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Aga Khan to Speak At Commencement

By Eva Moy
Editor in chief

The Aga Khan, the religious leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, will be the next commencement speaker on May 27.

"The Aga Khan stands as a unique figure on the international scene today," President Charles M. Vest said in his announcement of the speaker. "Through private philanthropy, he has enabled the very poor in Asia and Africa to enhance their lives. These efforts are taking place in areas of primary health care, education, housing, and social and economic development. In this role, he upholds Islamic culture and values while building bridges between the western and Muslim societies."

"His commitment to using modern resources for the betterment of his people, and his deep concern for their welfare, make him a fitting role model for those whose own careers will have similar potential," Vest said.

The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of about 15 to 20 million Ismaili Muslims, a sect within Shia Muslim, according to Barbro M. Ek, director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT.

"In the developing world, the Ismailis live mainly in Central and South Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. They now also live in Europe and North America," according to the AKPIA biography of the Aga Khan.

49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims

The Aga Khan, whose title is His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, became the 49th Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Ismailis in 1957. He directs the Aga Khan Development Network, "a nexus of organizations working to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of the developing world," according to the biography. The Network deals mainly with issues of health care, education, housing, and rural economic development.

In 1979, he established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and Harvard -- where he graduated with an honors degree in Islamic history in 1959 -- with an initial gift of more than $11.5 million.

"The Aga Khan has provided endowed funds to support faculty, students, and library development in perpetuity," according to an AKPIA brochure. "He has also provided annually renewed funding for various activities that will stimulate interest, encourage research, and develop information resources both for historians of architecture and for the architects and urbanists who are now planning and building in Islamic societies."