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Aga Khan defines role of Islamic bodies

July 11, 2017

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THE Aga Khan reviews a piece of Iranian art at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada. Opened in 2014, the museum aims to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilisations have made to world heritage.—AKDN / Gary Otte
THE Aga Khan reviews a piece of Iranian art at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada. Opened in 2014, the museum aims to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilisations have made to world heritage.—AKDN / Gary Otte

RELIGIOUS institutions in the Islamic world should try to improve the quality of life of Muslims as well as of other groups with whom they live, Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Shias, said in an interview with Dawn on the eve of diamond jubilee celebrations of his inheritance of the leadership of the community.

He laid out “the parameters within which religious institutions in the Muslim world can work”, outlining the need to “use material resources for the fulfillment of these objectives obligated by the Muslim faith”.

For the jubilee year, the Aga Khan said he hoped to lead his community to “identify various resources in the civil society in the countries in which [they] are engaged and support them in their mandate.”

He expanded on the mandate and explained that the goal was to continue working towards “improving quality of life, eliminating unfairness, fraud, and giving families the opportunity to think that their future generations can live in an improved society.”

“We need to accept today that any institution, any country, which has a pocket of weakness, is an institution or a country at risk”, the Aga Khan observed, adding that “we need to concentrate on eliminating the risk and the damage they have done to these countries”.

He stressed that the basis we should be using to evaluate development initiatives is “public good”, for as long as we do that “we should be on the right side of logic.”

In this regard, the Aga Khan was critical of the whole banking system that is “directed towards the notion of profit rather than the notion of social support.”

Speaking about South Asia, he said that the “financial institutions ought to be a great deal more open to social support needs.” For example, “is micro credit doing the job that people hoped it would be doing?” he asked.

vg“My view is no, it’s not, because micro credit helps certain demographics but it doesn’t affect the whole of the economy of a given country.”

Above all, however, the “major threat” facing South Asia and much of the developing world is climate change, which needs to be “looked at with great care to address the particular causes of the situation.” Addressing climate change and providing access to economic resources have to be part of the plan to alleviate poverty, which has to be the “first priority for South Asia.”

Climate change is directly linked to the “quality of life,” especially “in the developing world” where there are a “number of situations where there’s not sufficient sustenance for ensuring an acceptable quality of life.”

The Aga Khan said that his “sense is that there has been very little global thinking about how we deal with issues of pollution, water availability, issues of unstable earth — all issues that are, in a sense, predictable.”

He said that he has “been more than worried about situations where everybody, local populations, knew and have known for decades that they were living in high risk, but nothing was done about it.”

An equally integral component of the Aga Khan’s mandate is pluralism. He emphasised the fact that the societies where his institutions work are “pluralistic and they have been pluralistic for many, many centuries.”

He deplored the various “forces at play which have tended to separate these societies in separate ethnic and religious groups.”

Asked as to what role can Islam play in promoting social peace, especially in a region like South Asia, the Aga Khan was unequivocal: “Social ethic is a strong principle in Islam and I think that Muslims would be well advised to respect that as a fundamental ethic of our faith and to live by that, which means that we have to be what I would call an empathetic society, a welcoming society, peaceful society, a generous society.”

Commenting on the situation of Muslims in the West, the Aga Khan advised that it’s “absolutely incorrect to try to move Islam out of the context of global monotheism,” since “Islam is an Abrahamic faith, it’s a monotheistic faith and most of the principles of Islam equate with the principle of other major global monotheistic faiths.”

In his final remarks, the 80-year-old vowed that his institutions and partners would keep working to find “solid solutions” to the problems he highlighted. The diamond jubilee, he said, is a “remarkable oppor­­tunity to come together” to achieve these goals.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2017