Mar 10,2008

Coastweek – – Members of His Highness Prince Aga Khan
Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Mombasa paid a courtesy
call on His Worship the Mayor, Ahmed Abubakar Mohdhar,
on Monday 10th March 2008. Seen standing [from left] is
Hafiz Mangalji, Rafik Jivraj, Zubeida Dadani, Karim Dawood,
Sahenila Kurji, Zaher Bhanji, His Worship the Mayor. Seated
is President of the Aga Khan Council, Mombasa Narmin Somji.


Coastweek – – H.H. Aga Khan Shia Ismaili Council of Mombasa has been asked by Municipal Council of Mombasa to help in employing graduates from teaching institutions in the town and other areas of Coast.

The appeal was made by the Municipal’s Education Officer (MEO), Mr. Francis Tsuma who said employing of extra teachers would help ease the burden of understaffing in several schools especially in Kongowea, Freretown, Concordia and Maweni areas.

“Employment of more teachers will help the council address the students to teacher’s ratio per class,” said Mr. Tsuma who added that some schools had up to 160 students per class, a number too high for a teacher to handle.

Fifty students are required per class.

Mr. Tsuma was speaking at the Mayor’s parlour during a courtesy call on Mombasa Mayor, Councillor Ahmed Mohdhar by the Aga Khan Shia Ismaili Council members.

The MEO lauded the Ismaili community for their effort of upgrading education standards in Mombasa through efforts to start an early grade reading project.

The project, which is earmarked, to start within the next three months is meant to sensitize teachers to lay strong foundations on reading and number work on nursery school students.

Members of the Aga Khan Council promised to keep up their beautification efforts of the town and if permitted undertake the lighting of the Jomo Kenyatta Avenue in Mombasa as a joint venture with the Municipal Council.

The Aga Khan Council’s President, Ms. Narmin Somji requested the council to speed up efforts of bringing down campaign posters as “they brought back sad memories and were an eyesore in their torn status,” she said.

Coastweek – – Mombasa Mayor Ahmed Abubakar
Mohdhar is seen with Aga Khan Council Mombasa
President Narmin Somji when Members of His High-
ness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for
Mombasa paid the Mayor a mid-week courtesy call.

Ms. Somji also informed His Worship that His Highness the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee has been extended to December 2008 and was looking forward to maximum support from the Municipal Council.

As a concerned resident, the community’s Honorary Secretary Zaher Bhanji, noted the disfunctioning of traffic lights at the Kengeleni junction to which the Deputy Mayor, Cllr. John Mcharo promised to look into personally.

Mayor Mohdhar promised to cooperate with the Ismaili community in making Mombasa one of the best towns in the country.

“It is the duty of all of us to work together and make Mombasa a clean city,” he said.

Other members of the Aga Khan Council present were Mrs. Sahenila Kurji, Mr. Karim Dawood, Mr. Rafiq Jivraj, Mr. Hafiz Mangalji and Mrs. Zubeda Dadani.


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Mar 6,2008

Bush’s appointment to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
by Stephen Schwartz
03/06/2008 12:00:00 AM

ON MONDAY, MARCH 3, the first U.S. special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which brings together 57 Muslim countries, took up his duties. Named by President George W. Bush, America’s new diplomat to Muslims is Pakistan-born Sada Cumber of Austin, Texas. Cumber is the co-founder of an investment and wealth consultancy, CACH Capital Management, and some 10 other enterprises. Cumber’s official job at the OIC is “to promote mutual understanding and dialogue between the United States and Muslim communities around the world.”

Born in Karachi in 1951, he was educated in Pakistan, came to America in 1978, became a U.S. citizen in 1986, and has been prominent in Texas politics. But these details of his life–even his identification with the president’s home state–are of little interest compared with a remarkable fact that does not appear in his U.S. government biography. Sada Cumber is an Ismaili Muslim–a member of a small and historically suppressed branch of Shia Islam.

When President Bush announced last June that he would send a U.S. representative to the OIC, some observers wondered how an American Muslim would function in a body that has long been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Having selected an Ismaili for the post, President Bush proved to be astute and adroit. Because Ismailis have suffered discrimination at the hands of Sunnis, and especially Islamist bigots, to draw America’s observer at the OIC from their ranks represents a substantial challenge to the radicalism and conformism imposed on
global Islam. It affirms the rights of Muslim minorities including Sufis, or spiritual Muslims, as well as Shias, just as America has advocated for the freedom of non-Muslims in Islamic lands. Ismailis have been brutally mistreated in the Saudi kingdom, where they are few but, as elsewhere, well-educated and vocal in demanding respect.

Once the rulers of Cairo, Ismailis are distributed today in small communities across the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. They total about 25 million people, out of 1.2 billion Muslims. Their religious leader is Aga Khan IV, their Imam, a billionaire born in 1936, known for his family’s worldly ways as well as his own generosity in public good works. Aga Khan’s father Aly Khan was wed in 1949 to the actress Rita Hayworth, who had previously been romantically involved with another larger-than-life figure, Orson Welles. Aly Khan’s marriage to the movie star lasted only four years. But Aly Khan also became Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations, in 1958, when the Muslim world was less afflicted by fundamentalist extremism.

Ismaili theology is esoteric and almost as difficult to explain to ordinary Muslims as to non-Muslims. In the recent past, Ismailis were often seen as drifting away from Islam altogether, but Shia leaders now perceive a movement in the Ismaili sect back toward an established Shia tradition. Further, Aga Khan IV, as leader of the worldwide Ismaili community, has also demonstrated great intelligence in the use of his fortune. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) operates a system of agencies that finance improvement of education, health, microcredit availability, agricultural technology, historic preservation, and cultural endeavors across Africa and Asia. But AKDN help is not limited to Muslims; rather, it benefits members of all religions who are found to be in need.

In addition to his work within the American Ismaili religious community, Sada Cumber, Bush’s OIC appointee, has represented the Aga Khan’s humanitarian programs in the southwestern United States. In sending an American Muslim to the OIC who stands for independence in Muslim theology, entrepreneurship as well as social responsibility in the use of Muslim wealth, and a strong pro-Western attitude, Bush has brought another small but positive change to relations between the West and the Islamic world. Throughout history, and especially in crisis zones, minor developments have had great consequences. Perhaps the appointment of a U.S. representative to the OIC in the person of Sada Cumber will prove to be another such decisive and meaningful action.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.


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  Posted in         Ismaili News
Jan 30,2008


If you visited the Darb al-Ahmar district in Old Cairo a few years ago, you would have found a neglected neighborhood replete with economic and social difficulties, dilapidated houses and large-scale unemployment. Adjacent to it, you would have seen a massive landfill, which had been accumulating debris and other waste for five centuries.

Today, in that very same location stands the majestic Al-Azhar Park, a 30 hectare green space decorated by over 600,000 plants and trees. The park has served as a catalyst for development of the old city, revitalizing the area and drawing in over a million domestic and foreign visitors in less than two years.

Constructed by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), Al-Azhar Park is the centerpiece of a larger project of social and economic regeneration. It includes rehabilitation of houses and training of local workers, as well as provision of microcredit, healthcare and vocational education.

Al-Azhar Park is an illustration of a successful development intervention inspired by the vibrant tradition of social conscience in Islam. It represents, however, just one of the many examples blazing a path of sustainable development throughout the Muslim world and beyond.

The Qur’anic Call for Social Consciousness

Islam enjoins upon every Muslim the need to balance din and dunya, spiritual devotion with worldly responsibilities. For each individual the spiritual and material are intertwined in Islam, as faith informs and enlightens interactions within society.

For instance, the Qur’an exhorts: “Be good to parents and near of kin and orphans and the needy and to the neighbor who is related to you and the neighbor who is alien and to the companion by your side and the wayfarer” (4:36). It is important to note that the Qur’anic verse does not differentiate among gender, ethnicity, religion or background.

This empathy is accompanied by an ethic of societal responsibility that Muslims embrace as vicegerents of God to be dutiful stewards of the resources that have been bestowed upon us.

Muslims are thus required to go beyond charity and foster conditions that empower individuals to become equal partners in society. Furthermore, Islam not only prescribes the sharing of material wealth, but also calls upon Muslims to share their time and intellectual resources. Additionally, it encourages the establishment of sustainable institutions and infrastructure that fundamentally alter the forces that generate poverty.

The social conscience of Islam leads to a more nuanced understanding of the notion of “quality of life.” As a result, any endeavor contributing to the wellbeing of people must be holistic, preserve human dignity, and promote self-reliance.

Realizing Muslim Social Conscience

One particular individual who has heeded Islam’s call for social consciousness is the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world’s Shi’a Ismaili Muslim community, who established AKDN, or the Network. The AKDN is a group of nine agencies with individual mandates in three broad categories: social development, economic development, and culture.

Employing over 70,000 in more than 30 countries in Asia and Africa, its activities benefit tens of millions of people. The Aga Khan has described these activities as “investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge… inspired by the ethics of Islam.”

Under the leadership of the Aga Khan, AKDN strives to realize the social conscience of Islam through institutional action. The Network’s activities are unique in their approach, which target every level of human enterprise including individuals, communities, and economies, without regard to race, origin, gender or faith.

Enhancing Self-Reliance

Empowering communities to direct their own development while maintaining confidence in their own abilities of creating positive change, is integral to realize the social conscience of Islam. Indeed, the Qur’an (13:11) declares that God does not change peoples’ conditions unless they, themselves, take charge of changing their own condition.

The AKDN takes a participatory approach to development in rural communities. Rather than implement externally-conceived aid programs, each development priority is debated at the village level. The village organization then decides what to address first, and AKDN provides multi-sectoral technical assistance including access to microfinance to enable the development process.

The results of this approach have been significant. For example, the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) in the remote Northern Areas and Chitral regions of Pakistan has empowered local communities, facilitating income growth of over 300 percent and collective savings of over $8 million since its inception in the early 1980s. Literacy rates have also soared. Today, over 900,000 people in 1100 villages benefit from the Program, which also serves as a national model for rural development in Pakistan.

Based on the successes of AKRSP, similar programs were launched in India, Central Asia and Africa, with substantial results. In remote northeastern Tajikistan, for example, AKDN facilitated an increase of food self-sufficiency from 10 percent shortly after the collapse of communism to over 70 percent in recent years.

Building Capacity

In addition to empowering local communities, AKDN seeks to foster the long-term capacity of individuals in a number of ways ranging from conventional education and training to organizational strengthening and development.
In keeping with the ethic of intellectual pursuit, AKDN currently operates over 300 pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools across Asia and Africa. A new initiative is establishing around twenty means-blind, merit-based, Academies of Excellence that will concentrate resources on educating and developing a new cadre of leaders in the developing world.

In higher education, the Aga Khan University (AKU) and University of Central Asia address key professional gaps in the areas of medicine, nursing, teaching, and continuing education. Over the last 25 years, AKU has established programs and campuses in eight countries as far afield as East Africa and Europe. It has emerged as a premier institution of higher learning in the developing world. A faculty of arts and sciences at AKU will soon provide undergraduate and graduate degrees in a broad range of disciplines beyond medicine and education.

Catalyzing Economies

AKDN’s social programs are complemented by economic enterprises which it operates in collaboration with local and international development partners. The Network invests in fragile or post-conflict economies with an eye to development, but project companies are expected to make a profit over time.

In Afghanistan, AKDN established Roshan, a GSM mobile telephone service provider. Now recognized as the premier mobile phone operator in the country, it is the largest employer outside of government. It has over 1.2 million subscribers. Roshan has connected Afghans to one another, facilitated commerce and enabled economic progress.

In West Africa, AKDN helped to create a regional airline, establishing vital air links – a critical component of the transport infrastructure in a region where roads are impassable much of the year. Whereas it once took over 18 hours with a stopover in Paris to travel between Bamako, Mali and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, it now takes only a few hours, and costs much less. These new transport links have facilitated commerce and enabled economic progress across the two countries.

Inspired by the social conscience of Islam and united by a vision to enable people, their communities, and their economies to progress together, AKDN has worked for over fifty years to foster a sustainable legacy of development and is a living example of the transformational power of the social conscience of Islam.


TAUFIQ RAHIM and QAHIR DHANANI are students in the Graduate Public Policy Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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