Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Dubai
Speech made by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the inauguration of the Ismaili Centre Dubai on 26 March 2008.
Your Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum
Your Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am deeply pleased that all of you have been able to join us for the inauguration of this elegant new Ismaili Centre. Your presence is itself a symbol of the wonderful diversity that characterizes Dubai. Your interest and support gives added meaning to our celebration – as we honour today a great architectural accomplishment, the exciting institutional activities for which it will provide a home, and the remarkable people who have made all of this possible.
Those extraordinary people include, of course, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who has so generously given the land for this Centre. Let me express once again, on behalf of the Ismaili community, our profound appreciation to His Highness and his family.
I am particularly pleased that you, Your Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum have again honoured us with your presence today. You were so gracious as to witness the ceremony at which the foundation stone of this Centre was laid a little over four years ago.
And let me also acknowledge, with deepest gratitude, the many other donors to this project, in Dubai and in so many other places, as well as those who designed and constructed and decorated this building and its adjacent park. Your dedication and generosity have been at the very heart of the long planning and building process which culminates so happily at this moment.
We gather today at a special place – and at a special time.
We welcome our new Ismaili Centre in a setting which has itself become a great centre – a hub of cosmopolitan activity, a truly global crossroads. We hear a great deal these days about the words “convergence” and “connectivity.” In my judgment, Dubai is a place where those words truly come to life. Dubai has become the very embodiment of the global village, placing itself at the forefront of an enormous surge toward global convergence.
The Dubai ethic is one that honours a generous exchange of knowledge and ideas, that welcomes the opportunity to learn from others, that celebrates not only our historic identities but also our open horizons.
This ethic of exploration and interconnectedness is one that is deeply shared by the Ismaili community. It is an ethic, in fact, that is firmly rooted in our faith – a value system which grows from deeply spiritual roots.
It understands that human diversity is itself a gift of Allah – that pluralism is not a threat but a blessing. It sees the desire to explore and connect as a way to learn and grow – not to dilute our identities but to enrich our self-knowledge. This ethic emanates ultimately from a relationship to the Divine which inspires a deep sense of personal humility – and a relationship to humankind which is infused with a spirit of generous service and mutual respect.
This new Centre is itself a profoundly spiritual place. Its defining symbolism is inspired by the Fatimid tradition – stretching back over 1000 years and widely shared with sister traditions throughout the Islamic world – from Baghdad to Bokhara. As its architects have so effectively realized, this building exists fundamentally as a place for peaceful contemplation, but one that is set in a social context. It is not a place to hide from the world, but rather a place which inspires us to engage our worldly work as a direct extension of our faith.
Sheikh Mohammad has provided a powerful example of how the ethics of our Islamic faith can be taken into the world, through his affirmation of a pillar of Islamic values, the spirit of generosity toward others. As he wrote recently, and I quote him, “I always ask: How can I help? What can I do for people? How can I improve people's lives? That's part of my value system. The Dubai narrative is all about changing people's lives for the better…”
In that spirit, His Highness, in describing Dubai has replaced the word “Capitalist” with the word “Catalyst” – in that it inspires those who live and work here to greater levels of personal accomplishment. His philosophy, to paraphrase John Kennedy, calls us to ask “not what one can achieve for oneself, but what one can help others achieve.” And this, too, is an expression which grows out of deeply rooted Islamic principles.
In our Development Network we have used a slightly different vocabulary to describe a very similar commitment. We like to talk about building what we call an “enabling environment,” one that can provide what we have called “the spark” which can “ignite” a spirit of individual determination.
Our Development Network pursues that objective in many places in many ways – one apt example is the early childhood education programme here at the Ismaili Centre – a long-term investment in moulding human character at the most formative time of its life.
Of course, we must be realistic about the challenges we face. This is a region, after all, which Sheikh Mohammad has described as a “tough neighbourhood” – the locus in recent years of tragic clashes and cleavages, including many divisions within Islam itself. And yet at the same time, this is a region of powerful potential and promise. That promise will be increasingly fulfilled as the Islamic world learns to embrace ever more effectively the spirit of fundamental cohesion expressed so well in the Amman Declaration of 2005, along with its affirmation that the variety of expressions within Islam is not a curse but “a mercy.” That spirit of comity, in turn, can become a great Islamic contribution to the future of this region – and to the future of our world.
Just as Dubai is indeed a very special place, this is also a very special time. For me this is particularly true because this new beginning coincides with my 50th year as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims – a Golden Jubilee moment which connects the past to the future for me and in a special way.
And that is what this celebration today is all about – at a time of demanding challenge, we look for strength and inspiration from our spiritual and cultural roots.
My thanks again to all of you for sharing in this special moment.