As a westerner in the midst of a war zone, I always wondered why such great emphasis was placed on restoring Bagh-e-Babur (Gardens of Babur) in 2002, in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan.
When I visited Bagh-e-Babur in 2010, I remember thinking, “Wow, people risked their lives to restore this garden, but why? What will it do for the people of this land?”
I mean, I knew what I was doing there. And I knew what a new hospital could do for the people of Afghanistan. And of course, restoring educational and housing facilities is imperative…but restoring a garden? I mean, logically speaking, a garden is no safe haven in Kabul. Besides, who could afford to spend even a single day in the garden? Didn’t people have work to do? Going on a picnic seemed like a frivolous activity when there was an entire country to rebuild…
Again and again I would ask, “Why did the AKTC, under the guidance of His Highness the Aga Khan, take the initiative to restore this garden?”
Taken from the website, “The agencies of the AKDN are private, international, and non-denominational development organizations that work to improve the welfare and prospects of people in the developing world, particularly in Asia and Africa, without regard to faith, origin, or gender.”
The AKDN has a single shareholder and a single purpose:
“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 from one soul?” (Excerpt of a speech made by His Highness the Aga Khan in Kenya, on December 19, 2003)
The primary intention on the Harmony Wheel summarizes the purpose of the AKDN:
In order to find the most fitting values for each of the nine fields, I consulted the AKDN Ethical Framework. Using this document as a reference, I assigned the value of Trusteeship to Governance, Learning to Science, Sustainability to Economics, Intelligence to Education, Integration to Technology, Inspiration to Arts, Respect to Health, Compassion to Philanthropy, and Justice to Politics.
I reserved the center for the value of Life: To value the force that makes or keeps something alive; the vivifying or quickening principle.
The AKDN is perhaps the quintessential entity to map on the Harmony Wheel, as it has had a significant and measurable impact on all nine fields of the outer group.
In the past, when I was trying to understand the purpose of AKTC’s work, I was looking at it in isolation, rather than as being an integral part of a system working towards a higher purpose. I made the same mistake when thinking about my career; I believed that my experience in Afghanistan would be an anomaly on my resume, an interesting story to tell, and that I would simply resume my normal life in the US.
What I had managed to ignore was the fact that it was my entry point into the AKDN system and that I had been summoned to contribute to a cause much greater than that of my temporary job description. I was summoned to give of the (blessed) life I have been given for the lives of those in need.
The lesson here is that there is always a higher purpose, a recognizable pattern, a puzzle that pieces together. But is your mind programmed to see it? or ignore it?