Simerg is celebrating the public opening of the Aga Khan Museum on September 18, 2014, by launching a photography contest. A total of 25 photos, all related to the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park taken from the time the grounds become open to the public through to September 25, 2014, will be selected by an independent panel of judges and posted on this website on or around 7th October, 2014. The prizes will consist of a total of 20 free annual youth and family memberships to the museum as well as 5 merit prizes from the museum’s shop.
There will be two categories. The Youth Category will be open to anyone 19 and under. A total of 10 annual youth memberships will be given to the winning entries and, in addition, the judges will select 5 merit entries who will be awarded with the Aga Khan Museum catalogue.
The Open Category is for anyone over the age of 19. It will be for all amateur photographers and photography enthusiasts as well as anyone who likes to shoot photographs, either using a camera or their smart hand-held devices and phones! For this category we will expect each photo to be accompanied with a 75 to 100 word narrative to encapsulate the photographer’s experience of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre or their Park. Only spaces where photos are allowed to be taken will be accepted for the contest.
The opening days of the museum will be the perfect breeding ground for passionate picture taking and writing a brief narrative, and if you are selected as a winner in the Open Category you will be one of 10 to receive an annual family membership.
Here are some ideas for taking and submitting photos: artistic and architecture beauty and grandeur of the projects, interior spaces (where permitted), landscape, nature (as in the park), as well as spontaneous moments involving people!
The prizes that are to be given are from gracious donations by numerous individuals and families in Ontario. Further details of the contest, including the names of judges, will be published in the coming fortnight. Start preparing for this contest as communities in Ontario and Canada as well as around the world eagerly anticipate the opening of three unique cultural initiatives undertaken by His Highness the Aga Khan!
by Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah
Faith (Iman) is like a tree, the roots of which go into the heart: its trunk is in reason, and its branches are in the instincts, while imagination is its new shoots and leaves – (senses of) the body. The foundation (asl) of faith is love for the Imam-e-Zaman (the Imam of the Time). And if this foundation, that is, this love, and the roots of faith are strong and in good condition, all other parts of the tree, such as its trunk, its branches and leaves, can be expected to continue to flourish even if they are (accidentally) damaged. If, on the contrary, the roots are not well grounded, or even rotten, the whole tree will soon dry, and then will become good for nothing except to be used as fuel.
Thus love for Mawlana Hazar Imam is everything, being the root of faith. If it is not strong, all the acts of outward piety (a’mal-i zahiri) which are like leaves of the tree, will fade. If you have thousands of leaves, fresh and of good colour, they will dry in a short time, and then a very small fire will be sufficient to burn them completely.
2. LOVE FOR HAZAR IMAM
by Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq
It is related from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that a group of Shias visited him one day. One in the group addressed the Imam and spoke of a man who was with them.
“O Son of the Messenger of God: this man has love for you.”
On hearing these words, the Imam looked at the person and said:
“The best kind of love is the love for the sake of God and His Messenger. There is no gain in any other kind of love.”
The Imam then continued.
“Once the ansars [helpers] came to Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (s.a.s.) and said, ‘O Messenger of God! We were on the wrong path and Allah guided us through you. We were destitute and we prospered by your blessings. For this reason, you may ask of anything you desire from our belongings and we shall give it to you.’
“At this, the following verse was revealed by Allah, ‘Say (O Muhammad): No reward do I ask (for my favours) except your love for my kith and kin’.”
Moved to tears, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq then raised his hands and exclaimed:
“Praise be to God, Who has exalted us above all.”
“Faith” adapted from Risala dar haqiqat-i din by Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah Al-Husayni, translated as True Meaning of Religion by Wladimir Ivanow. Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah was the eldest son of the 47th Ismaili Imam, Aga Ali Shah, also known as Aga Khan II. The Pir was only 33 when he died due to a chest related illness, a few months before the demise of his own father, Imam Aga Ali Shah. Mawlana Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, then only 8 years old, succeeded to the throne of Imamat as the 48th Imam.
“Love for Imam” excerpted from article by Jehangir Merchant and Alnoor Bhatia published in Ilm, Volume 5, Number 1 (July 1979). The article was based on the Gujarati edition of Qadi al-Numan’s work, Da’aim al-Islam.
On October 10, 2010, Bashir Fazal Ladha of the United Kingdom, during his visit to Toronto, went to Wynford Drive to see how the construction work of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park was coming along. He writes: “It was a thrilling moment and I was full of excitement when I saw the progress, and in a moment of inspiration I composed a poem which I have decided to share with readers of Simerg.” The opening of the museum to the public on September 18, 2014 was announced recently and we take the privilege to repost this beautiful and inspiring poem for all our readers.
Writing the History of Tomorrow
Please click to enlarge
BY BASHIR LADHA
A look down deep in the bowls of the earth
“A foundation being laid, a foundation of a building?” I ask
Not only, it is a foundation of a history to unfold…..
I bow my head in submission to
The Lord of Time and Age
Yes the Lord of Time and Age
For indeed you are beyond time and space
The planets rotate in their orbits
Glorifying your majestic presence
In those momentous moments,
time and history are created
Not the history as in past,
but the unfolding of tomorrow
Lord you create a new history brick by brick
As the form takes place…
The Majesty of your
awe-inspiring Light is Manifested
Stage by stage, the inner world is recreated
The plaster of your mercy,
the warmth of your love
All adorn the formless and
the formed building you built
You call these “centres”
Indeed these are “centres” of soul
where your name is mentioned
The light shines forth from its windows
Inviting the convenienced and the stray
Inviting both to a new history of tomorrow
and recreating the event of alastu*
Inviting to the life of paradise
Museum where the past will be enlivened
Prayer hall where the soul will be enriched
Park where the future will be contemplated
All this, a gift to humanity
Then why, Ya Mawla why do I neglect
Why do I remain unheeded
remaining a slave to my ego?
Teach me O Lord to submit,
to worship as if I see you
And if I do not see you,
to know that you see all
Wynford Drive, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I walk with you to a future
A history of tomorrow
Blessed by the Lord of Time and Age
I walk in hope and faith
for a better world ahead.
* The day of the Primordial Covenant or the Day of Alastu is when God addressed the people and said, “Am I not your Lord?” (alastu bi Rabbikum). It was the day when hearts were given spiritual nourishment.
About the writer: Bashir Ladha has served Ismaili Institutions for the past forty years as an Alwaez, teacher and writer. He has been with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom since 1983.
As work commenced on the large empty plot that had formerly housed the Bata Shoe Company, the trees that lined the perimeter of the site were carefully removed, and gave way to heavy construction equipment and trucks as well as hundreds of skilled professionals for the multi-year construction phase of new Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park. Cranes illuminated the night sky. From a highrise building across the Don Valley Parkway, and from the beginning of the project, resident Jim Bowie began taking pictures of the site every single day from his balcony. When we published his highly acclaimed photo essay, In the Making: The Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park, we invited our readers to select a photo they liked. Here are reposts of two winning entries, as Canada and the world await the opening of the magnificent Aga Khan Museum to the public on September 18, 2014.
The Symbolism of the Halo
By Dana Lopez
Click to enlarge
I enjoyed viewing Jim Bowie’s photo because of its symbolism. Two features are notable in particular. First, the area ringed by the halo appears calm, whereas the area outside the halo pulsates with heavy traffic. I came away with the impression that the haloed area represents a beacon in a hectic world. Second, the three bright lights inside the halo look like newborn stars, perhaps even a new universe. Viewed through this prism, the photo is asking us to make enlightenment the focal point of our daily lives. This interpretation is consistent with the desired impact of the center: to give strength to those of the Ismaili faith while beckoning others to explore the rich contributions of Islamic culture.
Camera in Balcony
Click to enlarge
By Kathreen Anne Lelis
I like this photo because it depicts the rising beauty ought to be discovered and deserves a future glory. The building site is surrounded by streets and industrialized buildings to mark new development – the Aga Khan Museum, Ismaili Center and their Park built at the center to serve as EMBLEM of a country with unity amidst cultural diversity. The light from the site shows its glowing hope in building a strong foundation to create glory. The camera serves as the people’s excitement to capture the priceless beauty made for them. It is facing the horizon which means that people are ready to face the opportunities the buildings offer and travel from the past to discover the reason of their success towards the future.
About the winners: At the time her winning entry was published, Dana Lopez was a law student studying to become a child advocate at the California Western School of Law. She was honored to participate in Simerg’s essay contest because she believes that replacing fear with hope for a brighter future is the best way to ensure a stable civil society. Kathreen Anne Lelis lives in Philippines where she studied at the San Pedro College of Davao City.
1. THE OTTAWA JAMATKHANA
Hundreds of Ismailis come by the busloads and personal automobiles to visit Ottawa during the summer months – for many the primary destinations are the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building and the beautiful new Ottawa Jamatkhana which opened exactly a year ago, on July 19, 2013. The visitors marvel at the Ottawa Jamatkhana’s spacious facilities for spiritual practices as well as the space it offers for social interaction and cultural programmes, including religious education classes.
As the Ottawa Jamat marks its first anniversary in the new Jamatkhana we repost on this page a link to Farouk Noormohamed’s statement and photos of the lovely building.
Speaking of Ottawa, local architect Kristopher Benes names his favourite building in the city, and we provide a link to a piece about Ottawa’s iconic Sussex Drive which is home to the Delegation Building.
Check out all the readings below and enjoy your summer in Ottawa, Canada’s Capital!
2. MY FAVOURITE OTTAWA BUILDING
By Kristopher Benes
As an architect I often get asked to name my favourite Ottawa building! Being a fan of minimalism I was often hard pressed to find anything non-residential that came immediately to my mind –- until that is, when the Ismaili Imamat Delegation building was completed in 2008.
Modern architecture often draws criticism for being too stark, extreme in its simplicity. However, it is its ability to highlight the world around us that I find to be so beautiful in modernism.
The clarity with which the play of shadows for instance may fall upon a crystal white surface allows architecture to behave as an ever-changing canvas, a reflector if one prefers, of what is going on all around. When the sun moves across the sky, the shadows dance along the building’s surfaces and when the sky takes on a different shade, the building glows in a completely different light.
Light can be a wonderful paint brush for those blank walls; it does not need any more complexity than that. And obviously, Fumihiko Maki, the building’s design architect, understands light better than I ever could hope to (after all he has won a Pritzker Prize for his contributions and has enjoyed a career spanning some 50 years).
I think it is this understanding of light and an ability to shape it so beautifully which speaks to me most about the Ismaili Imamat Delegation Building.
3. ICONIC SUSSEX DRIVE
Date posted: Saturday, July 19, 2014.
A special NEW series about objects that are linked to Ismaili history over the past 1400 years, from the dawn of Islam to the Imamat of the present forty-ninth Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan.
INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK J. MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg and Simergphotos
In his widely acclaimed and engagingly written “A History of the World in 100 Objects” published in 2010, Neil MacGregor, the Director of The British Museum, tries to tell a history of the world “by deciphering the messages which objects communicate across time – messages about peoples and places, environments and interactions, about different moments in history and about our own time as we reflect upon it.” On the fifth anniversary of Simerg, Studying Ismaili History Through Objects is a new series being launched today that takes its inspiration from MacGregor’s splendid book.
Since 2009, Simerg has launched a special new series to mark each anniversary. Over the past years, the themes that have been published are I Wish I’d Been There, The Jamatkhana – A Place of Spiritual and Social Convergence, Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures and Stories of Ismaili Volunteers. These series have continued to endure over the past years.
Studying Ismaili History Through Objects is, as the title states, a series about objects that are linked to Ismaili history over the past 1400 years, from the dawn of Islam to the Imamat of the present and manifest forty-ninth Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Studying Ismaili History Through Objects will focus on the material culture and heritage of the Ismailis. The object may be a small coin or a monumental building, it may be a single artefact of outstanding beauty and elaborate craftsmanship, or comprise a group of textile fragments or broken pottery shards. The object may be a mundane, ordinary thing created in a particular geographical space and historical setting, but that has taken on meanings that could never have been imagined at the outset. In other words, the object has become a document not just of the world for which it was made, but of the later periods which altered it.
Studying Ismaili History Through Objects will seek to provide a visually articulate approach and a direct link with the past in a tangible way that is both informative and profoundly moving. It is hoped that the contributions presented in this series will stimulate the imagination and provoke discussion. The objects presented may provide a meeting ground for official and formal versions of the past or a reflective personal experience. But they may also go beyond the level of history and personal memory. The objects will become tools towards understanding the importance of culture in the development of self-identity.
Studying Ismaili History Through Objects will also aim to provide an understanding and appreciation of the need to preserve Ismaili heritage and history. This point was emphasised by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the opening of Baltit Fort in Pakistan in October 1996 when he said: “…what has been inherited over nearly eight hundred years of history in that building should be known and understood and recorded and so it should be in many of the other aspects of our history.”
Studying Ismaili History Through Objects invites contributions from all readers. Your contribution will encourage thoughts about the past but also create a deeper awareness of the present. Objects are ‘signals from the past’ for explorations and discoveries, and are catalysts that should be regarded as just the beginning of an adventure, not the whole story. Through your participation, the objects will promote the exploration of the relationship between histories and memories, between culture and community. Inshallah, the objects presented by readers will serve as a link to the future that recognises its roots in the past, and the series will become a unique reference point on Ismaili history and heritage.
Please send your contribution to: Simerg@aol.com
Date posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014.
PLEASE CLICK: An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj and the Prophetic Tradition ‘I Have a Time with God’ (li ma’a Allah waqt) By Jehangir A. Merchant
DETAILS OF THE IMAGE
This single sheet probably came from a handwritten work completed for the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (r. AH 982–1003 / AD 1574–95), and is currently housed at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. It features, between bands of script, the prophets Moses and Muhammad and the Archangel Gabriel conversing in heaven. Angels, perched on five clouds behind these three principal characters, appear to be listening. The scene portrayed is one from Muhammad’s visionary ascension to heaven. Muhammad stands on the right-hand side in a long green robe and turban, and Moses, wearing a long dark red robe, is on the left, in front of his heavenly throne, which is denoted by an inscription in Arabic lettering. Moses is gesturing his hands in speech. Muhammad, with whom he is conversing, stands on the opposite side. A white veil conceals his face, while his hands are hidden in the long sleeves of his gown. The heads of both prophets are crowned with halos, within which their names, written in a black script, can be deciphered. The Archangel Gabriel stands between Muhammad and Moses, turning towards Muhammad. He is characterised by a twin pair of multi-coloured wings and a crown. He is featured in the Old Testament as the gate-keeper of Paradise. As one of two angels standing in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), it was Gabriel who explained the story of the Messiah (Daniel 8:16ff.). In Muslim tradition, the angel brought the Divine Revelation of the Holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad. In Sura 2 verse 97 it is written that: Gabriel ‘has by God’s grace revealed it [the Qur’an] to you [Muhammad] to your heart’.
The text above the three personages, which describes the story, is written in Ottoman Turkish. It includes the account of Muhammad discussing with God the number of daily prayers. Both eventually agreed on five daily prayers. Moses is Muhammad’s heavenly adviser and Gabriel is his companion. The direct speech of all those involved is written in Arabic. The text is taken from a biography of the prophet which had appeared from the AH 1st century/AD 7th century on. The generic term for this type of biography is sira, which translates as ‘life facts’ or ‘way of life’. (Text adapted from the website of MWNF – see link below).
Date posted: Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Links to a selection of Jehangir Merchant’s pieces at Simerg:
- Jehangir Merchant’s Thank You Letter to the Fatimid Ismaili Icon, Da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi
- Ghadir-Khumm and the Two Weighty Matters (which includes Alwaez’s detailed profile)
- The Story of Noah’s Ark in the Holy Qur’an
- Great Moments in Ismaili History: The Establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate
- The Parable of Moses and Khidr in the Holy Qur’an: An Esoteric Interpretation
INTRODUCTION: Founded in 1764, Brown University, the seventh-oldest college in the United States, is celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding this year. As part of this anniversary, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, will deliver a Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs at Brown University on Monday, March 10, 2014, at 5 p.m. The ceremony will be will be carried live at http://www.brown.edu/web/livestream/.
Since 1965, the Ogden Lectures have been the most distinguished of their kind, serving both the Brown and Rhode Island communities in the field of International Relations.
Stephen A. Ogden Jr., an active member of the Brown class of 1960, was seriously injured in an automobile accident in the spring of his junior year. After a valiant fight for life, he died in 1963. Established by his family, the Ogden lectureship came into being two years later as a means of achieving in some small measure what Steve Ogden had hoped to accomplish in his life: the advancement of international peace and understanding.
The Ogden Lectures are a living tribute to the memory of a young man who had hoped to devote his abilities and energy to the field of international relations. These lectures have brought to the University and to Rhode Island a large number of U.S. and foreign diplomats as well as many other observers of the international scene. All have given lectures, free and open to the public, on current world topics.
A Cherished Photo
By Abdulmalik J. Merchant
A family member living overseas called me in Philadelphia, USA, during the third week of May in 1996, and asked me to obtain a speech that he thought Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, had already delivered at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, earlier that month. Without waiting another second, I called Brown’s main number, and was swiftly connected to a very kind and knowledgeable gentleman. When I requested for a copy of the speech, he informed me that the speech had not yet been delivered and that His Highness would be addressing the University’s Baccalaureate Service during the coming Memorial Day Weekend. Obviously, my next question was if I was permitted to attend the event, and without hesitation he asked me to come over and bring my friends too! He explained that the address would take place at the First Baptist Church, where sitting would be limited to the graduating students. However, all the visitors would be able to watch the videocast on a large-screen on the College Green. I thanked him with all my heart. But before wishing me good-bye, he thoughtfully asked me to spend an extra day in Providence, as Mawlana Hazar Imam along with eight other individuals would also be conferred with an Honorary Degree at a special University Ceremony on the same Green.
The Memorial weekend was only two days away! I rushed to get a rented car and prepared for the event, including purchasing a couple of $9.00 disposable cameras from a nearby drugstore in downtown Philadelphia, where I lived. I set out for the 6 hour drive on Saturday morning, May 25th. I first stopped at Scranton University and attended my cousin Akber’s graduation ceremony. I then proceeded to Connecticut to meet Anaar Naran, a close family friend who was my younger brother Fahar’s teacher at Dar-es-Salaam’s Aga Khan Boys Primary School in the 1960’s.
The following morning, Sunday, 26th May, upon reaching Providence, I first decided to locate the whereabouts of the Green. Satisfied, I checked into a nearby hotel and returned with immense excitement to the event site well before the start of the 1:30 pm Baccalaureate Service in the First Baptist Church.
Seated at the front of the Green, I witnessed the entire ceremony on the large screen that had been set-up. The ceremony embraced lively expressions of thanksgiving, harmony, and rhythm and included music and spiritual readings from Islam, Christianity and Hinduism as well as other faiths, incorporating the many spiritual and cultural traditions of the Brown community. The program that was distributed contained the texts of the spiritual readings. I was captivated and deeply touched by the distinguished and dignified ceremony which respected and recognized world-faiths.
As I heard a Hindu reading which alluded to the Lord Vishnu as the Preserver of the Universe and one who would manifest himself again, my thoughts turned to that notion of manifestation as presented by Ismaili missionaries and Pirs in some of their ginans, which were aimed at converting Hindus to the Ismaili faith.
The entire service including President Gregorian’s and Mawlana Hazar Imam’s speeches (Vartan Gregorian’s Tribute to His Highness the Aga Khan at Brown University in 1996) was overpowering and unforgettable, and I was given an opportunity to share my thoughts about the complete event with the Philadelphia jamat a few days later at the invitation of the mukhi. During that talk I also read out the scripture excerpts from Brown’s programme booklet. Alas, the diskette with the hard-copy of my speech is in storage and not easily accessible.
The following morning on Monday, 27th May, bagpipers, highland drummers, marching bands and more than 5,000 graduates, alumni, faculty, parent educators and University guests marched in a mile-long procession that announced Brown University’s 228th Commencement exercises, in one of the largest and most colorful academic pageants in the nation.
By approximately 11:45 all the three groups – the medical students, graduate students as well as undergraduates – had returned from their separate convocations for the University Ceremony on The College Green.
In the meantime I wandered around the Green, enjoying and soaking in the lively atmosphere. Near one end of the Green I spotted Mansoor Saleh, a class-mate from my 1964 primary school days in Dar-es-Salaam. He was with the Council for USA. I was meeting him after several years, and I greeted him with immense enthusiasm and excitement, not knowing who was around us. A few moments earlier I had seen Princess Zahra Aga Khan and Prince Rahim Aga Khan, and I asked Mansoor where Hazar Imam might be. He asked me to turn to the left, and there standing just a few metres away was Mawlana Hazar Imam in the company of other distinguished individuals, who were also going to be conferred with honorary degrees. I should have been a little quieter in greeting Mansoor, I thought to myself! But then it was a meeting of brothers after years, I said to myself. Wouldn’t my Imam feel happy at that very warm brotherly encounter and greeting?
Dozens of academic staff passed by in the University’s regalia, and many stopped to greet Mawlana Hazar Imam and other dignitaries. I saw President Shams Kassim-Lakha, in his elegant Aga Khan University regalia, approaching Mawlana Hazar Imam and readied my camera to click them together. But a person blocked the scene, and I was momentarily delayed. I clicked as soon as the person had passed. I was uncertain about the shot I had taken and who might be in it. This wasn’t a digital camera – the film had to be sent to the lab to be processed! Everything happened too swiftly.
I thanked Mansoor, wished him goodbye, and proceeded to the back of the Green to watch the University ceremony during which President Vartan Gregorian presented special awards and honors as well as conferred honorary degrees to Mawlana Hazar Imam and eight others – namely Mary Chapin Carpenter, Edward D. Eddy, Timothy Forbes, Agnes Gund, Arthur Mitchell, Sandra Day O’Connor, Itzhak Perlman and James Wolfensohn. Flags from more than 50 nations, representing the homelands of the Class of 1996, were flown during the University ceremony which was filled with thousands of people. When Mawlana Hazar Imam was presented with the honorary degree, President Vartan Gregorian prompted the gathering to give him a special ovation.
A truly memorable event had come to an end. I returned to Philadelphia, and my first action was to submit the cameras for processing. I was quite clear about the contents of dozens of photos that I had captured, with the exception of one.
…AND THE PHOTO
I soon collected the processed prints, and started flipping through the photos, which were essentially of average quality. I felt satisfied considering I had used a very rudimentary camera, a disposable one. Then as I neared the end of the second set of prints, I realized that President Shams Kassim-Lakha had been too fast for my shutter speed. I brought the photo closer to my eye. It filled me with immense joy and happiness. I didn’t know that the camera had harmoniously coordinated with other forces to capture the image. Either by fluke or providence this (‘posed’) photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam is one that I will cherish and treasure throughout my life.
Date posted: Sunday, March 9, 2014.
“As we all know, Canada is home to a well-established and
fast-growing Ismaili community. His Highness has therefore
become an increasingly frequent visitor, and always a welcome one.”
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Material compiled and presented by Abdulmalik Merchant
The following are thematic excerpts from His Highness the Aga Khan’s address to the Parliament of Canada on Thursday, February 27, 2014. A collection of selected links to the full speech text, the speech video as well as information related to the events that took place at the Parliament is provided at the end of this piece. Note – several photos are clickable for enlargement. See also new post His Highness the Aga Khan at the Parliament of Canada: Selected Excerpts from the Live English Translation of Remarks Made in French
1. THE ISMAILI IMAMAT REPRESENTS THE SUCCESSION OF IMAMS SINCE THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
I propose today to give you some background about myself and my role, and then to reflect about what we call the Ummah — the entirety of Muslim communities around the world.
I will comment, as a faith leader, on the crisis of governance in so much of the world today, before concluding with some thoughts about the values that can assist countries of crisis to develop into countries of opportunity, and how Canada can help shape that process.
First then, a few personal words. I was born into a Muslim family, linked by heredity to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family). My education blended Islamic and Western traditions, and I was studying at Harvard some 50 years ago (yes 50 years ago — actually 56 years ago!) when I became the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.
The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet. But let me clarify something more about the history of that role, in both the Sunni and Shia interpretations of the Muslim faith. The Sunni position is that the Prophet nominated no successor, and that spiritual-moral authority belongs to those who are learned in matters of religious law. As a result, there are many Sunni imams in a given time and place. But others believed that the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. From that early division, a host of further distinctions grew up — but the question of rightful leadership remains central. In time, the Shia were also sub-divided over this question, so that today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet.
The role of the Ismaili Imam is a spiritual one; his authority is that of religious interpretation. It is not a political role. I do not govern any land. At the same time, Islam believes fundamentally that the spiritual and material worlds are inextricably connected. Faith does not remove Muslims — or their Imams — from daily, practical matters in family life, in business, in community affairs.
Faith, rather, is a force that should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges, and for improving the quality of human life.
This Muslim belief in the fusion of Faith and World is why much of my attention has been committed to the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.
2. COMMUNITY IN 1957 AND NOW, WORLD CONFLICTS AND THE RESILIENCE OF THE ISMAILI PEOPLE
In 1957, when I succeeded my grandfather as Imam, the Ismaili community lived for the most part in the colonies or ex-colonies of France, Belgium and the British Empire, or behind the Iron Curtain. They are still a highly diverse community, in terms of ethnicity, language, culture, and geography. They continue to live mostly in the developing world, though increasing numbers now live in Europe and North America.
Before 1957, individual Ismaili communities had their own social and economic institutions where that was allowed. There was no intent for them to grow to national prominence, and even less a vision to coordinate their activities across frontiers.
Today, however, that situation has changed, and the Aga Khan Development Network has a strong presence in several dozen countries, where appropriate regional coordination is also useful.
The AKDN — as we call it — is composed of a variety of private, non-governmental, non-denominational agencies implementing many of the Imamat’s responsibilities….Most of our AKDN activities have been born from the grass-roots of developing countries, reflecting their aspirations and their fragilities. Through the years, of course, this landscape has changed fundamentally, with the creation of new states like Bangladesh, the horrors of ethnic cleansing in Uganda, the collapse of the Soviet empire and the emergence of new countries with large Ismaili populations such as Tajikistan.
More recently, of course, we have faced the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. But through all of these experiences, the Ismaili peoples have demonstrated an impressive capacity to persevere and to progress.
3. COMMON DENOMINATORS OF THE HUMAN RACE,
CANADA’S LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATIVE WORK
Our work has always been people-driven. It grows out of the age-old Islamic ethic, committed to goals with universal relevance: the elimination of poverty, access to education, and social peace in a pluralist environment. The AKDN’s fundamental objective is to improve the quality of human life.
Amongst the great common denominators of the human race is a shared aspiration, a common hope, for a better quality of life. I was struck a few years ago to read about a UNDP survey of 18 South American states where the majority of the people were less interested in their forms of government, than in the quality of their lives. Even autocratic governments that improved their quality of life would be more acceptable for most of those polled than ineffective democratic governments.
I cite that study, of course, with due respect to governmental institutions that have had a more successful history — including certain very distinguished parliaments!
But the sad fact behind so much instability in our world today is that governments are seen to be inadequate to these challenges. A much happier fact is that, in the global effort to change this picture, Canada is an exemplary leader.
One of our earliest collaborations was to establish the first private nursing school in Pakistan, in cooperation with McMaster and the CIDA of that time. It was the first component of the Aga Khan University — the first private university in that country. The nursing school’s impact has been enormous; many of those who now head other nursing programmes and hospitals in the whole of the region — not just Pakistan — are graduates of our school. Canada was also one of the first donors to the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Northern Pakistan, tripling incomes in this remote, marginalised area….
I could speak about our close ties with Canadian universities also, such as McMaster, McGill, the University of Toronto, and the University of Alberta, enhancing our own institutions of tertiary education — the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.
The latter institution has resulted from the Imamat’s unique, tripartite treaty with the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It serves some 22 million people who live in Central Asia, in hillside and high mountain environments, areas of acute seismic and economic vulnerability.
I could list many more examples in cultural development and in scientific research. And we are especially proud of the Global Centre for Pluralism here in Ottawa, a joint project of the Imamat and the Canadian government.
4. CANADA’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY AND THE IMAMAT PARTNERSHIP WITH CANADA
In just three years, Canada will mark its 150th anniversary, and the whole world will be ready to celebrate with you. Sharing Canada’s robust pluralistic history, is a core mission of our Global Centre, and 2017 will be a major opportunity for doing so, operating from its headquarters in the former War Museum on Sussex Drive. Perhaps 2017 and the celebrations can be a catalyst with our neighbours to improve the entire riverfront area around that building.
Our partnership in Canada has been immensely strengthened, of course, by the presence for more than four decades of a significant Ismaili community. Like most historic global communities the Ismaili peoples have a variegated history, but surely our experience in Canada has been a particularly positive chapter.
I happily recall the establishment of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat here in 2008 and the Prime Minister’s description that day of our collaborative efforts to make Canada “the headquarters of the global effort to foster peace, prosperity, and equality through pluralism.”
We are deeply pleased that we can sign today a new Protocol with your Government — further strengthening our ongoing platform for cooperation.
As we look to the next 25 years of the AKDN, we believe that our permanent presence in the developing world will make us a dependable partner, especially in meeting the difficult challenges of predictability.
5. THE ISLAMIC UMMAH AND INCLUSIVENESS OF OTHER FAITHS DURING THE ABBASID AND FATIMID ERAS
Against this background, let me move on to the broad international sphere, including the role of relations between the countries and cultures of Islam — what we call the Ummah — and non-Islamic societies. It is central to the shape of global affairs in our time.
I would begin by emphasising a central point about the Ummah often unseen elsewhere: the fundamental fact of its immense diversity. Muslim demography has expanded dramatically in recent years, and Muslims today have highly differing views on many questions.
Essential among them is that they do not share some common, overarching impression of the West. It has become commonplace for some to talk about an inevitable clash of the industrial West and Islamic civilizations. But Muslims don’t see things in this way. Those whose words and deeds feed into that point of view are a small and extreme minority. For most of us, it is simply not true. We find singularly little in our theological interpretations that would clash with the other Abrahamic faiths — with Christianity and Judaism. Indeed, there is much that is in profound harmony.
The complexity of the Ummah has a long history. Some of the most glorious chapters in Islamic history were purposefully built on the principle of inclusiveness — it was a matter of state policy to pursue excellence through pluralism. This was true from the time of the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Cairo over 1,000 years ago. It was true in Afghanistan and Timbuktu in Mali, and later with the Safavids in Iran, the Mughals in India, the Uzbeks in Bukhara, and Ottomans in Turkey. From the 8th to the 16th century, al-Andalus thrived on the Iberian Peninsula — under Muslim aegis — but also deeply welcoming to Christian and Jewish peoples.
Today, these Islamic traditions have been obscured in many places, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
6. AGA KHAN TRUST FOR CULTURE
AND THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM
The work of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture….is to revive the memory of this inclusive inheritance. Another immediate initiative is the Aga Khan Museum which will open this year in Toronto, an important testimonial in a Canadian setting to the immense diversity of Islamic cultures.
7. SUNNI AND SHIA TENSIONS AND IMPORTANCE FOR NON-MUSLIMS TO COMMUNICATE WITH BOTH PARTIES
Perhaps the most important area of incomprehension, outside the Ummah, is the conflict between Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam and the consequences for the Sunni and Shia peoples.
This powerful tension is sometimes even more profound than conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. It has increased massively in scope and intensity recently, and has been further exacerbated by external interventions. In Pakistan and Malaysia, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon and Bahrain, in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster. It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the Ummah to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities. What would have been the consequences if the Protestant-Catholic struggle in Ireland had spread throughout the Christian world, as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries? It is of the highest priority that these dangerous trends be well understood and resisted, and that the fundamental legitimacy of pluralistic outlooks be honoured in all aspects of our lives together — including matters of faith.
8. THE WORLD HAS TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO CIVIL SOCIETY
By Civil Society I mean an array of institutions which operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are motivated by high public purposes. They include institutions devoted to education, culture, science and research; to commercial, labor, ethnic and religious concerns; as well as professional societies in law, accounting, banking, engineering and medicine. Civil Society encompasses groups that work on health and safety and environmental matters, organisations that are engaged in humanitarian service, or in the arts or the media.
We see it expanding in many places, from Sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and Egypt, from Iran to Bangladesh. At a time of extreme danger in Kenya a few years ago — the beginnings of a civil war — the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, led the way to a peaceful solution which rested heavily on the strength of Kenya’s Civil Society.
Increasingly, I believe, the voices of Civil Society are voices for change, where change has been overdue. They have been voices of hope for people living in fear.
They are voices that can help transform countries of crisis into countries of opportunity. There are too many societies where too many people live in a culture of fear, condemned to a life of poverty. Addressing that fear, and replacing it with hope, will be a major step to the elimination of poverty. And often the call for hope to replace fear will come from the voices of Civil Society.
9. UNDERPINNINGS OF A QUALITY CIVIL SOCIETY
I believe that Canada is uniquely able to articulate and exemplify three critical underpinnings of a quality Civil Society — a commitment to pluralism, to meritocracy, and to a cosmopolitan ethic.
A cosmopolitan ethic is one that welcomes the complexity of human society. It balances rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. It is an ethic for all peoples, the familiar and the Other, whether they live across the street or across the planet.
Quality education is fundamental to the development of a meritocratic Civil Society, and thus to the development of pluralistic attitudes.
The history of Canada has a great deal to teach us in this regard, including the long, incremental processes through which quality civil societies and committed cultures of pluralism are built. One of the watchwords of our new Global Centre for Pluralism is that “Pluralism is a Process and not a Product.” I know that many Canadians would describe their own pluralism as a “work in progress,” but it is also an asset of enormous global quality.
What more will a quality Civil Society now require of us? Sadly, the world is becoming more pluralist in fact, but not necessarily in spirit. “Cosmopolitan” social patterns have not yet been matched by “a cosmopolitan ethic.” In fact, one harsh reality is that religious hostility and intolerance seems to be on the rise in many places — from the Central African Republic, to South Sudan, to Nigeria, to Myanmar, the Philippines and other countries — both between major religious groups and within them.
Again, Canada has responded in notable ways, including the establishment — just one year ago — of the Office of Religious Freedom. Its challenges, like those facing the Centre for Global Pluralism, are enormous and its contributions will be warmly welcomed. And surely it will also serve as a worthy model for other countries.
In sum, I believe that Civil Society is one of the most powerful forces in our time, one that will become an increasingly universal influence, engulfing more countries, influencing, reshaping and sometimes even replacing ineffective regimes. And I also believe that Civil Society around the world should be vigorously encouraged and wisely nurtured by those who have made it work most successfully — Canada first amongst all.
10. THANK YOU PRIME MINISTER
The Aga Khan Development Network has worked over five decades to assist in the enhancement of Civil Society. And as we look to its future, we are honoured that Canada views us as a valued partner. Thank you Prime Minister. One key to Canada’s success in building a meritocratic Civil Society is your recognition that democratic societies require more than democratic governments.
11. “ENLIGHTENED FULFILLEMENT”
THROUGH VOLUNTARY SERVICES
I have been impressed by recent studies showing the activity of voluntary institutions and not-for-profit organisations in Canada to be among the highest in the world. This Canadian spirit resonates with a cherished principle in Shia Ismaili culture — the importance of contributing one’s individual energies on a voluntary basis to improving the lives of others.
This is not a matter of philanthropy, but rather of self-fulfillment — “enlightened self-fulfillment.”
During my Golden Jubilee — and this is important — six years ago Ismailis from around the world volunteered their gifts, not only of wealth, but most notably of time and knowledge, in support of our work. We established a Time and Knowledge framework, a structured process for engaging an immense pool of expertise involving tens of thousands of volunteers. Many of them traveled to developing countries as part of this outpouring of service — one third of those were Canadians. Their impact has been enormous in helping us to achieve best practice standards in our institutions and programmes, making us we hope an even better partner for Canada!
The Aga Khan University in Karachi and East Africa are expanding to create a new Liberal Arts faculty, and to establish eight new post-graduate schools in collaboration with several Canadian universities.
12. SALUTING FRASER MUSTARD FOR HIS WORK
ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
We also share with Canada a deep appreciation for the potential of early childhood education. It is the period of the greatest development of the brain. This education is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve the quality of life for rural as well as urban populations. Congratulations, Prime Minister, for your initiative on this.
In this regard, let me take a moment to salute the late Dr Fraser Mustard, whose work in Early Childhood Development will impact millions of people around the world. The AKDN has been fortunate to have been inspired and counselled by this great Canadian scientist and humanist.
13. THE OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS TO THE PARLIAMENT
I am most grateful to the Prime Minister and to you who have given me this opportunity to share — from a faith perspective — some of the issues that preoccupy me when looking ahead. I hope I have explained why I am convinced about the global validity of our partnership for human development.
14. A BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSION FROM THE HOLY QUR’AN
Let me end with a personal thought. As you build your lives, for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Quran which addresses itself to the whole of humanity. It says:
‘Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.’
I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race — born indeed from a single soul.
Date posted: Saturday, March 1, 2014. Copyright.
Date last update: Sunday, March 2, 2014, 09:30 EST (new related links, below)
Photo Theme version of this post at His Highness the Aga Khan’s Historic Visit to the Parliament of Canada: A Collection of Photos and Speech Excerpts
For non-comparable referral links to all things Ismaili as well as material about His Highness the Aga Khan’s recent official visit to Canada, please visit ismailimail. For past and recent speeches of Ismaili Imams please visit www.nanowisdoms.org.
Also click on the following links for some extraordinary official coverage of the visit including photographs, videos and speeches:
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“I learned that when Mohamed was asked how a person could get into Heaven he told them they needed to learn the Names of God; when pressed on how many there were Mohamed responded that there were 99. This really resonated with me; I began to study the Names and respond to them through glass sculpture, and the 99 Names Project was born…” — Andrew Kosorok, Utah