A year ago today, on 26 June 2018, the Aga Khan Centre was inaugurated by Mawlana Hazar Imam and HRH The Prince of Wales at a special ceremony in London’s thriving Knowledge Quarter. Over the past year, the design features of the building and its gardens, as well as its programme of activities, have come to represent the principles of openness, dialogue, and pluralism.
The Crown Room at the Aga Khan Centre, illuminated at night.PHOTO: EDMUND SUMNER
As home to the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK), the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan Centre is a vibrant hub for education, knowledge, and cultural exchange. Since its formal opening during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee visit to the UK last year, the Centre has hosted a number of public and private events and programmes, nurturing friendships and building new bridges of understanding about Muslim cultures and the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.
During his speech at the inauguration ceremony, Hazar Imam said, “We celebrate today a beautiful new architectural accomplishment. As we do so, we also honour those who have made this Centre possible – and the values that have inspired their work. Two of those values which deserve special mention today – the value of education as a force for cooperation and healing in our world – and the value of architecture as a source of inspiration and illumination.”
One year on and judging by the overwhelming demand for tours, the Aga Khan Centre has inspired visitors with the beauty of its design and gardens, and has become regarded as a place where knowledge and ideas are exchanged. On 21 June 2019, the Aga Khan Centre was presented with the Eastern Eye Editor’s Special Award, granted at their Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards in London. The Eastern Eye newspaper commended the institutions at the Centre, for the “spread of education, knowledge and exchange of cultural ideas,” and lauded its mission to foster better understanding in a multi-faith world.
Over the past year, the Centre has hosted a number of academic conferences including AKU-ISMC’s Muslim Cultures in the Indian Ocean and IIS’ Renaissance of Shiʿi Islam in the 15th–17th Centuries: Facets of Thought and Practice. The Global Centre for Pluralism held its sixth Annual Pluralism Lecture at the Aga Khan Centre in 2018, entitled Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism, delivered by the award-winning author and historian Karen Armstrong. More recently, AKF UK hosted the Salzburg Global Seminar where Lord Patten of Barnes delivered the Annual Palliser lecture on Europe-China relations in a multi-polar world; and the closing reception for the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, London, where delegates continued their literary discussions beyond the British Library to the serene surroundings of the Aga Khan Centre.
The Aga Khan Centre has quickly become a key London venue for AKDN organisations to hold programmes and share knowledge. The Aga Khan Music Initiative recently held an evening concert entitled Inspired by Maqam featuring new music from Syria and Tajikistan – the culmination of a series of ten public events between AKU-ISMC and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, exploring how heritage and contemporary creativity enhance and affect both quality of life and sustainability in a range of Muslim contexts. In addition, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is currently showcasing images and films of the 2019 shortlisted projects in the Aga Khan Centre’s gallery until 10 July 2019.
The architecture, gardens, and gallery at the Centre have attracted people from all backgrounds, with over 5,000 visitors attending events or joining public tours of the building, including at London’s renowned Open House, Open City, and Open Garden Squares events.
During weekends, the Aga Khan Centre continues to thrive, becoming a hub of activity for the Jamat and its institutions. The building is also used widely by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board’s Encounters classes, where students are taught modules of the IIS’ Secondary Curriculum by qualified STEP teachers. It has also seen members from the global Jamat attend a variety of week-long continuing education programmes, aimed at introducing them to a social, cultural, and civilisational approach to the study of Islam and Muslim societies, with a particular focus on Ismaili contexts.
It was Mawlana Hazar Imam’s aspiration, as articulated after the inauguration in a note in the visitor book, that the Centre “will fulfil, indeed surpass, all the exhilarating hopes that have been placed in it.” As the Aga Khan Centre commemorates its one year anniversary, it is certainly the desire of the three institutions to strive towards this vision as they continue to forge important pathways towards a more pluralistic and peaceful world, enriching the lives of people via new ways of thinking, open dialogue, and bridges of understanding.
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