Lisbon: In an historic address to Portugal’s Members of Parliament, Prince Kareem Aga Khan praised Portugal as a leader on the global stage, one that is widely acknowledged as a country of opportunity, and thanked Portugal for a “progressive partnership” with the Ismaili Imamat.
The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community spoke in the Senate Chamber at the invitation of Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, President of the Assembly of the Republic last week. The address coincides with global celebrations taking place in Lisbon commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of the Aga Khan, marking 60 years of his leadership as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
The address marked yet another significant milestone in an increasingly close relationship between the Ismaili Imamat (office of the Imam) and the Portuguese Republic. Building on a series of earlier accords and at the invitation of the Republic of Portugal, the Ismaili Imamat established a Seat in Portugal in 2015 pursuant to a landmark agreement.
As a reflection of the mutual esteem and trust that has traditionally characterised their relationship, that agreement and the establishment of a Seat in Portugal was unanimously endorsed by the Parliament of the Republic.
In his welcoming remarks, the President of the Assembly of Portuguese Parliament spoke of the Aga Khan’s and the AKDN’s “notable” actions in addressing the “many challenges which the modern world faces.” He added that their “commitment to education, with emphasis on children’s education, the programmes to fight poverty and the provision of health services, development programmes for rural communities, the supportive spirit and social commitment are hallmarks” of their work in improving the condition and quality of life of communities in need around the world. Mayor of Lisbon, Fernando Medina, echoed these sentiments in his speech saying, “The Aga Khan exercises his mandate with a very clear purpose to support humanity. This is the humanist spirit of intercommunal dialogue which has created such honour for the community which he has led for so many years, fifteen million faithful throughout the world. And action which, through the Aga Khan Development Network, covers critical areas for human development such as health, education, culture, rural development and the promotion of entrepreneurialism. This changes human lives and it changes the world for the better.”
The Aga Khan, in his address to Parliament, expressed gratitude to the Republic of Portugal, and spoke of Portugal as a significant partner with the Ismaili Imamat, one that shares a commitment to pluralism and embracing diversity. He described Portugal as a country of opportunity, “a country that seeks to honour both its past achievements and its future opportunities, to embrace both the gift of social stability and the promise of social progress.” “The Portuguese Parliament,” he added, “is to be commended for its role in that encouraging story.”
He noted that the history of Ismaili engagement with Portugal stretches back many years, beginning when Ismailis settled in Portuguese Territories in India in the 17th century. He noted the warm welcome that Portugal offered almost half a century ago to Ismailis fleeing the Mozambiquan civil war. In reflecting upon the past,
The Aga Khan also looked forward and considered the challenges that lie ahead, remarking “We know that the days ahead will be demanding ones, a time of profound global change.” Nonetheless, the Aga Khan remained encouraged for the future and acknowledged the role that Portugal will play in addressing the demands of tomorrow.
He emphasised the importance of Portugal in this regard, stating that, “…the Ismaili Imamat will draw strength from our continuing sense of partnership with the people and the Government of Portugal.” He ended, “So let us, then, go forward together, bound by our shared past, committed to our shared values, and inspired by our shared hopes for a constructive, purposeful future.”
Members of the Aga Khan’s family who joined him for the address included his brother Prince Amyn, daughter Princess Zahra and her children Sara and Iliyan, son Prince Rahim with his wife Princess Salwa, and sons Prince Hussain and Prince Aly Mohammad.
Following his address in the Senate Chamber, the Aga Khan officially inaugurated a special exhibit of objects from the Toronto-based Aga Khan Museum entitled Ideals of Leadership: Masterpieces from the Aga Khan Museum Collections. The stories depicted in the images and conveyed through the objects relate to some of the most important and timeless ideals of leadership that rulers aspired to through the ages. The specially curated exhibition is particularly relevant on this occasion, as the Ismaili Imamat, the AKDN and the Republic of Portugal further acknowledge and strengthen a relationship that has grown deeper over the years.