Islam: The Religion of Equality and Universal Brotherhood by Prince Aly S. Khan

Editor’s Note: I was a young boy of about seven years old when one very early morning, as I was preparing for school, there was a gentle knock on our 2nd floor apartment door in Lourenço Marques (LM),  now Maputo, Mozambique. My father opened the door to Mukhisaheb’s young son, a boy of my age. He had walked about a mile to deliver a message for my parents – we didn’t have a phone –  that Prince Aly Khan (June 13, 1911 – May 12, 1960) had passed away in a motor car accident and that Mukhisaheb and the leadership had convened a meeting in Jamatkhana later that morning. He asked that we should turn on the radio. Yes, indeed the news was on it. There was deep sadness in everyone’s faces and hearts. My parents, as teachers, had had the great privilege of meeting him during his visit to LM a couple of years earlier, soon after Mawlana Hazar Imam assumed the Imamat. Today in remembrance of the 51st anniversary of that tragic day and the remarkable life of Prince Aly Khan, beloved father of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prince Amyn Muhammad and Princess Yasmin, we take this opportunity to publish excerpts from a speech made by him at the Council of Islamic Affairs, New York on May 27th 1958, when he was Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations.

A Portrait of the Aga Khan Family: Next to the late 48th Ismaili Imam, Aga Khan III, is his grand daughter, Princess Yasmin. Standing from left to right – grandson Prince Amyn Muhammad, his two sons the late Prince Sadruddin and Prince Aly Khan holding daughter, and second grandson Prince Karim, the present Imam. Photo: Zul Khoja Collection, Ottawa.

 Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

….The Council of Islamic Affairs is doing a great service to the world by promoting a greater understanding in America of the rich heritage of the Islamic peoples and their hopes and aspirations for the future. For centuries, the Moslem and Christian peoples have lived and moved in different worlds. Today the two worlds have become one. This fact alone, if no other, should compel them to get together to meet the challenge of a godless, totalitarian creed, which has proclaimed as its ultimate purpose the destruction of both.

Photo taken at the opening on 15th September 1959 of the 14th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Seated at the head of the delegation of Pakistan is Mr. Manzur Qadir, then Minister for Foreign Affairs. At right is the late Prince Aly Khan, Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Photo: United Nations Photo Library

Despite the ebb and flow of its fortunes, the vicissitudes and calamities of its history, Islam claims nearly four hundred million adherents from the Atlantic to the Far East. As a living force in the lives of one fifth of mankind, it is a political fact of great significance in the world of today.

Given a right understanding of the foundations of Islam and Christianity, and the spiritual values which they have proclaimed, it should not prove very difficult to build a bridge of mutual respect and co-operation between the two great religions. Unfortunately, it is a fact that the close similarity between the two remains largely unknown to the West.

Both Moslems and Christians believe in the Unity of God, in the revelations of his Divine Message through his chosen messengers — namely the great prophets, and in the spiritual and ethical foundations of a social order based on the principles of equality, liberty and universal brotherhood.

Security Council Meets on South Africa on March 31st, 1960. Ambassador Abdul Monem Rifa’i, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, is seen here (extreme right) addressing the Council. Others seated at the Council table are (from left to right): Ambassador Armand Bérard, of France; Prince Aly Khan, of Pakistan, Mr. John Cox, of Liberia. Photo: United Nations Photo Library

To bring out the closeness of our basic beliefs, let me quote to you from the Holy Qur’an which sets forth the basic doctrines of Islam:

First, the bedrock of faith — Divine Unity: “And your God is one God; there is no God but He,…there is none like unto Him.”

Second, the whole of humanity is one: their division into tribes and nations is but to facilitate human relations: “All peoples are a single Nation.”

Third, equality: “The White man is not above the Black, nor the Black above the Yellow, all men are equal before their Maker.”

Fourth, dignity of the human person based so often on pride of birth, is rejected.

Fifth, freedom of belief and conscience must be respected.

The Qur’an says: “There is no compulsion in religion. Wherefore, let him who will believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.”

These are the fundamental beliefs of the Islamic peoples. There is no need for me to emphasise the identical precepts to which the Christian world owes allegiance. Indeed, to a religion founded on love — love of God and love of one’s neighbour — such as Christianity, the excerpts that I have quoted from the Qur’an must sound as recitations from the Bible.

The late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933 – 2003) passed away on the same day, May 12, as his older brother Prince Aly Khan. He  was the longest UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Here he is seen as he called upon Secretary-General U Thant at his home on 23 June 1971 to review the refugee situation in former East Pakistan. Photo: Teddy Chan, United Nations.

In the early centuries of Islam, the great schools of Islamic jurisprudence were built upon the above principles. Basic to all their legal systems they developed the doctrine that liberty is the fundamental basis of law.

The science of law was defined as: “The knowledge of rights and duties whereby man is enabled to observe right conduct in the world.”

Thus, Islamic jurisprudence was developed to respect and promote the rights of men. The contribution of Islam to history and modern civilization is the product of the efforts of peoples of many races and tongues which came to accept its way of life. It is not the contribution of any one single race or nation. Although in the early centuries of Islam, Arabic was the common vehicle of expression, such as Latin was in Europe in the Middle Ages, the Persians, Turks and other peoples, as well as the Arabs, contributed immensely to the flowering of the unique culture which for many centuries governed the lives of a large section of mankind.

It is not necessary to dwell on the political and social principles of Islam, to underline how close they also are in spirit to the concepts of human rights which govern the political and social systems of the West.

February 2, 1957: Prince Aly Khan displays the Platinum Plaque which he received on behalf of his father, His Highness the Aga Khan III, on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in Bombay. Photo: Ilm magazine.

It is one of the paradoxes of history that the West and the Islamic world which have so many beliefs and values in common, should have lived in antagonism for centuries. When we consider the great contribution of the Islamic peoples to modern Western civilization, particularly in the realm of scientific enquiry, philosophic thought, and mysticism, wherein the religious spirit is lifted to the sublime, the paradox of conflict becomes all the more striking.

…..Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have taken much of your time. One thought more and I will conclude. On the plane of ideals and morals, we find in Islam and the Qur’an, a perennial source of inspiration and guidance. One of the basic teachings of this faith is Divine Unity and the oneness of humanity. The Qur’an says:

“And your God is one God.”

“This your community is one community.”

“All people are a single nation.”

If we, the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are to remain loyal and obedient to the commandments of our faith, we have no choice but to cast away all thoughts of East and West, of Asian, American or European and of all those barriers which alienate man from man, and people from people, so that we may join together to promote universal brotherhood under God.

I thank you.

Date article posted on Simerg: May 12, 2011
Date updated: May 12, 2011 (with photos and revised text)


Source of speech excerpts: Ismaili Crescent,  June 14, 1970. The magazine was published weekly on Fridays in Dar-es-Salaam by the Ismailia Association for Tanzania.

United Nations Photos:

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9 thoughts on “Islam: The Religion of Equality and Universal Brotherhood by Prince Aly S. Khan

  1. As I am thinking of conflict in Syria and how the West supports the enemies of the regime with arming them to their teeth with lethal weapons my heart goes on to the civilians who become victims in the world of political supremacy that US, UK and Israel exhibit in destroying this ancient country of Syria where Christians and Muslims lived in harmony and peace. There is so much al-Qaeda can learn from our beloved Princes Aly Khan and Sadruddin. Isn’t that an act of God that both (brothers) passed away on the same date, 12th May? My thanks go to the Editor of this blog: for identifying and publishing Prince Aly Khan’s excellent piece on brotherhood of Islam.

  2. Prince Karim Aga Khan, the son of the late Prince Aly Khan whose piece appears above, is the great leader of Ismaili Muslims. He is not a politician but has a great understanding of Politics. He is not a Hafiz-Quran. But knows Quran more than anybody else. He is not a Prime Minister of any country. But has very strong relations with the leaders of the World more than a Prime Minister. His roots are almost in every country of the World. In his unique vision he is second to none.

  3. The whole of humanity is one. Think about this – When a human being of any faith be it Christian, Muslim or any of the other world faiths bleeds from a wound, why does he/she not have different coloured blood oozing out of their body.

    If/when the solution to the above question is found then maybe One Day there will be PEACE.

  4. A powerful message of oneness of our humanity though ever relevant but more opportune at a time perhaps when very little was foreseen in the future if the policy of alienation and clash of ignorance is not addressed.

    May one day as a world we can reach his consciousness of one humanity. Ameen

  5. Noor Mawlana Shah Karim Al-Husseini Agakhan; Our Beloved Hazar Imam, has reiterated similar thinking! He has spoken about a PLURALISTIC approach within the Unmah and between diverse communities around the world. PEACE will be the outcome. Let’s all try and work towards this goal, so well articulated by the late Prince Aly Khan in this piece.

  6. Not only a few extremist Muslims but as we know, genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, Northern Ireland…One must remember all faiths preach goodness, man’s interpretation differs. But also, we see small acts of domination and bullying in human society as well. And it is perhaps in the spaces around each of us that we need to start the work..act locally, think globally, as is said in so many slogans and tenets.

  7. Thank you for sharing this speech. His message was also on unity, oneness, the whole world as one Ummah as Hazar Imam insists. His great speech, if followed, would have had a great impact on today’s Muslim world.

  8. Sadly, this blessed message of hope can not be appreciated by the mass majority of the world in 2011. They have been hardened by the acts of a few extremist Muslims with their final goal of one world dominated by Sharia law. Alas, far from the trusted and respectful reverence he must have garnered in the United Nations for Pakistan, there is now a deep distrust. I gain spiritual sustenance reading excerpts from the Qur’an through his writings and perspective. God’s spirit was emulated in his leadership. May his interpretations bring Peace to all.

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