Date posted: May 8, 2020.
Date posted: May 8, 2020.
Letter from publisher
Many of our readers who have visited the website of the Aga Khan University (AKU) over the past 2 weeks, may have read about (1) the crucial support AKU needs at this time during the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) Dr. Faisal Mahmoud at the AKU who treated Pakistan’s first COVID-19 patient; and (3) the AKU’s launching of a mobile app that helps to self-screen for Covid-19. You can follow these and other informative stories of how the AKU is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis by clicking HERE. I have been wondering whether the AKU, like other institutions around the world including several in Canada, is racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19. It’s very possible that there is already an initiative underway, but I have yet to read about it.
I would like to start by briefly mentioning the incredible steps that our beloved 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, took in response to the bubonic plague that affected India in 1897. (See full article HERE or an abbreviated version HERE)
The twenty-year-old Imam aided Professor Haffkinez’s research for the development of a vaccine by putting freely at the scientist’s disposal one of his “biggest houses, a vast, rambling palace in Bombay.” The scientist remained there for about two years until the Government of India, convinced of the success of his methods, took over the whole research project and put it on a proper, adequate and official footing.
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah writes in his Memoirs that “the impact of the plague among my own people was alarming. It was in my power to set an example. I had myself publicly inoculated, and I took care to see that the news of what I had done was spread as far as possible and as quickly as possible….The immunity, of which my continued health and my activities were obvious evidence, impressed itself on their consciousness and conquered their fear.”
At that time, the Imam did not have Jamati institutions at his disposal to support such an initiative. At the turn of the 19th century, the Ismaili Jamat was economically weak, and educationally even worse off. Very few members of the Jamat could boast a knowledge of the three R’s.
Then, over a period of some 50 years, the 48th Imam transformed the community from rags to riches, an act that is probably unparalleled in history. The Imam was the architect of the modern miracle that we continue to witness today under the benevolent guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Today, the Jamat is eminently placed on the world stage with its fantastic infrastructure. It has become socially well-organised, professionally competitive, and commercially adventurous. More importantly, the Jamat’s youth is conscious of its strength and ready for any new challenge. We have become a dynamic, intrepid community capable of bearing further loads under the guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam. He has created exceptional institutions for the well being and progress of the Jamat and humanity at large.
During his Imamat, the establishment of the Aga Khan University in Karachi is probably one of the most significant and monumental projects undertaken in Ismaili history. Its creation and development has led to satellite hospitals and universities in East Africa, and a major mountain university in Central Asia. Over the last 4 decades, the AKU has achieved an international presence and recognition in the world of learning with major educational institutions as its partners — a vision that was first enshrined in the logo of the university.
According to the AKU website, the University’s research endeavours extend across diverse subjects: health sciences, education, culture and society. “At the core of our mission,” the website states, “is the desire to spearhead change for generations to come.” It further adds that the AKU faculty, scientists, educationists and students are engaged in impacting people, communities and societies for a better tomorrow. It gives an example of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research which houses international researchers conducting state of the art research and teaching in basic and translational stem cell science.
Today, we are in the midst of a worldwide crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. We have already witnessed its social, cultural, and economical impact on billions of people around the world. We don’t want it to remain with us and plague us for years to come, and a vaccine that will address the virus is the only solution we have for our future well-being. In the USA, the cost of a complete COVID-19 treatment for people who are hospitalized is around US $39,000.
The development of a vaccine may require millions of dollars, and efforts at developing one may not guarantee that it will be one that is selected for massive immunization. Today, researchers at the AKU, as well as others around the world, have access to the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, lab-grown copies of the virus are available to researchers thanks to the efforts made to isolate and culture the virus from two patients by the University of Toronto and McMaster University.
If they have not already done so, it is important that the AKU join the collaborative efforts that are being spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), where scientists, physicians, funders and manufacturers from around the world are coming together to help expedite the formulation of a vaccine against COVID-19. In its declaration of April 13, to which several renowned institutions are signatories, the WHO states that “we believe these efforts will help reduce inefficiencies and duplication of effort, and we will work tenaciously to increase the likelihood that one or more safe and effective vaccines will soon be made available to all”.
While a vaccine will take time to develop, it will likely be instrumental in controlling this worldwide pandemic. We hope that the Aga Khan University will dedicate some of its research facility and scientists to the development of a vaccine against COVID-19. The AKU’s contribution may literally change the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, just as Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s foresight was responsible for saving countless lives.
Date posted: April 14, 2020.
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.
Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who served Jamati institutions for several decades.
We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.
We are everyday encountering special words or expressions such as corona / coronavirus / novel coronavirus / COVID-19 / outbreak / epidemic / pandemic / quarantine / self-quarantine / isolation / cordon sanitaire / symptom / symptomatic / asymptomatic / incubation / morbidity / mortality / social distancing. We turn to TIME magazine for an easy to understand glossary of the coronavirus jargon. It is worth your time to read the weekly magazine’s excellent piece, and familiarize yourself with the terms so you can understand what you are reading and explain them to your children and family members!
Date posted: March 17, 2020.
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.
Its beyond fall colours! This park has so much of the natural world to offer, and should be in everyone’s bucket list. My daughter and I had limited time and made the most effective use of the 15 hours we had which included around 6 hours of driving time from and back to Ottawa. With time management, and inspiration from youth anything is possible! If you are in Ontario and close to the Park, make it this week — even for a day!
Date posted: October 13, 2019.
To meet the challenge that the global ecological crisis presents today, there is an urgent need to draw on humanity’s philosophical and spiritual repertoire – because it teaches us valuable lessons on the importance of taking care of life in all its forms. Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne draws on this source here, by blending the philosophical novel of a twelfth-century Andalusian Muslim scholar, African words of wisdom and thoughts from Western philosophers. We are not nature’s masters and owners, the Senegalese philosopher warns us.
By SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE
My intention is to think about a major crisis – the ecological crisis, which we agree, defines the era we are living in − by showing how the history of philosophy can shed light on it and give us guidance on the actions we must take to deal with it. More precisely, I would like to show how there is continuity between the way philosophy helps us to consider a policy of humanity and the way it illuminates a policy of the “humanization of the Earth”, in the words of the French philosopher and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).
I use this expression as signifying the duty and the responsibility that the human has to act accordingly, from the moment he understands that nature is entrusted to him and to humanity in the future. It forbids me to consider myself as “nature’s master and owner”, to cite the well-known phrase by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, René Descartes. On this point, regarding a philosophy that is simultaneously spiritual and ecological, I would like to evoke the ideas of the Andalusian scholar Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185). They are masterfully expressed in his magnum opus, the philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzān.
He presents the idea that humans realize their humanity fully only when they reach ecological consciousness − which allows them to simultaneously understand the evolution of their own becoming and the responsibility which is incumbent on them to protect life on earth.
The Arabic philosophical fable, after its translation into Latin in 1671, under the title Philosophus autodidactus, and later into English, was a source of inspiration for many writers, including the English writer, Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe.
Indeed, the Andalusian philosopher’s novel is the story of the survival of Hayy, a child abandoned on an island that has never known a human presence, and who is rescued, protected and fed by a doe. When the animal dies, Hayy learns to use his hands, his practical and then theoretical intelligence, in an ontogeny (the origin and development of the individual organism, from conception to death) that recapitulates phylogeny (evolution of the species over the ages): the child develops into homo perfectus, the insān kāmil of Islamic mysticism. In other words, he becomes an accomplished human who rediscovers not only the essence of civilization (and especially fire), but also the sense of transcendence that leads him to the idea, and then to the experience of the divine. We find an echo of the Philosophus autodidactus in the philosophical debate about the tabula rasa, the clean slate that represents our ability to know before experience begins to record our knowledge on it.
Thus we have underlined the continuity between the idea illustrated by the novel about Hayy and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by the seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke. We should note, in passing, that the teaching of the history of philosophy as it is presented in most textbooks leaves little room for a work as important as Ibn Tufayl’s, or for the intellectual tradition to which it belongs − this calls for another way of teaching the history of philosophy, which does not make it a purely European matter.
The caliph of God on Earth
The first shock that sets in motion the practical and theoretical intelligence of the child is the question that confronts him, plunging him into suffering and incomprehension, at the moment his mother, the doe, dies − what is this thing, life, which has left the body of the mother and made her forever deaf to her child’s calls? To answer this question, Hayy devotes himself to the practice of dissecting dead animals, and then attempts to surprise the vital principle in living animals by performing vivisections on them − not seeing, in his ignorance and his innocence, the cruelty of his actions. He abandons this research, again because of failure. Later, when he attains full awareness of self, God, Creation and his own place within it and responsibility for it, Hayy will understand his responsibility to be the guardian of life, in all its forms. He will take from nature only what is necessary for his sustenance, ensuring that the capacity for renewal of life is perfectly preserved, and that nature reconstitutes what it gives him.
Ibn Tufayl’s insistence on Hayy’s ecological consciousness is a philosophical illustration of Koranic anthropology that defines the human as “the caliph of God on Earth”. The word caliph, which means substitute, and the best translation for which is no doubt lieutenant – or more precisely lieu-tenant, place-holder, in French etymology – teaches humans what they have to be and defines their responsibility to watch over their environment, namely the Earth. Moreover, this word caliph, inspite of what we hear today, has in the Koran only this meaning, denoting the destination of the human. An important message from Ibn Tufayl’s book is, therefore, that the human is guardian of the Earth for itself and for the generations to come, because the human is originally the depository of what makes him the placeholder of God on Earth. Today, we need more than ever to heed this responsibility, without it being necessarily linked to a religious meaning.
Making humanity together
I’ll sum up my point in one word: ubuntu. This Bantu word gained worldwide fame when it was used by South Africans Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. It literally means “to make humanity together” − to create, thanks to other people, the human that I have to become, and at the same time, create “one humanity” with others.
To be the receptacle of what makes me a placeholder of God on Earth makes me understand that “making humanity together” is the opposite of depredation. It gives me the duty to look after life in general − to think that although animals, for instance, do not themselves formulate rights that must be recognized as declared, these are not any less real to me, because my humanity obligates me to them.
In my opinion, I am not one of those people who go overboard in their efforts to bring down anthropocentrism – and for whom the different kingdoms should be self-represented in a sort of “natural contract” replacing the social contract. It is not necessary to dissolve humanity to forbid it to behave, as another seventeenth-century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote, “like an empire in an empire” − to make humans understand that they are not free nor separate from natural necessities. On the contrary, we must affirm our humanity, but affirm it as ubuntu. Ubuntu is a philosophical concept with universal scope and it seems to me that it encompasses the meaning and the role of the humanities − in particular, the philosophical humanities. By showing how these can enlighten us, I want to emphasize their contribution, even their “utility”. But it is not a matter of exaggerating what philosophy can do, nor of giving in to the imperative of the profitability of knowledge, considered solely from the point of view of its technical implementation – by insisting on the use to be made of it.
Instead, when it comes to the thought and action required by the major crises of our time, I want to show that we can, we must, rely just as much on a philosophical novel written in the twelfth century in Muslim Spain as on Western philosophical thought, or African words of wisdom. To meet the challenges of changing times, we need to revitalize ourselves by delving into what humans have thought all around the world and at different times.
In other words, I want to recall that philosophy, and the humanities in general, are what give meaning to an education aimed towards the total, complete human − the homo perfectus – who is able to use the knowledge of history to invent a future we must build all together.
Date posted: July 29, 2019.
[The article is reproduced from The UNESCO Courier, April-June 2018, under IGO Creative Commons Licence type: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, that has been adopted by UNESCO to give the public the right to re-use a work as freely as possible – Ed.]
Before departing this website, please take a moment to visit the Table of Contents for links to a vast collection of articles published on this blog as well as its two sister blogs Barakah and Simergphotos.
About the author: Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne, currently Chair in the Department of French & Romance Philology at Columbia University (New York), was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal. He received his academic training in France. An alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he took his Ph.D (Doctorat d’État) in philosophy at the Sorbonne (1988) where he also took his BA (1977). His field of research includes Boolean algebra of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy and literature. Author of numerous books, his work, Bergson postcolonial: L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal (Paris: Editions du CNRS, 2011) is forthcoming in an English version to be published by Fordham University Press. That book was awarded the Dagnan-Bouveret prize by the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for 2011 and on that same year professor Diagne received the Edouard Glissant Prize for his work. Professor Diagne’s current teaching interests include history of early modern philosophy, philosophy and Sufism in the Islamic world, African philosophy and literature, and twentieth century French philosophy.
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Two magnificent buildings, the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre, and their adjoining Aga Khan Park on Wynford Drive in Toronto are celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon with an extraordinary two-day festival on July 20-21, 2019 featuring live music, food fair, artisan market and family friendly activities. Here is a summary of what has been planned.
Date posted: July 19, 2019.
“The children of Adam, created of the self-same clay, are members of one body. When one member suffers, all members suffer, likewise.” — Sadi, Muslim poet.
“Withdrawing and distancing from others does not make us stronger. We hurt ourselves, limit that which can nurture us, open ourselves to injuries that can only be survived by connections. Isolationism and xenophobia fuel hatred and blame.” — Joanne Eddy
[Please also view an excellent and inspiring Youtube presentation on the Redwood Tree (3m 40s) which complements this article; video link at bottom of this post — Ed.]
By JOANNE EDDY
Redwood trees have always impressed me. From a seed no bigger in size than a tomato seed, they grow as tall as 35 story buildings. In fact, their height helps them survive in dry seasons as it helps them live on only the moisture they are able to extract from fog. Condensing the mist against their trucks, redwoods create fog drips that cool and roll down grooves in their bark flowing down the length of the tree to the roots that nurture it. Resistant to insects, able to withstand fires and floods, subject to no diseases, they endure for ages with no natural enemies but man.
You probably know all of that, but I recently learned something from a business training model about redwoods that surprised me…and set me to thinking.
SunnyFortuna.com tells us: “You would think that a 350-foot-tall tree would need deep roots, but that’s not the case at all with the Sequoia sempervirens. Redwood tree roots are very shallow, often only five or six feet deep. But they make up for it in width, sometimes extending up to 100 feet from the trunk. They thrive in thick groves, where the roots can intertwine and even fuse together. This gives them tremendous strength against the forces of nature. This way they can withstand high winds and raging floods.”
So, redwoods do not survive alone…ever. They form “tribes” or communities. Sometimes they grow so close to each other they merge at the base into one tree. The first thing they provide each other is strength and support: intertwining roots. Not deep, but wide, living in an embrace of others.
The merged roots also meet their needs for nurture. The entire system relies on their rooted connections.
On the National Park System sequoia page I found out that “The coast redwood environment recycles naturally; because the annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other, living and dead for their vital nutrients.” (nps.gov) As a redwood tree dies, it decays and the nutrients it has absorbed over the ages are released back into the community through the roots, nourishing the other trees. And the community replaces that member by sending a new sprout up from their roots.
It’s no wonder that redwoods have inspired the latest “organizational culture” model, a new Fish Philosophy, Who Moved My Cheese, Star Thrower, Open Source look at what creates success in corporate management. The sequoia “business” model guarantees enduring success and sustains massive growth….but only if the trees work as a team and support each other. The critical key to survival and growth is interdependence.
But I think this is a lesson that is applicable not just to business but to our own need for communities, individually and as nations. Like the redwoods, we cannot survive alone. People do need alone time, and space for individualism to be content and personally creative, but there are moments in a life that also needs friends and neighbors and groups of like-minded people. We need others to help us think past what we can alone, to help us solve life problems, to share their strength in our times of need. I would argue that this redwood kind of inter-reliance is needed for health, individual and collective, for us all to survive and thrive.
Even spiritually, as much as I value meditation time, walks at the ocean alone with “Intimations of Immorality” on my mind, I am refreshed by deep talks with others, friends and family. I need them to challenge my thought and nourish my spirit, and for me, as well, I need the comforting ritual, the remembered songs and prayers, the heart and mind community of a worshipping family of faith to nourish me.
I think when we and our world withdraw our roots…try to restrict them to me and mine, we make an egregious mistake. Withdrawing and distancing from others does not make us stronger. We hurt ourselves, limit that which can nurture us, open ourselves to injuries that can only be survived by connections. Isolationism and xenophobia fuel hatred and blame. They are failed strategies that lead more often to war than to the safety they promise.
In the face of Britain’s exit from the EU, where Populism and promises of renewed national strength spoke to many, I would warn them and those here in the US who echo the same arguments to take a look at what happens when loggers cut down redwoods. Not only are the trees they take killed, but the other redwoods that remain in the tribe often die. Without the missing trees to share water and nutrients, the remaining members becomes less healthy and sometimes cannot even survive.
Our world seems to scream at us that helping others hurts you, and standing alone is better than uniting together. Sometimes, while I do understand the fear of change and of the unknown, and the gut response to forces and politicians that inflame that fear, I wish I could get people to look up and out.
There are resources out there in the world still. They may not be mineral, or oil, as much as wind, sun, and PEOPLE.
America has always been made stronger by being united as states and united with the world. Accepting the gifts of those who came to our shores has added to our resources…even when they were poor when they came, like my grand parents. Just like love, which is not diminished when a new child is born into a family, but grows as it is divided among ever larger numbers, we grow our country by welcoming others. And it is in tough times, we most need to reach out into our tribes and communities, knot our roots into even tighter bonds and stand strong together against the fires that race towards us or the floods that threaten to wash us away.
To me, that is the lesson that rustles in the leaves, it’s the strength we can feel in our roots, it’s a model for living we can learn from the redwoods.
Date posted: January 12, 2019.
Joanne Eddy, lives in NorthoCarolina. She notes on her blog: “Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace ‘living deliberately’ in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.”
The quote of Sadi at the top of this post is from His Highness the Aga Khan’s speech delivered on April 18, 2008, in Atlanta, Georgia, at the annual meeting of the International Baccalaureate.
Also view a Youtube video “In Giving, We Receive” that complements Johanne Eddy’s piece. Please click https://youtu.be/GuTZUAIHKbo. We thank Yasmin Alibhoy of Madrid Spain, for bringing this video to our notice.
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“For two minutes we were suspended in bizarre, truly ethereal state….All around, people were visibly moved, shocked, blown away. Some had tears in their eyes. Nobody was untouched.” — Read more with photos by Arif Babul
On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. Anyone within the path of totality can see one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights – a total solar eclipse. This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona – can be seen, will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk. NASA will cover the eclipse live from coast to coast, beginning at noon EDT.
Islamic astronomy became the western world’s powerhouse of scientific research during the 9th and 10th centuries AD, while the Dark Ages engulfed much of the rest of the western world. The works by Ptolemy, Plato, and Aristotle were translated, amplified upon and spread throughout the Muslim world. Al-Khwarazmi developed the first tables trigonometric functions (ca 825 AD) which remained the standard reference well into the modern era. Al-Khwarazmi was known to the west as “Algorizm” and this is, in fact, the origin of the term ‘algorithm’. Al-Khwarazmi’s calculations were good to five places, allowing for unprecedented precision in astronomy and other sciences. At Antioch, Muhammad al-Batani (ca 850 AD) began with Ptolemy’s works and recalculated the precession of the equinoxes, and produced new, more precise astronomical tables. Following a steady series of advances in Islamic trigonometry, observations by Ibn Yunus of lunar and solar eclipses were recorded in Cairo ca 1000 AD. Ibn Yunus is regarded as one of the greatest observational astronomers of his time. The pace of Islamic science and scholarship eventually slowed down in the 11th and 12th centuries. Many great books and great ideas of the Islamic Age lay fallow for hundreds of years until they were finally translated into Latin and fueled the European revolution in thinking and the birth of science as we know it today. 
The Fatimid astronomer Ibn Yunus (950-1009), was one of the greatest astronomers of medieval Islam and the most important astronomer of medieval Egypt. He recorded both the lunar and solar eclipses in Cairo. As a young man he witnessed the Fatimid conquest of Egypt and the founding of the new city of Cairo in 969. In the period up to the reign of 15th Ismaili Imam and 5th Fatimid Caliph, Mawlana al‐ʿAzīz (975–996), he made astronomical observations that were renewed by Mawlana al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who succeeded Imam al‐ʿAzīz in 996 at the age of 11. Ibn Yunus wrote a major astronomical handbook called Al-Zij al-Hakimi al-kabir (The Great Hakimi astronomical table) which he dedicated to Imam al-Hakim. Although Ibn Yunus’ handbook was widely used in Islam, and his timekeeping tables survived in use in Cairo into the 19th century, his work only became known in the West less than 200 years ago. 
Yunus expressed the solutions in his Zij without mathematical symbols, but Delambre noted in his 1819 translation of the Hakemite tables that two of Ibn Yunus’ methods for determining the time from solar or stellar altitude were equivalent to the trigonometric identity 2cos(a)cos(b) = cos(a+b) +cos(a-b) identified in Johannes Werner’s 16th-century manuscript on conic sections. Now recognized as one of Werner’s formulas, it was essential for the development of prosthaphaeresis and logarithms decades later. 
Date posted: August 19, 2017.
Islamic astronomy and Ibn Yunus sections compiled from the following sources: