Prince Kareem Aga Khan with members of his community in Porshniev, Khorog, Tajikistan. Image Credit: AKDN /Akbar Hakim

Dubai: Esmaili community members in the UAE have joined celebrations to mark diamond jubilee of Prince Kareem Aga Khan as he completed 60 years as the 49th hereditary imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Esmaili Muslims.

The worldwide celebration brings together the global Esmaili community, partners of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and government and faith community leaders in over 25 countries. It also commences a year of milestone announcements by the Aga Khan for a global commitment to partnerships based on the principles of ethics in action, peace and pluralism. A large number of Esmaili community members live in the UAE and they also have the Esmaili Centre in Dubai which is a hub of cultural and education activities.

“During the Jubilee year and in the future, poverty alleviation will continue to be a primary area of focus for my Jamat and all the AKDN institutions,” said the Aga Khan in an address to the global Esmaili community.

According to a press statement sent to Gulf News, the Aga Khan emphasised the diamond jubilee priorities, including the promotion of early childhood and primary education, strengthening institutions, and invigorating civil society. He thanked partners of the AKDN for their continued contributions.

Over the past six decades, the Aga Khan has transformed the quality of life for millions of people around the world. In the areas of health, education, cultural revitalisation, and economic empowerment, he has worked to inspire excellence and improve living conditions and opportunities including in some of the world’s most remote and troubled regions.

The Aga Khan has continued to emphasise the importance of education for both men and women. He has established centres of learning that are at the forefront of international teaching practice, knowledge and scientific research, including the Aga Khan University, the University of Central Asia, and the Aga Khan Academies.

“Ours is an intellectual tradition which permeates the pursuit of knowledge that is to be used,” said the Aga Khan, “for the good of larger society. Live your faith through acquiring knowledge with which to help others.”

The Aga Khan leads a global community of some 15 million Shia Esmaili Muslims, living predominantly in South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and the Far East. The Esmaili community represents a rich diversity of cultures, languages, and nationalities. His role as imam includes the interpretation of the faith for his community and responsibility for religious institutions and his followers worldwide.

He is also the founder and chairman of the AKDN, one of the most comprehensive development networks in the world today. The AKDN operates in over 30 countries, principally in Central and South Asia, Eastern and Western Africa and the Middle East. Its activities contribute to the employment of over 80,000 staff, making one of the largest development organisations in the world.

The AKDN spends $925 million annually on non-profit social and cultural development activities — a threefold increase over the past ten years. It operates more than 200 health care institutions, two universities spanning six countries, and 200 schools and school improvement programmes in some of the most remote and poorest parts of the developing world.

In keeping with tradition, the Aga Khan’s diamond jubilee celebrations will include the launching of new social, cultural, and economic development projects.

New projects and initiatives to be announced or dedicated this year include coordinated programmes to alleviate poverty, increased access to finance for education, health and housing, early childhood development, and infrastructure (principally, water, energy and telecommunications) projects in developing countries. Additional resources and capacity will be added to the institutions of the AKDN, including the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.

The Aga Khan believes diversity should inspire, not divide, and that enhancing pluralism is a crucial building block for constructing peaceful and successful societies. In 2006, the Aga Khan and the Canadian government established the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa to conduct research and advance knowledge about the values that underpin inclusive pluralistic societies.