If we could turn to the wider Muslim world, it’s a world with a lot of conflict in it now. What’s your feeling about what is going on in the Middle East between Muslims in Iraq, Iran, in the Lebanon, in Afghanistan?

I think what has happened is that, perhaps more than ever before in the history of the Islamic world, there are forces within it and outside which are acting upon it — differences in wealth, interpretations of the faith which are not the same, search for a reinterpretation of society’s reactions to things like law, to modern economy, to statehood — and these forces are dividing and at the same time they are sometimes finding expressions which are not necessarily those which would represent the consensus of Muslim belief.

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Interviewer: Terry Lloyd at the Ismaili Centre, London

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Terry Lloyd: … majority and the Shias. The two main branches of Shias are the Twelvers and the Ismailis. There are 15 million worldwide. Their spiritual leader, or Imam, is descended from the Prophet Muhammad. His cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, was the first Imam; the Aga Khan, in 1957, became the 49th. He’s well known for his wealth and his racing interests but through various foundations he also builds schools and hospitals in the Third World. We have an exclusive interview with the Aga Khan, his first for some years and I began by asking him about the role of the new Ismaili Centre which he just toured.

His Highness the Aga Khan: I think very important if you look at the background of the community in Britain. It’s a young community. It’s a community that has left the developing world. A community that had its own institutions and came to a country in difficult circumstances and had no focal point.

TL: Difficult circumstances you mean a lot of them came from Uganda, courtesy of President Amin?

AK: That’s right. And not only from Uganda, but of course that whole crisis created a psychosis of fear for the immigrant communities in East Africa and eventually people have left from other parts of East Africa. I think this centre here will be a focal point for community programmes, etcetera.

TL: What lies behind its planning, its style?

AK: Oh it was a difficult, a very difficult building. First of all it is in a historical part of London with some very strong architectural buildings around it therefore it had to be a London building. It had to be a building which was appropriate to the mood of our culture, our history. It had to be a building which combined a place of gathering and prayer as well as secular activity. And so it certainly was a difficult building to conceive.

TL: If we could turn to the wider Muslim world, it’s a world with a lot of conflict in it now. What’s your feeling about what is going on in the Middle East between Muslims in Iraq, Iran, in the Lebanon, in Afghanistan?

AK: I think what has happened is that, perhaps more than ever before in the history of the Islamic world, there are forces within it and outside which are acting upon it — differences in wealth, interpretations of the faith which are not the same, search for a reinterpretation of society’s reactions to things like law, to modern economy, to statehood — and these forces are dividing and at the same time they are sometimes finding expressions which are not necessarily those which would represent the consensus of Muslim belief.

TL: Now we’re seeing the emergence, the rapid emergence, of Muslim fundamentalism — the re-imposition of the Sharia laws of public floggings, amputations, hangings, and so on. Do you have any sympathy with that?

AK: I think the question is how you interpret the Sharia and whether that interpretation does represent, as I said, consensus or not. And as you know many Muslim countries have not gone back to the Sharia. Some are applying the Sharia, but not literalistically and some are applying it literalistically. And I think one has to view this within the overall search of the Islamic world to find answers to modern life.

TL: When we see extremists driving cars full of explosives into Israeli convoys or into the American embassy in Beirut, what are we seeing? Are we seeing an expression, in its extreme form, of the Muslim faith or are we seeing a political act?

AK: No, I think you’re seeing a political act of people who may come from a cultural or religious background. Unfortunately in Britain you well know that this is in no way restricted to the Islamic world. It’s part, unfortunately, of Western Europe also at the present time and historically there have been movements which have sought legitimacy by attaching to themselves the name of a culture or the name of a faith. But to me they are political movements.

TL: What gives you most satisfaction, yourself?

AK: Programmes in the developing world which have an impact and which help people to live together and improve their quality of life. After all it represents over 80% of the world’s population and I think that is the thing I am happiest to see — obviously the development of my own community within that context.

ITV: What about leading in a Darby winner?

AK: (Chuckles) That’s a very special personal pleasure and it’s something I inherited accidentally from my family, took a long time to learn about and, I think, the more you’re in that field the less you know.

ITV: But do you think there’s any resentment amongst your followers, in the Ismaili community, that their leader should be concerning himself with race-horses, race-horse breeding and so on?

AK: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think the Ismaili community would resent that the Imam should have a hobby so long as that doesn’t impede his work and he doesn’t totter in blind drunk after the Darby! I think that’s …

TL: I’m sure you wouldn’t do that no matter how much you felt like it.

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