Friday, January 4, 2008

269)2006 Aga Khan University Convocation Speech featured at recent Knowledge Symposium in Canada(December 2007)

Excerpt of the 2006 Convocation speech made by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Aga Khan IV, at the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan:

"......That quest for a better life, among Muslims and non-Muslims alike, must lead inevitably to the Knowledge Society which is developing in our time. The great and central question facing the Ummah of today is how it will relate to the Knowledge Society of tomorrow.

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. Some ill-informed historians and biased commentators have tried to argue that these successes were essentially produced by military power, but this view is profoundly incorrect. 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.

Those times are over now. They are long gone. But if some people have forgotten or ignored this history, much of the Ummah remembers it-and, in remembering, asks how those times might be recaptured. There may be as many answers to that question as there are Muslims-but one answer which can be shared across the whole of the Ummah is that we must become full and even leading participants in the Knowledge Society of the 21st Century.

That will mean embracing the values of collaboration and coordination, openness and partnership, choice and diversity-which will under-gird the Knowledge Society, learning constantly to review and revise and renew what we think we know - learning how to go on learning.

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.
Such a spirit must be rooted, I believe, in a sense of humility before the Divine, realizing that none of us have all the answers, and respecting the broad variety of God's creation and the diversity of the Human Family.

As the Ummah moves into the Knowledge Society, a variety of questions and choices will arise. And this brings us back to where we started. For my singular goal for the Aga Khan University, the University of Central Asia, and related institutions is that they should play a central role in addressing those questions and in guiding those choices.

Priority setting will be a particularly important challenge. One of the problems of the Knowledge Society is that it produces too much information. I recall President Nixon acknowledging publicly more than 30 years ago his dismay at the sheer volume of information that the President was expected to absorb daily. In such a world we can easily lose track of the forest by seeing only the trees. As a poet lamented: "Where is the Wisdom we have lost in Knowledge. Where is the Knowledge we have lost in Information?" As we work our way back again from Information to Knowledge and from Knowledge to Wisdom, a rigorous sense of priorities will be a central requirement.

But just how should the Ummah set its priorities as it embraces the Knowledge Society? Can we determine, for example, what areas of knowledge are needed in the greatest urgency, or those that will be needed for as long as we can predict? Are there specificities to the needs of the Ummah which it should seek to draw from, or instill, into the global knowledge society of tomorrow? In ethics? In the balance of world and spirit? Or in more worldly issues such as stem cell research, or nuclear non-proliferation versus global access to nuclear energy. I am not arguing that the Ummah as a whole will share similar priorities on every subject. But there may be subjects where the specific needs of the Ummah should shape our research agenda. Universities are the correct fora, but no doubt not the only ones, in which such questions should be raised, and intelligent answers developed from the best of minds.

In addressing such questions, including those with special relevance to the Ummah, we must also recognize that learning has become a global enterprise. There was a time when a single society or empire could live unto itself, culturally and intellectually-claiming dominance over other places. But that was when knowledge traveled slowly-and could be seen as a local resource. That day too has passed. In the age of the internet, knowledge is universally shaped, universally accessible, and universally applied. And successful institutions of learning must be global institutions.

That is why the Aga Khan University must make the years ahead a time to broaden our networks, broaden our teaching and broaden our geographic reach.

This can happen in a variety of ways. We are already, for example, planning a new curriculum in the liberal arts-expanding our role as a comprehensive learning institution. We are also developing new programs in fields such as architecture and human settlement; law; management of for-profit and not-for-profit institutions; government, civil society and public policy; leisure and tourism; media and communications; science and technology; and human development.

We are strengthening our research activities. Universities have a special obligation to produce new knowledge-though always within ethical bounds. But in the Knowledge Society, productive research is most often partnership research -as Universities work closely with businesses, industrial associations, engineering centers and scientific laboratories-sharing agendas and exchanging insights. New knowledge is a constantly unfolding gift of God-but it is rarely something that is achieved in isolation.

We will be building alliances with other Universities around the world-opening study and research opportunities for students and faculties alike. The result will be the development of truly global citizens, graduates who have studied in a variety of places-among people from a variety of backgrounds, fostering a better understanding of a diverse and complex world. In an era of breath-taking change and bewildering complexity, we choose not to pull back or to settle down, but instead to reach out and push forward.

The path we have chosen is not easy to chart-and it is certainly not risk free. But it is both a necessary and an exciting road-filled with the promise of high adventure.

Even as our University moves on down such a path, so I hope will each of you-in your own personal lives. For wherever you go, this University also goes-we are inevitably a part of one another's future.

It is both a perplexing and an exciting new world that we enter today-and it should be supremely reassuring and inspiring to all of us that we can enter it together.

Thank you."

Spark of Knowledge Golden Jubilee program:

Easy Nash aka easynash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)