[As] a Muslim we don’t make the divide between faith and life in the same way as parts of the Christian world do, not all of it but there are large parts of the Christian world which make that divide. We don’t make that divide. Islam doesn’t allow you to make that divide. You reflect your belief, your faith in the faith of Islam, not only by your attitude to the faith itself but to the society in which you live — to poverty, to the family, to ethics in your civil behaviour. It’s part of your everyday life. You live the faith. And I think that’s why many, many Muslims, not me but others, including myself, define the faith as, a way of life because it is a way of life. [Emphasis original]

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Interviewer: Unknown

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1. On religious or political conflicts

His Highness the Aga Khan: [If you] look at the flash points of the modern world, and you go back and you ask yourself what was the origin of those flash points? Most times, you will find that it was not driven by faith first. It was driven by political decisions — amongst countries, amongst groups of countries, post-war situations, conflict [of] the Soviet world and the Western world, and so on and so forth. And we have inherited these situations. What happens in that context is that when a political issue remains unresolved year after year after year, all parties involved seek new resources. Therefore they use new arguments to harness these new resources. And therefore, you get an overlay of theological dimension to these situations which was not there at the origin of these situations. So it’s not that those faith issues aren’t there today — they are there today — but I am going back and saying, what was the origin? And I don’t think you can blame faiths for the vast majority of the conflict situations we have today. I don’t believe that. Indeed I would go further. I would say that if those conflicts, which were essentially political conflicts, if they were resolved, faith, interfaith, relationships would automatically find their right place.

2. Is there a unified Islamic world?

AK: The “brotherhood,” yes. But brothers can be different. And they are different. And they want to be different. They don’t want — many, many of the countries I know, heads of government, heads of state — don’t want to be dropped into some global melting pot as though every country is the same, has the same issues to deal with, the same history, etc. — that’s simply not reality. There is no such thing as one Islamic world just as there is no such thing as one Christian world. If I were to turn around to you as a Christian and I were to say to you, you know, “How do I define my relations as a Muslim with the Christian.” “Well,” you would ask me, “What do you mean by the Christian world?” because you do not think in those terminologies any more, that terminology. So, I don’t think that you can talk about conflict between the non-Muslim world and the Muslim world. I think what you can do is you can take individual situations and give them the honour, the thought, the analysis, the reflection, that each one of them deserves. [Emphasis original]

3. On pluralistic Islam

About two years ago … a survey was carried out by some international agency as to how populations across the world view their own governments. The country that had the highest rating in the world was Malaysia. It is immensely plural.

AK: You have got some of the most remarkable modern states, of the world today, in Islamic world. About two years ago, I think it was about two years ago, a survey was carried out by some international agency as to how populations across the world view their own governments. The country that had the highest rating in the world was Malaysia. It is immensely plural. And because it is so plural — in geography, in history, in ethnicity, in quality of life, in interpretations of Islam itself — I think it makes it extremely difficult for the non-Muslim world really to understand the forces that are at play. I think it is all the more difficult because if we as Muslims were to look at the Christian world, and we were to define it as the Christian world — i.e. a world driven by a faith, we Muslims would find it extremely difficult to work consistently with the Russian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Church of England … I am not going into the details but I am just trying to illustrate the complexity of pluralist societies which relate to one faith but of which there are many, many different manifestations. So that’s one of the major problems.

4. On knowledge for people in mountainous regions

AK: First of all you educate the individual to understand better the creation of God. Therefore education is part of the manifestation of faith because you seek to understand what you would not normally understand.

Islam is very, very rigorous, very demanding on the elimination of inequities in society. And my experience at least, is that very often inequities in society are due to absence of educational opportunity. You can practically always relate enormous poverty with absence of access to education, to healthcare, etc.

Secondly, Islam is very, very rigorous, very demanding on the elimination of inequities in society. And my experience at least, is that very often inequities in society are due to absence of educational opportunity. You can practically always relate enormous poverty with absence of access to education, to healthcare, etc.

Thirdly, there are special needs in human society and what happened is that I have a community, or communities, in high mountain areas — in the Pamir, in the Karakorum — and therefore the quality of life in high mountain areas is very important both in my own community and for other populations.

If you take a Central Asian area where we are working in, there are about 25 million people who are dependent on these mountain environments. Well, believe it or not, there is not one university in the world today that is specialised on educating high mountain populations. And that is the reason for which this University of Central Asia was created. It was to try and create an academic focus that could serve 25 million people living in high mountain environments in that part of the world. [Emphasis original]

5. On the education of women

AK: I would say again we are looking at a correct position for women in society and education is clearly part of that positioning of women within society. And yes, we certainly are very concerned about the quality of education that women get, but we are also concerned about the moral context in which that education is given. And I think that’s often an issue that is not very well understood outside the Islamic world. But the respect that is due to women is a very important factor in the Islamic world and in the history of Islam and in the faith itself. And my interpretation is the better educated the woman is the more respect she is going to get in modern civil society.

6. On knowledge

AK: This is exactly what I meant by the hiatus in the post-Ottoman situation where the industrialised world moved massively ahead; much of the Islamic world and other parts of the developing world were colonised — they did not move ahead in the same way; professions developed; research was a major force which we didn’t have. So, ultimately what happened — and this is only one of the reasons — there was a process in the Islamic world which said, “If you want to be in keeping with your time, and if you want to modernise your capacities and institutions, you have to draw from the West.” So, there was an assimilation between occidentalisation and best practice.

So, what did I do? I decided that rather than try to reverse that process I had to diversify it. And that’s why I tried to create capacity in the Western world so that Western professionals, as well as Muslim professionals being educated in the West, could serve their own communities, their own cultures and their own populations. It’s a sharing of knowledge and the Western world, as far as I am aware, has been very, very generous with that knowledge. We have received massive support in all these areas — in medicine, in education, in art. Massive support. [Emphasis original]

7. On Islamic life

AK: Well, I think as a Muslim we don’t make the divide between faith and life in the same way as parts of the Christian world do, not all of it but there are large parts of the Christian world which make that divide. We don’t make that divide. Islam doesn’t allow you to make that divide. You reflect your belief, your faith in the faith of Islam, not only by your attitude to the faith itself but to the society in which you live — to poverty, to the family, to ethics in your civil behaviour. It’s part of your everyday life. You live the faith. And I think that’s why many, many Muslims, not me but others, including myself, define the faith as, a way of life because it is a way of life. [Emphasis original]

Supplementary Content — Part 2

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AK: I think first of all, it’s important to comment on the fact that the Ismaili community is very pluralist. But there are things that have been said and written which were just not very correct….

AK: The cultural illustrations of history are extremely important. First of all, to maintain a sense of identity — and I think you can look around you today and you can see what happens to communities or populations that have lost their sense of identity.

Supplementary Content — Trailer

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AK: It may surprise you [but] Islam is not a faith of pain. It’s not a faith of suffering. It’s a faith in which the individual who’s happy in his life, thanks God for that blessing.

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