Islam in the modern age

Source: Daily Times


His Highness Aga Khan-IV, the hereditary imam of the Ismaili Aga Khani community, is on a visit to Pakistan. To my mind he represents the true spirit of Islam: progress, humanity, education, and economic progress as ethical imperatives and dictates of Islamic doctrine. As a religious leader can there be a greater contrast that what he is to the mad mullahs who have taken this nation hostage and who want to burn down things in the name of great faith. His Highness Aga Khan-IV founded Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, which is by far the best hospital in Pakistan. His Aga Khan Development Network has done great work sustaining communities in need of help by providing much needed humanitarian assistance in remote areas of Pakistan and other countries in the world. This assistance is provided without regard to religion, sect or ethnicity.

The contributions of this industrious community to this land date back to the time that the present Aga Khan’s great great grandfather Aga Khan-I settled in Jhirk, the town on the bank of Indus in Sindh in the mid 19th century. Following in his footsteps came his followers from Gujarat. Among them was the father of a young merchant called Poonja Jinnah bhai. The significance of this should not be lost on those of us who are familiar with history. Aga Khan-III Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, the grandfather of the present Aga Khan, was the founder-president of the All India Muslim League and the first chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University. Without these institutions, Pakistan would not have been possible. Ever since the founding of this country, the Aga Khani Ismailis have played a significant role in health, education and business. The contributions made to this country by Aga Khani Ismailis like Sadruddin Hashwani are second to none.

Given this illustrious example, it remains an unanswered question as to why other Muslims are unable to follow suit. Why are we so caught up in theological disputes and issues that are best left between a person and his or her God? Sure there can be guidance by religious teachers but must this result in fatwas leading to violence and death? The Holy Quran says “there is no compulsion in religion” (Al Quran 2:256). A well known though widely disputed hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) says “My Companions are like the stars in the sky. You will find the truth no matter from whom among them you receive hadiths. Difference of opinion of my Companions is a mercy for you.” (al-Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa, I/64; al-Munawi, Faydu’l-Qadir, I/210-212). Difference of opinion therefore was encouraged in early Islamic tradition. It was through this difference of opinion on almost all matters under the sun that Islam ushered in a truly enlightened civilisation from 7th century to 15th century. In this civilisation not only was diversity of views respected but encouraged. Not only that but a key pillar of this civilisation was the idea of religious toleration long before these ideas took root in Europe. Jews and Christians lived and worshipped freely in Spain, the Middle East and the Ottoman lands under Muslim rule. The Indian subcontinent retained its overwhelming Hindu majority despite almost 800 years of unbroken Muslim rule.

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