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Inter-faith dialogue and the Imam of Ismailis -Article

By Islamuddin

The events of 9/11 and its aftermath have created a pressing need for interfaith dialogue to ensure global peace and common ownership of our mother earth. Unfortunately the Muslim world has no single voice to represent it in the negotiation table, It was because of this reason that Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, while leading a delegation of the Khilafat Movement made an emotional appeal to the then British Prime Minister, Lloyed George to save the Turkish Khilafat as it represented the unity of the majority Islam ie the Sunni sect. If this symbol of unity was abolished, there would be no one left with whom other faiths would talk to evolve common grounds to solve common problems. Other members of the delegation were astonished that His Highness was supporting an institution which had adversarial relationship with his predecessors.

According to Aga Khan it was no time to renew wounds. It was time for healing and unity to save Muslims. Brothers can have differences at home but if it comes to common enemy or common causes they should be one. How true and prophetic were these words that the Muslim world has yet to realize. Our prejudices and historical hangovers still cloud our memory and block our mind to recall the golden words of His Highness which he expressed as President of the League of Nations while welcoming Egypt to its membership. A leading Indian Muslim intellectual, Mushir Hussain Kidwai, lauded the speech of His Highness saying that only the Aga Khan could have uttered those words in the defense of Islam because the blood of the Prophet’s family ran through his veins. After the speech Muslim delegates raised their heads high. The speech followed a recitation from the Holy Quran, the first in the history of international organizations.

The present Aga Khan being heir to that glorious tradition is silently carrying forward that work almost single handedly. Even his followers are incapable of appreciating this work to extend him helping hand in a meaningful way. They consider it as an activity and are unable to see the link between the process and its outcome in the historical or present context. Perhaps they do not have the mindset and exposure to those historical facts that make Ismailis the most unique sect for having given unprecedented sacrifices to preserve those values of our great religion that we today take for granted.

Since 9/11 Islam has entered its most critical and defining age. Most of us are angry and hold others responsible for our plight and are out to take revenge, which at times borders on suicidal course. Others are hiding their heads in the sand saying that they are neutral. Instead of benefiting from the knowledge and resources of the West as common heritage we are creating enemy psychosis and are forgetting the lessons of the peace accord at Hudaibiya. In this age of madness the Aga Khan’s happens to be the only voice of sanity. He is establishing Islamic Centres in key locations around the world and is engaging scholars from all faiths to come together to forge unity on common issues and meet threats facing human race particularly the world of Islam and its future on this planet. He is establishing institutions to transfer knowledge and leap frocking opportunities for Muslims. By doing so he has emerged as Imam of humanity and the sane voice of Islam and its most acceptable face for other faiths. If his so-called followers do not have the capacity to lend him the helping hand, should others not come forward and support him in this gigantic task? Are they still not capable of rising above their prejudices and hangovers to recognize and accept the realities of today? Do they know that past is another country, present belongs to them and future may never come? Let us come out of our petty mindedness and narcicism and value critical friendship. The level of our mental bankruptcy was amply exposed during the recent debate on my article about the working of Ismaili institutions. We still have a long way to go before we are able to value diversity and pluralism that His Highness so ardently advocates. If his professed followers lack in this quality what can be said about others.

Will the efforts of His Highness to promote inter-faith harmony go waste because his followers are incapable of understanding and implementing his vision and other Muslim sects are locked up in their own version of history and refuse to accept the contributions of Aga Khan for the world of Islam and the Sub-Continent as President of the League of Nations and All India Muslim League, the second position was taken over by his spiritual follower later on ? My answer to this question is a big No. His so-called followers and detractors will be consigned to the dustbin of history and from their ashes would rise the true version of Islam that would unite humanity and usher in global peace in line with the literal meaning of the word 'Islam' (peace) and that resurgence shall be led by the Prophet's progeny.

We believe that Islam is a way of life which stands for diversity and pluralism. His Highness stands for these cherished goals and he is bound to succeed with help or no help from his followers or other Muslim sects. A great majority of human race values his efforts and supports him. If we do not want to share in the glory of his success it would be our own misfortune. We have already forfeited our claim to be his worthy followers, as has been borne out by the writings on these pages, what difference would it make when we are counted out in the final equation. After all Allah blesses those who want to be blessed and those on the suicidal course are bound to end up in ignominy. It is not too late yet. Every one of us should contribute in the inter-faith dialogue first by being transparent about ourselves, admitting our mistakes, asking for forgiveness and making corrections. In this information age nothing can be hidden. A building can never be raised on false foundation nor can it survive. If we do not have the capacity to contribute in the efforts of the Prophet’s progeny to project the true image of Islam and promote inter-faith harmony, we have no right to hamper these efforts for mundane things. The history of Muslim sects including Ismailis is replete with examples of sorts testifying to their successes and failures to understand the true mission of Islam and the resultant rewards and punishments must be pondered over to draw lessons. Human life and survival on this planet is too serious a business than many of us understand. The mission of Allah's last prophet is bound to be fulfilled because that is Allah's promise. Sooner than later the West itself would realize it and His Highness is doing just that.



Garam Chashma, Chitral,

22 May 2010.




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