On The Avenue

Prince Headlines Temple of Dendur (No, Not The Purple One).

by Michael Gross Photographed by Sean Zanni/PMC
Friday, November 17, 2017

“Muslims have gotten bad press lately,” an Ismaili-American gala committee member at one table in the blue-lit Temple of Dendur said with considerable understatement at a gala on Wednesday night.  The evening was, she added, a perfect corrective.  For once, standard-issue frosted Upper East Side blondes were not in the forefront at a New York City gala benefit.  And the range of women’s fashion on display ranged far beyond Madison Avenue looks.

The evening’s headliner, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, younger brother of Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, represented his sibling at the second biennial gala of the Aga Khan Foundation, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network. The event, held in the Great Hall and the grand temple pavilion of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, raised $2.5 million to support poverty solutions and make long term investments in education, from early childhood programs to universities, that benefit 2 million students in Asia and Africa every year. They are, said Aleem Walji, CEO of the foundation, “some of the most remote landscapes on earth.”

As chic as the guests were, the evening’s message was a more serious one than who wore what.  Walji spoke of how one of the foundation’s constituents in Tajikistan had thanked him for giving her “the opportunity to dream.”  Two scholarship students supported by the group spoke about values, principles, good fortune and responsibility.  “A lot has been done,” one of them said. “I want to do more.”

After a brief fundraising auction, Prince Amyn spoke eloquently, beginning with a reference to the evening’s keynote spoke, Vartan Gregorian, the Iranian-born Armenian educator and non-profit administrator who has headed the Carnegie Corporation for two decades.  “Vartan told me I would be auctioned, but apparently there were no bids,” the prince joked.  Then he turned serious as described how his brother’s philanthropic career began at age 3 1/2, “seventy-seven years ago,” and his foundation began “as a collection of desperate undertakings that were subsequently molded into an important entity dedicated to quality of life in the Third World,” stressing educatioon which “plays the most fundamental role in development.”  The rebuke to the fundamentalism that has embroiled the Middle East was implicit.

The gala was held just weeks after two major awards were presented to the Aga Khan. The United Nations Foundation presented him with the Champion for Global Change Award. He later received the Asia Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award both honoring the Ismaili leader’s decades of work, improving the lives of millions.  “Education and the cultivation of intellect plays an important role in society. Aqil, or intellect, is not something to be cultivated but an obligation, incumbent on the faithful.”

The Gala was co-chaired by Naznin Khimji and Karim Rehmat, M.C.’d by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, and included a performance by Tony winner and Hamilton star Renée Elise Goldsberry. Among the guests were Mahmood Khimji, Vijay Dandapani, Jack Welch, Pardaman and Sant Singh Chatwal, Dr. Pia Britto, Marco and Alyssa Tablada , Shayne Doty of The Asia Society, Joan Hardy Clark, Navina Haidar, Dr. Barkat Fazal, Dianne Whitty, Kathy Calvin, Matthew Moneypenny, Cece Coffin and Jon Reinish. Sponsors included Blackstone, Highgate and HG Vora and Innovator Sponsors: Gencom, JP Morgan, Innventures, Rockpoint, Westmont Hospitality Group, Local Six, UNITE HERE and New York Trades Council.



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