Aga Khan Quotations

Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī, Āghā Khān IV / b. 1936 / Geneva, Switzerland / Spiritual Leader, Businessman, Philanthropist, Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network

Note: The fourth Aga Khan’s father (who did not assume the office) was born in Italy, while his mother was English. His grandfather, the third Aga Khan, was born in Karachi, in what is now Pakistan. The family are the hereditary imāms (religious leaders) of the Nizārī Ismā’īlī community, an important Shīʿite sub-group prevalent in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and, formerly, central Africa. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Shāh of Persia bestowed the additional title of “Āghā Khān” (meaning, approximately, “Venerable Leader”) upon the Nizārī imām of that time, who lived in Iran. The present imām, Aga Khan IV, is 49th in the overall line of succession.


Canada is today the most successful pluralist society on the face of our globe, without any doubt in my mind. . . . That is something unique to Canada. It is an amazing global human asset.

Reported in “Canada: ‘A model for the world,'” The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada, February 2, 2002.

Canada has an experience of governance of which much of the world stands in dire need. It is a world of increasing dissension and conflict in which a significant contribution is the failure of different ethnic, tribal, religious, or social groups to search for, and agree upon, a common space for harmonious co-existence.

Address, Leadership and Diversity Conference, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, May 19, 2004.


What students know is no longer the most important measure of an education. The true test is the ability of students and graduates to engage with what they do not know, and to work out a solution. They must also be able to reach conclusions that constitute the basis for informed judgements. The ability to make judgements that are grounded in solid information, and employ careful analysis, should be one of the most important goals for any educational endeavor. As students develop this capability, they can begin to grapple with the most important and difficult step: to learn to place such judgements in an ethical framework. For all these reasons, there is no better investment that individuals, parents, and the nation can make than an investment in education of the highest possible quality. Such investments are reflected, and endure, in the formation of the kind of social conscience that our world so desperately needs.

Vision statement,, 2020.

A secure pluralistic society requires communities that are educated and confident both in the identity and depth of their own traditions and in those of their neighbours.

Address, Leadership and Diversity Conference, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, May 19, 2004.

Pluralist societies are not accidents of history. They are a product of enlightened education and continuous investment by governments and all of civil society in recognizing and celebrating the diversity of the world’s peoples.

Speech, Democratic Development, Pluralism, and Civil Society, Nobel Institute, Oslo, Norway, April 7, 2005; transcript accessible at

Global Development

There are those . . . who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless these unfortunates can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation, and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.

Speech, inauguration of the Aga Khan Baug [Co-op Housing Society], Versova [Bombay], India, January 17, 1983; accessible at

A proper home can provide the bridge across that terrible gulf between poverty and a better future.

Reported by Princess Zahra in her acceptance speech upon receiving the World Habitat Award, Kazan, Russian Federation, October 4, 2006.

You start with an idea, and then you let it grow. I think at the moment, there is a tendency to want to see political change occur in the developing world very rapidly, and I think this notion of consultation and democracy is all excellent, but I simply don’t believe that Western forms of democracy are necessarily replicable throughout the developing world that I know, and indeed I would go so far as to say that, at the moment, one of our risks is to see democracies fail. . . . I think you have to be patient, careful, analytical, thoughtful, prudent, and build step-by-step. I don’t think it can be done like mixing a glass of Nescafé.

Interview with BBC Two NewsNight, London, November 14, 2007; accessible at

International Relations

Tolerance, openness, and understanding towards other peoples’ cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.

Speech, Inauguration of the Restored Humayun’s Tomb Gardens, New Delhi, India, April 15, 2003.

Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development, it is vital to our existence.

Speech, Inauguration of the Restored Humayun’s Tomb Gardens, New Delhi, India, April 15, 2003.\

Conflict situations are driven by concepts of victory, power, and elimination of inherited culture, and not by the underlying values of civilization. There are many interpretations of Islam within the wider Islamic community, but generally we are instructed to leave the world a better place than it was when we came into it. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture seeks to make a better place in physical terms. This means trying to bring values into environments, buildings, and contexts that improve the quality of life for future generations.

Interview with Robert Ivy (FAIA),, February, 2002.

I believe leadership everywhere must continuously work to ensure that pluralism, and all its benefits, become top global priorities. In this effort, civil society has a vital role. By its very nature, civil society is pluralist because it seeks to speak for the multiple interests not represented by the state. I refer, for example, to organisations which ensure best practices such as legal societies and associations of accountants, doctors and engineers. The meritocracy they represent is the very foundation of pluralism. And meritocracy is one of the principles of democracy itself.

Speech, Democratic Development, Pluralism, and Civil Society, Nobel Institute, Oslo, Norway, April 7, 2005; transcript accessible at

Civil society organisations make a major contribution to human development, particularly when democracies are failing, or have failed; for it is then that the institutions of civil society can, and often do, carry an added burden to help sustain improvements in quality of life. I believe strongly that a critical part of any development strategy should include support for civil society. I know that Norway supports this approach and works actively with its own civil society organizations to build capacity in the developing world.

Speech, Democratic Development, Pluralism, and Civil Society, Nobel Institute, Oslo, Norway, April 7, 2005; transcript accessible at

We cannot make the world safe for democracy unless we also make the world safe for diversity.

Address, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York, May 15, 2006.


I think there is a massive gulf in the understanding and knowledge between Muslims and non-Muslims—I mean particularly the West and the Islamic world. What we are talking about in reality is a strong minority of people committed to their own particular interpretation of Islam, who seek to impose it on others. I do not believe that the totality of the Islamic world recognizes the Taliban interpretation of the faith as being representative of its own view. There is no unanimity in Islam with regard to this interpretation. Generally you will see as much diversity in the Islam as you do in the Christian world today. But the West does not really understand the pluralism of the Islamic world.

Interview with Robert Ivy (FAIA),, February, 2002.

If we judge from Islamic history, there is much to encourage us. For century after century, the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks and many other Islamic societies achieved powerful leadership roles in the world—not only politically and economically but also intellectually. . . . The fundamental reason for the pre-eminence of Islamic civilizations lay neither in accidents of history nor in acts of war, but rather in their ability to discover new knowledge, to make it their own, and to build constructively upon it. They became the Knowledge Societies of their time.

Address, 2006 Convocation of the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan, December 2, 2006.

Philosophical Vision

The right to hope is the most powerful human motivation I know.

Commencement Address, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, May 26, 1996; accessible at

If our animosities are born out of fear, then confident generosity is born out of hope. One of the central lessons I have learned after a half century of working in the developing world is that the replacement of fear by hope is probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress.

Address upon receiving the “Tolerance” Award, Tutzing Evangelical Academy, Tutzing, Germany, May 20, 2006.

The spirit of the Knowledge Society is the spirit of Pluralism—a readiness to accept the Other, indeed to learn from him, to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Address, 2006 Convocation of the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan, December 2, 2006.

The search for justice and security, the struggle for equality of opportunity, the quest for tolerance and harmony, the pursuit of human dignity—these are moral imperatives which we must work towards and think about on a daily basis.

Remarks, University of Évora, Évora, Portugal, February 12, 2006.

The Muslim world, with its history and cultures, and indeed its different interpretations of Islam, is still little known in the West. . . . The two worlds, Muslim and non-Muslim, Eastern and Western, must, as a matter of urgency, make a real effort to get to know one another, for I fear that what we have is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash of ignorance on both sides.

Closing Address, “Musée–Musées” Roundtable, Louvre Museum, October 17, 2007.