cultures of the Umma is critical. We have to make known the cultural inheritance of the Muslims to the non-Muslim as well as the Muslim parts of the world because we will never succeed in building the respect and recognition that the Umma deserves unless we present the Umma as a remarkable carrier of civilisation.
The misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in the West exist because we are, even today, absent from the global civilisation. We should encourage the Western education system to bring in knowledge of the civilisation of Islam into the secondary education system.
I am thrilled with the initiative that Dubai and other states in the Gulf are taking by creating museums. Retracing our historical legacies and bringing them back in the modern world is extremely important.
How do you see the problem of terrorism in the world? Do you think it is widening the gap between the West and the Muslim world or even the Muslims and the non-Muslims?
I personally don't ascribe these [extremism or terrorism] to Islam. I ascribe these to a portfolio of political issues. I consider these political issues the essence of the problem in the Middle East. It started in 1917 and, since then, the problem has been becoming worse.
The problem of Kashmir is again a political problem which started after withdrawal of the British from the subcontinent. Similarly, the problem in Iraq today is also political and has nothing to do with Islam.
But now we have an overlay. Since these political problems are located in the parts of the Muslim Umma, the totality of the Umma is being held responsible for this situation.
The media also tends to concentrate on the problem areas even as they ignore the Umma's successes. Painting a negative picture of the entire situation is wrong because it does not involve the face of Islam. It involves essentials of politics within the Islamic world.
Secondly, it [the problem of extremism and terrorism] does not cover the Islamic world alone. Countries in Eastern Europe, Ireland and Spain face similar issues. I think that we should not say that the Umma is unstable and the rest of the world is perfect.
What should be done to resolve this issue?
More efforts are needed to resolve political crises. I think there are governments and organisations that recognise that the longer these problems continue, the more difficult they will be to solve. Similarly, the Irish problem and the Spanish problem have also been there for decades.
There have been theories about what brought unrest in the world. Do you think the world is heading towards a "clash of capturing natural resources"?
I think you are right. People are looking for a better quality of life and they are in a hurry. There is, in many countries, a sense of time lost. And when there is a sense of time lost, there is also a sense of urgency.
In the developing world, the sense of urgency is getting stronger. I think it is leading a number of forces to look at resources they can mobilise to harness those resources to the development process.
I think we are seeing a concentration of wealth in a number of countries. There is a search for new resources to exploit for national or strategic purposes. The situation can be changed by making a move towards using nuclear power, as it has the potential to change the global economic scenario.
Congratulations on the golden jubilee of your Imamat. Are you launching any special projects to mark this special year?
I am hoping to develop two new projects by the end of this year. The first is the sociological analysis of the communities around the world and an attempt to redefine the nature of acute poverty. We think that certain segments of the population in many countries are ultra poor.
As we see economies evolve, we are worried these segments will continue to become more and more poor. We are trying to understand the causes of this phenomenon in order to reduce, if not eliminate, poverty.
We believe poverty is not only economic but social as well. Families have no access to the platform from which they can grow, no access to healthcare, education, micro-credit or even a normal support system. It is a problem and should be addressed.
As far as our second programme is concerned, we are going to concentrate on increased longevity. People are living longer and the aged are increasingly finding themselves isolated from their families and from society. We would like to develop a programme to create a capacity to care for these people.
Since extended families are becoming less common in the industrialised world, it is now important to look at this issue. Through this programme, we will try to help the aged live an honourable life.
Also, during this jubilee year, we will lay the foundation of a number of educational and health institutions.
The Aga Khan Development Network has numerous projects focusing on communities. How do you select the areas and why?
We select areas to launch projects on a case-by-case basis. The projects stem from the analysis of the absence of certain facilities. If we find there is no credit system in isolated areas, we go for microcredit programmes. If we find a government wants to privatise an industry which has gone wrong, we try to step in. So it is with our educational, healthcare and cultural development projects around the world.
What is your vision of development?
There is a realisation that development should be in human terms. And to be measured in human terms, you have to look at quality of life, which is directly linked to education, housing and healthcare.
Today, many of the world's economic and financial institutions have moved away from lending only for economy activities. They are lending for educational and health initiatives. This is changing the nature of the development support system.
The private sector in the fields of education, healthcare and microcredit can also be very important. It is in the interest of the developing countries to have a composite of facilities [which can be achieved] by involving both the private and public sectors.
What do you think you have achieved through your massive network of community development projects?
Success depends on the maturity of the projects. We have considerable maturity in our healthcare and educational projects and they have been serving the purpose. But we have less maturity in our cultural initiatives.
We are beginning to see the trend in cultural initiatives and I would love to say I have the confidence in the cultural initiatives but they are still young.
One of the important cultural projects — aimed at improving the quality of life —was the development of Al Azhar Park in Cairo. I am confident that we can replicate the cultural project in other parts of the world.
By launching such cultural projects, our focus is to improve quality of life and create opportunities for the ultra poor.
Why did you set up an Ismaili Centre in Dubai and what is your vision behind setting up such centres in other countries?
I think the creation of the Ismaili Centres is important because they represent the Ismaili community in the important countries in the world.
I hope that the centre will bring a sense of institutional purpose. We call them ambassadorial buildings because they are representatives of the Ismaili community and all its aspirations.
We first started building the centres in the West. Like the Ismaili Centres in London, Vancouver and Lisbon, the Ismaili Centre in Dubai will reflect a mood of humility, forward outlook, friendship and dialogue. More such centres are on the cards in Toronto and Dushanbe.
The buildings have a two-fold purpose. First, they serve as institutions for the Ismaili community and, secondly, they reach out to groups of people, creating spaces for quality exhibitions, culture and musical representation.
These centres allow us to build bridges for interaction among various communities, areas and cultures.
You have been involved in so many things. What do you do in your leisure?
(Laughs) Usually it is work, work and more work. Occasionally, if I am able to get out, I go to the sea, to the snow or I look at the thoroughbreds that we have, because it is essentially the hobby that fits into the time that I have.
Any message for the community?
The spirit of Islam is to share knowledge and I always tell the community not to think in material terms. Think in terms of knowledge and think what you can offer our institutions in various parts of the world.
Raise our performance in healthcare, education, financial services and in civil society.
Many minorities from the Middle East countries are living in the West. Just think how wonderful it would be if young women and men return to their respective countries to strengthen institutions and do voluntary work for their countries.
Addressing social challenges
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies whose mandates range from the fields of healthcare and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise.
Its agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, and promote creative solutions to problems that impede social development, primarily in Asia and East Africa.
They collaborate in working towards a common goal — building institutions and programmes that can continuously respond to the challenges of social, economic and cultural change.
Active in more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, the network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.
The network's agencies are active in the Gulf and Middle East regions in the areas of urban development, conservation, restoration, education, healthcare, microfinance, higher education, culture and rural development.
The AKDN is an independent self-governing system of agencies, institutions, and programmes under the leadership of the Ismaili Imamat. Their main sources of support are the Ismaili community with its tradition of philanthropy, voluntary service and self-reliance.
Prince Karim Aga Khan
Prince Karim Aga Khan became Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims on July 11, 1957, succeeding his grandfather Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah Aga Khan.
He is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.
Son of Prince Aly Khan and Princess Tajuddawalah Aly Khan, the Aga Khan was born on December 13, 1936, in Geneva. He spent his early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and then attended Le Rosey School in Switzerland for nine years.
He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA Honours Degree in Islamic History. He emphasised the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith: one that teaches compassion and tolerance, and upholds the dignity of man.
In the course of history, the Ismailis have, under the guidance of their Imams, made major contributions to the growth of Islamic civilisation.
The Aga Khan has one daughter and three sons. They are Princess Zahrah, Prince Rahim, Prince Hussain and Prince Aly Mohammad.
The Ismaili community is at present celebrating the golden jubilee of the Aga Khan's Imamat, which began on July 11, 2007, and will continue until July 11 this year.
The Aga Khan has plans to pay official visits to some 35 countries during this year and use this occasion to recognise the friendship and support of leaders of the state and government and other partners in the work of the Ismaili Imamat, and to set the direction for the future, including laying the foundations of major initiatives and programmes.
It's Dubai's newest playground. Tucked away inside the Ismaili Centre in
Karama, a courtyard with a garden has become a popular haunt among children and families.
"It's a playing area for children and gives us an opportunity to meet," said
Susan Sharif, Member, Health and Welfare, Aga Khan Ismaili Council for the UAE. Bachelors and families congregate here in large numbers on weekends.
Aziz Merchant, a member of communications and publications with the Council, said: "The courtyard could lend itself to poetry readings, art exhibitions and inter-school dramatics."
Life has changed significantly for an estimated 5,000 members of the Ismaili community with the opening of the dedicated centre on April 27, the first in the Middle East and the fourth such institution in the world.
Spread over 13,000 square metres, the brick and wooden seven-domed
structure, which is inspired by the Fatimid architecture of old Egypt and
Syria, attracts around 800 to 900 people on weekends. An early learning
centre will open next year and will admit 225 children.
The 'Jamaat Khana' is not only for prayer, but also a place where families
can get together. Munira Jaffer, a housewife, said, "It doesn't feel that we
are coming here to pray. It feels like coming home to family and friends."
Aleem Dhanani, a Canadian of Indian origin, who has organised activities at the Ismaili Centre in London, sees the Dubai centre as "a place for
reflection and tranquillity". "The Economic Forum held recently was a
springboard to correlate the community's entrepreneurs," he said.
Aga Khan, the spiritual head of the Ismaili Community, conceived the centre
to promote mutual understanding
Like other Ismaili Centres in London, Vancouver and Lisbon, the Dubai
Ismaili Centre is open to all communities
Posted: Mon Jul 13, 2009 12:42 pm Post subject: Re: DUBAI NEWS from major newspapers
Golden Jubilee visit to the United Arab Emirates in the countrys capital, Abu Dhabi. Mawlana Hazar Imam was received by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamdan Al Nahyan and leaders of the UAE Jamat. Shortly after his arrival, Princess Zahra and Prince Rahim also arrived in Abu Dhabi for this visit, and were welcomed by senior government officials and leaders of the Jamat.
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