Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.


Go To News Event: 
Event - 1989-03-20
Monday, 1989, March 20
His Highness the Aga Khan addressing the audience at the Convocation Ceremony marking the first graduation of doctors 1989-03-20
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Your Excellency, The President, Your Excellency, The Governor Of Sindh, Dr Halfdan Mahler, Director-General Emeritus Of The World Health Organisation, Honourable Ministers, Your Excellencies, Faculty Members, Distinguished Guests,and Graduating Students of The Aga Khan University.


Many days in a lifetime are unremarkable, some are notable, few are unforgettable. In the trust sense only one can be unique. The longer one's life, the more the relativity of a unique day is measured against time gone by. Despite all this, for me, having lived over half a century, this is indeed a unique day.

Years of thought and hope are in front of me this 20th March 1989 to esteem and applaud, in the form of the first class of graduating students from the Faculty of Health Sciences School of Medicine at the Aga Khan University. These young men and women represent much more however, than my own vision. They are the personification of the Government of Pakistan's courageous decision to authorise for the first time a private, fully independent institution of higher education; of faculty from all over the world who have committed their lives and knowledge to education in this University; of donors who have contributed in unprecedented generosity to secure this institution's future; and of trustees whose time and wisdom have directed us with immense clarity of foresight.

When I received the charter of the University five years ago almost to the day, I noted the enormous challenge, and the sacred charge, the new University would undertake. Student unrest, decayed standards, and public disenchantment had called into question the very concept of the university perhaps as another thoughtless application of a western model in much of the developing world. Yet the model pre-existed the universities of the West. My great hope, offered with the humility such a task demands, was that this University might draw upon the same spirit, the same strand of conviction, that led my forebears to found Al-Azhar a thousand years earlier in the Fatimid Dynasty's capital of Cairo.

Could we not here in Pakistan, at the heart of one of the great centres of the Muslim Ummah, create a Muslim University that would bring to life the great traditions of innovation in the natural sciences and medicine that flourished in the early centuries of the faith? Could we, in addition, establish a university with a truly international reach, based in Pakistan, but with faculties in different countries of the developing world providing bases for teaching and research in different fields, in different cultures?

Mr President, I can say with confidence this morning that the University is meeting its pledge to the people of Pakistan and to its supporters around the world. I had the opportunity in yesterday's health seminar to mention some of the avenues of research that the University has pursued over the past five years. Faculty members are conducting highly innovative investigations into childhood dysentery and into the risk factors in pregnancy, which cause millions of deaths in the rural areas of the developing world, and into the early diagnosis and treatment of leprosy, tuberculosis and kidney stone disease, all major afflictions of this continent.

As you graduates know, the University has also designed an innovative curriculum. You have learned not only about the physiology and pathology of individual human bodies, but also about the anatomy of the health problems of communities. You have worked among the men and women of the Katchi Abadis, the squatter settlements around Karachi, learning about the causes of disease of people who live in poverty.

The University, as planned, has begun to extend its reach, looking outward, beyond this campus. With access to five Aga Khan Hospitals and 200 health units in Asia and Africa, it can now place faculty and students in research sites and internship opportunities from the far North of Pakistan, to Bangladesh and the East Coast of Africa. There they can research and experience widely diverse locations and conditions where people, knowledge, technology and resources must be developed into new patterns of health care delivery.

Through these activities, our pioneering faculty and students have been helping to define the character and create the spirit of this University. I have mentioned on many occasions that this is not to be an ordinary University. It has no precise model. Al Azhar, Oxford, Heidelberg, and Harvard are in its bloodlines. But it is strongly influenced by its times and its location. It is these intellectual, spiritual, and contextual fields of force that are beginning to define the vital ethic of the University.

Yesterday's health seminar underlined the importance of the University's emerging identity and sense of purpose. We were reminded of the University's humane mission; its imperative to respond to the needs of the common man. The faculty, I believe, in taking our students to the Katchi Abadis, not only instruct them in the techniques of primary health care for the poor, but also expose them to deeper truths - our common humanity and worth, humility before great suffering, and recognition of dignity and wisdom among simple people. This is a form of ethical education that must underpin the life of a physician and underlie the professional ethics to which the Prime Minister referred to yesterday so eloquently.

But the University must also express intellectual restlessness - the imperative not merely to apply knowledge, or to confine research to that which is immediately useful. It must embody the fact that knowledge is constantly changing, must ever be challenged and extended. This conviction, this buoyant but disciplined impatience, is what makes modern science a metaphor for modern civilisation. Concerned as they are about practical problems of health, faculty must also be encouraged and assisted to work on the frontiers of scientific and medical knowledge. Uncompromising excellence is also an ethical principle. In working on the leading edge of knowledge, here and in the far reaches of the health network, the University participates in the great world of scientific thought; it will help throw off the bonds of dependency, the habits of learning only what is already known, that have stunted progress in the developing world.

In touching on these matters, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the faculty. In coming to this University, you have made weighty personal and professional decisions. But in doing so, you have become models for a generation of young doctors. You embody what the University stands for in your commitment to the health needs of Pakistan and its people; but also in your determination to create here intellectual environment of the highest order.

The key to the University's capacity to do these things, I believed then and believe now, is freedom of learning and inquiry, which is in the truest spirit of Islam. Without it, excellence cannot be achieved. In establishing his association with the Muslim University of Aligarh my grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan, set forth this point very clearly. He insisted that Aligarh "preach the gospel of free enquiry, of large-hearted toleration, and of pure morality." Ideals which still ring true today.

The freedom to be such an institution, however, is not a simple gift, but a demanding, exciting, continuous creation. First, it has required the faith and commitment of the Government of Pakistan to provide the University with the physical land, the tax exemptions for the University and those donors who contribute to it , and the vitally important University charter. This is the legal pledge of the Government to grant it the intellectual space and freedom to create its curriculum, its research programmes, the conditions of admission and graduation of its students, and the appointments and promotion, on merit,of its faculty.

Second, it has required the vigilance and wisdom of an independent board of trustees They are a board of many talents - senior educators, legal figures, medical men, economists, from inside and outside Pakistan. Their Chairman is Pakistan's distinguished foreign minister, himself an exceptional and broad-ranging intellect. As its Chancellor, I am, like the trustees, responsible not for the day to day operation of the university, but to ensure that the institution is faithful to its mission and purposes; to push it constantly into new fields of development; to ensure that academic leadership of vision and integrity is at its head and to assure that it has the financial underpinnings that are commensurate to the breadth of its mission.

I must emphasise these financial underpinnings. In accepting the charter of the University, I noted that there was no weakness in the model of the University. There was only the terrible weakness of universities having resources too limited for their task. An aspect of this institution which gives me great joy and satisfaction is the outpouring of generosity and commitment that members of my community and others have shown to the University over the past five years. International aid agencies have contributed with great sensitivity and wonderful effect to the establishment of its programmes. It is individual donors, families and corporations, however, who have created the University's endowment- the corpus fund that produces a vital portion of the income that pays faculty salaries, contributes to student costs, and makes sure that the University's daily needs are met.

But at root, Mr President, there is no guarantee of a University's freedom other than its continuing social value. If it becomes lax and indulgent, or politicised, it will lose the confidence of the country and fail. The government-supported University may be the hostage of revenues, the economic cycle, and politics, but the private institution is not exempt from peril. Private donors will turn away if they do not have faith in its excellence and sense of mission; endowments can be eroded by inflation or exceeded by expanding programmes if they are not wisely invested and supplemented with new funds. The private University has freedom, but freedom has its price. That price is courageous leadership, integrity in selecting students and faculty; and creative, disciplined thought in tackling the most pressing problems of mankind. If the Aga Khan University meets that price, and if it continues to introduce salient new programmes in Pakistan and other countries of the developing world, I believe it will hold the loyalty of its graduates and catch the imagination of the world.

And what of the future? Of the many programmes ahead I would mention only four of the most urgent in which the University believes it has a unique capacity to be of service.

First, the University will build on its strengths in maternal and child health. Its research into problems which strike the most vulnerable of God's people, is carrying it toward the goal I have as Chancellor: that the Aga Khan University should be one of the world resources in health problems of mothers and children, and that its work on these problems will be on the frontiers of knowledge.

Second, there is a great shortage in Pakistan in the allied health services of laboratory technicians radiologists, physical therapists, and a host of other professionals who complement the physician. The University is studying and planning its entry into this vital field.

Third, continuing education. Medical education can never end for a true professional. Our own graduates and the doctors of Pakistan and other developing countries will require throughout their careers, short courses, seminars and workshops to keep pace with new discoveries, technologies, and pharmacology. This continuing development of the mature physician must surely be a vital academic concern of the University.

Finally, and of very great importance, the University is being drawn toward the field of research and training in health policy and management. This study of health economics,epidemiology and the management sciences that will be of value to the policy maker as well as to the future manager of health programmes and institutions. This University must aim to produce the leaders in health policy as well as in medicine.

In thinking of the future, my thoughts return constantly to you, our new graduates. To me as a Muslim, proud of my faith, of its culture, humanism and its compassion, you the graduates represent a powerful light. You have been educated by men and women of all beliefs; you are yourselves of different persuasions, you have blossomed in a University which stands for intellectual freedom and expansive enquiry; you have studied the most modern medical curriculum, with all that that means in addressing the moral and ethical question of life and death in our times. You are the antithesis of the angry face of obscurantism. In this you symbolise, I am certain, the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of Muslims around the world. Many of us will not be here to follow to the end, your careers of care and help to the sick or the wounded, or the maimed, that shamefully our generation will leave behind. Happily today, of one thing we can all be convinced: you will acquit yourselves well, justifying the faith that we have placed in you, and in the principles on which this young University has been built.

If time confirms and consolidates your belief in these principles too, it is my request that you should sustain and defend them as we have done for you.

Back to top