Do you think the world is heading towards a “clash of capturing natural resources”? … I think we are seeing a concentration of wealth in a number of countries. There is a search for new resources to exploit for national or strategic purposes. The situation can be changed by making a move towards using nuclear power, as it has the potential to change the global economic scenario. (1) …

Any message for the community? The spirit of Islam is to share knowledge and I always tell the community not to think in material terms. Think in terms of knowledge and think what you can offer our institutions in various parts of the world. Raise our performance in healthcare, education, financial services and in civil society. Many minorities from the Middle East countries are living in the West. Just think how wonderful it would be if young women and men return to their respective countries to strengthen institutions and do voluntary work for their countries.

INCOMPLETE: We regret that from this interview, only limited portions made public by the reporter are available below. We would be very grateful if any of our readers who may have the complete transcript would kindly share it with us. Please click here for information on making submissions to NanoWisdoms; we thank you for your assistance.

Interviewer: Ashfaq Ahmed

The global Muslim “Ummah” needs to develop a form of democracy that fits its social, ethnic, religious and economic structure, said Prince Karim Aga Khan, Imam of the Ismaili Muslim community.

We have to look at the nature of democracy because I don’t believe that one shape fits all. I believe the Ummah, like many other parts of the world, needs to develop its own form of democracy to overcome the issues Muslims are facing.

The Aga Khan noted that the Muslim Ummah today is highly pluralistic and that it is going to function as a body of brotherly states.

Acceptance of pluralism and investing in pluralism is to be one of the principles we have to look at to resolve issues facing the Muslims.

In an exclusive interview with Weekend Review during his visit to Dubai, where he inaugurated the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan said the problems of extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam.

I personally don’t ascribe these to Islam. I ascribe these to a portfolio of political issues — be it issues in the Middle East, Afghanistan or Kashmir.

Published excerpts from the interview

Ashfaq Ahmed: What are the issues facing the Muslim Ummah?

The misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in the West exist because we are, even today, absent from the global civilisation. We should encourage the Western education system to bring in knowledge of the civilisation of Islam into the secondary education system.

His Highness the Aga Khan: First, the globalisation of the knowledge of the cultures of the Ummah is critical. We have to make known the cultural inheritance of the Muslims to the non-Muslim as well as the Muslim parts of the world because we will never succeed in building the respect and recognition that the Ummah deserves unless we present the Ummah as a remarkable carrier of civilisation. The misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in the West exist because we are, even today, absent from the global civilisation. We should encourage the Western education system to bring in knowledge of the civilisation of Islam into the secondary education system.

I am thrilled with the initiative that Dubai and other states in the Gulf are taking by creating museums. Retracing our historical legacies and bringing them back in the modern world is extremely important.

AA: How do you see the problem of terrorism in the world? Do you think it is widening the gap between the West and the Muslim world or even the Muslims and the non-Muslims?

AK: I personally don’t ascribe these [extremism or terrorism] to Islam. I ascribe these to a portfolio of political issues. I consider these political issues the essence of the problem in the Middle East. It started in 1917 and, since then, the problem has been becoming worse. The problem of Kashmir is again a political problem which started after withdrawal of the British from the subcontinent. Similarly, the problem in Iraq today is also political and has nothing to do with Islam. But now we have an overlay. Since these political problems are located in the parts of the Muslim Ummah, the totality of the Ummah is being held responsible for this situation.

The media also tends to concentrate on the problem areas even as they ignore the Ummah’s successes. Painting a negative picture of the entire situation is wrong because it does not involve the face of Islam. It involves essentials of politics within the Islamic world.

Secondly, it [the problem of extremism and terrorism] does not cover the Islamic world alone. Countries in Eastern Europe, Ireland and Spain face similar issues. I think that we should not say that the Ummah is unstable and the rest of the world is perfect.

AA: What should be done to resolve this issue?

AK: More efforts are needed to resolve political crises. I think there are governments and organisations that recognise that the longer these problems continue, the more difficult they will be to solve. Similarly, the Irish problem and the Spanish problem have also been there for decades.

AA: There have been theories about what brought unrest in the world. Do you think the world is heading towards a “clash of capturing natural resources”?

AK: I think you are right. People are looking for a better quality of life and they are in a hurry. There is, in many countries, a sense of time lost. And when there is a sense of time lost, there is also a sense of urgency. In the developing world, the sense of urgency is getting stronger. I think it is leading a number of forces to look at resources they can mobilise to harness those resources to the development process.

I think we are seeing a concentration of wealth in a number of countries. There is a search for new resources to exploit for national or strategic purposes. The situation can be changed by making a move towards using nuclear power, as it has the potential to change the global economic scenario. (1)

AA: Congratulations on the golden jubilee of your Imamat. Are you launching any special projects to mark this special year?

I am hoping to develop two new projects by the end of this year. The first is the sociological analysis of the communities around the world and an attempt to redefine the nature of acute poverty.

AK: I am hoping to develop two new projects by the end of this year. The first is the sociological analysis of the communities around the world and an attempt to redefine the nature of acute poverty. We think that certain segments of the population in many countries are ultra poor. As we see economies evolve, we are worried these segments will continue to become more and more poor. We are trying to understand the causes of this phenomenon in order to reduce, if not eliminate, poverty. We believe poverty is not only economic but social as well. Families have no access to the platform from which they can grow, no access to healthcare, education, micro-credit or even a normal support system. It is a problem and should be addressed.

As far as our second programme is concerned, we are going to concentrate on increased longevity. People are living longer and the aged are increasingly finding themselves isolated from their families and from society. We would like to develop a programme to create a capacity to care for these people. Since extended families are becoming less common in the industrialised world, it is now important to look at this issue. Through this programme, we will try to help the aged live an honourable life. Also, during this jubilee year, we will lay the foundation of a number of educational and health institutions.

AA: The Aga Khan Development Network has numerous projects focusing on communities. How do you select the areas and why?

AK: We select areas to launch projects on a case-by-case basis. The projects stem from the analysis of the absence of certain facilities. If we find there is no credit system in isolated areas, we go for micro-credit programmes. If we find a government wants to privatise an industry which has gone wrong, we try to step in. So it is with our educational, healthcare and cultural development projects around the world.

AA: What is your vision of development?

There is a realisation that development should be in human terms. And to be measured in human terms, you have to look at quality of life, which is directly linked to education, housing and healthcare.

AK: There is a realisation that development should be in human terms. And to be measured in human terms, you have to look at quality of life, which is directly linked to education, housing and healthcare.

Today, many of the world’s economic and financial institutions have moved away from lending only for economy activities. They are lending for educational and health initiatives. This is changing the nature of the development support system. The private sector in the fields of education, healthcare and micro-credit can also be very important. It is in the interest of the developing countries to have a composite of facilities [which can be achieved] by involving both the private and public sectors.

AA: What do you think you have achieved through your massive network of community development projects?

AK: Success depends on the maturity of the projects. We have considerable maturity in our healthcare and educational projects and they have been serving the purpose. But we have less maturity in our cultural initiatives. We are beginning to see the trend in cultural initiatives and I would love to say I have the confidence in the cultural initiatives but they are still young.

One of the important cultural projects — aimed at improving the quality of life — was the development of al-Azhar Park in Cairo. I am confident that we can replicate the cultural project in other parts of the world. By launching such cultural projects, our focus is to improve quality of life and create opportunities for the ultra poor.

AA: Why did you set up an Ismaili Centre in Dubai and what is your vision behind setting up such centres in other countries?

AK: I think the creation of the Ismaili Centres is important because they represent the Ismaili community in the important countries in the world. I hope that the centre will bring a sense of institutional purpose. We call them ambassadorial buildings because they are representatives of the Ismaili community and all its aspirations.

The [Ismaili Centres] have a two-fold purpose. First, they serve as institutions for the Ismaili community and, secondly, they reach out to groups of people, creating spaces for quality exhibitions, culture and musical representation. These centres allow us to build bridges for interaction among various communities, areas and cultures.

We first started building the centres in the West. Like the Ismaili Centres in London, Vancouver and Lisbon, the Ismaili Centre in Dubai will reflect a mood of humility, forward outlook, friendship and dialogue. More such centres are on the cards in Toronto and Dushanbe.

The buildings have a two-fold purpose. First, they serve as institutions for the Ismaili community and, secondly, they reach out to groups of people, creating spaces for quality exhibitions, culture and musical representation. These centres allow us to build bridges for interaction among various communities, areas and cultures.

AA: You have been involved in so many things. What do you do in your leisure?

AK: (Laughs) Usually it is work, work and more work. Occasionally, if I am able to get out, I go to the sea, to the snow or I look at the thoroughbreds that we have, because it is essentially the hobby that fits into the time that I have.

AA: Any message for the community?

AK: The spirit of Islam is to share knowledge and I always tell the community not to think in material terms. Think in terms of knowledge and think what you can offer our institutions in various parts of the world. Raise our performance in healthcare, education, financial services and in civil society. Many minorities from the Middle East countries are living in the West. Just think how wonderful it would be if young women and men return to their respective countries to strengthen institutions and do voluntary work for their countries.

NOTES

  1. Note by NanoWisdoms: At the dawn of the nuclear age there were two competing nuclear reactor technologies: uranium based reactors and thorium based reactors. The prototype Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) built in 1965 utilised thorium and had none of the waste product, safety, proliferation, and other issues associated with uranium based reactors. LFTR is now under intense research in many countries including India and China.
    More information about LFTRs can be found here: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, American Scientist, Volume 98, July-August 2010, https://issuu.com/e_generation/docs/amsci_lftr

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