Conflict resolution: The sagacity of Aga Khan III and his grandson Aga Khan IV
26 March, 2017
In my last article about the migrant situation in Germany, I had concluded by regretting the lack of statesmen who can lead people on the path of co-operation, rather than that of confrontation. Reading the biographies of Aga Khan III and the present Aga Khan IV, one can only marvel at their sagacity in matters of peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Aga Khans are the dynastic Imams of the Nizari Ismaili (Khoja) community. This community is mostly spread over the Indian subcontinent and Africa. Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III was the 48th Imam of the Ismailis (1885 – 1957). After his installation as the Imam, he travelled all over the world meeting his flock. During these visits his objective was of giving them a sense of direction in keeping with the changing times, or of settling differences or of advancing their welfare. He placed great emphasis on education of the girl child. Most of the members of the community are in business and he was concerned that they should not be looked upon as exploiters by the local Africans. Riots against Indians were quite common in Africa those days.
He directed his followers to run their businesses in such a manner, that the local populace saw visible proof that they were benefitting from presence of these 'outsiders'. Apart from setting up various charitable organizations and schools, the most important 'fatwa' was – 'Never start businesses without a local partner!' Fruits of business must be shared with the locals.
While addressing the Indians in Natal, South Africa in 1945 he said, "First of all and by far the most important, let there never be any question of Hindu and Muslim in South Africa. The Hindu and Muslim difficulties and squabbles and differences in India, are not articles for export. Here, once and for all, you are all in the same boat. You will sink or swim together and for goodness sake, do not allow questions of religion or geography ever to disunite the Natal Indian Congress."
Grandson Prince Shah Karim, Aga Khan IV:
Aga Khan III was disturbed by the wayward ways of his son, Prince Ali Khan. So he decided to supersede his son and willed that after him, his grandson Prince Shah Karim would be the 49th Imam. When he died in 1957, grandson Prince Shah Karim was 20 years old and studying at Harvard. Shah Karim was installed as the 49th Imam and he also continued to study for two more years to obtain his degree.
As the young Imam, he also had to visit different countries to meet his followers. The Khoja community of Nairobi worked out elaborate arrangements for welcoming the new Imam, right up to rolling the red carpet up to the aircraft. Then came a hitch! The welcome committee had to choose a set of prayers to be recited at the tarmac by a group of children. The elders squabbled about which set of prayers should be recited. Eventually, two contending groups emerged, with two different sets of prayers. Finally, a mediator advised that the choice of prayers be left to the young Imam. On his arrival, the two sets of prayers were given to him to choose. Knowing, that one of the groups would be disappointed he asked, "Who will recite the prayers?" "These children," he was told. He called a child and clutched the two lists in his fists, and asked the child, to choose one of the fists. Those prayers were recited. No one was hurt or disappointed! From a 20-year-old new Imam, who was still studying, this was amazing and a lesson for others on conflict management!
The biographies of both the Aga Khans are replete with remarkable examples of intelligence, wit and humour.
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