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The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, will be the MIT commencement speaker on Friday, May 27.
In making the announcement, MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "The Aga Khan stands as a unique figure on the international scene today. Through private philanthropy, he has enabled the very poor in Asia and Africa to enhance their lives. These efforts are taking place in the 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-exemplified by the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and Harvard.
"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," President Vest said.
The Aga Khan, a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, became 49th Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Ismailis in 1957 at the age of 20, a year before his graduation from Harvard University. This followed the death of his grandfather, the Aga Khan III, who wanted to be succeeded by a "young man who has been brought up in the midst of the new age."
The Ismailis live largely in the developing nations of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and also in Europe and North America.
The Aga Khan, whose title is His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, directs a large network of philanthropic and development institutions that work in collaboration with governments, development agencies and nongovernmental organizations, in the fields of health care, education and housing, as well as rural and economic development. The Aga Khan Development Network, which embraces all these activities, includes institutions with individual and specific mandates, such as the Aga Khan Foundation, the Aga Khan Health and Education Services and the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.
The Aga Khan University, of which the Aga Khan is the chancellor, is an international institution whose Faculty of Health Sciences and Institute for Educational Development are situated in Karachi, Pakistan.
In 1979, with an initial gift of more than (US) $11.5 million, he established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and Harvard, a major cultural effort to preserve and restore the values and practice of architecture that reflects the Islamic spirit. The joint program embraces research and teaching in architecture of the Islamic world, supports related activities and links both MIT and Harvard with universities in the Muslim world. This unique program comes within the sphere of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, alongside the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, established to recognize outstanding Islamic architectural achievements, and the Historic Cities Support Program, whose mandate is to promote the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in ways that can catalyze social, economic and cultural development.
A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 23).