Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.


Wednesday, 1950, February 8
Aga Khan III Sultan Muhammad Shah
Aga Khan III (H.H. Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah


True Islam was and is dynamic and not static. Do not look to the third century of Islamic History but to the first.

H.R.H. Prince Aga Khan addressed the members of Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Wednesday 8th February 1950 on the spacious lawns of H.E. Dr. Zahid Hussein’s residence, when H.E. Governor General Mr. Ghulam Mohammad, the then Finance Minister, Mr. Hatim Alavi, Mr Tamizuddin Kahan, President of the Constituent Assembly, H.E. Khwaja Shahabuddin,Governor N.W.F.P., H.E. Mr John Oldham, Australian High Commissioner, Mr AbdurRahman Siddiqi, Ex- Mayor of Calcutta, Professor A.B.A. Haleem, Vice-Chancellor of Karachi University, Dr. P.H. Hoodbhoy, President Ismailia Association Pakistan, and other distinguished citizens of Karachi were present.

“The importance of the position of Pakistan as an independent Muslim State cannot be fully understood nor the fundamental issues before her in the future, unless certain historical facts are realized and their consequences courageously faced. Incredible as it may seem, there has not been before Pakistan a really independent Muslim State since about 1750, i.e., the last 200 years. No doubt the Moghul Empire nominally existed and its autonomous Subas that had become in fact States, had a certain form of national independence but one and all were in a precarious position vis-à-vis- the expanding colonial forces of Europe as represented by England and France. Nor had they such prestige and popularity amongst their subjects as to give them that self- assurance and self-reliance without which outside dangers cannot be faced.

Turkey then had a vast and potentially powerful Empire which had gradually become so weak in relation to Russia, Austria, England and France that already at that period and much more so as time went on, her very existence depended on the mutual jealousies of Christendom. In the 19th century she was known as the ‘sick man’ of Europe and Asia. Province after province including Muslim Egypt was lost. Her Government’s policy both externally and internally was one long struggle against total collapse and to save what she could from day to day. Iran after Nadirshah had been so weakened by internal divisions and intellectual decay and had also fallen like Turkey to dependence on European jealously for her survival.

The same was true of Morocco and North Africa generally. The vast African and Asian Dominions of Sultan of Muscat were just British protectorates. Though since the time of Ahmed Shah Abdali an Afghan National State Existed. It too owed her independence to the policies of her neighbours rather than to her strength. None of these Muslim States had the national population sufficiently important to stand up against European encroachment.

On paper, Turkey, indeed, did possess a powerful Empire. But its internal, racial and religious divisions and sub-divisions rendered her a comparatively easy
prey to the ambitions of her avowed and secret enemies. I think this is a fair picture of the world of Islam from the middle of the 18th century till our own times. But there are natural forces greater than the wisdom of the West.

Pride and folly are often fellow travellers. The enmity of England and Germany brought about in the 20th century a new world in which the birth of a truly independent Muslim State with all the advantages that can give a nation trust in her own destiny was made possible.

That mighty infant is the Pakistan of to-day.

As a member of the commonwealth which I, for one, hope in her own interests she will remain, she belongs to a confederation that is not limited to what was once known as the British Empire, but includes inevitably the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America and behind her sooner or later the rest of the new world. The days of foreign intervention and inter-ference are gone. Her numbers, her resources, her geographical position, the fundamental unity of her population in sentimental aspirations give Pakistan all the advantages, which the Muslim world lost some200 years ago.

The prospect is indeed attractive and we should have every confidence in the future but destiny as represented in history must be understood and its dangers avoided. There were other Muslim independent states in the past with even far greater might than Pakistan can ever have and then gradually degenerated to utter helplessness

in the 10th century. What was the cause?

Our critics of the West and the East alike maintain that Islamic society carried with it by its static character the germs of decay and death. According to them the disease is congenital and not acquired. Easy optimism and just ostrich like disregarding the lessons of the pastis to play into the hands of our enemies, secret and open.

The soul of our Nation is ultimately more important than its other resources. I have long pondered over the causes of the downfall of the Muslim Empires and am convinced that the disease was acquired and was not congenital. Just as in the life of the individual, thedifferences between youth, health and vigour and old age and illness is ultimately adaptability to the changes brought about by environment, so no society that allows its spirit to be limited by convention and custom can have that dynamic quality without which society and later the State will decay.

Ladies and Gentlemen, believe me, true Islam was and is dynamic and not static. It was dynamic, simple clear during the the glorious Omaiyyad period when the foundations of Islam were laid wide and deep. So wide and deep that in spite of all its later weaknesses, it survived the terrible Mongolian invasions and the far more terrible enmity of Europe later. Ladies and Gentlemen, ask your historians, ask your thinkers to concentrate on that glorious 100 years of Omaiyyad rule and take that for example with its simple faith and open mind,with its dynamic qualities without scholasticism and its legal servitudes. Muslim histories were mostly written by their enemies under the Abbasides and yet with all its bitter prejudices, they cannot help glorifying not in words but by facts that period of simple faith and activity. Some of the very greatest of Muslim saints like the Khalifa Umar Ibne Abdul Aziz, the greater Hassan Basri,
the Spanish ruler Hisham Ibne Abdur-Rahman, brilliant saints of Islam, were the children of that period. Unfortunately, it fell and with it the certainty of the Isla-
misation of Europe and with it of the world.

While Damascus looked to the open world through the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Baghdad was land bound. History’s lesson, the supremacy of water over land was lost to the Muslim world. It is now a well-known fact that the small isolated Muslims of Spain did actually sail to the new world and the Cape of Good Hope but when they returned home, the then weak and isolated Muslim Spain without help from Asia and North Africa had not the resources behind it to complete the work of the sailors as Christian Spain and Portugal did a century later.

With the fall of Damascus, Baghdad became the centre of Islam. The very people whose Mobeds and Dasturs by narrowness and verbal and legal squabbles had weakened and destroyed first the Faith of Zoroaster and then the empire of Iran, took the helm of Islam and played the same disastrous part over again.

Two simple examples may be quoted. The free social and intellectual part played in the life of Arabia by Imam Hussain’s daughter, Sakina, and by the daughter of Talha and the great grand daughters of Khalifa Abu Baker can be contrasted with the position of women in the 19th century. Again, we know what high standard of music and art had been attained in Mecca and Medina as early as the Khilafat of the early Omaiyyads and compare it with the disdain with which art is looked upon by some misguided Muslims today.

When mind and spirit in the people are bowed down and limited by subtleties and reservations by turning every custom into law as in Magian Persia as the Mobeds and Dasturs had done in Iran, downfall was only a question of time. The Muslim world was so handicapped in Baghdad that in spite of its advance in science and philosophy from its very nature, could not go forward as Europe did two or three centuries later from the same science and philosophy acquired from the Muslims.

You have many problems in this country, economic, military and scientific. I am sure you will overcome your material difficulties but be careful of the soul and the spirit of the people. Do not look to the third century of Islamic history but to the first.

The late Syed Amir Ali rendered many great services to Islam. His book, “The Spirit of Islam” is a great Monument but as I often told him, his greatest service was a small concise explanation of Islam which he published and which has now been forgotten. I wish the people of Pakistan could find it again and make it a compulsory subject in religious training in all Muslim schools whatever the sect or sub-division. Take care of all your resources but the greatest of all resources is the mind and spirit of man.

And finally the fact must be faced that there is either an open or hidden clash between the conservative and the progressive elements in Muslim society. In Turkey this clash had led to a secular state. In Egypt it is there between the Ikhwan and the Governing classes. It threatens itself in the opposition between the so-called Darul-Islam and the responsible Government in Indonesia. Thank God it is not in Pakistan. But unless a healthy middle way such as existed in the first century is found, the ship may be on the rocks again. Pious Muslim thinkers who face realities in Egypt, North Africa and Iran know all about it. I hope and pray that it may be the destiny of Pakistan whose creator Quaid-e-Azam was essentially a modern man to bring about this spiritual and intellectual unity.

Here and now and by not only its example but its mediation and influence prevent it ever again from leading to final break as it did in Turkey, in any other Muslim state and society. With this prayer I wish you every success both in the material, intellectual and the spiritual world.”

Back to top