The Aga Khan has received one of Portugal’s highest honours in recognition of his service to uplifting lives around the world.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa bestowed the Grand Cross of the Order of Liberty on the Aga Khan with at Lisbon’s Belem Palace on Thursday.
The Aga Khan was in Lisbon at the invitation of the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa to receive an Honorary Doctorate for his longstanding commitment to improving the quality of life for some of the world’s vulnerable populations.
He was also recognised for his efforts to promote respect for tolerance and pluralism.
This visit was the first official public event for the Aga Khan since the launch of his Diamond Jubilee year, which marked 60 years as Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community.
In his remarks, The Aga Khan underscored the importance of education for the world’s continued economic and social development.
He praised Portugal for embracing pluralism while calling on people everywhere to partner for the strengthening of civil society and global development.
In his laudation remarks, the Dean of the NOVA School of Business, Professor Daniel Traça, spoke about the partnership between the Ismaili Imamat and the university.
“The Imamat’s commitment to higher education and Nova’s unwavering commitment to diversity, openness and tolerance are the underpinnings of this dialogue and partnership,” he said.
“A partnership that makes Lisbon a centre for Ismaili Imamat and the Ismaili Community, but also for all those around the world that strive for a new renaissance. A partnership that takes a stand in the quest for solutions to global problems.”
In presenting the honorary degree to The Aga Khan, António Rendas, the University’s Rector, recognised the efforts in establishing the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia – both institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) – which he called “one of the most comprehensive contemporary development networks in the world”.
“As Founder and Chairman of the AKDN, the Aga Khan is truly the centre of a human chain of solidarity, which crosses continents, bringing progress and innovation to mankind regardless of gender, origin and religion,” he said.
Rendas went on to emphasise the role of partnerships to improve the progress of science and education for the benefit of society at large.
“We humbly feel that the road to achieve these goals is a long one because ethics, pluralism and peace are like trees that need to be watered every day. The inspiration of our Laureate is, surely, one of the lighthouses that will help us in our pathway,” he said.
“I hope you are willing to consider Lisbon and particularly NOVA University as a partner in making the world better with more knowledge, more culture, more social development and, above all, peace for men and women of good will.”
In expressing his profound gratitude in receiving the honorary doctorate, the Aga Khan said, “I have always felt at home in Portugal, and now even more so since the signing in 2015 of an historic Agreement between the Ismaili Imamat and Portuguese Republic to establish the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in this country— an important milestone in the 1,400-year history of the Ismaili Imamat. It marks the culmination of our long and deep relationship here— one that will now deepen further.”
Noting that universities have always served as important civil society institutions, the Aga Khan went on to cite examples of two universities of the AKDN as modern-day expressions of this long tradition of support for education among Muslim communities and the Ismaili people, namely the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.
The honorary doctorate was bestowed on the Aga Khan in the presence of the President of the Republic, government officials, officials of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat and leaders of the Ismaili community.
The Aga Khan is marking his Diamond Jubilee— or 60 years— as the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
He became Imam on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20 years, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan.
His Highness has received numerous honorary degrees and awards in recognition of his work, including in Portugal, the Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry the Great, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit and the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Christ.
In 2006, the University of Évora conferred on him the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa; in 2009 he became a foreign member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences.
The institutions of the Ismaili Imamat have been engaged in Portugal since 1983, when the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) opened an office in Lisbon.
For more than 30 years, it has worked on issues of relevance to Portugal and Europe, as well as other Portuguese-speaking countries.
Its activities range from early childhood development to university education, from social inclusion of immigrants to the study of rapidly ageing populations.
In June 2015, the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat signed a landmark agreement for the establishment of its formal Seat in Portugal.
The agreement furthers cooperation between Portugal and the Ismaili Imamat in the knowledge society, through developing world-class research initiatives in Portugal that will benefit the world at large.
Following this agreement, in May 2016, the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education and the Ismaili Imamat signed an agreement that will strengthen research capacity and improve quality of life in Portugal and in Portuguese- speaking countries.