First Convocation of the Medical College in Pakistan​

March 20, 1989​

​​​​​​​​Your Excellency, the President,
Your Excellency, the Governor of Sindh,
Honourable Chief Minister 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,

As-salaam-o-alaikum

Many days in a lifetime are unremarkable. Some are notable. Few are unforgettable. In the truest 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 of 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 educating 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.

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. 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 central ethic of the University.

We are reminded of the University’s humane mission – it’s imperative to respond to the needs of 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 an ethical education that must underpin the life of a physician.

But the University must also express vigorous intellectual enquiry – 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 endlessly 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 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, 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.

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, 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 donors and its graduates and catch the imagination of the world.

Finally, and of very great importance, the University is being drawn toward the field of research and training in health policy and management – the 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 reflecting on the future, however, my thoughts return constantly to you, our new graduates. To me, as a Muslim, proud of my faith, of its culture, of its 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 questions 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, 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.

I pray that Allah may bless and guide you throughout your service to mankind.

Thank you.