The Churches of England have taught that religion is something special and separate from ordinary life. And so the ordinary man, even the one who clings to the observance of religion, keeps it for special occasions. His everyday life goes on apart and unaffected by his religious life, and the everyday life gets the bent of it.

Now Islam holds that religion should be an affair of everyday minute — like breathing. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Allah is the Sustainer. He sustains us always and everywhere. The Faithful son of Islam is ever conscious of that fact, and in the ordinary course of business will pause or go aside to get into direct touch with the Almighty, the Sustainer….

When I say that religion should permeate life, I am thinking not only of private life but of national and international life.

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Interviewer: Unknown

In an interview with a correspondent of the Daily Sketch, His Highness the Aga Khan [III] said:

The Churches of England have taught that religion is something special and separate from ordinary life. And so the ordinary man, even the one who clings to the observance of religion, keeps it for special occasions. His everyday life goes on apart and unaffected by his religious life, and the everyday life gets the bent of it.

Now Islam holds that religion should be an affair of everyday minute — like breathing. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Allah is the Sustainer. He sustains us always and everywhere. The Faithful son of Islam is ever conscious of that fact, and in the ordinary course of business will pause or go aside to get into direct touch with the Almighty, the Sustainer.

You say that this is the Christian’s conception of God, and is the practice of your Church. Well I have not observed it. I have, anyhow, met many persons nominally Christian who seem to think that in the beginning God created the world and then left it to its own devices. They seem to regard Him as a Being infinitely removed from them and their affairs. Whereas my Faith is, as you say yours is, that God is ever present, ever creative, and that His Providence sustains us in the smallest detail of our daily life. And He watches while we sleep.

[W]hatever the true Christian attitude may be, it must be admitted, I think, that the sort of religion I speak of is dormant in England today, that religion does not permeate all the thoughts and acts of English men and women, and that for them God is afar off in an inaccessible heaven.

Whatever be the true Christian attitude — and you must pardon an outsider if he judges it from the general teaching of your Churches and the general practice of your people — whatever the true Christian attitude may be, it must be admitted, I think, that the sort of religion I speak of is dormant in England today, that religion does not permeate all the thoughts and acts of English men and women, and that for them God is afar off in an inaccessible heaven.

Let me give you an example. On a fine Sunday a bus-driver will take the air on a common, where he can banish from his mind the sense of petrol, or the apprehensive clutch on the steering-wheel, and the unwavering watch on the traffic, and where he can enjoy the beauty of the world in tranquillity.

Good! He could not do better. He needs the holiday. But he does not feel religious on the common and he would be embarrassed if you suggested that he should. He does not realise that he might profitably thank God for the glory of the earth and the all-surrounding heaven. His religion, if he is ever conscious of it, is a quite separate thing.

Now, if I were on a golf-course, let us say, and it was the due occasion, I should pray to God. I should not make a show of it, but I should go apart to pray, and I should turn myself towards the South-East, towards Mecca. There would be no feeling that I was passing from one mood, much less from one world to another. My delight in God’s world, my delight in the free movement of my body as I swung my club would culminate naturally in a prayer of thanksgiving to God who gives and sustains.

There is value in formal observances. I think it is well that a man should make a habit of formal prayer night and morning, for protection and in thanks. But, I place emphasis on the continual direct relation between God and man. And of recent years the best of Islam has done the same.

I do not believe in a union of all religions. That would destroy them all. I am an anti-mixer. Let each Church give its witness and its message. I gather that theosophy is a mixture tolerating all creeds; I know nothing about it, except that it is neither a religion nor a science.

No. I do not believe in a union of all religions. That would destroy them all. I am an anti-mixer. Let each Church give its witness and its message. I gather that theosophy is a mixture tolerating all creeds; I know nothing about it, except that it is neither a religion nor a science.

It is true that, like theosophy, Islam has Christ and Buddha and the other messengers in its Pantheon.(1) But theosophy has remembered the messengers and forgotten the message.(1) You think that we have forgotten the message of Christ? That is where we disagree with you. We think that we are the true Christians, and that your Church distorted the message. We think that the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Man has no particular and special application to the One Son of Man. I think that we are somewhat like your Unitarians, though perhaps the Unitarians sometimes approach to the Deists just as the Deists approach to the agnostics.(1)

Of course, we hold fast by the Qur’an, for it is from the Qur’an that we get the texts which buttress our faith in the ever-watchful eye and sustaining hand of God.

Have we become less vehemently propagandist than we were of old time? Well, we have our mission in London. But I do not know that I should like the whole of England converted to Islam. Let each message be given clearly and boldly! But I wish that some well-known Englishman might, like Lord Headlam, become a convert and found a mosque in London. I should like to see flourishing mosque in the centre of London, so that London might see what the message of Islam really is.

No, I do not think that there has been a decadence in sexual morality, even among girls. I see little of girls. But what I do see makes me think that the young people of both sexes are finer than ever they were. They are freer and more self-reliant, and that is all to the good. They go about freely together, and they talk frankly to each other and I think that they are far more able to be just friends — the young man and the girl — than they were. No doubt there are cases to the contrary, but there always were, only now there is far less hypocrisy about it. (2)

If there is, as science is telling us, always a subconscious sexual reaction between members of the opposite sexes, well, the young people were born with that and cannot be blamed for it. (2)

Do I think that the ideal of chastity is less esteemed than it was? I don’t know, I don’t think so. But, just as a man may be purse-proud so a woman may be chastity-proud. Perhaps the general run of women are less chastity-proud than they were. If this be true, I think it is an improvement, and the ordinary woman may in fact be more and not less chaste because of it. But I do not see much of girls. (2)

The business of your Churches is to teach the ever-present and ever sustaining God, and the business of the religious man is to live in continual consciousness and intimate relation with the Might and Glory of God.

Associated with that is the need to accept God’s will joyfully, to acclaim what happens to us as a benefit, however much it may seem to the irreligious a misfortune. “It is the will of Allah”, is said by us of Islam, not with sad resignation, but with pious hope.

When I say that religion should permeate life, I am thinking not only of private life but of national and international life. As you know, I am doing my best to persuade Europe not to rush madly into another Great War. The last Great War of 1914-18 was one of the greatest catastrophes of all time. Another Great War would destroy civilisation.

His Highness the Aga Khan III

NOTES

  1. Passages missing from Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah.
  2. Paragraphs missing from Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah.
  3. Date has been estimated from the remarks that Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah expressed a desire to see a mosque in London and that World War II had not yet occurred. To the best of our knowledge, the first purpose built mosque in London was built in 1924.

SOURCES

  • Text (secondary source): Ismaili, 2 May 1980, India

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

  • Text, excerpts (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.1410

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

  • Message of H.R.H. Prince Aga Khan III, Mombasa 1955, pp 23-25 (click here)

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