Commemorating the Aga Khan's Visit
Thank you and good evening. It is a great honor to be in the presence of the Imam of 16 million Muslims around the world, a global humanitarian leader, a man of peace with a pluralistic vision for people around the world, His Highness, the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. Your Highness, on behalf of 23 million Texans, and over 600,000 thousand Muslims living in Texas, I extend our heartfelt appreciation for your 50 years of great international leadership. We are delighted to welcome you to the Lone Star State and participate in the celebration of your Golden Jubilee. I am also grateful to the many federal, state and local leaders in attendance tonight. By their presence, these special guests convey the profound respect that exists in the Western World for His Highness’ work and leadership.
Rare is the religious leader whose vision is so extraordinary that his appeal transcends nationality, ethnicity and faith traditions. His Highness, the Aga Khan, is one such extraordinary leader. If the history of civilization is filled with chapters concerning the strife borne of differences over religion, race, tribe and language, then blessed indeed are the peacemakers who have heard a higher calling of unity, who have recognized our common bonds of humanity, and who have had the courage to say that: “Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other people’s cultures, social structures, values and faiths are essential to the very survival of an independent world”.
The Quran says: Truly those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabeans – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and is virtuous – surely their reward is with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve.”
In more ways than one, I have witnessed firsthand the extraordinary vision of His Highness, the Aga Khan. First, and most prominently, I have seen His vision of peace and unity reflected in the charitable lives of His followers in Texas, who contribute greatly to the fabric of our society, who have made many sacrifices for the sake of a brighter future for all of our children.
It is with great excitement that we welcome the first Ismaili Center in America. The new Ismaili Center will contribute to the rich cultural tapestry of the City of Houston and the State of Texas. We all believe and hope that it will be a demonstration of the Muslim values and ethics of which you have spoken so frequently. If it is even just a pale image of the center I visited last year in Dubai, then I am certain it will be an architectural and spiritual marvel.
In our travels last year to the Middle East, the First Lady and I met many members of the Ismaili community. This was our first encounter with the Ismaili community outside Texas, and we were most impressed with their influence and integration in their host environment. Your community is a model of social integration that should be emulated. This is yet another testament to the extraordinary leadership you have brought to your community over the past 50 years. What a Golden Jubilee tribute that is to the vision of His Highness. Perhaps most importantly, I witnessed another significant component of His Highness’ global humanitarian vision a little more than two years ago during a visit to Pakistan. Standing in the shattered remains of a humble village, I watched the leadership of FOCUS, His Highness’ global humanitarian organization, as they worked selflessly to help impoverished people rebuild their lives after a devastating earthquake. This is but one example of the work that goes on around the world every day. It happens because, 50 years ago, when he became the Imam, His Highness infused His community with a sense of purpose aimed at lifting people out of poverty and forging a better day.
Because of that vision, universities have been built in remote, mountainous regions of Central Asia. Because of that vision, young children in poor African countries like Zanzibar are getting an education, and developing a sense of hope that once would have been drowned out by despair. Because of that vision, healthcare is now available to communities ravaged by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Because of that vision, communities in Afghanistan that have known nothing but war have had their buildings refurbished and their land restored so that children and their parents have safe parks to enjoy. From Cairo to Kabul, from Toronto to Karachi, a vision of peace and prosperity has taken hold because of the persistence of this one man, His Highness, the Aga Khan.
Your Highness, look at what you have done, and the progress your people have made in this, the 50th year of Your Golden Jubilee! The world is a far better place because you have helped make it so! Congratulations on your success and thank you for your visionary persistence.
The fact that His Highness chose 50 years ago to build a moderate, progressive community of Ismaili followers means that Ismaili leaders in communities throughout the world are entrusted with great responsibilities. Just this February President Bush tapped a member of the Ismaili community, Austin’s own and my friend Sada Cumber, to serve as the United States Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Countries. In his new position, Ambassador Sada will work with over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. This role, one of the most senior White House appointments, would not have been possible had His Highness not established global development agencies, to advance dialogue between nations and people of all faiths, to solve common problems and change the world.
That brings me to my final observation. Whatever faith tradition underlies our own strongly-held beliefs, we would be wise to follow the example of His Highness in identifying the values that are common to people of all faiths. This understanding provides a firm foundation for advancing society. Loving our neighbors, providing for the poor, valuing human life as God’s unique creation: these common threads are woven through the fabric of many faiths, and they can inspire our collective conduct.
Together we can build great institutions of education, and work to educate young minds as we aim to do through the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the University of Texas and the Aga Khan University. Together, we can work to provide relief and rescue services to those who face manmade and natural catastrophes. Together we can face the challenges posed by disease, pollution and poverty. Together we can build bridges of understanding between the East and the West. Every day, we are besieged with news stories that illustrate the divisions between the great faiths. Our frustration at those conflicts cannot deter us from doing the quiet work of empowerment that can free people from poverty, that can rid communities of disease, that can replace despair with newfound hope.
Let us work together for the common good, knowing we are united by a common bond of humanity. We have a joint mission that transcends all differences, to make the world a better place. We are so fortunate to have an international leader who bridges those differences, who bridges East and West, to build one path to peace and prosperity, His Highness, the Aga Khan.
Thank you and my God bless you all.
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