His name is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an twenty-five times, often in the form ‘Isa ibn Maryam, meaning “Jesus, son of Mary.” In the Qur’an, he is referred to by the unique title of “Messiah” (al-masih in Arabic), meaning “anointed one.” Descriptions of Jesus in the Qur’an include many aspects of the narrative found in the Gospels about the life of Jesus, including his virgin birth, the signs given to him by God, that he was raised by God into His presence, and it also suggests his future return. Jesus is also referred to in the Qur’an as the “Word” and the “Spirit” of God, a special honour. READ MORE
Photo of the Day: Birthplace
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Muslims Articulate the Immaculate Conception of Jesus in the Presence of a Christian Emperor
To read Barnaby Rogerson’s article, please click HERE or on image below
Date posted: December 25, 2022.
Featured photo at top of post: Festive season decorations at CrossIron Mills, Calgary, December 24, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
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. The editor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
When the much talked and anticipated Hollywood movie “Noah” hit theatres in North America on March 28, 2014, there was widespread criticism of the movie by numerous Muslim and Christian religious groups. Movie goers had mixed reactions, rating it as high as “A” and “B” and as low as “D”. Google’s numbers indicate that 68% liked the movies. The UK Guardian gave it 3 stars out of 5. A number of Muslim countries including Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population numbering some 231 million (2021) banned the movie for its depiction of Noah. The BBC noted that a number of Arab States including UAE, Qatar and Bahrain were among Middle Eastern countries that banned Noah as it broke Islam’s taboo of depicting a prophet. “There are scenes that contradict Islam and the Bible, so we decided not to show it,” said Juma Al-Leem of Juma Al-Leem UAE’s National Media Centre. Mary Fairchild writing for About.com hinted that the movie would be replete with inaccuracies, and suggested reading the “authentic” story in the Bible.
Simerg has a version of the story from the Qur’an, presented by the well-known late Ismaili Muslim teacher, missionary and writer (Alwaez) Rai Jehangir A. Merchant (December 13, 1928 – May 27, 2018), who dedicated his life to the service of his community for more than 60 years, both in professional and honorary capacities. He passed away on May 27, 2018, exactly 4 years ago, and this popular piece, that has received more than 80,000 views over the years, is being shared by Jehangir’s son Malik, the editor of this website who along with Alwaez’s family members fondly remember him on the 4th anniversary of his passing.
Noah’s Ark in the Holy Qur’an
[This is a revised version of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant’s original article which was published in Ilm magazine, July 1976, under his pen name Jami. He edited and wrote extensively for the flagship UK Ismaili magazine — Ed.]
By LATE JEHANGIR A. MERCHANT (1928-2018)
Prophets are the messengers of Allah who came from time to time to guide mankind to the way of Allah, the path of righteousness. Amongst the many who came as guides and warners to the people, Prophet Noah (Alaihisalam) was one of them. He lived long before the time of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (Salallahu alaihi wasalam), the last of the prophets. 
God appointed Noah as the prophet for his people, so as to guide them to the right path and turn them away from their evil ways. The Holy Qur’an tells us the story of Prophet Noah and his people in a number of suras , namely sura 71 (Nuh), sura 11 (Hud), and sura 23 (al-Mu’minun), and many ayats therein. It tells us of the strong faith which the Prophet had in Almighty God and about the final destruction of those who ignored the Divine Message.
Commanding Prophet Noah to warn his people, God said:
“Warn your people before there comes upon them a grievous penalty.” — Holy Qur’an, 71:1
Obeying the command of God, Prophet Noah went to his people and said:
“I have come to you with a clear warning that you worship none but God. Verily I fear for you the penalty of a grievous day.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:25-26
The chiefs fearing they would lose their power and authority over the people they ruled, did not approve of what Prophet Noah was preaching and sought to detract the people from the True Path. They argued with the Prophet saying:
“We see nothing special in you except as a man like ourselves. Nor do we see any who have followed you but those who are the meanest amongst us and immature in judgment. Nor do we see in you any excellence over us; in fact we think you are a liar.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:27
Prophet Noah was not perturbed by their derogatory remarks and continued his divine mission purposefully. He called upon his people in a very polite and loving manner to mend their ways. He also warned them of the grievous consequences which would follow if they continued to worship the false gods and lead an immoral life. Assuring them that he was not seeking any wealth or power or favours from them, he said:
“And O my people! I ask you for no wealth in return: my reward is from none but God.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:29
But the chiefs continued to hinder Prophet Noah in his mission by instigating doubts about Noah. They would say to the people:
“He is no more than a man like yourselves. His wish is to assert superiority over you. If God had wished (to send messengers), He could have sent down Angels. Never did we hear such a thing (as he says), among our ancestors of old.” — Holy Qur’an, 23:24. 
The chiefs would then turn in anger towards the Prophet and challenge him arrogantly:
“O Noah! Indeed you have disputed with us and you have prolonged the dispute: now bring upon us what you have threatened us with, if you are of the Truthful Ones.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:32
Prophet Noah would then remind them that it was not in his but God’s power to punish them for their evil ways.
“Truly God will bring it on you if He wills, — and then, you will not be able to frustrate it.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:33
But all his warnings, his good advices and counsels seemed to fall on deaf ears. Except for a very few who had followed his guidance, others continued to worship the idols of stone with different names as attested in the following verse:
“And they have said (to each other) ‘Abandon not your gods: abandon neither Wadd nor Suwa, neither Yaguth nor Yauq, nor Nasr.” — Holy Qur’an, 71:23
Prophet Noah re-doubled his efforts but all to no avail. He would then cry out to his Lord:
“O my Lord! I have called to my people by night and by day, but my call only (increases their) flight (from the True Path). And every time I have called to them, that You may forgive them, they have thrust their fingers into their ears, covered themselves up with their garments, grown obstinate and given themselves up to arrogance. So, I have called to them aloud: further I have spoken to them in public and secretly in private.” — Holy Qur’an, 71:5-9
As the people became more obstinate and refused to accept God’s message accusing Prophet Noah of falsehood, God decided to bring down His punishment upon the unbelievers. To Prophet Noah, God commanded:
“Construct the Ark within Our sight and under Our guidance. Then when comes Our command, and the fountains of the earth gush forth, take on board pairs of every species, male and female, and your people except those of them against whom the Word has already been issued: and address Me not in respect of those who are unjust; for verily they shall be drowned (in the flood).” — Holy Qur’an, 23:27
As commanded, Prophet Noah now set upon the task of building the Ark with the help of the small group of believers. The sight of Prophet Noah and his men constructing the Ark seemed to amuse the chiefs and unbelievers. They did not realise the seriousness of the situation but only laughed and jeered.
“Whenever the chiefs of his people passed by him, they mocked at him…” — Holy Qur’an, 11:38
Prophet Noah would now answer back to their mocking comments in a very bold and straight-forward manner:
“…If you ridicule us now, verily we too shall mock at you, even as you mock (at us). But soon will you know who it is on whom will descend a penalty which will cover them with shame and upon whom will fall a lasting penalty.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:38-39
When the Ark was completed, Prophet Noah took with him his family and the believers, and a pair of every creature that was found on the land around him. Now God’s warning to the people that He would send floods upon them came to pass.
“At length, behold! there came our Command, and the fountains of the earth gushed forth.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:40
The flood waters began to rise. Believers who had so far suffered at the hands of the chiefs and idol worshippers found themselves safe in Noah’s Ark. They offered their prayers and prostration to Almighty God as thanksgiving for the Mercy He had bestowed upon them. The unbelievers who had ignored God’s guidance were in a grievous state. All was lost to them. The heavy downpour of rain, the strong winds, the deafening thunder and the blinding lightning created confusion in their minds and fear in their hearts. They ran helter-skelter in search for safety. They climbed the roof-tops and the trees but nothing could save them now as the waters rose higher and higher.
Amongst the unbelievers was Prophet Noah’s own son, and he too was desperately trying to save himself from the flood waters. Prophet Noah’s Ark with all aboard was sailing safely on the waters and just when the Prophet saw his son he called out to him and said:
‘O my son! embark with us and be not with the unbelievers’. The son replied: ‘I will betake myself to some mountain, it will save me from the flood’. And Noah said: ‘This day nothing can save you from what God has decreed, for only those on whom He has Mercy will be saved’. And the waves came between them and the son was among the drowned ones.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:42-43
Finally, when all the unbelievers were drowned in the flood, God commanded:
“O Earth! swallow up your water, and O Sky! withhold your rain! and the water abated and the matter was ended. The Ark rested on Mount Judi.”  — Holy Qur’an, 11:44
As the ark rested on Mount Judi, Prophet Noah prayed:
“O my Lord! enable me to disembark with Your Blessings, for You are the Best of all to enable us to disembark.” — Holy Qur’an, 23:29
This story from the Holy Qur’an is as a sign from God to the whole of humanity living in different times. It reminds us of the great powers of God. This is not to say that God only possesses the powers to destroy and punish; more so, it tells us of God’s Infinite Love, Care and Mercy He has for all mankind, for it is He Who sends His Guidance to every race and every people.
“And there never was a people, without a Warner, having lived among them.” — Holy Qur’an, Sura Al-Fatir, 35:24.
Date posted: May 27, 2022.
Alaihisalam (abbreviation AS) means ‘Peace be upon him’. Salallahu alaihi wasalam (abbreviation SAWS or SAS) means ‘God’s blessings and peace be upon him’.
 Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was the last in the line of the Prophets. There will be no prophet after him and he is therefore called Khatam al-nabiyyin – the Seal of the Prophets. The Holy Qur’an says: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men but he is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets, and God has full knowledge of all things’ (33:40, Sura Al-Ahzab).
Sura means ‘Chapter’. There are 114 chapters in the Holy Qur’an.
 Ayat means ‘Verse’. Each Quranic chapter contains a number of verses. The total number of verses in the Holy Qur’an is 6240, or including the 113 ‘Bismillahi-r-Rahmanir-Rahim’ with which the chapters open, 6353. Every chapter except the ninth opens with the ‘Bismillah’. There also exists a slight difference in the numbering of verses. Kufah readers count them 6329, Basrah 6204, Syria 6225, Mecca 6219, Medina 6211. But this is a difference of computation only, some readers marking the end of a verse where others do not.
 The wrong doers who never wanted to desist from evil and give up their false worship always questioned as to why Angels were not sent to them as Messengers. They would ask: “What sort of an apostle is this, who eats food and walks though the streets’? Why has not an angel been sent down to give admonition with him’? (Holy Qur’an, 25:7, Sura Al-Furqan).
The Arabs during the time of Prophet Muhammad brought forward the same argument and God commanded our Holy Prophet to answer: “If there were settled on earth, angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent for them an Angel for an apostle down from the heavens” (17:95, Sura Bani-Israel).
Because men inhabit this earth it is only natural that Prophets who bring God’s message to Mankind are also men and not angels.
 Jabal (Mount) Judi is situated in the modern Turkish district of Bohtan. The great mountain mass of the Ararat Plateau dominates the district. This mountain system “is unique in the Old World in containing great sheets of water that are bitter lakes without outlets, Lake Van and Lake Urumiya being the chief.” (Encyclopaedia Brittanica). Such would be the very region for a stupendous deluge if the usual scanty rainfall were to be changed into a very heavy downpour. The region has many local traditions connected with Noah and the flood.
A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alwaez Jehangir (d. May 27, 2018, age 89) and his wife Alwaeza Maleksultan (d. January 21, 2021, age 89) served the Ismailia Association (now the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ITREB) in Mozambique, Tanzania and the UK from 1954 until 1992, and continued to serve Ismaili institutions on an honorary basis until the last years of their lives. Jehangir A. Merchant passed away in May 2018 at the age of 89. Please see Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018)
For articles by Alwaez Jehangir on this Website please click:
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. Please also visit our sister website Barakah, dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and our photo blog Simergphotos.
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“Muhammad, who could do nothing to alleviate the suffering of his small embattled community of believers, at last advised some of his followers to leave sacred Mecca and take refuge elsewhere”….Read Barnaby Rogerson’s Piece
Below, Battle tunic with Qur’anic Verse and Inscriptions in Praise of Muhammad and Ali….More Photos
Inscribed with much of the text of the Koran, this eighteenth-century linen Shiite Muslim battle tunic, most probably from Iran or southern Iraq, also bears inscriptions in praise of the prophet Muhammad and of his son-in-law, Ali. It is eloquent testimony to the place of religious commitment in all aspects of life in the Islamic world. Across the shoulders is inscribed verse 13 of Surah 61 (“al Saff,” or Battle array): “Help from God and a speedy Victory. Photo: Library of Congress, USA. Please click on image for more photos.
“We search for a union with the family of the Chosen (Prophet Muhammad). We search for the truth of son after son. We are totally obedient to his offspring, one of the other. There is no other thing we can add to this but itself. We endeavour in our faith so that we do not turn out to be faithless.” Ismaili poet NIZAR QUHISTANI
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, is pictured above at his enthronement as 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Ismaili Muslims in Bombay at the age of seven. His reign lasted for 72 years. In his will, he proclaimed Prince Karim Aga Khan as the 49th Imam with the following words:
“Ever since the time of my first ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of thirteen hundred years it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or remoter male issue.
“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.
“I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son Aly Salomone Khan to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to be the Imam and Pir of all my Shia Ismailian followers.”
Through the special designation (or the Nass) of the late Imam, Shah Karim al-Hussaini became the 49th hereditary Imam of the Nizari Ismailis at the age of twenty.
Shortly after, the newly enthroned Imam met Ismaili leaders and representatives from around the world, and also made the following statement:
“My grandfather dedicated his life to the Imamat and Islam, both of which came first, and above all other considerations. While I was prepared that one day I might be designated the Aga Khan I did not expect it so soon. I follow a great man in a great responsibility and he could have given me no more appreciated honour than to bequeath me this spiritual leadership. My life, as his, will be dedicated to the service of my followers.”
“….throughout history we find people convinced the great religions are a necessary ‘outer shell’ veiling a Primordial Wisdom that alone can reveal humanity’s real origin, purpose and destiny….Some of Europe’s leading seekers after ancient secret wisdom were convinced that in the Muslim lands of the Orient could be found a Primordial Tradition transmitted from generation to generation within closed communities of initiates.”
An extraordinary insight into how Western esoteric movements may have roots in the esoteric tradition in Islam, including Sufism and Ismailism.Read More….
In this piece Kamaluddin Mohammed, a prominent and highly respected Ismaili scholar and missionary explains the importance of studying the Holy Qur’an, and gives an anecdote from a religious night school visit made by the current 49th Imam of the Ismailis, His Highness the Aga Khan, during his visit to India in 1967.
Calligraphy writing has been a preeminent Islamic art since the seventh century when the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad and recorded in the Arabic language. Controlled, angular lettering called Kufic script was commonly employed in the writing of early Qurans. This folio from the Qur’an, is Sura 9, “Repentance” (al-Tauba), verses 31-32, Near East or North Africa, ca. 900. Photo: Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Please click on image for article.
Ikhwan Allani of Toronto, Canada, is fascinated by the beauty of poetry, especially in the expression of mystical knowledge and devotion. In this poem, he illustrates a technique to embed an esoteric aspect of the Ismaili tariqah through a universal medium such as poetry. Please click on Light Upon Light or on the image below.
Image credit: Irfan Lakhani/Saniya Hussain. Copyright. Please click on image for “Light Upon Light” by Ikhwan Allani.
The much talked and anticipated Hollywood movie “Noah” hit theatres last week amidst criticisms by many religious groups consisting of Muslims and Christians. Movie goers rated it from a high of “A” and “B” with some demoting it to a “D”. A number of Muslim countries including Indonesia and some Arab States even banned the movie for its depiction of Noah.
Mary Fairchild writing for About.com hinted that the movie would be replete with inaccuracies, and suggested reading the “authentic” story in the Bible.
Simerg has a version of the story from the Holy Qur’an, presented by the well-known Ismaili scholar Alwaez Jehangir A. Merchant, who served the community for several decades as a teacher, missionary, and a writer. Please click on The Story of Noah’s Ark in the Holy Qur’anor the image below.
“As we all know, Canada is home to a well-established and
fast-growing Ismaili community. His Highness has therefore
become an increasingly frequent visitor, and always a welcome one.”
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper
His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper walk the Hall of Honour at the Parliament of Canada. where His Highness delivered an address to both the Houses on Thursday, February 27, 2014. This impressive ceremonial hall is used for state occasions, parliamentary events, and formal processions such as the Speaker’s Parade. The Hall of Honour is part of the central axis of the Centre Block, joining Confederation Hall to the Library of Parliament, and providing access to the main committee rooms. Photo credit: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.
Material compiled and presented by Abdulmalik Merchant
1. THE ISMAILI IMAMAT REPRESENTS THE SUCCESSION OF IMAMSSINCE THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
His Highness the Aga Khan is applauded by the Prime Minister, Members of the House, as well as other distinguished visitors as he arrives in the House of Commons on Thursday, February 27, 2014 to deliver a rare address – the first by a faith leader in 75 years. The Ottawa Citizen published a similar photo on its front page of Friday February 28, giving it the title “In Divine Company.” Alongside the Ismaili Imam are his daughter Princess Zahra and the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen Harper. Others in the photo, in rows adjacent to Mrs. Harper (l to r) — 1st row: The Aga Khan’s younger brother, Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, The Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin, Former Governor General of Canada, The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, and renowned Canadian author, intellectual and philosopher, John Ralston Saul; 2nd row (l to r). President Malik Talib of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, Prince Hussain Aga Khan, Princess Salwa Aga Khan and her husband Prince Rahim Aga Khan – with both the Princes in the row being the Aga Khan’s children. Photo credit: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.
I propose today to give you some background about myself and my role, and then to reflect about what we call the Ummah — the entirety of Muslim communities around the world.
I will comment, as a faith leader, on the crisis of governance in so much of the world today, before concluding with some thoughts about the values that can assist countries of crisis to develop into countries of opportunity, and how Canada can help shape that process.
First then, a few personal words. I was born into a Muslim family, linked by heredity to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family). My education blended Islamic and Western traditions, and I was studying at Harvard some 50 years ago (yes 50 years ago — actually 56 years ago!) when I became the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.
His Highness the Aga Khan at the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Photo: Copyright Jean-Marc Carisse.
The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet. But let me clarify something more about the history of that role, in both the Sunni and Shia interpretations of the Muslim faith. The Sunni position is that the Prophet nominated no successor, and that spiritual-moral authority belongs to those who are learned in matters of religious law. As a result, there are many Sunni imams in a given time and place. But others believed that the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. From that early division, a host of further distinctions grew up — but the question of rightful leadership remains central. In time, the Shia were also sub-divided over this question, so that today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet.
An expression of gratitude and humility by His Highness the Aga Khan as he accepts a standing ovation at the Canadian Parliament on Thursday February 27, 2014. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seen applauding, with Princess Zahra, the daughter of His Highness, and Laureen Ann Harper, the Prime Minister’s wife, standing alongside the 49th Ismaili Imam. Photo credit: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
The role of the Ismaili Imam is a spiritual one; his authority is that of religious interpretation. It is not a political role. I do not govern any land. At the same time, Islam believes fundamentally that the spiritual and material worlds are inextricably connected. Faith does not remove Muslims — or their Imams — from daily, practical matters in family life, in business, in community affairs.
Faith, rather, is a force that should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges, and for improving the quality of human life.
This Muslim belief in the fusion of Faith and World is why much of my attention has been committed to the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.
2. COMMUNITY IN 1957 AND NOW, WORLD CONFLICTS AND THE RESILIENCE OF THE ISMAILI PEOPLE
In 1957, when I succeeded my grandfather as Imam, the Ismaili community lived for the most part in the colonies or ex-colonies of France, Belgium and the British Empire, or behind the Iron Curtain. They are still a highly diverse community, in terms of ethnicity, language, culture, and geography. They continue to live mostly in the developing world, though increasing numbers now live in Europe and North America.
Before 1957, individual Ismaili communities had their own social and economic institutions where that was allowed. There was no intent for them to grow to national prominence, and even less a vision to coordinate their activities across frontiers.
Today, however, that situation has changed, and the Aga Khan Development Network has a strong presence in several dozen countries, where appropriate regional coordination is also useful.
His Highness the Aga Khan and the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, face eager cameras at the Canadian Parliament Building on Thursday, 27 February, 2014. An oil on canvas painting of The Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, Prime Minister (1867-1873; 1878-1891) adorns a wall as part of the House of Commons Heritage Collection, while the Ismaili Imamat and Canadian Flags form a backdrop in this historical photo. Photo credit: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.
The AKDN — as we call it — is composed of a variety of private, non-governmental, non-denominational agencies implementing many of the Imamat’s responsibilities….Most of our AKDN activities have been born from the grass-roots of developing countries, reflecting their aspirations and their fragilities. Through the years, of course, this landscape has changed fundamentally, with the creation of new states like Bangladesh, the horrors of ethnic cleansing in Uganda, the collapse of the Soviet empire and the emergence of new countries with large Ismaili populations such as Tajikistan.
More recently, of course, we have faced the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. But through all of these experiences, the Ismaili peoples have demonstrated an impressive capacity to persevere and to progress.
3. COMMON DENOMINATORS OF THE HUMAN RACE, CANADA’S LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATIVE WORK
Our work has always been people-driven. It grows out of the age-old Islamic ethic, committed to goals with universal relevance: the elimination of poverty, access to education, and social peace in a pluralist environment. The AKDN’s fundamental objective is to improve the quality of human life.
Amongst the great common denominators of the human race is a shared aspiration, a common hope, for a better quality of life. I was struck a few years ago to read about a UNDP survey of 18 South American states where the majority of the people were less interested in their forms of government, than in the quality of their lives. Even autocratic governments that improved their quality of life would be more acceptable for most of those polled than ineffective democratic governments.
I cite that study, of course, with due respect to governmental institutions that have had a more successful history — including certain very distinguished parliaments!
But the sad fact behind so much instability in our world today is that governments are seen to be inadequate to these challenges. A much happier fact is that, in the global effort to change this picture, Canada is an exemplary leader.
His Highness the Aga Khan seen smiling in a lighter moment during his address to both the Houses of the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Referring to the two gold medals won by the Canadian hockey teams in the Sochi Olympics, the Ismaili Imam remarked, “As an ex-player myself I was hoping you would require your honorary citizens to join your team. I am convinced that the Dalai Lama and I would have been a formidable defence.” Photo credit : The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.
One of our earliest collaborations was to establish the first private nursing school in Pakistan, in cooperation with McMaster and the CIDA of that time. It was the first component of the Aga Khan University — the first private university in that country. The nursing school’s impact has been enormous; many of those who now head other nursing programmes and hospitals in the whole of the region — not just Pakistan — are graduates of our school. Canada was also one of the first donors to the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Northern Pakistan, tripling incomes in this remote, marginalised area….
I could speak about our close ties with Canadian universities also, such as McMaster, McGill, the University of Toronto, and the University of Alberta, enhancing our own institutions of tertiary education — the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.
The latter institution has resulted from the Imamat’s unique, tripartite treaty with the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It serves some 22 million people who live in Central Asia, in hillside and high mountain environments, areas of acute seismic and economic vulnerability.
I could list many more examples in cultural development and in scientific research. And we are especially proud of the Global Centre for Pluralism here in Ottawa, a joint project of the Imamat and the Canadian government.
4. CANADA’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY AND THE IMAMAT PARTNERSHIP WITH CANADA
In just three years, Canada will mark its 150th anniversary, and the whole world will be ready to celebrate with you. Sharing Canada’s robust pluralistic history, is a core mission of our Global Centre, and 2017 will be a major opportunity for doing so, operating from its headquarters in the former War Museum on Sussex Drive. Perhaps 2017 and the celebrations can be a catalyst with our neighbours to improve the entire riverfront area around that building.
Our partnership in Canada has been immensely strengthened, of course, by the presence for more than four decades of a significant Ismaili community. Like most historic global communities the Ismaili peoples have a variegated history, but surely our experience in Canada has been a particularly positive chapter.
His Highness the Aga Khan signs the visitors books for the House of Commons and the Senate in the Canadian Parliament Rotunda as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen Harper, The Honourable Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House of Commons and the Honourable Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate, and other individuals look on. Photo credit: TheIsmaili/Gary Otte.
I happily recall the establishment of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat here in 2008 and the Prime Minister’s description that day of our collaborative efforts to make Canada “the headquarters of the global effort to foster peace, prosperity, and equality through pluralism.”
We are deeply pleased that we can sign today a new Protocol with your Government — further strengthening our ongoing platform for cooperation.
As we look to the next 25 years of the AKDN, we believe that our permanent presence in the developing world will make us a dependable partner, especially in meeting the difficult challenges of predictability.
5. THE ISLAMIC UMMAH AND INCLUSIVENESS OF OTHER FAITHS DURING THE ABBASID AND FATIMID ERAS
Against this background, let me move on to the broad international sphere, including the role of relations between the countries and cultures of Islam — what we call the Ummah — and non-Islamic societies. It is central to the shape of global affairs in our time.
I would begin by emphasising a central point about the Ummah often unseen elsewhere: the fundamental fact of its immense diversity. Muslim demography has expanded dramatically in recent years, and Muslims today have highly differing views on many questions.
Essential among them is that they do not share some common, overarching impression of the West. It has become commonplace for some to talk about an inevitable clash of the industrial West and Islamic civilizations. But Muslims don’t see things in this way. Those whose words and deeds feed into that point of view are a small and extreme minority. For most of us, it is simply not true. We find singularly little in our theological interpretations that would clash with the other Abrahamic faiths — with Christianity and Judaism. Indeed, there is much that is in profound harmony.
Officers of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police Salute as His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Harper walk up the stairs at Parliament Hill on Thursday, February 27, 2014. COC Photo by Jason Ransom
The complexity of the Ummah has a long history. Some of the most glorious chapters in Islamic history were purposefully built on the principle of inclusiveness — it was a matter of state policy to pursue excellence through pluralism. This was true from the time of the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Cairo over 1,000 years ago. It was true in Afghanistan and Timbuktu in Mali, and later with the Safavids in Iran, the Mughals in India, the Uzbeks in Bukhara, and Ottomans in Turkey. From the 8th to the 16th century, al-Andalus thrived on the Iberian Peninsula — under Muslim aegis — but also deeply welcoming to Christian and Jewish peoples.
Today, these Islamic traditions have been obscured in many places, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
6. AGA KHAN TRUST FOR CULTURE
AND THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM
A depiction of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre which are nearing completion in Toronto, Canada.
The work of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture….is to revive the memory of this inclusive inheritance. Another immediate initiative is the Aga Khan Museum which will open this year in Toronto, an important testimonial in a Canadian setting to the immense diversity of Islamic cultures.
7. SUNNI AND SHIA TENSIONS AND IMPORTANCE FOR NON-MUSLIMS TO COMMUNICATE WITH BOTH PARTIES
Perhaps the most important area of incomprehension, outside the Ummah, is the conflict between Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam and the consequences for the Sunni and Shia peoples.
This powerful tension is sometimes even more profound than conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. It has increased massively in scope and intensity recently, and has been further exacerbated by external interventions. In Pakistan and Malaysia, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon and Bahrain, in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster. It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the Ummah to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities. What would have been the consequences if the Protestant-Catholic struggle in Ireland had spread throughout the Christian world, as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries? It is of the highest priority that these dangerous trends be well understood and resisted, and that the fundamental legitimacy of pluralistic outlooks be honoured in all aspects of our lives together — including matters of faith.
8. THE WORLD HAS TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO CIVIL SOCIETY
By Civil Society I mean an array of institutions which operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are motivated by high public purposes. They include institutions devoted to education, culture, science and research; to commercial, labor, ethnic and religious concerns; as well as professional societies in law, accounting, banking, engineering and medicine. Civil Society encompasses groups that work on health and safety and environmental matters, organisations that are engaged in humanitarian service, or in the arts or the media.
His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Harper in a conversation as they proceed to the signing ceremony of the protocol of understanding between the Ismaili Imamat and Canada. They are flanked on either side by the red and green flag of the Ismaili Imamat and the maple leaf flag of Canada. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.
We see it expanding in many places, from Sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and Egypt, from Iran to Bangladesh. At a time of extreme danger in Kenya a few years ago — the beginnings of a civil war — the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, led the way to a peaceful solution which rested heavily on the strength of Kenya’s Civil Society.
Increasingly, I believe, the voices of Civil Society are voices for change, where change has been overdue. They have been voices of hope for people living in fear.
They are voices that can help transform countries of crisis into countries of opportunity. There are too many societies where too many people live in a culture of fear, condemned to a life of poverty. Addressing that fear, and replacing it with hope, will be a major step to the elimination of poverty. And often the call for hope to replace fear will come from the voices of Civil Society.
9. UNDERPINNINGS OF A QUALITY CIVIL SOCIETY
I believe that Canada is uniquely able to articulate and exemplify three critical underpinnings of a quality Civil Society — a commitment to pluralism, to meritocracy, and to a cosmopolitan ethic.
A cosmopolitan ethic is one that welcomes the complexity of human society. It balances rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. It is an ethic for all peoples, the familiar and the Other, whether they live across the street or across the planet.
Quality education is fundamental to the development of a meritocratic Civil Society, and thus to the development of pluralistic attitudes.
The history of Canada has a great deal to teach us in this regard, including the long, incremental processes through which quality civil societies and committed cultures of pluralism are built. One of the watchwords of our new Global Centre for Pluralism is that “Pluralism is a Process and not a Product.” I know that many Canadians would describe their own pluralism as a “work in progress,” but it is also an asset of enormous global quality.
The Old Canadian War Museum will become the future site of the Global Centre for Pluralism, once renovations are completed inside the building. The Centre is governed by an international Board of Directors chaired by His Highness the Aga Khan. The Global Centre for Pluralism was inspired by the example of Canada’s inclusive approach to citizenship, and works to advance respect for diversity worldwide, believing that openness and understanding toward the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other peoples are essential to the survival of an interdependent world.
What more will a quality Civil Society now require of us? Sadly, the world is becoming more pluralist in fact, but not necessarily in spirit. “Cosmopolitan” social patterns have not yet been matched by “a cosmopolitan ethic.” In fact, one harsh reality is that religious hostility and intolerance seems to be on the rise in many places — from the Central African Republic, to South Sudan, to Nigeria, to Myanmar, the Philippines and other countries — both between major religious groups and within them.
Again, Canada has responded in notable ways, including the establishment — just one year ago — of the Office of Religious Freedom. Its challenges, like those facing the Centre for Global Pluralism, are enormous and its contributions will be warmly welcomed. And surely it will also serve as a worthy model for other countries.
In sum, I believe that Civil Society is one of the most powerful forces in our time, one that will become an increasingly universal influence, engulfing more countries, influencing, reshaping and sometimes even replacing ineffective regimes. And I also believe that Civil Society around the world should be vigorously encouraged and wisely nurtured by those who have made it work most successfully — Canada first amongst all.
10. THANK YOU PRIME MINISTER
The Aga Khan Development Network has worked over five decades to assist in the enhancement of Civil Society. And as we look to its future, we are honoured that Canada views us as a valued partner. Thank you Prime Minister. One key to Canada’s success in building a meritocratic Civil Society is your recognition that democratic societies require more than democratic governments.
11. “ENLIGHTENED FULFILLEMENT”
THROUGH VOLUNTARY SERVICES
I have been impressed by recent studies showing the activity of voluntary institutions and not-for-profit organisations in Canada to be among the highest in the world. This Canadian spirit resonates with a cherished principle in Shia Ismaili culture — the importance of contributing one’s individual energies on a voluntary basis to improving the lives of others.
This is not a matter of philanthropy, but rather of self-fulfillment — “enlightened self-fulfillment.”
His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sign a Protocol of Understanding further strengthening the ongoing platform of cooperation between the Ismaili Imamat and Canada. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.
During my Golden Jubilee — and this is important — six years ago Ismailis from around the world volunteered their gifts, not only of wealth, but most notably of time and knowledge, in support of our work. We established a Time and Knowledge framework, a structured process for engaging an immense pool of expertise involving tens of thousands of volunteers. Many of them traveled to developing countries as part of this outpouring of service — one third of those were Canadians. Their impact has been enormous in helping us to achieve best practice standards in our institutions and programmes, making us we hope an even better partner for Canada!
The Aga Khan University in Karachi and East Africa are expanding to create a new Liberal Arts faculty, and to establish eight new post-graduate schools in collaboration with several Canadian universities.
12. SALUTING FRASER MUSTARD FOR HIS WORK ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
We also share with Canada a deep appreciation for the potential of early childhood education. It is the period of the greatest development of the brain. This education is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve the quality of life for rural as well as urban populations. Congratulations, Prime Minister, for your initiative on this.
In this regard, let me take a moment to salute the late Dr Fraser Mustard, whose work in Early Childhood Development will impact millions of people around the world. The AKDN has been fortunate to have been inspired and counselled by this great Canadian scientist and humanist.
13. THE OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS TO THE PARLIAMENT
His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulate each other after signing a Protocol of Understanding between the Ismaili Imamat, a 1400 year hereditary Institution, and Canada. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.
I am most grateful to the Prime Minister and to you who have given me this opportunity to share — from a faith perspective — some of the issues that preoccupy me when looking ahead. I hope I have explained why I am convinced about the global validity of our partnership for human development.
14. A BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSION FROM THE HOLY QUR’AN
His Highness the Aga Khan seen addressing at the House of Commons Chambers to both the houses of Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Photo credit: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.
Let me end with a personal thought. As you build your lives, for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Quran which addresses itself to the whole of humanity. It says:
‘Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.’
I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race — born indeed from a single soul.
Date posted: Saturday, March 1, 2014. Copyright. Date last update: Sunday, March 2, 2014, 09:30 EST (new related links, below)
For non-comparable referral links to all things Ismaili as well as material about His Highness the Aga Khan’s recent official visit to Canada, please visit ismailimail. For past and recent speeches of Ismaili Imams please visit www.nanowisdoms.org.
Also click on the following links for some extraordinary official coverage of the visit including photographs, videos and speeches:
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