To the Imamat, the meaning of “quality of life” extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being measured over generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background. Does the Holy Qur’an not say in one of the most inspiring references to mankind, that Allah has created all mankind from one soul?Today, this vision is implemented by institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Alltex EPX Limited Opening Ceremony, Kenya, December 19, 2003: Read Here)
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of development agencies established by the contemporary Ismaili Imamat over the last 100 years; the Network operates in over 35 countries, employs over 80,000 people and 100,000 volunteers, and spends over $600 million dollars annually to raise the quality of life of all people in need, regardless of faith, culture or ethnicity. The AKDN accomplishes this through numerous activities in poverty relief, healthcare, economics, education, health services, architecture, agriculture, cultural restoration, tourism, etc. The roots of the AKDN go back to the first Khoja Ismaili school established by Imam Aga Ali Shah Aga Khan II in Bombay and the first Aga Khan Schools created in Zanzibar by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III. As explained by Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, the work of AKDN is not mere philanthropy – because philanthropy is voluntary, as a choice. On the contrary, the AKDN’s work is a sacred obligation of the Ismaili Imams based on the very definition of their Imamat stemming directly from the ethics of Islam:
I am fascinated and somewhat frustrated when representatives of the Western world — especially the Western media — try to describe the work of our Aga Khan Development Network in fields like education, health, the economy, media, and the building of social infrastructure. Reflecting a certain historical tendency of the West to separate the secular from the religious, they often describe it either as philanthropy or entrepreneurship.What is not understood is that this work is for us a part of our institutional responsibility — it flows from the mandate of the office of Imam to improve the quality of worldly life for the concerned communities.
– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,