There is No One Islamic Interpretation on Ethics of Abortion, but the Belief in God’s Mercy and Compassion is a Crucial Part of any Consideration

By ZAHRA AYUBI, Dartmouth College

As a scholar of Islamic ethics, I’m often asked, “What does Islam say about abortion?” — a question that has become even more salient since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 50 years of constitutional protection for the right to get an abortion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling on June 24, 2022.

This question really needs to be reframed, because it implies a singular view. Islam isn’t monolithic, and there is no single Islamic attitude about abortion. The answer to the question depends on what kinds of Islamic sources, scriptural, legal or ethical, are applied to this contemporary issue by people of varying levels of authority, expertise or religious observance.

Muslims have had a long-standing, rich relationship with science, and specifically, the practice of medicine. This has yielded multiple interpretations of right and wrong when it comes to the body, including ideas about and practices surrounding pregnancy.

Islamic frameworks for thinking about abortion

The typical framing of the question of whether abortion ought to be legal hinges upon American Christian debates about when life begins. Muslims who get abortions don’t always ask “when does life begin?” to ascertain Islamic positions on the matter. Rather, as my research in the Abortion and Religion project and forthcoming book “Women as Humans” has found, Muslims who get abortions generally consider under what circumstances abortion would be permitted in the Islamic tradition.

Further, the Quranic verses and hadith – recorded sayings of the Prophet Muhammad — are not about abortion per se, nor the moment when life begins or whether abortion is akin to taking a life. Instead, they are descriptions for people to reflect on God’s miracle of what happens in the womb, or rahm in Arabic, which is part of God’s mercy and compassion.

It is often a deeply theological discussion about human actions in context of God’s will, omnipotence and omniscience when it comes to life and death. The dialogue often yields answers that are specific to the person’s cosmic and religious beliefs about God’s nature and mercy and their circumstances in the abortion decision-making process.

Many contemporary Muslim jurists and bioethicists point to specific verses in the Quran as well as hadiths with descriptions of the stages of human gestation that are mapped onto the pregnancy timeline in the contemporary abortion debate. The often-cited Quranic verses are 23:12-14: “And indeed We created humankind from an essence of clay. Then We placed him as a sperm-drop in a resting place firm; then We created the sperm-drop into a clinging substance, then We created the clinging substance into an embryonic lump, then We created from the embryonic lump bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, then We produced it as another creation. So blessed is God, the best of creators.”

Then there is the hadith in which Prophet Muhammad describes what happens in the womb: “The human being is brought together in the mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid, and then becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. … Then the soul is breathed into him. …”

These scriptural traditions divide the pregnancy timeline into stages. Muslim jurists consider the 120-day mark of ensoulment (40 days x 3 stages), when God is believed to blow life into the fetus, as the point at which the fetus becomes a legal entity with financial rights. The fetus is believed to have inheritance rights; it can leave an inheritance to its siblings or other kin if it dies, or provide its parents with blood money in the event of a violent action against the mother.

While reference to the scriptural tradition might be enough for many Muslims, some might look to the Muslim legal tradition for precedence. Premodern jurists’ inquiries into stage of pregnancy were mainly to settle questions such as what inheritance laws might come into effect in the event of fetal death. They weren’t asking when life begins to settle abortion questions. And even as they touched on the question of legal personhood of a fetus, they ruled on a case-by-case basis rather than through blanket pronouncements.

Contemporary jurisprudence

Most Muslim jurists and bioethicists today argue that abortion before 120 days of pregnancy is permissible on certain grounds and after this term in cases of mortal danger to the mother. When it comes to abortion, the Islamic legal principle of preservation of life is universally interpreted to mean the mother’s life. Other grounds for abortion vary depending on school of thought but include health concerns for mother or fetus and sometimes include unintended pregnancy, depending on the circumstances of how the pregnancy came about.

Since maternal health can be a nebulous category, acceptance of mental health reasons for abortion may depend on whether people take mental health itself seriously. Concerns might include the mental capacity of a mother to care for herself or a child, or potential suicidal thoughts that put the mother’s life at risk.

Financial affordability is generally frowned upon as a reason for abortion because God is seen as provider, but still accepted in some schools of thought, as the tradition generally promotes mercy above else.

Regardless of contemporary jurists’ positions on the subject, however, Muslims who pursue abortion often do so based on their broad Islamic understanding of God’s compassion rather than in consultation with religious authorities who might act as gatekeepers.

American Muslims post-Dobbs

Part of Islamic discourse’s nuance about abortion is the result of a long relationship between medicine and Islamic thought. For American Muslims, that history is overshadowed by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the heavy dominance and influence of one Christian view as the only American view on abortion.

There is often a global assumption, which is held by many Muslims as well, that Muslim rules about gender and women’s rights are stricter than dominant Christian American ones. There have been many problematic comparisons of the Dobbs decision and Sharia. Some have called it “Christian Sharia” to characterize the ruling and abortion bans nationwide as religious, yet in doing so they draw on anti-Muslim sentiment and stereotypes of Islam as uniquely gender oppressive.

When American Muslims themselves mirror evangelical Christian views on abortion, however, it may be a form of virtue signaling or out of ignorance of Muslims’ rich historical relationship with medicine.

Even in so-called religiously conservative Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, laws on abortion are much more liberal than in U.S. states banning abortion. Legally, not only is the life of the mother always prioritized, but because the idea that ensoulment occurs at 120 days is taken seriously, abortion before that point may, and often does, take place in a variety of circumstances such as rape, serial births, mental health issues, untimeliness of pregnancy, etc.

Many American Muslims are speaking in support of the right to abortion. Organizations such as the American Muslim Bar Association, Heart to Grow and Muslim Advocates have issued statements about abortion in Islam and published information on American Muslims’ rights to abortion. The one prevailing commonality among these and diverging Islamic views on abortion is the Islamic concept of God’s mercy and compassion.

Date posted: August 28, 2022.

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Source of article and author

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. To read Zahra Ayubi’s article at source, please click The Conversation – Original Article.

Zahra Ayubi,
Zahra Ayubi

About the write: Zahra Ayubi is a scholar of women and gender in premodern and modern Islamic ethics.  She specializes in feminist philosophy of Islam and has published on gendered concepts of ethics, justice, and religious authority, and on Muslim feminist thought and American Muslim women’s experiences. Her first book, Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society (Columbia, 2019) rethinks the tradition of Islamic philosophical ethics from a feminist critical perspective. Developing a lens for a feminist philosophy of Islam, Ayubi analyzes constructions of masculinity, femininity, and gender relations in classic works of philosophical ethics by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, Nasir-ad Din Tusi, and Jalal ad-Din Davani. She interrogates how these thinkers conceive of the ethical human being as an elite male within a hierarchical cosmology built on the exclusion of women and nonelites. She calls for a philosophical turn in the study of gender in Islam based on resources for gender equality that are unlocked by feminist engagement with the Islamic ethical tradition.

FEEDBACK

Simerg invites ethicists, bioethicists as well as scholars within the Ismaili Muslim community to respond to this piece or submit their articles on the subject of abortion in Islam. We also invite our readers to provide their thoughtful feedback on Zahra Ayubi’s piece by clicking on Leave a comment. Please cite specific material from Ismaili Muslim and other related Islamic traditions that may be relevant to the subject.

Simerg’s editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

The Aga Khan as a Junior at Harvard: “My College Room Mate Rules 10 Million”

His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Imam of Ismaili Muslims graduated from Harvard University in 1959. History. Photograph: © Hank Walker/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images. Please click on photo for article by John Fell Stevenson.

By John Fell Stevenson

“Karim impressed me when first we met as freshmen because he had a purpose — he wanted to help people. It wasn’t adolescent sentimentality or showing off: he meant it; and he has meant it ever since….I was able to observe K’s study habits at close quarters. He worked hard, was almost always the last to bed and first to rise. When he was assigned a paper, we would seldom see him except when he rushed into the living room to get more books. I took one course with K that year and I must confess that I came to rely heavily on his excellent notes” — READ MORE

Date posted: August 5, 2022.

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Please See Our Table of Contents and Visit Simerg’s Two Sister Websites

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos for beautiful photographs on diverse themes including nature and culture.

Simerg’s editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Momentous Day for Ismaili Mountaineer Samina Baig As She Scales K2 — “The Savage Mountain” — with 4 Other Muslim Female Climbers; 5 More Ismailis in Team Also Reach Summit

“We are extremely proud to announce that Samina Baig, with her strong Pakistani team, successfully summited the world’s most fascinating and dangerous mountain known as the savage mountain” — Statement by Samina Baig’s Team

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

Rahim and Zahra Aga Khan with Ismaili mountaineers
Mountaineer-siblings Samina and Mirza Ali Baig present a memento to Princess Zahra and Prince Rahim at an institutional dinner hosted by the Ismaili Council for Pakistan during their visit to Pakistan in May 2016. Photograph: Rahil Imtiaz Ali/The Ismaili

Just over nine years ago, on May 19, 2013, at precisely 7:40 am, Samina Baig became the first Pakistani woman to reach the peak of the world`s highest mountain, Everest, and proudly place on it the flag of Pakistan as well as that of the Ismaili community. She spent 10 minutes on the summit as her mentor, trainer and proud older brother, Mirza Ali Baig, watched her unique accomplishment from a few hundred metres away, not wishing to scale the peak until a later date, to give the singular honour of the summit’s ascent to his beloved sister. Samina and Mirza then granted Simerg an exclusive interview which can be read HERE.

Samina Baig Mt Mckinley Alaska Simerg
Mirza Ali and his sister Samina Baig hoist the Ismaili Flag after reaching the summit of North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley, in Alaska, on June 28, 2014. Photo: Malik Mirza/Samina Baig.

Samina’s accomplishments over the years have been many, and we have just learned that today, Friday July 22, 2022, Samina has scaled K2. Here are excerpts from a report by Ayaz Gul of the Voice of America (VOA).

Female Climbers From Pakistan, Iran Make History by Scaling K2

Voice of America’s Urdu channel carried a dispatch about Samina Baig and her brother, Mirza Ali in a news segment in 2011 after she had climber a 6300m peak near Hunza in Northern Pakistan, which was then was named after her. Photo: Samina Baig’s Facebook page.

By AYAZ GUL
(Voice of America, July 22, 2022)

[Note: The photographs accompanying this post are from Simerg’s archives and other external sources that are credited, and are not part of the latest VOA report by Ayaz Gul; his full report may be read on the VOA website HERE. The following are excerpts from Gul’s report – Ed.].

The first female climbers from Pakistan and Iran on Friday reached the top of K2, the world’s second-highest peak, at 8,611 meters [28,251.31 ft] above sea level known as the “savage mountain.”

Two Pakistanis, Samina Baig and Naila Kiyani, Iranian Afsaneh Hesamifard, Lebanese-Arab Nelly Attar and Bangladeshi Wasifa Nazreen, were among the five women who achieved the milestone, said a spokesman for the Alpine Club of Pakistan.

“They are also the first Muslim mountaineers to have scaled K2,” Karrar Haidri told VOA.

Baig and Hesamifard have already summited the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, in Nepal.

“We are extremely proud to announce that Samina Baig, with her strong Pakistani team, successfully summited the world’s most fascinating and dangerous mountain known as the savage mountain,” Baig’s team said in a statement.

“Grateful and blessed that K2 allowed her to stand atop this incredible mountain.”

Pakistani government officials and foreign diplomatic missions, including the U.S. embassy, in Islamabad took to Twitter to congratulate the Pakistani women climbers for setting foot on the world’s second-highest mountain.

“A momentous day and achievement for Pakistani women!” the U.S. embassy said.

K2 has gained its reputation as the savage mountain among international climbers. It has one of the deadliest records, with most climbers dying on the way down. Only a few hundred have successfully reached its summit, while Everest has been scaled more than 9,000 times. The rocky mountain is also known as the deadliest of the five highest peaks in the world because about one person dies on K2 for every four who reach the summit.

While the sheerness of the slopes and overall exposure create a technically challenging climb, mountaineers say weather is always “the great opponent” on K2 year-round.

Pakistan hosts five of the 14 highest peaks on Earth, including K2; eight others are in Nepal, including Everest, and one along the border of Nepal and the Tibetan region of China.

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K2
K2 North Ridge. Photograph: Kuno Lechner, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Gari Khan writes from Pakistan:

Along with Samina Baig, 5 other Ismailis were also part of her team that completed the climb on Friday, July 22, 2022 at 7:42 AM. The complete list of Ismailis, all from Shimsal (Hunza), is as follows:

  1. Samina Baig
  2. Eid Muhammad
  3. Bulbul Karim
  4. Ahmed Baig
  5. Rizwan Dad
  6. Waqar Ali

The seventh person in the team, Hussain Sadparda, is from Skardu and not an Ismaili.

Shimsal: Village located in Gojal Tehsil of Hunza District, in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan. It lies at an altitude of 3,100 m above sea level and is the highest settlement in the district; Skardu: City located in Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan, and serves as the capital of Skardu District and the Baltistan Division. Skardu is situated at an elevation of nearly 2,500 metres in the Skardu Valley, at the confluence of the Indus and Shigar Rivers (in formation from Wikipedia).

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Breathtaking Video: K2 – The World’s Most Dangerous Mountain | Eddie Bauer

“K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” That is how climber George Bell described the infamous peak after the first American expedition in 1953–forever giving the mountain its nickname–The Savage Mountain. Sixty-six years later, Eddie Bauer mountain guides Adrian Ballinger and Carla Perez aim to summit the 8611-meter peak and join a community of explorers fewer in number than those who have been to outer space. Even more incredible, they both will attempt the feat without the use of supplemental oxygen. Every step of the way the team faces hazardous conditions, terrifying setbacks, and crushing misfortunes. But as Ballinger puts it, “I’ll go until the mountain tells me I can’t go anymore.”

Date posted: July 22, 2022.
Last updated: July 23, 2022 (new information from Gari Khan, and video added)

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. Reach the editor, Malik, at mmerchant@simerg.com

Two Must-Watch Short Videos: Why is Ghadir Khumm in Arabia Important; and Why Do Ismailis Address their Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Khudavind

[This post includes material from The.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community – Ed. ]

Map and Video: Ghadir Khumm

According to Shia belief, by declaring Hazrat Ali as Mawla after him at Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) transferred his own spiritual authority bestowed upon him by Allah to Hazrat Ali, making him — and all the Imams that follow — the Amirul Mu’minin, or Master of the Believers. Please see map for location of Ghadir Khumm and watch the short video on the importance of Ghadir Khumm.

Click on map for enlargement

Saudi Arabia Map with location of Ghadir Khumm where the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor
Political map of Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. The approximate location of Ghadir Khumm near the modern day town of Ragibh (known in the past as Al-Juhfah) has been highlighted in red. Driving distances: Mecca to Ghadir Khumm (location where Prophet Muhammad appointed Hazrat Ali as his successor) appx. 208 Kms; and distance from Ghadir Khumm to Medina, appx. 300 kms. Credit: Map adapted by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries.

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Video: Khudavind

The Persian word khudavind or khudawand means, “a king, prince, lord, master; or man of great authority.” Many Persian and Central Asian empires used this term throughout history to refer to people of high standing, including, at times, the sultan (ruler), wazir, government officials, and patrons. The Ismaili Imams lived in Persia (modern-day Iran) from the 12th to the 19th centuries. During this period, the community adopted the term khudawand to refer to the Imam. Its meaning is similar to the Arabic term mawla, which also means “master” or “lord.” (for more see the.Ismaili).

Date posted: July 18, 2022.

Related:

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. Reach the editor, Malik, at mmerchant@simerg.com

Artistic Greeting Cards in Arabic Scripts for His Highness the Aga Khan’s 65th Imamat Day Revolve Around a Phrase from the Qur’an

By KARIM ISMAIL
with MALIK MERCHANT

Simerg and its sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos, convey heartiest felicitations to Ismailis and friends of the Ismaili community in Canada and around the world on the auspicious occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 65th Imamat Day anniversary (July 11, 2022). He succeeded to the Throne of Imamat on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20 upon the death of his grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III, whose Imamat (spiritual leadership) of 71 years is the longest in the 1400 year history of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.

According to well-known Muslim traditions, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) said:

“I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement.” (Muslim, Vol. II, pg. 279).

The Prophet appointed Hazrat Ali (A.S.) to be his successor as the Imam, and His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam, is the 49th Hereditary Imam in direct succession of Imams since Imam Ali.

In the Ismaili Ginan (hymn) Girbah Vali, attributed to the Ismaili missionary Pir Sadr al-Din, the Pir says:

“If the Imam did not have his feet on this earth for even a moment, then the world, moon, sun would vanish and nothing would exist, neither the heaven nor the earth.”

The notion of the cosmic necessity of an Imam, expressed by the Pir, is also found in famous traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (cited in “The Divine Guide in Early Shi’ism,”  pp 125-131):

“The earth cannot be devoid of an Imam; without him, it could not last an hour” and also “If there were only two men left in the world, one of them would be the Imam.” 

The two calligraphies that Karim Ismail has created express another important notion of the Imam based on the Qur’anic phrase: Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (those firmly rooted in knowledge). According to the Ismaili Baitul Ilm Secondary Curriculum, Volume 1, produced by the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, the phrase, in the Shia tradition, is understood to be referring to the Imam descended from the Prophet’s family.

The first calligraphy has the Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm in Fatimid Kufi script on all the 4 sides of Karim Ismail’s artwork. The Fatimids were rulers of Egypt and North Africa in the 10th through the 12th centuries. The Fatimid Imams or Caliphs were ancestors of the current Aga Khan.

Calligraphy with the Qur'anic phrase Al-rasikhul fi'l-ilm (Those well grounded in knowledge); by Karim Ismail Toronto.
The Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (Those firmly rooted in knowledge) on all 4 sides of the art work. Calligraphy and design by Karim Ismail. Toronto.

The second calligraphy, shown below, has the same phrase on the top and bottom borders in Fatimid Kufi script, as above. The centre has the same phrase in Thuluth script. We sincerely thank Karim Ismail for conceiving these pieces of art for Imamat Day.

Calligraphy with the Qur'anic phrase Al-rasikhul fi'l-ilm (Those well grounded in knowledge); by Karim Ismail Toronto.
The Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (Those firmly rooted in knowledge) on top and bottom of the art work in Fatimid Kufi script; the centre of the art work has the same phrase in Thuluth script. Calligraphy and design by Karim Ismail, Toronto.

We wish all our readers a very Happy Imamat Day, with prayers for everyone’s good health, strength in Iman (faith), family unity and the fulfillment of all our wishes. May we fulfill the aspirations that Mawlana Hazar Imam has of each one of us of staying on the path of Sirat al Mustaqim (the Straight Path), excelling in our studies and endeavours, and keeping the right balance between our material and spiritual lives.

As we celebrate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 65th Imamat Day, may we always remain under his guidance, loving care and protection. Ameen.

Date posted: July 11, 2022.

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FEEDBACK

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CONTRIBUTORS

Karim Ismail portrait for Barakah
Karim Ismail

Originally from Uganda, Karim Ismail lived in England before settling in Canada. By profession, he is a Pharmacist (retired).  It was in England, in 1986, that he came across the artwork of a German Muslim, Karl Schlamminger (1935-2017), at the Ismaili Centre London. Karl’s artwork on calligraphy and geometrics, had a profound effect on Karim. He is frequently seen conducting calligraphy workshops for children at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Karim is also active on the literature counter at the Ismaili Centre Toronto.

Malik Merchant

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher and editor of Barakah (2017) as well as its two sister websites Simerg (2009) and Simergphotos (2012). His interest for literature and community publications began in his childhood years in Tanzania through the work of his late parents Jehangir (d. May 2017, aged 89) and Malek Merchant (d. January 2021, also 89), who both devoted their lives to the service of the Ismaili community, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time, His Highness the Aga Khan, as missionaries and religious education teachers. In the UK, Malik edited the flagship Ismaili magazine, ILM, with his father. A resident of Ontario since 1983, he relocated to Alberta in January 2022. He has an animal loving daughter Dr. Nurin Merchant; she is a vet and practices in Ontario. Malik can be contacted by email at mmerchant@simerg.com. He can also be reached — and followed — @twitter and @facebook.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

“Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens,” a Once-in-a-Lifetime Book that Brings the 49th Ismaili Imam’s History and Spiritual Leadership to Life

“As he says in his own introduction to the book, Otte engaged in a deep research of the photo archives of the Aga Khan, finding images chosen for their quality but also for the fascinating story they tell. The result is a unique collection of photos, many of which have not been published before, but which, taken together, form a visual biography. It is a book about His Highness the Aga Khan, but it is also a portrait in time and space of the world seen from a different perspective, one of endless change and movement, but also one of hope” — Philip Jodidio, Preface, p. ix, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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DEPTH OF FIELD: THE AGA KHAN BEYOND THE LENS, edited by Gary Otte with texts by Bruno Freschi, Philip Jodidio, Don Cayo and Gary Otte
Hardcover 260 pp. Published by Prestel, February 2022; 220 colour illustrations. To purchase the book, please see links provided immediately after the article.

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Reflections

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg
Cover jacket of Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens; Hardcover, 260 pages, 25 x 30 cms, 220 colour illustrations; published by Prestel, February 2022.

By NIZAR A MOTANI, PhD

I have used the Aga Khan and Hazar Imam interchangeably in my reflections about this visual biography of him, by Gary Otte  

When I finally received the long-awaited book about Hazar Imam, I gleefully looked at the cover, actually the “jacket,” with his picture. It was intriguing that this photograph portraying Hazar Imam had part of his shoulder hidden: it was found in the inside “folding”, which also has an extract from the Preface. The complete photograph appears on page 121. Then, I instinctively and happily thumbed through this delightful “coffee table” edition, as if it was just an album, though about a familiar figure, without much thought and not reading most of the captions. It soon became apparent that the three essays preceding the photographs must have a purpose and should be read before taking a second closer look at them. In my humble opinion, this is what every viewer should do since these textual and contextual commentaries guide the viewer to not only how to view the images, but also, and more importantly, to ponder over them to see beyond these images, which collectively constitute a pictorial biography of the Aga Khan.

The editor of this milestone photographic record, Gary Otte, explains in the Introduction, that as the Aga Khan’s principal photographer for some thirty years, he had ample, varied and exhausting opportunities to capture a lot of “interesting stuff.” He witnessed happenings at “exotic and iconic locations; global leaders and ordinary folks”; — and events of great historical, cultural, religious and economic significance (p. xi).

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

“In an age dominated by moving images, still photographs continue to carry remarkable power. Nothing captures a moment as memorably. There is no movement to miss, no soundtrack to distract. It is the still photograph that becomes iconic – a fraction of a second with great impact that people can readily call to mind. Few moments in film or video imprint themselves so clearly. It is that single frame from a vivid scene that we carry with us… Like all the photographers who covered the life of the Aga Khan, I benefitted from his acceptance of us as chroniclers of history” — Gary Otte, Introduction, p. xiii, “Depth of Field, The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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The two hundred twenty meticulously selected photographs — ninety by him and 130 taken by some fifty other photographers — take the viewers on a panoramic tour of all aspects of the Aga Khan’s amazing life. They are not chronologically presented but were chosen because they were deemed “technically, compositionally, and editorially excellent” and were “more representative of geography, subject area and decades.” (p. xi).

Otte recommends viewers to inspect and revisit all the photographs because “every long look can reveal something new as you discover or imagine, what is happening.” (p. xi).

Philip Jodidio, a prolific author and an expert on contemporary art and architecture, has written a glowing Preface in which he comprehensively and chronologically portrays the major initiatives of Hazar Imam, who is described as “one of the most fascinating personalities in the world….he is a spiritual leader, the driving force behind numerous humanitarian and cultural organizations” as well as “one of the most important figures who has sought to bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West” (p. v).

By reading this essay, themes and patterns will emerge in the two hundred twenty otherwise randomly presented photographs. The renowned Bruno Freschi’s brief but telling Foreword is centered on his deep respect for Otte’s superb photographic skills as well as his profound admiration of Otte’s extraordinary subject’s (The Aga Khan’s) ambitious, multidimensional, multifaceted mission, which has been so diligently and visually portrayed.

The Aga Khan’s mission, or more appropriately, his mandate as the Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, has been succinctly conveyed in excerpts from one of his numerous speeches (p. xvii) and from his historic address to the special joint session of the Canadian Parliament, on February 27, 2014. Thankfully, Jodidio has excerpted the essence of this speech in his Preface (p. v).

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

“Gary’s photography and his curation have produced a collection with a magical quality. The reader/viewer is transported into the event-image reality. The photography is the doorway into the spirit of the frozen moment. These event-moments are the curtain in the great theatre of life. Once the curtain is raised it reveals the compelling life story of the Aga Khan, an elegant portrait of his historic mission” — Bruno Freschi, Foreword, p. xv, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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In my reflections on just a few of the photographs in this non-chronological historical biography, I hope to be faithful to the sound, revealing guidance on how to embrace each image. Evidently, beyond and behind the photographs, there must be careful and plentiful preparation and coordination, prior to, during, and even after each different event: airport arrivals and departures; protocols; media liaison; motorcade escorts; security arrangements; translators, meetings with heads of state and other leaders; banquets and speeches — to think of just a few. The photograph on page 212 shows Dr. Shafik Sachedina, Head of the Department of Jamati Institutions at the Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat, and Dr. Mohammed Khesavjee, who served as the Information Officer at Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Secretariat at Aiglemont for many years, playing complementary roles behind and at the scene. Most photographs do not show such senior and other personnel in the Aga Khan’s entourage doing the critical groundwork.

The photograph on page 163 shows Hazar Imam thanking the police escort for his motorcade. He is always mindful of the very many individuals, institutions and organizations involved during his official visits as the state guest of the host governments, and he is known to unfailingly acknowledge his gratitude to all of them. Only some of them can be seen in some of the photographs, but they were there and we have to imagine them, as explained by the editor.

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Jacket, "Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens," 220 photographs, pictorial biography, Barakah, Nizar Motani reflection
Jacket, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens,” 220 photographs

In 1983 and 2008, the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader paid official visits as the guest of the ruling Sunni family of the emirate of Dubai (pp. 134 and 135). Significantly, the 2008 occasion was the opening ceremony of the new Ismaili Centre. We can only imagine the elaborate preparations and protocols for this historic event. Being invited as a virtual head of state by governments across the world is an unmistakable theme of this fascinating volume. So much planning and coordination by so many unseen volunteers and paid staff within and outside the Ismaili jamat is always the case.

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READERS SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS ON “THE AGA KHAN BEYOND THE LENS”

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

This fabulous book with its layout, font, selection of photos and essays is extraordinary — Moez Murji 

The photographs chosen are not only beautiful but were also very carefully selected, and each carries a deeper message of the Aga Khan’s incredible — and farsighted — vision. It’s indeed remarkable and an occasion of immense happiness for the Ismailis that the unbelievable results that have been achieved by Mawlana Hazar Imam in so many countries around the world are finally covered in such a well condensed pictorial book — Amin Jaffer

In this 280-page bumper pictorial biography of Mawlana Hazar Imam, which I ordered and have already received it as one of my living room’s table top collections, some of the pictures will bring alive our individual and family memories — Kamruddin Rashid

Beautiful! Now [after reading Nizar Motani’s reflections] I have to go back to the Visual Biography (love that!!) and look at it differently! Different viewers may have different meanings to different pictures. Great job Mr Gary Otte for the book and Nizar Motani for his reflections on the book — Mirza Smile 

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Gary Otte’s very first illustration is a two-page panoramic view of the October 1957 Dar es Salaam Takht Nashini. It requires deep individual contemplation to merely “digest” the thousands in attendance. And much more imagining of the hundreds more involved in numerous aspects of staging this majestic enthronement ceremony, in a British colonial African country, with several non-African immigrant minorities among the heterogeneous African populations, can be a challenging mental exercise!

It is almost on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the August 4th 1972 mass Asian Expulsion by Uganda’s mercurial megalomaniac military dictator, Idi Amin Dada, that I am encountering Hazar Imam’s somber photograph with Amin. It was taken during Hazar Imam’s critical February 1972 visit to Kampala (p. 59). I was still in London completing my doctoral dissertation on the topic of Uganda’s African Civil Service, hoping to teach African History at Makerere. It so happened that I returned on that fateful day — August 4th 1972, not to a much anticipated warmest welcome at the Entebbe Airport, but to most somber news, from my parents, about the expulsion order issued just prior to my arrival!

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

Such an epic volume should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid. Gary Otte has clearly acknowledged that Hazar Imam remained very accommodating and patient during the long period of compiling this unprecedented collection…and has thanked Hazar Imam for taking the time to offer suggestions on choosing the photographs and the book’s design. Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain gave their time and advice on selection of photographs and the final draft of images and the text. Hence this official authorized visual biography of our 49th  Imam and a once in a life time publication, should belong in our homes — Dr Nizar Motani, author of this post

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Therefore being absent from Uganda during Hazar Imam’s February visit, I can only imagine the challenging task of the local Ismaili entourage and leadership on how to brief Hazar Imam for any meeting with such a vainglorious man controlling the destiny of all Ugandans. Could Amin have given any clear signal about what was brewing in his mind prior to the alleged dream to ethnically cleanse Uganda of its much maligned Asian minorities? Could Hazar Imam have sensed any forebodings in order to prepare for all eventualities — since the expulsion order’s short deadline was met with fairly well-organized and timely evacuation under the most harrowing circumstances? I was one of the lucky ones who chose to and could leave, within a week, for the USA, but remained tormented and concerned about the rest of the family’s fate who had to plan their escape. This image on page 59 may linger for a long while but with deep gratitude that almost all Asians escaped relatively physically unscathed.

I will conclude my brief reflections about this unique official  pictorial biography of the Aga  Khan, our beloved Hazar Imam, by simply stating that such an epic  volume should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid. The editor, Gary Otte, has clearly acknowledged that Hazar Imam remained very accommodating and patient during the long period of compiling this unprecedented collection of mostly previously unpublished photographs, from his childhood in Kenya to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in various parts of the world, where he was welcomed by the host countries’ Heads of State as a virtual visiting head of state.

Gary Otte has thanked Hazar Imam for taking the time to offer suggestions on choosing the photographs and the book’s design. Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain gave their time and advice on selection of photographs and the final draft of images and the text.

Hence this official authorized visual biography of our 49th  Imam and a once in a life time publication, should belong in our homes. It also makes a wonderful gift to give to  thoughtfully selected non-Ismaili friends and colleagues to increase their awareness of the Aga Khan which Jodidio has stated may be  lacking in the general public. But even we, his murids, will be be astonished and overjoyed to learn so much that we cannot possibly already know about or have seen images of his multifarious undertaking, as well as his personal life.

One final thought, as I take the elderly members of the Jamat into consideration. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life, through the photographs in this book, spans three generations. How exciting and inspiring might it be for the elders, were their children and grandchildren to sit alongside them and leaf through all the beautiful photographs of their beloved Imam, not once but on multiple occasions. Old memories would be revived and new stories, narratives, anecdotes, and perspectives would emerge, individually and collectively, adding to our knowledge of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s glorious life and Imamat. This book MUST occupy a place in all Ismaili homes.

Date posted: June 18, 2022.

A slightly different version of this piece appeared recently on Simerg’s sister website Barakah under the title Reflections on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Pictorial Biography, “Depth of Field – The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens” by Nizar Motani.

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PURCHASING THE AGA KHAN’S BEAUTIFUL PICTORIAL BIOGRAPHY

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg
The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens; Hardcover, 260 pages, 25 x 30 cms, 220 colour illustrations; published by Prestel, February 2022.

The publisher’s recommended retail price for Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens is US $ 60.00; £ 45.00 but retailers and on-line book sellers may sell it for less. To purchase the book in Canada, click Aga Khan Museum Shop, Amazon.ca or Indigo.ca; in the USA, click Amazon.com; in the UK and other European countries, click Amazon.co.uk; and in Spain and Portugal click Amazon.es. Elsewhere, see if there is a local Amazon chapter serving your location or visit Amazon’s global page. Note that the book is also available for members of the Ismaili community at Jamatkhana literature counters around the world or through the local Jamatkhana leadership.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nizar Motani, Barakah, Dedicated to the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam
Nizar Motani

Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 

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A SHORT Youtube Presentation: Gary Otte on the Making of the Book

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to more than 1500 pieces posted since the website was founded in the spring of 2009. Also visit our two sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor Malik Merchant may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com. Please follow Malik @Facebook and @Twitter.

Two Insightful and Profound Interviews of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, the other branch being the Sunnis who form the Muslim majority. His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th Hereditary spiritual leader or Imam of the Ismailis and is directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) through his son-in-law, Ali (A.S.), who was married to the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima (A.S.). Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali were also first cousins — their respective fathers Abd al-Muttalib and  Abu Talib were brothers.

According to Shia Muslims, the Prophet had designated Ali to succeed him as the Imam. The Sunnis dispute this, and Muslims have remained divided over this contentious matter for centuries. However, in their book, “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: 

“Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ 

“This became the proof text for the Shia claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” 

The authors, Cohen and Major, sum up by stating that through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Over the course of history, the Shia Muslims split into a number of branches over the succession of Imams descended from Ali. The first major split occurred during the 8th century, two centuries after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, following the reign of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, when one group considered his son Musa Kazim as the rightful Imam. The other group regarded Imam Ja’far’s elder son, Ismail, as the rightful successor. Musa Kazim’s successors continued until the 12th Imam, who is then said to have gone into hiding. This group of Shia Muslims, awaiting the re-appearance of the hidden 12th Imam to take part in the final judgement, forms the Shia majority in Iran and Iraq. They are known as the Twelver Shias or Ithnashries.

The group that held to Imam Ismail became known as the Ismailis and continue to thrive today under the Hereditary leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by his Ismaili Muslim followers as Hazar Imam (the present living Imam). Thus, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan.

Naheed Nenshi Mayor Calgary Simerg
Naheed Nenshi, left, at an event in Ottawa.

Having recently re-established myself as a resident of Alberta after 40 years, and to put the Ismailis and their Hereditary 49th Imam, the Aga Khan, into an Albertan perspective, I should like to mention that Naheed Nenshi, who served as Calgary’s mayor for three terms from 2010 until 2021 is an Ismaili Muslim. Readers are invited to read his piece in the Globe and Mail, Why I’m grateful for the Aga Khan’s extraordinary service to humanity (a subscription or registration may be required to read the article).

Salma Lakhani, 19th Lieutenant Governor Alberta, Simerg
The Honourable Salma Lakhani

It is noteworthy that Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, who was installed as the 19th Lieutenant Governor on August 26, 2020, is also an Ismaili Muslim, and her profile can be read on this website by clicking HERE. The piece also has a link to an interview that Canadian Geographic conducted with her.

In Edmonton, the spectacular 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden within the University of Alberta’s Botanic Garden was gifted by the Aga Khan as “a symbol of the continued intellectual, educational and cultural collaboration between the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan Development Network.” The Botanic Garden will open for the 2022 season on May 7th, and is a MUST visit site, according to Hundreds of Google and Tripadvisor reviews. I look forward to publishing a special photo essay in the near future on the Botanic Garden, with a focus on the Aga Khan Garden.

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Aga Khan Garden Edmonton, part of Aga Khan interviews piece in Simerg
Views of the beautiful Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton. The Garden is scheduled to open for the 2022 season on May 7. Photos: Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

And elsewhere in Canada, His Highness the Aga Khan’s projects include the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, both located on Sussex Drive in Ottawa; the Aga Khan Museum, the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre on Wynford Drive in Toronto; and the Ismaili Centre Vancouver on Canada Way in Burnaby.

Canada is home to more than 100,000 Ismailis, with around 12,000 in Calgary.

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Aga Khan Projects Canada Simerg
Clockwise from top left: Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum, both in Toronto (ponds in foreground in both photos are part of the Aga Khan Park); Ismaili Centre Vancouver, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Global Centre for Pluralism, Ottawa, and Aga Khan Park Toronto. Collage: Simerg.

With these preliminary remarks on the Aga Khan and his Ismaili Muslim followers, I now invite you to read two excellent interviews that France’s Politique International and Canada’s Peter Mansbridge conducted with the Aga Khan. Both the interviews have appeared on this website with the publishers’ permission.

The Aga Khan’s Absorbing Interview with Politique International

Aga Khan, Politique Internationale, Simerg
Click on image for “Power of Wisdom”

“We are a long way from the democratization of nuclear energy. Maybe I’m naïve but I advocate another approach, which I call “positive proliferation.” The positive proliferation that I would dearly love to see happen is based on a simple principle: yes to energy, no to arms” — To read full interview, click Politique Internationale: The Power of Wisdom

The Aga Khan’s One on One Interview with Peter Mansbridge

Aga Khan University of Alberta, Simerg
Click on image for “One on One”

Peter Mansbridge: What is the quality that you most admire about this country?

The Aga Khan: I think a number of qualities. First of all, it’s a pluralist society that has invested in building pluralism, where communities from all different backgrounds and faiths are happy. It’s a modern country that deals with modern issues, not running away from the tough ones. And a global commitment to values, to Canadian values, which I think are very important. — To read the interview and the story behind the interview, please click Peter Mansbridge: One on One.

Date posted: May 6, 2022.
Last updated: May 9, 2022 (caption updates and typos).

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. 

Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

This Week: Birthdays of 2 Princes in Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s Family

Please click Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Cover Page of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Diving Into Wildlife. Please click on image for article celebrating Prince Hussain’s 48th birthday, April 10 2022.

Please click Prince Irfan Aga Khan

Prince Rahim and his son Prince Irfan, 7 years old on April 11, 2012, at Prince Hussain’s photo exhibition in Lisbon, Portugal, during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Please click on photo for article on Prince Irfan and meaning of his name.

Date posted: April 11, 2022.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com, and also @Twitter and @Facebook.

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan and her determination for a world without Alzheimer’s

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Alzheimer's Association, Rita Hayworth Gala, Simerg and Barakah
Please click on image for article “Yasmin Aga Khan: A Princess with a Mission.”

For four decades, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, younger sister of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Prince Amyn Mohamed Aga Khan, has worked with the Alzheimer’s Association to fight the disease that contributed to the death of her mother, Ms. Rita Hayworth, at the age of 68. Princess Yasmin was compelled to turn her personal pain into a positive force and she founded the Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Galas to fulfill the Association’s Vision, “A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®”. The work of the Association is accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, which is dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat, brings to its readers a special piece highlighting the life of Princess Yasmin and the forthcoming Rita Hayworth Gala on April 23, 2022 at the Hilton Chicago, an event that is being held in person and that will be attended by Princess Yasmin. Please read Barakah’s special piece Yasmin Aga Khan, a Princess with a Mission and learn how you can become an active force in Princess Yasmin’s fight to end Alzheimer’s.

Date posted: April 2, 2022.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Book Review: “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” – Memoirs of Engagement with the Aga Khan Development Network

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Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible – Memoirs of Engagement With A Global Development Network by Azim H. Jiwani, MD
300 pp. FriesenPress,
US$ 30.99 (Hardback), US$ 24.99 (Paperback) and US$ 7.99 (eBook) as listed at FriesenPress; also available in all formats at Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca.
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BOOK REVIEW BY NIZAR MOTANI, PhD

Dr. Azim Jiwani’s book was a surprise gift from a dear friend. This unexpected gesture obligated me to read it, which I did with much gratitude, and it even inspired me to write this review. The author’s work is a “pandemic baby” born during the extended lockdown. This Kenya-born Makerere University Medical School (Kampala, Uganda) graduate acquired a broad further medical education in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada. He subsequently established a thriving private medical practice in Calgary, Canada, enjoying affiliations with local universities and hospitals.

Dr. Jiwani’s breadth and depth of interests give his memoir a multidisciplinary flavour. The book draws upon insights from anthropology, architecture, civilizational history, natural sciences, moral philosophy, and restless global trotting. I might add that he carries some genes of a novelist and a travel guide.

The synopsis of his book reveals his most earnest and pressing concerns for the future of humanity and the planet, which he champions even after his partial retirement: “Rarely in recent times has the world found itself gripped in conditions that pose a substantial existential threat to lifeforms on earth, destabilize societies, impact health, quality of life, economic and cultural survival, and engender greater inequality and division between and within countries and regions.” Moreover, he continues: “The recent onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic and the accelerating but belatedly acknowledged climate crisis, and its devastating effects on human health, have laid bare the historical, political and policy and institutional deficiencies in health systems worldwide.”

Dr. Jiwani’s concerns about conflict and the global arms race and its devastating health, social and economic impacts, especially in the developing countries, serendipitously led to a life-changing meeting with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan at the prince’s chateau in Geneva in 1983. This meeting deeply inspired him to further Prince Sadruddin’s tireless efforts to foster a more just, humane and equitable world. Coincidentally, and again serendipitously, in 1985, he found an excellent umbrella organization to join — the Aga Khan University (AKU), an apex agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which he describes at an enlightening length. “The Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan Health Services and empowerment of civil society are an integral part of AKDN’s mission to anticipate and respond to foreseeable effects of unaddressed inequities, poverty, programs and leadership deficits in some of the most challenging regions of the developing world. AKDN also endeavours to enhance institutional capacities, establish collaborative networks and promote best practices and international standards of excellence.”

Chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 largely focus on his multiple roles as physician, academic, strategic planner, administrator and occasionally as AKDN representative at various conferences. Dr. Jiwani took part in or led AKU teams involved in negotiating and finding common ground with private and public hospitals and universities and local, national and transnational organizations in Asia and Africa. He aimed to promote some of AKDN’s seemingly revolutionary vision and mission. These endeavours included strengthening institutional capacities to provide good quality, ethical, cost-effective and contextual care — especially for marginalized populations. He established and promoted continuing education of physicians widely and convinced urban specialists in lucrative private practices to incorporate practical primary care approaches for better patient and population outcomes. Also, he led the development of advanced formal education in family and community medicine and fostered comprehensive local, regional, and international partnerships in medical education.

Despite his demanding duties and schedules, he and his wife, Nilufa, squeezed in travels to many exotic places, leading to sundry and memorable encounters. For example, in Cambodia and Morocco, their tour guides requested Dr. Jiwani to examine and advise on their very sick family members, which he readily did. They got paid in the local “currency” – hospitality, home-cooked food, and prayers and blessings for the couple’s well-being!

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"Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible" Akdn, Azim Jiwani and book review by Nizar Motani, Simerg Insights from around the world
“Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” by Dr Azim H. Jiwani, 300 pp., Friesen Press, August 2021.

After more than three decades of enriching global engagement with AKDN and other institutions, he settled in Vancouver, Canada. His reputation derived primarily from his affiliation with AKDN as a worldwide healthcare expert and an advocate for compassionate and affordable care. His passion for linking critical primary and secondary care medicine and making medical education relevant to societies had preceded him. Soon he was fielding requests to help manage understaffed health clinics in the Vancouver area, especially for the marginalized people facing complex medical, mental health and drug addiction problems. Some of the most severe cases were noted in the First-Nations people, where his compassion, broad experience and cultural sensitivity were valued in an underdeveloped native health care system. He led crucial community and hospital programs as a physician leader while re-establishing his clinical and academic career in Canada. 

Similarly, his past engagement with AKDN and clinical reputation brought him seductive and lucrative offers. A former patient, a confidant of the ruling family of a fabulously wealthy country, had identified him as the ideal candidate to head the newly built hospital and serve as the Royal family’s personal physician. The chasm between the lives of the privileged elite and the neighbouring populations that seemed plagued with poverty and privations so disturbed him that he quickly left without meeting the prince. But the intrepid doctor accepted a much less lucrative, occasional position as the onboard physician for a luxury cruise line group! His wide travels whetted and rewarded his insatiable curiosity and interests in marine medicine, environment and culture. Besides attending to all types of routine and emergency cases, the couple was able to “sail on every river, sea, and ocean.” And his readers can vividly and vicariously enjoy these and other adventures.

Dr. Jiwani’s fascinating and instructive memoir raises critical questions about the historical, ethical and moral foundations of health and development. He concludes with an insightful epilogue in which he reflects on the necessary conditions for equity, justice, access and quality in health care and development and appeals for global cooperation for a sustainable future for shared humanity.

The book is available in hardcover, softcover and digital formats. Of note, the author has pledged all royalties from the book sales to the Aga Khan Foundation to support the patients’ welfare funds in Asia and Africa.

This captivating memoir would likely appeal to healthcare and other professionals or avid general readers interested in international organizations, career advancement, or simply expanding their knowledge about the interdependent planet we inhabit.

In conclusion, I am delighted to learn that this book is on the 2021 Finalist list of the prestigious Chanticleer International Book Awards (CIBA) in the non-fiction long-form journalism and memoirs category, where outstanding books from many countries compete. The first prize will be announced at a ceremony and banquet in Washington in June. The beautiful finalist badge is shown along with the front cover of the book at top of this page.

Date posted: March 25, 2022.

[Dr. Azim Jiwani was featured recently in Simerg’s ongoing series on books by Ismaili authors. Please read our interview with Dr. Jiwani – Ed.]

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Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.