Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 1:28 am Post subject: Prince Karim Aga Khan - A True Leader of Islam
Prince Karim Aga Khan - A True Leader of Islam
By Munir Moosa
11th July 2007 marks a landmark in the history of the Ismaili Muslim community, as this day marks the completion of the 50th year of Imamate of the leader of the Ismaili Muslim community, Prince Karim Aga Khan 1V. He is the current (49th) Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. His contribution in the field of education, medicine, architecture, social work, institution building, relief work, etc., is spectacular. He always tried to bring the positive image of Islam in front of others. His attractive personality has influenced many Muslim brothers to work for the welfare of the people. He is the direct descendant of Sir Aga Khan 111, whose contribution for the establishment of Pakistan can never be forgotten.
Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Aga Khan IV is the eldest son of Prince Aly Salman Khan and his wife, Princess Tajudowlah. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland on December 13, 1936. His brother name is Prince Amyn, and sister name is Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. The Aga Khan spent his childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, where his early education was done by private tutoring. The Aga Khan later attended the Institute le Rosey in Switzerland. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA Honors Degree in Islamic history. As a modern leader of Islam, he always tried to emphasize to improve the lives of the Muslims.
Following the death of his grandfather, Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, Prince Karim, at the age of 20, became the 49th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims on 11 July 1957.
Upon becoming the Imam, the Aga Khan stated that he intended to continue the work his grandfather had pursued in building modern institutions to improve the quality of life of the Ismaili community. The main themes that the Aga Khan emphasized are development, education, interracial harmony, and faith in religion. He elaborated on this concept in a 2006 speech in Germany stating,
"The role and responsibility of an Imam, therefore, is both to interpret the faith to the community, and also to do all within his means to improve the quality, and security of their daily lives." Throughout the early years of his Imamate, the Aga Khan continued his grandfather's work through the establishment of institutions such as the Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi in 1958, and primary and secondary schools in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda in the 1960s, The Aga Khan Hospital in Pakistan, and numerous educational institutions throughout the world. We can say that he is the leader of a common man. He is the King of the Muslim community. He always work for the betterment of the lives of the people of the third world country.
The Aga Khan has been particularly interested in the elimination of global poverty; eradication of illiteracy; the advancement of the status of women; the promotion of Islamic culture, music, art, and architecture, upgrading the economical status of the third world country, etc.
Prince Aga Khan always believes in building bridges between religions. He always tried to restore peace in the world and brought the positive image of Islam in the modern world.
In 1977, the Aga Khan established the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, a premier award recognizing excellence in architecture that encompasses contemporary design and social, historical, and environmental considerations. It is the largest architectural award in the world.
He is the founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world, which works towards social, economic, and cultural development in Asia and Africa. The establishment of the AKDN brought under the same umbrella a number of development agencies and institutions that The Aga Khan's humanitarian endeavors draw inspiration from ethics of compassion, generosity, sincerity, etc.
Few of the agencies of AKDN are as under:
Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AAKAM) Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS) Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS) Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) Aga Khan University (AKU) The University of Central Asia (UCA) Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), an affiliate of the AKDN, is responsible handling disasters. Recent example includes the massive earthquake in Pakistan, Oct 8, 2005. Prince Aga Khan team handled the prevailing problematic situation effectively.
He is also the Chairman of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, which he founded in 1977. This institute is one of the best Institutes, where different Islamic degrees programmes for our younger generations are being offered. The objective of IIS is to promote scholarship and learning of Muslim cultures and societies, historical as well as contemporary, and a better understanding of their relationship with other societies and faiths.
The Aga Khan has been recognized by several national and international organizations for his service to humanity. Few of them are as follows:
The Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has awarded him the title of His Highness on July 26, 1957. On August 12, 1957, the Sultan of Zanzibar invested the title of Brilliant Star of Zanzibar. It was his first visit to Pakistan with his wife when the President of Pakistan granted the title of Nishan-e-Imtiaz on January 15, 1970.
The World Monuments Fund honored the Aga Khan IV with its prestigious Hadrian Award for his vigorous and fruitful efforts to preserve and revitalize historic cities in Islamic world on October 28, 1996 at New York.
In 2003, he was named Knight Commander in the Order of the British Empire (KBE) "for services to international development, especially in Asia and Africa, and to UK-French relations." In 2005, he was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy, the 2005 Die Quadriga and the 2005 Vincent Scully Prize. He was also named Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada. His Highness has been awarded honorary degrees by universities in Pakistan, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He has also received numerous awards and prizes from various professional organisations in recognition of his work in architecture and the conservation of historic buildings. There are around more than 18 million followers of Prince Aga Khan throughout the world. Whatever he has done for boosting the economy of Pakistan by investing in to various sectors like hotel industry, banking, etc., are laudable. His Highness the Aga Khan donated $50-million to support rehabilitation, socio-economic development, and earthquake-preparedness in areas of the North West Frontier Province and Azad Jammu and Kashmir affected by the 8 October 2005 shock. Prince Aga Khan provided a combination of financial and technical support to the urban and rural communities in high-mountain, seismically sensitive areas in Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. There are many schools, colleges and universities in Pakistan as well, which were created by him for the development of intellects in Pakistan.
Scholars have called his community, the Shia Ismaili Muslims, the most progressive, organized, schooled and financially well-off sect within Islam.
Today, he is working all over the world to eradicate the social problems. His basic concern is of Muslim brothers and sisters, for whom he works day and night for their upliftment. He is creating a positive image of Islam globally for which we salute him.
He is truly the leader of Islam in this modern world. Wish him a very happy Golden Jubilee.
Munir Moosa Sewani is one of the famous, prominent and creative names in the field of Education since 8 years. He is a Master Trainer In Special Education, Post Graduate, Teacher Educator and a Teacher. He is a Freelance Writer and Photographer too. He is an author of the famous self-published storybook for children named as "The MORAL STORIES FOR CHILDREN" and has also written Biology course book for Secondary Classes. He has written almost more than 30 articles on social, health, educational and cultural issues, which are internationally recognized and published on most of the famous world wide websites, magazines and newspapers. He is also a Social worker, private tutor, career counselor, musician, lyrics writer and have multi- dimensional talents. His future plan is to write dozens of informative books and articles and to work for education and media too
Following is a transcript of a conversation between His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, and founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and Don Cayo of <i>The Vancouver Sun</i>. The interview took place Nov. 23 in Toronto.
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Following is a transcript of a conversation between His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, and founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and Don Cayo of The Vancouver Sun. The interview took place Nov. 23 in Toronto.
Sun: Youíve talked a lot about the failure of democracy, and you differentiate that very sharply from the failure of states. Iím interested in how you define this failure of democracy and its significance.
AK: The failure of democracy? Well, I think what weíre seeing in a number of countries is situations where the political process has moved forward and you have parliaments in place which are based on electoral processes that are more or less, often less, sound than one would want. You find governments which are not relating to parliament in a structured and creative way. You find parliaments where the quality of human resources is not what it might be. You find constitutions which are extremely difficult to interpret in practice, and where heads of state or heads of government consider it necessary to change these constitutions. And the nature of change itself is a problem.
So I think weíre going to go through a long period of search for new democratic formats in the developing world. I often give the example of Uganda with three monarchies. You say to yourself, how does a country remain a republic with three monarchies which it wants to recognize?
You have other countries where the level of authority of the provinces versus the centre becomes a major issue, and where the provinces have sought powers which the centre probably should have and doesnít have. So you get the centrifugal forces in these countries in a sense making central national thinking extremely difficult to implement.
You get the difficulty in changing legislation. Many of these countries have inherited colonial legislation in one area or the other ó particularly in, for example, education, economic institutions etc. They find it difficult to change that legislation.
Very often the background to that legislation is an attempt to control rather than to empower. So instead of the legislation coming into the public domain with the goal of enabling change, itís actually very often drafted on the premise of control and centralization.
So I think that we are going to be seeing a large number of situation ó you can think of Afghanistan, you can think of Kenya, you can think of Uganda, Eastern Europe, you see these situations all over the world. And I think it will require a lot of patience and wisdom and care to develop systems that are going to work, which do represent a consultative process which we all consider equitable and solid and good, that allow the processes of change in government to occur in an organized way, but that at the same time donít create a situation where there is tremendous volatility all the time in the environment.
Because one of the problems is volatility in the environment in which institutions are trying to develop. Thatís why yesterday, for example, I referred to the role of civil society, because civil society goes through government change. Itís not affected by these political processes.
Iím not challenging in any way the notion that these political processes are necessary. Iím simply saying I think it is important that the world look at these processes for what they are. They are difficult. They are complex. There is no historical record that you can refer to in many of these countries.
You have national forces which sometimes will play for or against regional arrangements. And these regional arrangements are becoming very, very important, because in our world there are very few micro-states that survive well. OK, you can refer to Singapore, you can refer to Hong Kong. But theyíre the exception rather than the rule.
Therefore these small states need to come together so that they can insert themselves in a wider marketplace, etc.
So thatís really what I mean by the fragility of democracy.
Sun: Iím not sure how close the parallel is with a failed market economy and a failed democracy, but I think there is some overlap. And I think in a sense itís the failure of a faux market economy and perhaps, in some cases, a failure of a faux democracy ó that there was the vigorous election, which is that great trapping of a democracy, but there werenít all of the checks and balances and messy little mechanisms that actually make it work.
AK: Without any doubt, without any doubt.
And I think the relationship between democracy and resources is a very sensitive one in the developing world. Even in the industrialized world itís sensitive, but in the third world itís even more sensitive ó who is using what resources to achieve what goal?
And if elections take place and the outcome is not what people expect or like, suddenly thereís an issue ó has democracy shown up the best? Well, thatís up to the population to decide. You canít challenge that.
So these are situations which weíre learning about.
Sun: Whatís the role of a functioning democracy like ours in terms of facilitating, fostering? What can we do beyond cross our fingers?
AK: Oh, I think you can do an enormous amount. I think you can do an enormous amount because first of all I think that you have, as far as I can tell, made a wise divide between the economics of the country and the politics of the country. You, generally speaking, have a situation where governments are concerned about the quality of the economy of the country and obviously coming out of the Soviet and the Cold War era that was very, very different.
So I think there is a respect for the notion that economic management today is a science, itís not a political football. Itís a science and it must be run as a science and not run as a political football. Thatís the first thing.
I think the second thing is that you have succeeded in creating a democratic context in which various groups feel comfortable. You have created a genuine pluralist society. And you have looked for leadership in all your groups. That leadership, which is very diverse in Canada, gives all these communities a sense of comfort that when they have a man or a woman of exceptional talent, the background is not going to come into cause. Whatís going to come into cause is the performance of the individual for society. Thatís very important.
If you look at African states or Asian states, you can see there are communities that have been totally marginalized whether they have competent individuals or not. So I think thatís a second issue which is very important.
I think the third issue is that at a certain stage national goals ó where does Canada want to be in the community of nations ó is extremely important. And it seems to me that there has been intelligent continuity in that issue, although itís debated within Canada. But the fact is that you have achieved a certain position in the world community and it is very much my hope that you will continue to sustain that position.
So thereís an awful lot to learn from Canada. And, Iíve said to my friends here, sometimes youíre just too humble.
Sun: But we canít take a cookie cutter of what weíve done and impose that on another nation. How do we facilitate the transfer of the underlying principles?
AK: Sharing knowledge. Sharing information. Building institutional capacity across frontiers, between Canada and other parts of the world. Applying Canadian principles to what you do abroad. That is a very important thing.
Itís not how Canada sees its work abroad, itís how people abroad see Canada that is the really critical issue. And I think sometimes all of us working in this part of the world have a sense of understanding of what Canadian identity means to these countries. Itís a very powerful and very singular identity, a very respected identity.
Sun: Whatís the consequence of failure to do this and whatís the potential reward of success? How far can this go?
AK: Well, the failure means having parts of the world which are causes of concern, being unable to work their way out of that situation. Because thatís really the critical issue ó how do these countries, these regions, work their way out of these difficulties? So the risk of failure is that these parts of the world will remain fragile, ill-governed, with weak economies. Internal stresses will become external stresses. They will start gaining a global dimension.
So the risk is very, very high. This is one area where I think one needs to look quite cautiously at the notion of risk management. Because risk management in foreign affairs seems to me to be one of the really necessary attitudes towards global affairs today.
The successes? The successes if you make it work are parts of the world which are unstable, are volatile, becoming more stable, more vigorous and eventually becoming competitive.
You need to accept ó I think all of us working in development need to accept ó that at certain stages these countries are going to become what are called newly industrialized countries. They will actually become competitors. But it doesnít mean competition has to be unethical or disloyal or anything of the sort. You simply create a new dimension in which relationships take place.
So I think the downside is very, very serious. And the upside is encouraging and can be achieved.
If you think of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, and you think back to the position of these countries 30 or 40 years ago and where they are today, thereís an enormous change.
Sun: The downside is really manifested sharply in a couple of countries you know very well ó Afghanistan and Iraq. And I canít imagine a Canadian who wouldnít think it would have been better to have not had all those factors that contributed to the mess thatís there today. But we have troops in Afghanistan right now, and we have to do something next week, next month, next year. We have to either leave them there, or bring them out, or do something else while stumbling towards a better solution. How do we handle those interim challenges with the things that have already gone so seriously wrong?
AK: Well, I tend to think of Afghanistan as a number of countries, not one country. I tend to think of it as a series of provinces with different ethnic backgrounds, different levels of security and peace. Therefore what seems to me very important is not only to deal with the security issue where the security issue is severe, but to continue to build and build strongly and confidently in the other areas where reconstruction is taking place.
Reconstruction has its own dynamic at a certain stage. All of us are concerned in making it self-sustaining. Once it becomes self-sustaining, it tends to grow across divides. Because people look at whatís happening next door, village to village or province to province, and they ask themselves ďCan we get there?Ē And if they say, ďCan we get there?Ē they then open immediately the question of dialogue. And that is the basis of everything. The moment you donít have dialogue, that really is the war. Itís Berlin.
Sun: Is it realistic to hope we can chip away incrementally, and if we deal effectively with the places where effectiveness is possible that success will spill over to the others?
AK: Our experience would say definitely yes, definitely yes.
There are a number of criteria. Obviously security is a key one, because development cannot take place in an environment of insecurity.
I think regionalism is another issue. Afghanistan has a very complex geographic situation with a number of countries around it which have their own interests in what happens in Afghanistan. Therefore building ó for example like weíre trying to do now in the two Badakhshans ó building regional stability which can come from outside the country into the provinces of the country is very important.
The same thing is true of the frontier with Pakistan, of course.
So I would say very, very definitely yes.
But I think oneís got to accept the notion that the tribal areas of Pakistan is a problem area which is not new. You see very often people look at that situation and they say, ďThis is a catastrophe.Ē But if you look back to history, that area in Pakistan has never been a governed area by the government of Pakistan. So what weíre talking about is gaining central control over an area of a country which was never governed. It was allowed to auto-govern itself. They have never benefited from the processes of development, and tribal forces have remained in place for decades and decades and decades. Itís one of the most frozen societies you will find.
Sun: So these are micro-states that arenít drawn on the map?
AK: Yes, yes, these are the micro-states. Or micro-regions, because theyíre really regions. Frontiers in that situation donít mean anything, people just go across Ė they walk across, they drive across, they go across on horseback or on mule. They trade across frontiers. There is no customs, no immigration, no control.
Sun: In the two other primary religions that weíre familiar with here, you donít get the same blending of the secular and the religious. Iím interested in the Muslim ethic of blending the work you do ó the involvement you have in the affairs of the world, as well as in the spiritual affairs. Can you explain it to me?
AK: Well that really is one of the issues that was part of the roots of Islam when Islam was revealed.
The Prophet himself, peace be upon him, really was an individual who looked at the quality of life, of people who were Muslims. He didnít only look at the issue of religious practice, he looked at the issues of security of his people. He looked at the issues of quality of life. He looked at the issue of poverty. He looked at the issues of marginalized groups etc. He looked at the issues of integration of communities that were not Muslim, that became Muslim.
So a lot of the things we see in the modern world in their own way were addressed at that time ó in totally different circumstances, obviously.
But the notion of intersection between faith and world actually was part of the revelation of Islam, very much so. And I think every Muslim leader, every Imam, whether heís a Sunni or a Shia, would confirm that that is the case. We donít make that divide. And indeed there are schools of thought that say that line of thought would not be acceptable in Islam.
Sun: I donít presume to know thereís religion behind what I see as a growing movement, but I do see blending of the ethical aspects of what youíre speaking of and business life in the broader society. We have the greed and all those things, but we also have huge new initiatives driven by people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Vancouver alone has two people giving a hundred million dollars each to international development. Iím interested because you seem to have pioneered this use of, if I can call it, business tools for social goals. Is that a fair description?
AK: Well, yes and no.
Let me first of all talk about the business tools and then Iíll come back to the other question.
I think for a long time there was a notion that development support, development activities, should not be measured because it was unethical to measure something which was done with a charitable attitude and all the rest. And I think since then whatís happened is that donor agencies ó government, individual organizations, the World Bank amongst others ó came to the conclusion they needed to understand what was the impact of what they were doing.
Understanding the impact doesnít mean that itís a commercial goal. Itís understanding the impact on the constituencies you want to help. If your programs of support are not doing what they should do, you need to know that. And you need to understand whatís going wrong, and you need to be able to correct it.
So you start off with, at least in a number of our programs, with a given constituency ó a regional constituency or a national constituency, or a constituency of people. And you say, ďThis is the target Iím aiming at. Is the support that Iím going to give quantifiable?Ē
Now weíre actually looking at what I would call definitions of quality of life, because we actually think that thatís changed since the original World Bank criteria. We have a whole exercise under way at the present time to try to get a better handle on perceptions of quality of life seen from communities in the developing world rather than from an institution in the industrialized world.
So point number one ó measuring doesnít mean measuring for commercial purposes. It means measuring for the purposes of doing your work better than you might otherwise. And I have no ethical discomfort with that. Indeed, that measuring is done with the local communities, because they are the ones who are the best articulators of whether youíre achieving your goals or not.
And I think one of the lessons weíve learned in this exercise is to listen ó quite simply to listen and listen and listen and listen. The moment you become deaf in development activity, youíre out of the park.
To get back to the issue of ethics, I am very, very, very pleased that there is a sense of social ethics which is coming back into parts of the world that I thought had become so materialistic that they had lost notions of ethic. That they had lost notions of the unity of humanity and the fact that you couldnít leave people, millions and millions of people at risk of ill health, of marginalization, of lack of security and these sorts of situations. I am very, very pleased to see that happen.
But itís interesting to see how this notion of ethics is not yet, in my view, strong enough in education. I think in a number of situations national curricula at the school level, maybe even at the university level, are important. Many of the institutions in the industrialized world refer to moral reasoning, so the word ďmoralĒ is in there. But at one time I thought things were really becoming just too materialistic. And I think Bill Gates and other people around him have started to reverse that whole attitude.
Sun: I see, for example, that the Canadian International Development Agency is starting to focus on some of these issues of civil society that youíve talked about frequently. But one thing that concerns me is the difficulty of measurement. If you have a program to immunize children, itís easy to know your effect ó you count the kids that got shots. But of you have a program to foster civil society, Iím not sure how you measure that and determine if youíre being effective. Iíve thought about this from the point of view of government, but obviously it must be of concern to an agency like yours as well.
AK: I agree very much. I think there are things that have to be measured with different criteria.
If you measure a healthcare program or an educational program, you can measure the degree of penetration of that program in a given constituency. What you canít measure in quantifiable terms is whether a society that was conflictual in its composition has become a pluralist society. You canít measure that.
But thatís where you get back to the notion of quality of life. Because you can measure that in terms of whether the quality of life of the individual, as seen by the individual or the community, has a sense of hope in the future that it wouldnít have had in the past.
So I think there are two levels of measurement. One is the specific measurement of what youíre doing. The other is in the much wider definition of quality of life. And thatís where weíre looking at this issue of quality of life because weíre worried about it, frankly.
Sun: Youíve spoken of how important it is to pre-empt disaster rather than to react to it. And, of course, if you pre-empt it, itís very difficult to measure what youíve avoided.
What you can do is you can look at an individual situation, and you can predict hypothetically what might happen. But thereís no proof it would have happened if you donít intervene.
The only thing you can do is you can say youíve consolidated a given part of the world so that given part of the world is no longer a high risk area. And thank God in our globe there are areas of high risk which we know about which we can identify, and we need to go and look at them and work in them.
There are other areas which donít need this sort of support. Theyíre extremely wealthy, they donít have any major material problems. But thereís such diversity of difficulty, governance is a real issue in many cases.
Sun: When you measure quality of life, is there a universal yardstick?
AK: The World Bank tried to develop a criteria. Jim Wolfensohn and I actually discussed that in great depth because we were worried when Jim was president of the bank. We were worried about how much our institutions, our programs really understood about the nature of quality of life. And he launched a major program that resulted in a book which I think was called Voices of the Poor.
Voices of the Poor was an extremely important document ó very intense, difficult to read but which repositioned the notions of quality of life as seen by populations at risk.
So I think the answer is yes, you can measure. But you have to measure with the criteria of the populations concerned. You canít apply your own criteria, because if you do apply your own criteria youíre going to get it wrong.
There are social forces in the developing world which have been there for centuries. You canít change them overnight and if you do change them overnight you create more trouble than you would otherwise.
Sun: Thereís a category of what I broadly call good works that is never going to have a pay-off. I would cite, for example, Mother Theresaís work in Calcutta. To give dignity to the poor and dying is not an economic proposition. In the Muslim ethic, in your world, is there a role for that sort of pure charity?
AK: Oh yes, very definitely.
Islam defines charity in many ways, and it doesnít in any way challenge that form of charity.
What it says is that there are areas in society where charity has to have an impact on the way people become autonomous.
There are situations such as the one youíre referring to where people probably have no alternative. It is the end of life. They are marginalized. Very often they have no family around them. These, in the Islamic faith, also are people for whom we all have an obligation.
So that category of charity is absolutely respected and recommended and sustained, particularly, for example, in the case of orphans. ďOrphansĒ is probably the major category in Islam for that sort of situation.
But then thereís the other attitude, which is to say if you can give to make an individual or institution autonomous ó give them the capacity to be masters of their own destiny ó that is referred to as the best form of charity. But obviously in the case youíre saying it wouldnít apply.
Sun: Thereís so much to do. How do you prioritize? How do you decide to tackle this wrong, but not that one today? Because you have to make choices.
AK: Well I think you have to categorize the nature of human life. So I think, in many cases, what weíre looking at is security. Weíre looking at the quality of life in terms of the security of life. Therefore we have to be looking at issues of protecting people from threat, either human threat or natural threat. Thatís obviously basic.
Youíre looking at survival, which is food. Therefore youíre looking at food independence, and trying to get to a situation where people will always be able to feed themselves. Thatís the next thing. So there are, I think from my point of view, levels of difficulty you have to address.
I think the third thing is that life is so complex, both at a given time and over time, that youíre looking at the need for multiple inputs. And you canít always tell from one decade to the next what is going to be the need for those additional inputs.
If you go back to the colonial times, for example, the notion of a cultural identity was not a powerful force in society because it was the colonial identity that we were talking about rather than the identity of individual peoples. Today, the search for identity is extremely strong and getting stronger all the time. So thatís the sort of thing where you say to yourself, ĎWell, what does that mean? Does that mean identity against somebody or other people? Or is it identity because people want to belong to a particular community?í
So you then have to start asking yourself what are the consequences of doing that? What you try to do is make sure that if there is a search for identity it is within a pluralist context. [And] if it can be a development support, then thatís better because using cultural assets for economic development is a desirable goal.
So, frankly, I think thatís an issue of time. Itís not an issue of being able to say in 1960, I know what Iím going to have to do in 2010. Honestly, I donít know that.
What I have to do is try and listen and learn and evaluate the forces at play and that changes over time. And thank God it does change over time.
Sun: You mentioned standing up for Canadian values, and I think certainly your own agency stands up for the values that are important to your religion. It strikes me that sometimes these conflict with local cultures and values. Take the position of women ó a lot of societies in various parts of the world have historically marginalized women. The development I favour, and you do, does not marginalize women. In fact, itís the opposite. Is this a conflict with the existing culture?
AK: It can be, it can be. And it is changing.
Itís changing slowly because, I think, there is an undercurrent in some parts of the world of threat. I donít necessarily understand it myself, but I think there is a sense of discomfort. There are societies, for example, where the educated woman will not find a husband because sheís educated.
So you need to be very, very careful in handling these things, because they can be a real boomerang if you get them wrong.
I think it is a process of change. I think itís also a social issue. In many countries that I know, women do certain tasks and men do other tasks. Thatís a traditional outcome of the economics of society. In rural communities the role of the woman is very, very different from urban communities, obviously. So there are a lot of criteria there and itís a difficult problem. But itís one that needs to be handled with immense care.
Sun: Should development agencies draw a line in the sand and say, ďFor these things we will not bendĒ? Is there a list of things that shouldnít bend to the local cultural preferences?
AK: Yes, I think there are things one would like to see changed. But itís not the issue of whether you want to see them changed, itís a question of how you change them and the timeframe and the methods you use to do that.
You can handle it with tact and a sense of respect for traditions. You can allow society the time to make those changes. Or you can try to impose them.
But if you do try to impose them, you very, very often, as I said, get a very uncomfortable reaction.
You know itís not just in issues such as this where weíre talking about the role of women. Look at the de-socialization of the ex-communist countries. Look at how long itís taken to change peopleís attitudes to individual initiative, to the management or otherwise of individual wealth versus state rights.
You donít change the psyche of societies overnight. It canít be done. And if you try to do it, you create very, very great discomfort.
So thatís where the notion of time comes in.
Sun: Do you have a sense of how long it will take to essentially deal with mass poverty if we get the policies and the approaches right? What kind of time-frame would we be talking in the best of all worlds?
AK: Fifteen to 25 years, something of that time-frame. And youíll never get to the absolute bottom of it. Thatís not realistic. What you will be able to do is reduce it to a level where you know that going further than that is simply not part of human society. There are always going to be people who are marginalized.
Sun: I differentiate between poverty, which we have everywhere, and mass poverty, which is a different phenomenon that we really donít know here in North America.
AK: Well mass poverty. Iím thinking of food self-sufficiency. Iím thinking of shelter. Iím thinking of access to basic healthcare. Iím thinking of those sorts of things. Thatís what Iím talking about when I say 15 to 25 years.
Because weíre worried about another form of poverty, which is lack of access. Weíre beginning to sense the lack of access in society for the ultra-poor is one of the things that defines poverty from one generation to the next. People simply donít have access to the social support systems that a normal individual would have. Therefore itís not only material poverty, itís actually quality of life poverty, and that is a dramatic situation.
Sun: I think Iíve also seen what I would also call poverty of aspiration ó people who donít know life could or should be better. And sometimes that leapfrogs into aspirations that are way beyond obtainable. So I donít know how you deal with managing aspirations or building them in realistic ways.
AK: I think youíre right. The process of development does create new aspirations. And very often it has a backlash also. Because what it does is, it changes the nature of social structures. Traditional authority tends to be challenged. New forms of knowledge are resisted because they change society, so in that sense youíre absolutely right.
When these new forces come to play you very often get reactions which stymie that. And then the question is what do you do about it?
I think in our experience itís been essentially generational. Itís gender and generation ó those are the two things that condition those processes of change.
Sun: And youíve found these can evolve in a realistic way?
AK: They can evolve, but you have to be patient. You have to let time play its role. You cannot force change in society. Itís been tried, letís be frank about it. But Iím not sure itís been very successful.
Sun: Youíve become in many ways a bridge between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world. Can we talk about the relationships between those two large groups, and the difficulties and the prospects for improvement?
AK: I think there are real prospects for improvement. But I think itís a question of the two groups knowing each other better than they do at the present time, because if you donít know the people youíre talking to and you donít really understand the forces that are at play you cannot predict. You cannot look for areas of dialogue, and you cannot avoid areas where dialogue becomes impossible. So I think the first issue is what I would call the gulf or the crisis of ignorance, the clash of ignorance.
This ignorance is a source of very, very serious problems.
You can see it in Iraq. Frankly, much of the post-invasion of Iraq, many of the issues, were entirely predictable, Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim leaders would have told the Western world exactly what to expect when Saddam Hussein was eliminated.
Thatís the sort of situation where predictability is absolutely critical. Because the single step of eliminating a regime is one thing, but then you live with the consequences. And you really have to think through very carefully the consequences of doing a thing like that. Certainly, from my point of view, that was a big, big, big failure.
So I would say the first thing is to understand the complexities of the Muslim world. The individualities of the communities in the Muslim world. The differences of interpretation of faith in the Muslim world. The relationship between faith and state, which is very, very sensitive in the Muslim world and where you see many, many formulae today which you no longer know in the Western world. Those formulae arenít present in the Western world any more ó thatís gone ó [but] theyíre still very present in the Islamic world.
Sun: When I look at the Western perceptions of freedom, which we value highly, I sometimes think we interpret it as the whole world should be free to be like us. Is that how we are seen from the other perspectives?
AK: I think thatís certainly one aspect ó the feeling that the societies of the industrialized world are always right, and therefore what they get right should be the norm for everybody else. I think there are areas where we donít agree with that.
We think freedom is important, of course. But we think that freedom really is not something that one has to take in the absolute. There is abuse of freedom. And when freedom is abused, what does it become?
Sun: License, I guess.
AK: Exactly. And thatís where parts of our world say ďStop!Ē
That boundary between freedom and the abuse of freedom is something which is driven by so many different notions of thought, faith, society, the whole thing.
Sun: But that comes into play in a large way as an impediment at times to the pluralism that you work so hard to foster.
AK: If pluralism means abuse of faith, I would agree with that. I think thatís something we would not want to see.
But Iím seeing a reaction. I may be wrong, but you mention the recurrence of ethics in Western society. Western society has its own means of correcting itself, and I think Western society is in the process of looking at that very, very great problem. Look whatís happening in the Anglican Church; look whatís happening in the Catholic Church. Faith institutions are dealing with very, very severe problems of freedom and abuse of freedom.
Sun: In Canada I think some of our success is the comfortable tolerance of letting people set different standards for themselves. So, yes, some people may choose license and other people choose some realistic guidelines, if you like, to exercise their freedom. Is that what you see as the goal for the broader society. or is it a little different from that?
AK: Well I think itís difficult to impose a firm line. But I think that when you look at history, the history of humankind, you will find that when freedoms have become license, society tends to disaggregate. And I think that what weíre seeing in the Western world is that very issue on the table, and a reversal. I think there is a reversal under way.
Freedom doesnít mean that if you want to abuse that freedom, whatever it is, you legitimize or impose that on others.
Sun: The clash of ignorance that you mentioned ó how are we dealing with that? Or are we dealing with it? Are, first of all, Western countries and institutions making any inroads to deal with our side of that problem?
AK: Yes, you are. You are.
A number of forces are at play. Your educational institutions are recognizing the fact that they óquite logically, itís not criticism ó were born in a Judeo-Christian society or Judeo-Christian environment. That environment had nothing to do with the Islamic world ó it wasnít even aware of it at the time that these institutions came into existence. So I donít think itís up to us to turn round and point fingers. I donít like that attitude at all.
What I do think is that these institutions must accept the fact weíre living in a different world, and the definition of an educated person today will be different from an educated person 100 years ago in Judeo-Christian society. So, fine, we have to encourage a better understanding, a better knowledge, of whatís happening.
What I would hope, however, is that the opening of this knowledge domain is not aimed at sustaining a particular attitude or interpretation of faith or culture from the Islamic world. The Islamic world is very, very pluralist and, to me, what is important is that the industrialized world should understand that pluralism.
There are so many forces at play that tend to make that difficult for you. First of all, you refer to the Muslim world ó have you ever heard a Muslim refer to the Christian world?
Sun: No, perhaps not.
AK: So right there you have an amazing difference in attitude.
Sun: But I do hear references to the Western world.
AK: Ah, but thatís geographic. Thatís not faith driven.
Sun: But itís also cultural. We have something of a common culture and it is based on those Judeo-Christian traditions.
AK: Yes. But we donít refer to the faith of the West, whereas in our case youíre referring to our faith.
Sun: But your faith does encompass both sides of the secular.
AK: Yes, and much of the Muslim world has wanted that. But that desire has been not only driven by faith, itís been very often driven by political issues.
Sun: How about on the other side of the divide? Are there similar encouraging steps to understand our side?
AK: Yes. Yes, I think there is. And I think there is a desire to access knowledge from your world to improve quality of life. I think thereís some diffidence, thatís the right word, that if you open those doors too wide youíll get the good, the bad and the indifferent. So the diffidence tends to reflect itself in saying, ďCan I take whatís best and stop what we donít like?Ē Iím not sure thatís very easy. I donít think so.
But I think that we, on the other hand, have to tell you what weíre worried about. Itís the lack of confidence of expressing the issues. Because very often if we express issues, people look at us and say, ďHow can that be an issue for you?Ē But it is an issue.
Sun: If I can go back to the broad question of whatís wrong with the world and how to fix it. . . .
AK: Thatís a terrible question to ask anybody!
Sun: And this is a terribly hard question Iím going to ask now. But if you look at what your hopes are for the world, and what your expectations are, how far apart are they?
AK: Well theyíre closer together than they were in 1957. Very much closer, very much closer.
The world I became involved in 1957 was a very, very difficult world to work in, and the forces at play there were dramatic. Frankly, thatís all changed significantly. And I think that if you look at the developing world ó Iíve said to the leaders of the community very often ó our concern in terms of the institution is that the areas of the world weíre involved in should become areas of opportunity.
Thatís the basic goal, is to make all these areas, areas of opportunity where people can have hope and confidence in improving quality of life with all the complexity that that is. That may be naÔve; I hope itís not.
Sun: It strikes me the success of your community in Canada is really the poster child, if you like, for Canadian immigration policy. Has it been as smooth an integration as I see from the outside?
AK: It has. It has been a remarkably smooth integration, one of the reasons being, I think, that thereís been complete openness over the issues on both sides. The original discussions that I had with Prime Minister Trudeau were very, very clear as to why he felt that Canada should welcome members of my community [and] why I wanted them to come to Canada. And that foundation has continued in time, and it has been built upon in a very significant way.
So I think it has been a good process. I understand the government has actually asked us to illustrate to them what we have been able to do on our side to make the process easier and more functional because they wanted to use some of our experiences as case study situations for other communities.
Sun: Thatís interesting. Because if you look at subsequent communities that have come under difficult circumstances, I donít know if there are any success to this degree, and some are troubling.
AK: Well there are a number of issues obviously that helped. The fact that the community had English as a language was, I think, a great facilitator, because when these communities came into Canada they were able to communicate very, very early on in the language of the country. So I think that was important. I think basic levels of education were important because people came in to Canada who already had a basic quality of education, although they came from Africa and other areas.
Where you get communities that are neither English-speaking and have no educational base whatsoever, or are essentially rural communities, then that must become more difficult.
Sun: One thing astonishes me when I look at many other groups whoíve left homelands under difficult conditions. They often look back with anger, with bitterness, with resentment which sometimes lasts for generations. You guys go back and help out!
AK: As I told you, our hope is that these countries will become countries of opportunity, and weíve lived through some pretty difficult situations.
Sun: But is it the faith? Is it a plan? Is it a policy? What has allowed or fostered that sort of graciousness in your community, to look back not with anger and resentment?
AK: In a funny way I think many of the countries we have lived in have gone through a maturing process. They are coming out of a historical context which was theirs, and then they come into a new context and they move forward and they donít necessarily understand when they get things wrong.
Look at Africa and look at the 60s and look at the one-party states and all of that. Look at the consequences of the Cold War on countries like Uganda and Tanzania, and you say to yourself, ďWhat did the heads of state really have to choose from?Ē The West? The East? Or non-alignment? Thatís all they had. They had to fall into one of those three categories. Thatís not freedom. . .
I donít think [our] communities [now] should envisage leaving these countries. You see, thatís one of the reasons why weíre concerned about where theyíre going.
If you look at the Ismaili community ó or in any other community thatís as diverse as this ó itís unrealistic to expect it. Hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to move from a country like Pakistan or India or Afghanistan to the West. Thatís not realistic, and therefore we are actually committed to try to improve what happens there.
If it takes five years or 10 years, we just have to try and make sure itís as good as possible and as quick as possible. But we canít change the historic demography of the community. It is what it is.
There is more mobility, but what weíre really excited about is mobility of knowledge. Thatís the thing weíre really excited about.
If you go back to 1957 the possibilities we had for mobility of knowledge were just about zero.
When my grandfather died, I think there were probably 10 members of the community who lived in the UK. There was no-one in Canada, no-one in the US. Now these communities are trampolines of knowledge, of service, which are absolutely amazing.
So that mobility of knowledge is fantastic ó and itís not one way. We can bring people from the developing world in to the Judeo-Christian world to try to help the Judeo-Christian world to do things it couldnít do otherwise. Our centre in London, the ISMC (Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations) ó these are fora.
Weíre not going to change things overnight. Itís going to take time. But I think we have to try and ring-fence risk at the present time, which means identifying the areas of risk and trying to do something about it. Not easy.
But whatís very encouraging from my point of view is that this identification of risk is something I can talk to Western governments about.
An important thing is looking forward across time, rather than being in a reactive mode. The reactive mode is a tremendous liability. Being in an anticipatory mode changes the whole nature of things, and the longer you have to change things, the better chance you have of making it work.
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