Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan upon receiving a doctorate honoris causa from Universidade NOVA de Lisboa

His Highness the Aga Khan delivers his acceptance remarks upon receiving an Honorary Doctorate from Universidade NOVA de Lisboa as Dr. Francisco Pinto Balsemão, Patron of the Doctorate looks on.


Your Excellency President Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa
Your Excellency Vice-President of the Parliament Jorge Lacão   
Honorable Rector of the NOVA University, Professor António Rendas
President of the NOVA University’s General Council, Professor Arantes e Oliveira 
Patron of the Doctorate, Francisco Pinto Balsemão
Members of the Diplomatic Corps 
Distinguished Guests

I am deeply honoured by this recognition from Universidade NOVA, and by the presence of so many of this country’s distinguished leaders, including the President of the Portuguese Republic.  I am grateful to Mr. Francisco Pinto Balsemão, as the Patron of the Doctorate, for his warm gesture and long friendship.  

The University may be young compared against the more than 700-year history of higher education in Portugal, but it has quickly developed a truly outstanding reputation for the quality of its teaching and scholarship, and for its pluralistic, global outlook – foundations that will last for centuries.

I have always felt at home in Portugal, and now ever more so since the signing in 2015 of an historic Agreement between the Ismaili Imamat and Portuguese Republic to establish the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in this country – an important milestone in the 1,400-year history of the Ismaili Imamat.  It marks the culmination of our long and deep relationship here and one that will now deepen further.  While we work in 30 countries, we hold an enduring affinity for Portugal and its institutions, its history and its people.  And the historic Palacete Henrique Mendonca will become the most fitting host for the Seat.

Underpinning this partnership with Portugal is our admiration for the country’s pluralism and bridge-building initiatives with people from disparate cultures and faiths.  

In addition to Universidade NOVA’s significant and international partnerships, your student body now includes people from an impressive 103 countries!  Your principles are embodied within your motto, and I quote, “every city divided against itself shall not stand”.  The world would do well to adopt it. 

The University promotes sustainable development across a range of human activity, all working together to raise the quality of human life.  The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) also emphasises integrated approaches.  In Portugal, our urban community and early childhood programmes are particularly important in driving holistic results that transform lives, across a diversity of individuals and communities. 

You are purposeful about building partnerships; a true hallmark of an exceptional institution.  Some of your partners are also ours, for example Catholica University and Gulbenkian Foundation.  Another example is an innovative partnership between the Ismaili Imamat and the Portuguese Republic, supporting research here and in Africa. And I would also mention our work with the Agrarian Institute of Bilibiza in Mozambique to strengthen agriculture, which now seeks partnerships in Portugal. It is clear that the production of food is a critical issue for the destiny of all African countries.

Universities are important civil society institutions, and it is essential to focus on their role in the years ahead.  The AKDN has two universities that, like yours, are relatively new. The Aga Khan University, started in 1983, promotes standards for healthcare and education in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.K. and across East Africa.  More recently we started an institution in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.  In naming it, we sought to signal local roots and the word “new” or “NOVA” Aga Khan University did not sound quite right!  We called it University of Central Asia. Indeed, Portugal’s emphasis on learning and knowledge aligns with Islam’s emphasis on these areas.

I reiterate in closing my profound appreciation for our partnership, and for honouring me and by extension the Ismaili Imamat and the AKDN, especially as this honour comes during my Diamond Jubilee year, marking 60 years as the 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims worldwide.

Our commitment to Portugal reflects our deep respect for this country and our deep affection for its people.   
Thank you.