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Bangladesh visit
21 May 2008
  • Mawlana Hazar Imam looks to the future of Bangladesh with hope and confidence

    “For a small Jamat, you have performed as if you were a Jamat 10 times, 50 times, 100 times this size.”

    These were the warm sentiments expressed by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the dinner held in his honour by the Jamati institutions of Bangladesh. “It has been an enormously happy visit. In many ways, an inspiring visit, because it has demonstrated how, even a small Jamat can achieve outstanding results in fields which are complex, which are necessary, but which, with your endeavours, your work, your unity - you achieve results which are completely unexpected,” he said.

    This was Mawlana Hazar Imam's Golden Jubilee visit to the People's Republic of Bangladesh from 19-23 May 2008.. Mawlana Hazar Imam landed at the Zia International airport in Dhaka and was received by the Honourable Chief Advisor, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed in what was a most colourful and prestigious guard of honour which included the playing of the Nashid-al Imamah. Immediately after landing, he proceeded by helicopter to the Savar National Matyr's Memorial where he paid his respects, laying a wreath and planting a tree in honour of the three million who had lost their lives in the struggle for freedom in 1971.

    Mawlana Hazar Imam's programme was intense. The same day, he went on to meet with the Honourable Chief Advisor Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, and then to attend a banquet hosted by the Chief Advisor, in recognition of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Golden Jubilee. Here, the message was clear; the visit was about the spirit of partnership, the spirit of pluralism and about renewed confidence in the country. Emphasising that the most productive investments one could made in a “Knowledge Society” were those in education, Mawlana Hazar Imam explained that one of the central purposes of his trip was to lay the foundation stone for a new Aga Khan Academy in Dhaka, which would be a strong educational resource for the entire country. Acknowledging the country's strides in the economic and social development fields, Mawlana Hazar Imam went on to speak about the challenges: “The challenge now is to make development both sustainable and equitable, so that it fairly benefits people of all classes, cultures and regions,” he said.

    The next day was marked by the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy, Dhaka, to be built in Dhaka's Bashundhara District and the first to be built in a Muslim country. Here, Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke of the commitment to the institution, reiterating that this was not simply a matter of creating beautiful, modern facilities for students, nor of developing a corps of gifted teachers, but rather that this was about creating a new national asset for the country and for its broad educational community.

    He went on to explain what he saw as the larger significance of the Academies' initiative and the commitment to three principles which he felt underlined his dreams for the new Academy, which would eventually be part of the network of 18 Academies around the world.

    The first principle highlighted by Mawlana Hazar Imam was the centrality of quality education as an element in the Islamic tradition. Explaining that world and faith were inseparable in Islam and that faith and learning were also interconnected, he said, “The Holy Qur'an sees the discovery of knowledge as a spiritual responsibility, enabling us to better understand and more ably serve God's creation. … Our traditional teachings remind us of our individual obligation to seek knowledge unto the ends of the earth- and of our social obligation to honour and nurture the full potential of every human life.”

    Mawlana Hazar Imam went on to emphasise the second integral principle - that a sound educational system should help nourish local and national cultures. “The beauty of Creation is a function of its variety,” he said. “The roots we inherit from our history are a great source of strength, joy and happiness,” he said, explaining that this was why the dual-language system was integral to the curriculum. “Our students will be prepared to unlock the rich treasure chests of history and culture, art and music, religious and philosophical thought, which are integral to one's identity and one's values and which are such powerful elements here in Bangladesh.”

    Mawlana Hazar Imam's third point dwelled on the strong link which the Academies would provide to an increasingly globalised world, particularly in the face of forces that could potentially fragment our world. Finally he spoke about the importance of sound ethical formation of both students and teachers as an essential dimension of the Academies Programme.

    Bangladesh's Education Advisor Dr Hossain Rahman echoed the sentiments, seeing this as a message of opportunity, particularly in a country where education, for a long time, was a prime vehicle of social mobility. “Today we are laying the foundation stone not just for another education institution but for an integrated vision which holds lessons for other initiatives that government and partners in society are trying to take forward,” he said.

    The day ended with a diplomatic reception and banquet hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam in honour of the Chief Advisor and which was attended by key government and civil society leaders.

    The third day into the visit, Mawlana Hazar Imam laid a second foundation stone- this time for the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, Dhaka. “We see it as a place of peace and tranquillity, filled with a spirit of humility and prayer. It will not be a place for conceit or self-satisfaction, but rather a place for search and enlightenment. It will be a place where men and women in this pluralist country can help strengthen those common bonds which reflect our common challenges and which will shape our common destiny,” said Mawlana Hazar Imam, conveying the hopes and dreams inspiring the Jamatkhana. “The Jamatkhana and the Academy will serve complementary roles as they work to dispel ignorance, cultivate a cosmopolitan outlook and nourish the cause of peace and harmony among peoples and cultures, within this country and around the world,” he said.

    “Bangladesh has made a courageous commitment through the years to values which have grown out of Islamic traditions, but which are of universal applicability: a dedication to human dignity; to taking and giving the hand of friendship; to humility in the all-enveloping Divine presence which impels one to celebrate God-given differences rather than denigrating them; and to the persistence of hope, and to the resilience which hope bestows. The Jamatkhana to be constructed here will express these same values, representing Ismaili identity to be sure, but doing so as a statement not of separation but of convergence and connectivity.”
    Mawlana Hazar Imam, foundation stone-laying ceremony, Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, Dhaka

    Mawlana Hazar Imam ended his day by attending a dinner hosted by the Jamati institutions of Bangladesh. Here, he congratulated leaders for their achievements, saying he was looking to the future of Bangladesh with confidence and hope.

    Also during this historic visit to Bangladesh, Mawlana Hazar Imam met with the Advisors for Foreign Affairs, Finance, Education and Industry, as well as with journalists from the country's key media.

    “I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this Golden Jubilee than by setting off in a formal way down the road that will see two beautiful new facilities rise up as a part of this city, dedicated to spiritual and educational pursuits – the life of the spirit and the life of the mind – commitments which grow fundamentally out of Islamic traditions, and which will be instrumental in the future development of this country.”
    Mawlana Hazar Imam, foundation stone-laying ceremony, Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, Dhaka

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