Pandemic, Prayers, Pluralism, and Partnerships

By NIZAR A MOTANI, Ph.D

This pandemic has brought the world humbling and tumbling to its knees, which is actually the best position from which to beg for the Supreme Being’s forgiveness, mercy, and blessings. Its economies have been battered and shattered and almost all of the world’s citizens have been imprisoned in their dwellings. He alone will eventually empower our scientists and secular and sacred leaders to find effective vaccines to successfully overcome this calamity.

Guidance from a seventh century ruler to his regional governors entrusted with administering a new and rapidly expanding empire has timeless relevance to our pandemic times. Hazrat Ali was the first hereditary Shia Muslim Imam, as well as the fourth caliph of all Muslims, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.), in 632 A.C. His letter enumerated a host of principles of good governance. He urged his subordinates to rule with intelligence and wisdom; justice, truth, and forgiveness; compassion and forbearance; humility and patience in calamity; consultation and wise counsel; piety and prayers; and above all to seek Divine Guidance. These are lessons which still apply today. [1]

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Folio Hazrat Ali's Nahj al-Balagha
A folio from Hazrat Ali’s Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence).

Remarkably, during the Prophet Muhammad’s time (570-632 A.C.), he had strongly recommended territorial quarantine and stricter personal hygiene, such as frequent hand washing during contagion. Later Muslim scientists and doctors had done the same, and Europe subsequently learned this practice from them. [2]

Turning to the current pandemic, this silent, inscrutable, and insidious enemy with unhindered Global Entry has awakened and heightened the need for prayers and some critical aspects of pluralism, which include public-private partnerships at all levels, to address the current dire situation engulfing almost every country.

Prayers have shown effectiveness since biblical times, and pluralism is inherent, in various forms, in all religious teachings. Some countries even have pluralism embodied in their constitutions, but sadly it often gets ignored.

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Karen Armstrong at Aga Khan Centre London
The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada, and GCP Board Member thanks Karen Armstrong for delivering the GCP 2018 Annual Pluralism Lecture. Photo: AKDN / Anya Campbell

Karen Armstrong, the renowned historian and scholar of religions, has described the Qur’an as the most pluralistic scriptural book, which teaches not just tolerance of diversity, but beyond this a universal brotherhood, empathy, and an inclusive approach that harnesses the intelligence of all in society (annual pluralism lecture at the new Aga Khan Centre, London, 2018). Pluralism entails inclusion of all of God’s children who inhabit our shared planet, as an integral part of the community. Hardly any country is totally homogenous – most are quite heterogeneous with racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse minorities. Accommodating such diversity is best addressed through dialogue, mutual respect, research, and collaboration to promote a better understanding of differences as strengths.

The idea of defining, promoting and giving pluralism an international platform emerged, significantly, after another calamity, namely the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, that shook the world and drastically changed lives and livelihoods. In January 2002, the then Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien and the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, discussed the desirability of jointly creating a formal body to study, explain, and promote pluralistic values across the world and to prevent escalations of conflicts between the West and the Muslim countries. A decade later the Global Centre for Pluralism was formally established in Ottawa, Canada.

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His Highness the Aga Khan and His Excellency David Johnston at the opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism
His Highness the Aga Khan and His Excellency David Johnston look at each other as they applaud a splendid musical performance by the children’s band Orkidstra during the opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa on Tuesday May 16, 2017. Photo: © Jean-Marc Carisse.

Pluralism, essential in ordinary times to promote mutual understanding, respect, and acceptance of differences, is even more critical in extraordinary times, such as the present, where widespread panic has driven many to act without regard for the wellbeing of others.

Equally alarming, Asian Americans have collectively been demonized and blamed for the virus. Fortunately, there have also been numerous wonderful and inspiring examples of collaboration, innovation, ingenuity, generosity, and volunteering to help those on the frontlines and those thrust onto food line.

However, let us not forget the other endemic and mutating virus of scammers and fraudsters preying on the most desperate of our fellow countrymen. We need more vigilance, prayers, partnerships and pluralism to combat both of these common enemies. Until God’s mercy results in effective vaccines, the best interim vaccines are the three Ps and gratitude.

Coincidentally, during this month of Ramadan, some fundamental practices of Islam are more evident now than at other times: fasting, prayer, and charity towards all — especially the weak, the sick, the poor, orphans, widows, and other most disadvantaged members of society. This constitutes the social conscience of Islam.

It is this Atlanta-based writer’s hope that Muslims and non-Muslims alike will share their relief/stimulus checks, if possible, with those in greater need. Unfortunately, their numbers are exploding, and they largely depend on such charities as the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Atlanta Union Mission, Salvation Army, and Red Cross among many others. Atlanta-based CARE is internationally active, as is the Aga Khan Foundation USA, which is a part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) – the world’s largest, most cost-effective, private, multifaceted network with hundreds of partners including the US Government.

May God Bless America and our interconnected planet.

Date posted: May 19, 2020.
Last updated: May 20, 2020 (Revisions by author)

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.

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Notes:

[1] Nahjul Balagha, Peak of Eloquence; Sermons, Letters, and Sayings of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib, Elmhurst NY, 1981.
[2] Article by Yahia Hatim, Moroccan Times, April 4th, 2020. See also March 17, 2020 Newsweek article by Craig Considine.

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The writer, who was born in Uganda, has a doctorate from the University of London, U.K. in African History. He has taught at Bowdoin College (Maine) and Western Michigan University. Later he worked at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in the U.K. A lifetime member of the Global South Studies Association and a longtime resident of Atlanta, he is a volunteer and donor for AKDN.

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Author’s recommendation: For a superb explanation of pluralism in the Qur’an, see Rahim Snow’s highly acclaimed book “Remember Who You Are: 28 Spiritual Verses from the Holy Quran to Help You Discover Your True Identity, Purpose, and Nourishment in God,” published  by Remembrance Studio, 2017, Pp. 213. Please visit his website by clicking Rahim Snow .

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An Exploration of Eight Ismaili Ginans on Science, Spirituality and Pluralism

ARTICLES BY SHIRAZ PRADHAN

Mawlana Hazar Imam on Ginans

SPIRITUALITY

Many Ismaili ginans relate the spiritual experiences of Ismaili Pirs and describe the meditative techniques used as an aid in the spiritual journey, and also the important milestones and inner cosmology corresponding to the different stages (maqamat). However, the Pirs emphatically have stated that the experiences of higher spiritual stations are not describable in rational language to people who are not initiated in the tariqa (path) and who have not experienced the different stations themselves. Pradhan uses two ginans by Pir Shams and Pir Sadardin to develop this theme.

PLEASE CLICK: The Inward Odyssey in Two Key Ismaili Ginans, “Brahma Prakash” and “Sakhi Mahapada”

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Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957), had once said that “In your heart is a heap of fireworks, if you do not light it, how will you get Light (Roshni) in your heart?” The theme of the re-orientation of the soul and its migration towards the “Country of the Beloved” is captured beautifully in “Ek Shabda suno mere bhai….”

PLEASE CLICK: Ismaili Spirituality in Pir Shams Shabzwari’s Ginan “Ek Shabada Suno Mere Bhai”, accompanied with recitation

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Continuing on the theme of spirituality and self-understanding in Ismaili Ginans, Pradhan  uses a parable from a Ginan of a young lion cub who grows up in the flock of sheep, and starts behaving like a sheep until it sees its own reflection in a pool to know its true identity.

PLEASE CLICK: An Explanation of the Ismaili Ginan “Kesri Sinha Sarup Bhulayo”

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COSMOLOGY AND SCIENCE

Are the answers to secrets that Hadron Collider will reveal already in the Ginans? Pradhan’s study focuses on a granth composed by Syad Imam Shah around 1400 CE that he regards as one of the most scientifically advanced and compact ancient document, besides the Ikhwa-al safa.

PLEASE CLICK: Cutting-Edge Science in Syad Imam Shah’s Naklanki Geeta — Are the answers to secrets that Hadron Collider will reveal already in the Ginan?

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Based on the acceptance by modern science of the Big Bang origin of our universe, Pradhan proceeds to analyse two Ismaili Ginans that have striking parallels of modern cosmology and astrophysics in them.

PLEASE CLICK: Concepts of Modern Cosmology and Astrophysics in Two Ismaili Ginans, Choghadia and Mul Gayatri

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PLURALISM AND UNITY OF MANKIND

Our happiness and satisfaction must be anchored on pluralism and the underlying unity of faiths of mankind. Pradhan explores two different old traditions which echo these messages. One is from the Shia Ismaili Ginanic tradition and the other is from the Hindu Gujarati tradition.

PLEASE CLICK: Ideas of One Humanity, Love and Peace in World Religions: Comparative Study of Ginan “Hum dil Khalak Allah Sohi Vase” with a Hindu Bhajan

Date posted: August 15, 2016.
Date updated: August 28, 2016.

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Ideas of One Humanity in World Religions: Comparative Study of Ginan “Hum dil Khalak Allah Sohi Vase” by Shiraz Pradhan, With a Recitation

Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul….” – Holy Qur’an, 4:1

Instability is infectious, but so is hope. And that it is why it is so important for us to carry the torch of hope as we seek to share the gift of pluralism….Profound expressions about our common humanity are embedded in the world’s great religious traditions, including my own…” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Lisbon, June 12, 2014.

Credit: Istockphoto.com. Please click on image for "One Humanity"

Image Credit: Istockphoto.com. Copyright. Please click on image for “One Humanity”

PLEASE CLICK: Ideas of One Humanity, Love and Peace in World Religions: Comparative Study of Ginan “Hum dil Khalak Allah Sohi Vase” with a Hindu Bhajan

Openness to Diversity and Pluralism in Human Hearts and Minds Necessary for Humanity’s Progress and Social Convergence, Says His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam, at North-South Award Ceremony

The following are thematic excerpts from remarks made by His Highness the Aga Khan at the North-South Prize Ceremony, Senate Hall, Parliament, Lisbon, on June 12, 2014.

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim

THE CEREMONY’S SIGNIFICANCE

 His Excellency Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the President of the Republic of Portugal presents His Highness the Aga Khan with the 2013 North-South Prize. - Photo: AKDN/ José Manuel Boavida Caria


His Excellency Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the President of the Republic of Portugal presents His Highness the Aga Khan with the 2013 North-South Prize. – Photo: AKDN/ José Manuel Boavida Caria

This award, first of all, has special significance because of who shares it – Madame Suzanne Jabbour. Her dedication to those who are tortured is an example that inspires us all. I know she will agree when I mention the list of those – from both South and North – who have received this award since 1995. It is a moving experience to have one’s work recognized alongside theirs.

…this prize has particular meaning because of those who organize it – the men and women of the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe, who contribute so much to advancing democratic citizenship in our world. The Aga Khan Development Network has been proud to join with the Centre in distinguished projects such as the annual Lisbon Forum held at the Ismaili Centre.

The significance of this award is also enhanced for me by the fact that it has been presented by the President of Portugal, in the presence of so many eminent leaders, and in this splendid Parliamentary setting.

THE IMAMAT, AKDN, PORTUGAL AND THE NORTH-SOUTH PRIZE

The Ismaili Imamat and the Aga Khan Development Network have had a long, close relationship with Portugal, built on shared values. Over many centuries, Portugal has welcomed and integrated people of diverse cultures. It was here on the Iberian Peninsula that Al-Andulus flourished for so long as a model of effective pluralism, a home for Christian and Jewish peoples that was also part of an Islamic empire….

The North-South prize affirms principles which have long been animated and sustained by the work of the Aga Khan Development Network. Our Network seeks in many ways to improve the quality of human life, in health, education, in cultural and economic development. But our core conviction is that human progress depends on human cooperation, even across difficult lines of division.

 A PLEA FOR RICHER DIALOGUE, DEEPER EDUCATION AND RECOGNITION OF THE BLESSINGS OF PLURALISM

His Highness the Aga Khan addresses the North-South Prize Ceremony in the Senate Hall of the Portuguese Parliament as His Excellency Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the President of the Republic of Portugal and President of the Assembly of the Republic, Maria Assunção Esteves look on. - Photo: AKDN/ José Manuel Boavida Caria

His Highness the Aga Khan addresses the North-South Prize Ceremony in the Senate Hall of the Portuguese Parliament as His Excellency Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the President of the Republic of Portugal and President of the Assembly of the Republic, Maria Assunção Esteves look on. – Photo: AKDN/ José Manuel Boavida Caria

As I observe the world, I am struck by the insufficiency of well-informed debate, of richer dialogue, of deeper education in our quest to avoid human conflict. That insufficiency often plagues relations between the North and the South– and increasingly between the North and the Islamic world. Some have called this a clash of civilizations—I think it is, essentially, a clash of ignorances. What it means, in any case, is that institutions such as the North-South Centre have never been more important.

A related problem is the failure of so many to recognize that pluralism is not only a growing fact of life but also a blessing for their communities—an opportunity to be welcomed rather than a threat to be feared.

Since ancient times, great cultures have thrived because of their openness to diversity, and not because of their exclusivity.

ANTONIO GUTERRES AT GLOBAL CENTRE FOR PLURALISM

It was to address this issue that the Government of Canada and I created a new Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa in 2006.

Recently the Global Centre held its Third Annual Pluralism Lecture….our guest lecturer was Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since 2005….His recent Lecture described, eloquently, the unprecedented scale and severity of the world’s refugee crises. He addressed, passionately, the moral challenge this crisis presents, the tragic impulse of some to exploit it, and the critical importance of standing together on behalf of human tolerance. I commend his words to you; they resonate powerfully with the purposes of the North-South Centre.

We inhabit an overcrowded and interconnected planet and yet we share a common destiny. A weakness or pain in one corner can rapidly transmit itself across the globe. The pervasive rejection of pluralism in all its forms plays a significant role in breeding destructive conflicts.

An example is the current situation in the Middle-East, where conflict is having a profound destabilising impact — in the region but also well beyond — including here in Europe.

TRADITIONAL VALUES AND THE GIFT OF PLURALISM

Instability is infectious, but so is hope. And that it is why it is so important for us to carry the torch of hope as we seek to share the gift of pluralism.

Pluralistic values have been articulated since ancient times. Profound expressions about our common humanity are embedded in the world’s great religious traditions, including my own. But now it is for us to re-articulate those traditions. As we do so, our support for one another can be a source of renewed and growing strength.

WHAT CAN SAVE US?

It is ironic that a sense of intensified conflict comes at a time of unprecedented breakthroughs in communication technology. At the very time that we talk more and more about global convergence, we also seem to experience more and more social divergence. The lesson it seems to me is that technologies alone will not save us– the critical variable will always be and will always lie in the disposition of human hearts and minds.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share with all of you in this experience – and in the great purposes to which it calls us.

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For complete speech and photo gallery please visit the following websites:

http://www.akdn.org
http://www.theismaili.org

For links to numerous other pieces on the Award Ceremony please click on http://www.ismailimail.wordpress.com.

For a comprehensive coverage of the speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan, please click on http://www.nanowisdoms.org.

Prince Rahim Aga Khan: How Muslims Can Harness the Creativity of Our Knowledge Society to Impact Humanity

“Unfortunately, in some parts of the Muslim world today, hostility to diverse interpretations of Islam, and lack of religious tolerance, have become chronic, and worsening, problems. Sometimes these attitudes have led to hatred and violence. At the root of the problem is an artificial notion amongst some Muslims, and other people, that there is, or could ever be, a restricted, monolithic reality called Islam.”….More

Prince Rahim Aga Khan“Without an acceptance of diversity, without the ability to harness the creativity that stems from pluralism, the very spirit of the Knowledge Society is stifled. We must encourage, I believe, that Muslims of all communities come together, working collaboratively to tap into the vast endowment of knowledge available today, and without which progress is, if not halted, at least deferred. This cannot be done in the absence of open-mindedness and tolerance” — Prince Rahim Aga Khan….More