[I]f there has been violent reaction against the West in some of the Muslim countries, the reason is to be found in the attitude and behaviour of the Westerners, their ignorance and want of respect for the faith and culture of Islam, of which the reference to that faith in your leading article is a typical and usual example…. [I]f the Atlantic nations and the West generally wants better relationship with the Muslims, the solution lies in their own hands, and this can be done only if they change their mental attitude and cultivate better understanding of the Muslims’ material needs and loyal recognition of the high quality of their national culture and the purity of their faith.

When The Times of London made unfair allegations against Islam and the Muslims in a leading article on 22 October 1951, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III sent a spirited reply which was published in The Times 6 November 1951 issue.

In your leading article of October 22 under the heading “The Middle East” you have stated that “in the Muslim countries the second tendency (a violent reaction against the West) is exaggerated by an intolerant religion which teaches the duty as shunning foreign influences.” This sweeping generalisation, not only against Muslims but against their faith and Islam itself, is both untrue and unfair, and, indeed, shows a lamentable dearth of knowledge regarding Islam and its legal and religious principles, even among leading writers of the leading journals of the West.

Even a little knowledge of Islam will show that its religion is not only tolerant of other faiths, but most respectful, and, indeed, fully accepts the divine inspiration of all theistic faiths that came before Islam. It does not only teach tolerance to its followers, but goes a step further and enjoins on them all to create the godly quality of Hilm, that is, tolerance, forbearance, patience, calmness, and forgiveness. It is due to the spirit of tolerance of Islam that even the smallest Christian and Jewish minorities survived and kept all their doctrines during the thousand years of Muslim rule. Nothing like what happened to Muslims in Spain after the Christian conquest has ever happened to a non-Muslim faith in any Islamic dominion.

How can Europeans be so ignorant as to have forgotten that in the first century of Islam the Khalifas ordered that all that was best in Greek and Roman cultures should be assimilated …

How can Europeans be so ignorant as to have forgotten that in the first century of Islam the Khalifas ordered that all that was best in Greek and Roman cultures should be assimilated; that not only the philosophy, medicine, and science of Greece but its poetry and drama were carefully translated into Arabic and were generally sought not only by the learned but also by the pious?

The Muslim attitude towards the absorption of ideas was based on the principle of Islam which enjoins to acquire knowledge wherever available, and there is a well-known and authentic saying of the Prophet that “his followers should seek learning even if they have to go to China.” Islam, by its geographical position, suffered the terrible Mongol invasions one after the other, just at the time when it was weakened by the long and immense efforts with which it had mastered the many successive crusades. It should not be forgotten that the Tartar invasions came one generation after the other. In fact, in the interest of the universal unification of mankind the Qur’an ignores the minor differences and says: “Come, let us unite to what is common to us all”, which obviously encourages Muslims to assimilate ideas and even customs from others.

It is, of course, true that Muslim countries, like modern European races, have acquired in this century a strong sense of nationalism which has no connexion with their religion. As such, if there has been violent reaction against the West in some of the Muslim countries, the reason is to be found in the attitude and behaviour of the Westerners, their ignorance and want of respect for the faith and culture of Islam, of which the reference to that faith in your leading article is a typical and usual example. Only recently I was in all the Muslim States where there is a so-called anti-Western agitation, and I have no hesitation in saying that if the Atlantic nations and the West generally wants better relationship with the Muslims, the solution lies in their own hands, and this can be done only if they change their mental attitude and cultivate better understanding of the Muslims’ material needs and loyal recognition of the high quality of their national culture and the purity of their faith.

His Highness the Aga Khan III

SOURCES

  • The Tolerance of Islam, The Times, London, 6 November 1951, Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes
  • Text (secondary source): Aga Khan III, Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz, Kegan Paul International, 1997, Vol II, pp 1282

    [Text verified and/or corrected from this source by NanoWisdoms]

  • Edited version published in Message to the World of Islam (click here)

POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)