The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen — I have not the least hesitation in saying it — is alcohol. Time has shown that it is an injury to you; an injury to your person; an injury to your health. It is forbidden because it carries greater evil than good. Believe me, in a community like yours, alcohol is a very grave danger. Once you got into the alcohol habit, I do not know where it would lead you. A handful, here and there, of the weak, or of the unhappy, find their way to this terrible poison. Avoid it at all costs. Avoid it, I say, for in this country you cannot afford to lose one man….

Personally, if I had two children, and one was a boy and the other a girl, and if I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl. The male could bend his energies to manual effort for reward, but the girl’s function was the maintenance of home life and the bringing up of the children. Her influence in the family circle was enormous and the future of the generation depended upon her ability to lead the young along the right paths and instruct them in the rudiments of culture and civilisation.

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Of all things that separate man, racialism is the most dangerous. We have seen something of the kind in Europe and we have seen its fruits.

Replying to an address presented by the Transvaal Muslim League in the Johannesburg City Hall on August 12th, 1945, His Highness had sounded a true note of warning.

His Highness asked the meeting to forgive him for lecturing them, but being very nearly seventy years of age and having had well over fifty years of experience in various activities, he would be failing in his duty if he did not proffer them the advice which his years and experience permitted.

First of all he urged them to be politically united.

Do not allow Mohammedan or any other sectarian differences to divide your united front in South Africa. Believe me, there are great temptations, but whatever happens, do not disunite.

In South Africa they had managed to unite as friends, but there was a second danger — a division between the rich and the poor.

It was vital to the Indians in South Africa that such a division should not occur. It had no place in their national political movement. They were nationally exposed in the Union, they were 250,000 people in a vast country surrounded by people of many races and it was of the greatest importance that they should not be divided on an economic issue. Rather they should make friends on an intellectual basis. Truth and wisdom were unanswerable, because truth was always established by time in the long run.

The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen — I have not the least hesitation in saying it — is alcohol. Time has shown that it is an injury to you; an injury to your person; an injury to your health. It is forbidden because it carries greater evil than good. Believe me, in a community like yours, alcohol is a very grave danger. Once you got into the alcohol habit, I do not know where it would lead you. A handful, here and there, of the weak, or of the unhappy, find their way to this terrible poison. Avoid it at all costs. Avoid it, I say, for in this country you cannot afford to lose one man.

Although the habit was not forbidden, His Highness warned them of tobacco.

It is not a religious question” he said, “but it is a question of economy. What would you think of a man who went about the streets burning up ten shilling notes? You would call him a madman, wouldn’t you? But people go around buying cigarettes and burning them.

Also, many doctors will tell you that tobacco smoking is bad for you. So although smoking is not forbidden, it is from my long experience of life that I strongly urge the young not to acquire the habit and the more mature to reduce it to the minimum. I assure you that the economic position will greatly improve.

His Highness speaking on the question of education said there were many causes which hampered educational effort in South Africa, but it was his opinion that night classes, as they had done in other countries, might perform a great service in the Union.

Night classes where there are a number of Muslims together using books on Muslim history and Muslim literature would bring you in through the Western door into the palaces of Eastern culture.

Education for women was a thing which His Highness stressed. Without it there would inevitably result other great drawbacks for the Muslim community.

Personally, if I had two children, and one was a boy and the other a girl, and if I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl.

The male could bend his energies to manual effort for reward, but the girl’s function was the maintenance of home life and the bringing up of the children. Her influence in the family circle was enormous and the future of the generation depended upon her ability to lead the young along the right paths and instruct them in the rudiments of culture and civilisation.

The League should bear this in mind and arrange for the proper night classes for boys and men and lectures for girls and women.

His Highness undertook to supply to every Muslim community with [sic] the necessary books which would further their cultural advance. His Highness said that, unfortunately since the fall of Spain and Baghdad, Muslims had forgotten science. In this respect the leaders of the Muslims had taken a back place.

Even the Chinese have long since passed us. The Hindus have long since passed us. It is not only by books but also by night classes that you will go far in preparing the way in which you should be brought up.

His Highness the Aga Khan then spoke of the duties of Muslims. In East Africa a society had been formed at last rich and poor alike were doing all in their power to help Islam. It involved, he said, a science in which every Muslim should participate for the welfare of the people.

It required the observance and furtherance of hygiene, dietetics and social welfare. The rich had to help the poor in this important matter and the poor had to co-operate with their benefactors.

The high standard upon which you insist for yourselves, will win for you the respect of all the other communities in South Africa.

This was all that he wished to say to them now. If they could not accomplish that which he had proposed and which was in their power to accomplish, then they could not hope to cope with that which at present was outside their ability.

Once more, forgive me for lecturing you and for showing — to the best of my ability — where there is light and where there is darkness. I know that if it has some influence in your life in the future, then my time and your time has not been wasted.

The rise of the Arab League and its consequent influence upon the Syrian and Lebanese nations, beginning with Yemen and going as far as Somaliland, and the Atlantic, may lead to a great revival which might make Islam once more as glorious and as splendid a religion as it was once upon a time.

In India, also, I believe firmly that a strong united League will come to brotherly fraternal terms with our Hindu brethren in the long run; and the long run may now be a very short run indeed.

So, there are on the horizon two helpful signs. One of a united brotherhood of our Mohammedan-speaking world and one in Southern Asia of a united brotherhood of the Indian people who will grow in strength and respect.

I do not wish to dwell in intellectual argument. It is your daily life which interests me.

NOTES FROM K.K. AZIZ

  1. [The speech was the Aga Khan’s r]eply to the Address of Welcome from the Transvaal Muslim League. The meeting took place in the Johannesburg City Hall.

SOURCES

  • 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 1210

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

  • Platinum Jubilee Review, A.J. Chunara, Karachi, 1954
  • The Aga Khan and Africa, Habib V. Kheshavjee, Pretoria, 1946

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