"Spirit and Life" exhibition (London, UK)

Your Royal Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Mr. Mayor,
My Lord,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am deeply pleased all of you are here today, for the opening of our 'Spirit and Life' exhibition. And I know you share the special sense of honour I feel in welcoming the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and so many other distinguished guests. Their Royal Highnesses have, in the past, visited the Azhar Park in Cairo and the restoration of the Baltit Fort on the Silk Route in Northern Pakistan, both projects sponsored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. I am delighted by Their Royal Highnesses’ support for the work being done by the Trust.

This exhibition is designed to give us a glimpse into the future. What we see here today is the nucleus of the Islamic art collections of the future Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. This museum, which is being designed by the renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, is conceived as a primarily educational institution in the field of Islamic art and culture, a specific mandate that is not fulfilled so far by other North American museums. We hope and trust it will contribute to a deeper understanding among cultures - to the strengthening of true cultural pluralism - which is increasingly essential to peace, and to progress, in our world.

This is an appropriate place for us to share in this vision - and to talk about that objective. Britain, through its centuries of history, has been one of the world’s countries that has been most exposed to the cultures of other societies. London, in particular, is a crossroads for widely diverse peoples - from every corner of the planet.

We can see the evidence of that in the impressive range of artworks found in places such as the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum just across the road - where Your Royal Highness recently inaugurated the impressive new Islamic Art Gallery. We see our comparatively modest exhibition here at the Ismaili Centre as a complement to that and other venues in this country which house Islamic Art, and which spotlight both its richness and its diversity.

I am also very pleased that you are today in a building of which we are very proud, our Ismaili Centre. We hope that this exhibition will help bring many more Londoners into this place, the centre of spiritual life for our community in Britain.

Certainly one of the lessons we have learned in recent years is that the world of Islam and the Western world need to work together much more effectively at building mutual understanding – especially as these cultures interact and intermingle more actively. We hope that this exhibition - and the museum which it anticipates - will contribute to a better Western understanding of the peoples of Islam: in all of their religious, ethnic, linguistic and social diversity.

As you know, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in particular, and the Aga Khan Development Network, in general, are working toward this goal in a wide variety of ways. I am especially pleased to take this occasion to thank an important partner in our efforts, the Prince of Wales - along with 18 organisations which make up the Prince’s Charities, for their special cooperation and support. Our collaboration ranges from the world of corporate social responsibility to the challenges of economic development, from public health projects to creative educational initiatives, from environmental and architectural concerns to artistic and cultural workshops. We hope and we trust that the beginnings we have realized in our work together, can continue to flourish - and to multiply.

If I could express one hope for all of you, as you leave this place today, it is that you will appreciate even more deeply how much culture matters in Muslim societies, and how deeply culture is entwined for Muslims with matters of faith. This is why we call this exhibition: 'Spirit and Life'. At a time when the forces of exclusion, alienation, and separation can often seem so threatening in our world, I am convinced that our ability to honor authentic symbols of pride and identity - and to share their beauty and their power with one another - can be a tremendous force for good. I hope you will feel the same way - let me thank you, most sincerely, once again, for sharing with us in this important moment.

Thank you.