Join Date: Jan 2003
Vancouver Ismailis Ready to Celebrate Aga Khan
a fairly detailed history of the Aga Khan
The Aga Khan is considered by Ismailis to be a direct descendant of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.
As chairman of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, he oversees one of the world's largest aid and cultural organizations, spending more than $300 million US a year on schools, universities and hospitals in the Third World.
"Being the leader of the Ismaili community is not only a spiritual role, but it is also a material role," said Iqbal Ahmed, a spokesman for Vancouver's Ismaili Muslim community. "His responsibility is to not only interpret the faith for the Ismailis but also to look after the material aspects of life for the community, improving the quality of life - not only for the Ismailis but also for the societies in which the [Ismaili] community lives."
Last year in Vancouver, the Ismaili Walk for Kids raised $350,000 for the United Way. And the World Partnership Walk, a cross-county initiative led by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, raised $1.5 million toward fighting global poverty.
"Basically he told us to be good Canadian citizens, participate in the fabric of society, give back to the community," Ahmed said.
A typical speech
upholding the values of education and meritocracy:
As we do so, there are three challenges in particular that I would like to highlight to you today. They are: first, the future of democracy, especially in the developing world; secondly, the central role which civil society can play in that development; and thirdly, the crisis in relations between the West and the Islamic world. These are all areas which are going to affect the world in which you live in the decades ahead.
The history of democracy, especially in areas of Asia and Africa which I know well, has been a long series of jolts and jars. Today, any thoughtful observer of those regions would have to conclude that democracy has been losing popular confidence as an effective form of government.
In many of these countries, governments, constitutions, parliaments, and political parties are little more than a dysfunctional assemblage of notional democratic vehicles. Elections are held, constitutions are validated, and international monitors issue their reports, but observing these forms of government is not the same thing as governing effectively.
A recent survey by UNDP of 18 South American countries confirmed that the majority of people were less interested in their forms of government than in their quality of life. In simple terms, most people would rather have a beneficent paternalistic dictator, provided he improved the quality of life, than a less effective, though duly elected, democratic leadership.
The question that must be asked, I believe, is not whether democracy is a good thing in the abstract, but rather how to help democracy perform better in practice. Do we really know what is going wrong? And why? Do we know what corrective steps should be taken? And by whom?
These are massive questions, and I do not claim to know the answers. But I do believe that significantly more thought must be given to these issues, by the intelligentsia of our world, yourselves included.
As we think about these questions, there are some hopeful signs. Generally speaking, the most successful developing countries are those which have engaged actively with the global knowledge society, those which have accepted and defended the value of pluralism, and those which have created an enabling environment for human enterprise, rather than indulging in asphyxiating policies which discourage human endeavour.
But in too many places, democratic practice is deeply flawed. One problem is simple ignorance of the various forms of democracy. I attribute this in part to the absence of good education in comparative government. Holding a national referendum on a new constitution, is no guarantee that the provisions of the constitution have been understood, let alone validated, by popular consent.
In addition, the machinery of government - including the creation and funding of political parties, is often unguided and undisciplined, and widely open to manipulation and fraud. Nor is government performance monitored effectively - by internal processes or by the media.
Finally, the very concept of democracy must be adapted to a variety of national and cultural contexts. Effective democracy can not be imposed from the top or from the outside. Democracy’s value must be deeply felt in the daily lives of a country’s population, including the rural majority, if it is to be upheld and promoted.