Jun 15, 2007

Ideas of His Highness the Aga Khan III

Life - An Exalted Destiny

Life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can, but a lofty and exalted destiny.

The Value of a Compromise

Of one fact, my years in public life have convinced me: that the value of a compromise is that it can supply a bridge across a difficult period, and later having employed it, it is often possible to bring into effect the full-scale measures of reform which, originally, would have been rejected out of hand.

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) - My Holy Ancestor

In the seventh century of the Christian era, there was a rapid and brilliant new flowering of humanity's capacity and desire for adventure and discovery in the realms of both spirit and intellect. That flowering began in Arabia its origin and impetus were given by my Holy ancestor, the Prophet Muhammed, and we know it by the name of Islam. From Arabia the tide of its influence flowed swiftly and strongly to North Africa and thence to Spain.

The Nature of Religious Experience

Ibn-Rushd, the great Muslim philosopher, known to Europe as Averroes, established clearly the great distinction between two kinds of apprehensible human experience: on the one hand, our experience of nature as we recognize it through our sense, whence comes our capacity to measure and to count (and with that capacity all that it brought in the way of new events and new explanations); and on the other hand, our immediate and imminent experience of something more real, less dependent on thought or on the processes of the mind, but directly given to us, which I believe to be religious experience. Naturally, since our brain is material, and its processes and all the consequences of its processes are material, the moment that we put either thought or spiritual experience into words, this material basis of the brain must give a material presentation to even the highest, most transcendent spiritual experience. But men can study objectively the direct and subjective experiences of those who have had spiritual enlightenment without material intervention.

It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Quran, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely. But when we realize the meaning of this saying, we are already preparing ourselves for the gift of the power of direct experience. Roumi and Hafiz, the great Persian poets, have told us, each in his different way, that some men are born with such natural spiritual capacities and possibilities of development and they have direct experience of that great love, that all-embracing, all consuming love, which direct contact with reality gives to the human soul. Hafiz indeed has said that men like Jesus Christ and Muslim mystics like Mansour and Bayezid and others have possessed that spiritual powers of the greater love; that any of us, if the Holy Spirit ever present grants us that enlightenment, can, being thus blessed, have the power which Christ had, but that to the overwhelming majority of men this greater love is not a practical possibility, We can, however, make up for its absence from our lives by worldly, human love for individual human beings, and this will give us a measure of enlightenment attainable without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Those who have had the good fortune to know and feel this worldly, human love should respond to it only with gratitude and regard it as a blessing and as, in its own way, a source of pride. I firmly believe that the higher experience can to a certain extent be prepared for by absolute devotion in the material world to another human being. Thus from the most worldly point of view, and with no comprehension of the higher life of the spirit, the lower, more terrestrial spirit makes us aware that all the treasures of this life, all that fame, wealth and health can bring are nothing beside the happiness which is created and sustained by the love of one human being for another. This great grace we can see in ordinary 1ife as we look about us among our acquaintances and friends.

But as the joys of human love surpass all that riches and power may bring a man, so does that greater spiritual love and enlightenment, the fruit of that sublime experience of the direct vision of reality which in God’s gift and grace, surpass all that the finest, truest human love can offer. For that gift we must ever pray.

No, I am convinced that through Islam, through the ideal of Allah, as presented by Muslims, man can attain this direct experience which no words can explain but which for him are absolute certainties. I am certain that many Muslims, and I am convinced that I myself, have had moments of enlightenment and of knowledge of a kind which we cannot communicate because it is something given and not something acquired.

To a certain extent I have found that the following verses of the Quran, so long as it is understood in a purely non-physical sense, has given assistance and understanding to myself and other Muslims. However, I must warn all who read it not to allow their material, critical outlook to break in with literal, verbal explanations of something that is symbolic and allegorical. I appeal to every reader, whether Muslim or not, to accept the spirit of this verse in its entirety:

Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, and the lamp is in glass, the glass is as though it were a glittering star; it is lit from a blessed tree, an Olive neither of east nor of the west, the oil of which would well-nigh give the light though no fire touched it, - light upon light - Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah strikes out parables for men; and Allah all things doth know. (Chapter xxiv "Light", 35)

Islam's Role in World Stability

The present condition of mankind offers surely, with all its dangers and all its challenges, a chance too - a chance of establishing not just material peace among nations but that better peace of God on earth. In that endeavour Islam can play its valuable, constructive part, and the Islamic world can be a strong and stabilizing factor provided it is really understood and its spiritual and moral power recognized and respected.

Islamic Code of Conduct

But having known the real, the Absolute, having understood the Universe as an infinite succession of events, intended by God, we need an ethic, a code of conduct in order to be able to elevate ourselves toward the ideal demanded by God.

Let us then study the duties of man, as the great majority interpret them, according to the verses of the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet. First of all, the relations of man to God: there are not priests and no monks. There is no confession of sins, except directly to God.

A man who does not marry, who refuses to shoulder the responsibilities of fatherhood, of building up a home and raising a family through marriage, is severely condemned. In Islam there are no extreme renunciations, no asceticism, no maceration, above all no flagellations to subjugate the body. The healthy human body is the temple in which the flame of the Holy Spirit burns, and thus it deserves the respect of scrupulous cleanliness and personal hygiene. Prayer is a daily necessity, a direct communication of the spark with the universal flame. Reasonable fasting for a month in every year, provided a man's health is not impaired thereby, is an essential part of the body's discipline through which the body learns to renounce all impure desires. Adultery, alcoholism, slander and thinking evil of one's neighbour are specifically and severely condemned. All men, rich and poor, must aid one another materially and personally.

The rules vary in detail, but they all maintain the principle of universal mutual aid in the Muslim fraternity. This fraternity is absolute, and it comprises Men of all colours and all races: black, white, yellow, tawny; all are the sons of Adam in the flesh and all carry in them a spark of the Divine Light. Everyone should strive his best to see that this spark be not extinguished but rather developed to that full "Companionship-on-High" which was the vision expressed in the last words of the Prophet on his deathbed, the vision of that blessed state which he saw clearly awaiting him. In Islam the faithful believe in Divine justice and are convinced that the solution of the great problem of predestination and free will is to be found in the compromise that God knows what man is going to do, but that man is free to do it or not.

Wars are condemned. Peace ought to be universal. Islam means peace, God's peace with man and the peace of men, one to another. Usury is condemned, but free and honest trade and agriculture - in all its forms - are encouraged, since they manifest a Divine service, and the welfare of mankind depends upon the continuation and the intensification of these legitimate labours.

After death Divine Justice will take into consideration the faith, the prayers and the deeds of man. For the chosen there is eternal life and the spiritual felicity of the Divine vision. For the condemned there is hell, where they will be consumed with regret for not having known how to merit the grace and the blessings of Divine mercy.

Concept of Man in Islam

Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence - in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God. But men and women, being more highly developed, are immensely more advanced than the infinite number of other beings known to us. Islam acknowledges the existence of angels, of great souls who have developed themselves to the highest possible planes of the human soul and higher, and who are centres of the forces which are scattered throughout the Universe. Without going as far as Christianity, Islam recognizes the existence of evil spirits which seek by means of their secret suggestions to us to turn us from good, from that straight way traced by God’s finger for the eternal happiness of the humblest as of the greatest - Abraham, Jesus, Muhammed.

The Sunni Concept of Khilafat and the Shia Concept of Imamat

The Sunnis are the people of the Sonna or tradition. Their Kalima or profession of Faith is, “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the Apostle of God.” To this the Shia add: “And Aly, the Companion of Mohammed, is the Vicar of God.” Etymologically the word “Shia” means either a stream or section.

The Prophet died without appointing a Khalif or successor. The Shia school of thought maintains that although direct Divine inspiration ceased at the Prophet’s death, the need of Divine guidance continued and this could not be left merely to millions of moral men, subject to the whims and gusts of passion and material necessity, capable of being momentarily but tragically misled by greed, by oratory, or by the sudden desire for material advantage. These dangers were manifest in the period immediately following our Holy Prophet’s death. Muhammed had been both a temporal and a spiritual sovereign. The Khalif or successor of the Prophet was to succeed him in both these capacities; He was to be both Emir-al-Momenin or “Commander of the true believers” and Imam-al-Muslimin or “Spiritual chief of the devout.” Perhaps an analogy from the Latin, Western world will make this clearer: He would be Supreme Pontiff as well as Imperator or temporal ruler.

Aly, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, the husband of his beloved and only surviving child, Fatima, his first convert, his bold champion in many a war, who the Prophet in his lifetime said would be to him as Aaron was to Moses, his brother and right-hand man, in the veins of whose descendants the Prophet’s own blood would flow, appeared destined to be that true successor, and such had been the general expectation of Islam. The Shias have therefore always held that after the Prophet’s death, Divine power, guidance, and leadership manifested themselves in Hazrat Aly as the first Imam or spiritual chief of the devout. The Sunnis, however, consider him the fourth in the succession of Khalifs to temporal power.

The Imam is thus the successor of the Prophet in his religious capacity, He is the man who must be obeyed and who dwells among those from whom he commands spiritual obedience. The Sunnis have always held that this authority is merely temporal and secular, and is expected only in the political sphere, they believe therefore that it appertains to any lawfully constituted political head of a state, to a governor or to the president of a republic. The Shias say that this authority is all-pervading and is concerned with spiritual matters also, that it is transferred by inherited right to the Prophet’s successors of His blood.

The Shia Ismaili Community

Of the Shias there are many subdivisions, some to them believe that this spiritual head-ship, this Imamat which was Hazarat Aly’s, descended through him in the sixth generation to Ismail from whom I myself claim My descent and My Imamat. Others believe that the Imamat is to be traced from Zaid, the grandson of Imam Hussein, the Prophet's grandson martyred at Kerbela. Still others, including the vast majority of the people of Persia, and Indian Shias, believe that the Imamat is now held a living Imam, the twelfth from Aly, who has never died, who is alive and has lived thirteen hundred years among us, unseen but seeing; those who profess this doctrine are known as the Asna Asharis. The Ismailis themselves are divided into two parties, a division which stems from the period when my ancestors held the Fatimide Khalifat of Egypt. One party accepts my ancestors, Nizar as the rightful successor of the Khalif of Egypt, Mustansir; whereas the other claims as Imam his other son, the Khalif Mustalli.

Often persecuted and oppressed, the faith of my ancestors was never destroyed; at times it flourished as in the epoch of the Fatimide Khalifs, at times .At times it was obscure and little understood.

After the loss of the Fatimide Khalifat in Egypt my ancestors moved first to the highlands of Syria and the Lebanon; thence they journeyed eastward to the mountains of Iran. They established a stronghold on the craggy peak of Alamut in the Elburz Mountains, the range which separates from the rest of Persia the provinces lying immediately to the south of the Caspian. Legend and history intertwine here in the strange tale of the Old Man of the Mountains, and of those hereditary Grand Masters of the Order of the Assassins who held Alamut for nearly two hundred years. In this period the Ismaili faith was well known in Syria, in Iraq, in Arabia itself, and far up into Central Asia. Cities such as Samarkand and Bokhara were then great centres of Muslim learning and thought.

A little later in the thirteenth century of the Christian era, Ismaili religious propaganda penetrated into what is Sinkiang and Chinese Turkestan. There was a time in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when the Ismaili doctrine was the chief and most.-influential Shi’ite school of thought: but later with the triumph of the Saffevi Dynasty in Iran particularly in its northwest province, (Azerbaijan) the Asna Ashari, or Twelfth Imam sect, established its predominance. Remnants of the Ismaili faith remained firm and are still to be found in many parts of Asia, North Africa and Iran. The historical centres of Ismailism indeed are scattered widely over all the Islamic world.

In the mountainous regions of Syria, for example, are to be found the Druzes, in their fastness in the Jebel Druze. They are really Ismailis who did not originally follow my family in their migration out of Egypt but remained with the memory of my ancestors, Al Hakem, the Fatimide Khalif of Egypt, but they established their doctrines on lines very similar to those of the Syrian Ismailis, who, in present time, are my followers. Similar Ismaili “islands” exist in southern Egypt, in the Yemen and of course in Iraq. In Iran the centres are around Mahalat, westward toward Hamdan and to the south of Tehran; others are in Khorassan to the north and east around about Yezd, around Kerma, and southward along the coast of the Persia. Gulf from Bandar Abbas to the borders of Pakistan and Sind, and into Baluchistan. Others are in Afghanistan, in Kabul itself; there are many in Russia and Central Asia, around Yarkand, Kashgar, and in many villages and settlements in Sinkiang. In India certain Hindu tribes were converted by missionaries sent to them by My ancestors, Shah Islam Shah and took the name of Khojas; a similar process of conversion occurred in Burma as recently as the nineteenth century.

In 1845 my grandfather reached Bombay where - as Mr. Justice Arnold expressed it, “He was received by the cordial homage of the whole Khoja population of this city and its neighbourhood.” For a year or two from 1846 he was in Calcutta as a political prisoner because Muhammed Shah had remonstrated to the British Government about his presence in a port of such ready access to Persia as Bombay. However, in 1848 Muhammed Shah’s reign came to an end, and my grandfather settled peaceably in Bombay and there established his Darkhana or headquarters. Not only was this a wise and happy personal decision, but it had an admirable effect on the religious and communal life of the whole Ismaili world. It was as if the heavy load of persecution and fanatical hostility, which they had had to bear for so long, was lifted. Deputations came to Bombay from places as remote as Kashgar, Bokhara, all parts of Iran, Syria, the Yemen, the African coast and the then narrowly settled hinterland behind it.

Since then there has been no fundamental or violent change in the Ismaili way of life or in the conditions in which my followers can pursue their own religion. At present no deputations come from Russia, but Ismailis in Russia and in Central Asia are not persecuted and are quite free in their religious life.

With Sinkiang, Kashgar and Yarkand we have no communication at present, since the frontier is closed - no more firmly against Ismailis than against anyone else - but we know that they are free to follow their religion and that they are firm and devoted Ismailis with a great deal of self-confidence and the feeling that they constitute by far the most important Ismaili community in the world. From Iran representatives and commissions come and go; from Syria they used to come to India regularly, but now from time to time members of my family go to Syria, or my Syrian followers come and visit me in Egypt. Not long ago I went to Damascus where a great number of my followers came to pay their respects. A considerable measure of local responsibility prevails; questions of marriage and divorce, for example, are entirely the concern of the local representatives of the Imam. At times prosperous communities among the Ismailis help less prosperous ones in respect of similar institutions. I issue general instructions and orders; but the actual day to day administrative work of each local community is done by the Imam’s representatives.

The head-ship of a religious community spread over a considerable part of the world surface - from Cape Town to Kashgar, from Syria to Singapore - cannot be sustained in accordance with any cut-and-dried system. Moral conditions, material facilities, national aspirations and outlook and profoundly differing historical backgrounds have to be borne in mind, and the necessary mental adjustments made. There is therefore great variety and great flexibility of administration.

Ismailism has survived because it has always been fluid. Rigidity is contrary to our whole way of life and outlook. There have really been no cut-and dried rules; even the set of regulations known as the Holy Laws are directions as to method and procedure and not detailed orders about results to be obtained. In some countries - India and Africa for example - the Ismailis have a council system, under which their local councilors are charged with all internal administrative responsibility, and report to me what they have done. In Syria, Central Asia and Iran, leadership, as I have said, is vested in hereditary recommended leaders and chiefs, who are the Imam's representatives and who look after the administration of the various Jamats, or congregations.

From all, parts of the Ismaili world with which regular contact is possible, a constant flow of communications and reports comes to me. Attending to these, answering them, giving my solutions of specific problems presented to me, discharging my duties as hereditary Imam of this far-scattered religious community and association - such is my working life, and so it has been since I was a boy.

Much of the work of the Ismaili councils and of the Imam's representatives nowadays is purely social, and is concerned with the proper contractual arrangement of matters such as marriage and divorce. On this subject I should perhaps say that nowhere in the world where Ismailis are now settled is there any persecution of them or interference with their faith and customs except if and when the general laws of the country are contrary to institutions, such as plurality of wives. It is generally overlooked that among Ismailis no one can take a second wife or divorce his first wife for a whim or - as is sometimes falsely imagined in the West - some frivolous or erratic pretext. There are usually, to our way of thinking, some very good reasons for either action.

To beget children is a very proper need and desire of every marriage; if after many years of married life there is still no issue, often a wife herself longs to see her home brightened by the presence of children with all the laughter, hope, joy and deep contentment that they bring with them. In other instances there is so profound a difference of character that a divorce is found to be the best solution for the happiness of both parties. But in every case whether a second wife is taken or a divorce is granted - the various councils or (where there are no councils) the representatives of the Imam have an absolute duty to safeguard the interests of the wife; if a second wife is taken, it is a matter of seeing that full financial protection is assured to the first wife, or if there is a divorce, of seeing that there is a generous, adequate and seemly monetary settlement. It is important that it should be realized among non-Muslims that the Islamic view of the institution of marriage - and of all that relates to it, divorce, plurality of wives and so on is a question solely of contract, of consent and of definite and mutually accepted responsibilities. The sacramental concept of marriage is not Islam’s; therefore, except indirectly, there is no question of its religious significance, and there is no religious ceremony to invest if with the solemnity and the symbolism which appertain to marriage in other religions, like Christianity and Hinduism. It is exactly analogous to - in the West - an entirely civil and secular marriage in a registry office or before a judge. Prayers of course can be offered - prayers for happiness, prosperity and good health - but there can be no religious ritual beyond these, and they indeed are solely a matter of personal choice.

There is therefore no kind of marriage in Islam, or among the Ismailis, except the marriage of mutual consent and mutual understanding. And as I have indicated, much of the work of the Ismaili councils and of the Imam’s representatives in all our Ismaili communities is to see that marriage are properly registered and to ensure that divorce, though not a sin, is so executed that the interests of neither party suffer from it, that as much protection as possible is given to women, and most of all that the maintenance of young children is safeguarded.

The past seventy years have witnessed steady, stable progress on the part of the Ismailis wherever they have settled. Under the Ottoman Empire, in the reign of Abdul Hamid, there was a considerable degree of persecution. Like several other minorities in his empire, they suffered hardship, and many of their leaders endured imprisonment in the latter years of his despotic rule. With the Young Turk revolution, however, the period of persecution ended. An now, in spite of all the vast political shifts and changes which the world has undergone, I think it may reasonably b claimed that the lot of the Ismailis in general throughout the world is a fairly satisfactory one; wherever they are settled their communities compose a happy, self-respecting, law abiding and industrious element in society.

My Policy with My Followers

What has been my own policy with my followers? Our religion is our religion, you either believe in it or you do not. You can leave a faith but you cannot, if you do not accept its tenets, remain within it and claim to “reform” it. You can abandon those tenets, but you cannot try to change them and still protest that you belong to the particular sect that holds them. Many people have left the Ismaili faith, just as others have joined it throughout the ages. There has never been any question of changing the Ismaili faith; that faith has remained the same and must remain the same. Those have not believed in it have rightly left it; we bear them no ill-will and respect them for their sincerity.

Political, Social and Economic Guidance

What about political guidance? It has been the practice of my ancestors, to which I have strictly adhered, always to advise Ismailis to be absolutely loyal and devoted subjects of the State - whatever its constitution, monarchial or republican - of which they are citizens. Neither my ancestors nor I have ever tried to influence our followers one way or another but we have told them that the constituted legal authority of any country in which they abide must have their full and absolute loyalty. Similarly if any government approaches me and asks me for my help and my advice to its subjects, this advice is invariably - as was my father’s and my grandfather’s - that they must be loyal and law abiding, and if they have any political grievances they must approach their government as legally constituted, and in loyalty and fidelity to it, All my teaching and my guidance for my followers has been in fulfillment of this principle render unto God the things which are God’s and to Caesar those which are Caesar’s.
In matters of social reform I have tried to exert my influence and authority sensibly and progressively. I have always sought to encourage the emancipation and education of women. In my grandfather’s and my father’s time the Ismailis were far ahead of any other Muslim sect in the matter of abolition of the strict veil, even in extremely conservative countries. I have absolutely abolished I; nowadays you will never find an Ismaili woman wearing the veil. Everywhere I have always encourage girls’ schools, even in regions where otherwise they were completely unknown. I say with pride that my Ismaili followers are, in this matter of social welfare, far in advance of any other Muslim sect. No doubt it is possible to find individuals equally advanced, but I am convinced that our social conditions as a body - education for both boys an girls, marriage and domestic outlook and customs, the control over divorce, the provision for children in the event of divorce, and so forth - are far ahead. We were pioneers in the introduction of midwifery, and long before any other Muslim community in the Middle East, we had trained nurses for childbirth. With the support and help of Lady Dufferin's nursing association in India, I was able at a time when normal conditions in these matters were terribly unsanitary - to introduce a modern outlook on childbirth with trained midwives, not only in India and Burma but in Africa and (so far as general conditions permitted) in Syria and Iraq.

In Africa, where I have been able to give active help a well as advice, we have put the finances of individuals and of the various communities on a thoroughly safe basis. We established an insurance company - the Jubilee Insurance - whose shares have greatly increased in value. We also set up what we called an investment trust, which is really a vast association for receiving money and then putting it out o loan at a low rate of interest, to Ismaili traders and to people who want to buy or build their own houses.
So far as their way of life is concerned, I have tried to vary the advice which I have given to my followers in accordance with the country or state in which they live. Thus in the British Colony of East Africa I strongly urge them to make English their first language, to found their family and domestic lives along English lives and in general to adopt British and European customs - except in the matter of alcohol and slavery to tobacco. I am convinced that living as they must in a multiracial society, the kind of social life and its organization which gives them the greatest opportunities to develop their personalities and is the most practically useful is the one which they ought to follow. On the other hand, to those who live in Burma I have the same sort of advice - but that they should follow a Burman way of life rather than any other. In Muslim countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran of course there are no difficulties at all.

Islam's Tolerance and Charity

Reaction against hatred, intolerance and bigotry has, I know, coloured my whole life, and I have found my answer in the simple prayer that God in His Infinite mercy will forgive the sins of all Muslims, the slayer and the slain, and that all may be reconciled in Heaven in a final total absolution. And I further pray that all who truly and sincerely believe in God, be they Christian, Jew, Buddhist or Brahmin, who strive to do good and avoid evil, who are gentle and kind, will be joined in Heaven and be granted final pardon and peace.

My Diamond Jubilee - For Ismaili Economic Upliftment and Opportunity

The sixtieth anniversary of my inheriting my Imamat and ascending the “Gadi” fell in 1945. But in the troubled conditions at the end of the Second World War it was neither possible nor suitable to arrange any elaborate celebrations of my Diamond Jubilee. We decided to have two ceremonies: one, including the weighing against Diamonds, in Bombay in March 1946, and another five months later, in Dar-es-Salaam, using the same diamonds.
When the time came, world conditions were only just beginning to improve and travel becoming a little less difficult than it had been in the last months of the war. However, a magnificently representative assemblage of my followers gathered for a wonderful and to me at least - quite unforgettable occasion. There were Ismailis present from all over the Near and Middle East, from Central Asia and China; from Syria and Egypt; and from Burma and Malaya, as well as thousands of my Indian followers. Many of the Ruling Princes of India honoured me with their presence, as did senior British officials in this stormy twilight of the Raj. Telegrams and letters of congratulation showered in on me from all over the Islamic world, from the heads of all the independent Muslim nations, and from the viceroy; I was proud and happy man to be thus reunited with those for whom across the years my affection and my responsibility have been so deep and so constant.

To the celebrations in India there as an extremely serious side. An amount equal to the value of the diamonds more than half a million pounds - had been collected and was offered to me as an unconditional gift. I wanted this enormous amount to be used for the welfare of the Ismaili community throughout what was then undivided India. The specific scheme which I had in mind was a trust, along the lines which Ismailis have built up in Africa, which is in essence not unlike the Friendly Societies that have made so valuable a contribution to British life. I hold that for a trading and agricultural community such as the great majority of Ismalis are, an organization of this character, combining welfare with prudent financial advice, assistance, loans, mortgages and so forth, is much more important and much more suitable that an ordinary charity fund.

However, other opinions prevailed in India. Having handed back the money, with my advice as to its disposal, to the representatives of those who had subscribed it, I did not like to use my authority as Imam to make my advice mandatory. It was decided to set up a conventional charitable trust a decision, I must emphasize, in which I had no share and no responsibility - and there was the outcome which I had feared and foreseen, for it is not unfamiliar in the East. Before the trust could get into its stride there was protracted and disastrously costly litigation between various parties among the Ismailis in Bombay. I still hope, however, that when the suits are settled, at least half the original sum subscribed will not have been spent on costs and will be available for charity among the Ismailis.

I myself have sometimes - been criticized for not supporting and encouraging ordinary charities on a large scale hospitals and dispensaries, schools and scholarships, and the usual run of charitable institutions and organizations. I am convinced that the Ismaili communities compose a special case. Many Ismailis are traders and middlemen; others are yeomen farmers, of the order of society known in Russian history as kulaks. There is an intensely individualist outlook, acquired and fostered over many centuries. Welfare imposed from without is not in the patter of their society. I am convinced that their first need is to learn to co-operate in their thrift and self-help, to extend what they practise in their families and as individuals to the community as a whole. This will not be achieved by the ordinary so-called charitable and welfare systems that are part of the fabric of existence in many European countries. Co-operation in banking and commerce, in the raising and lending of money, in building and in farming is, I sincerely believe, their path towards economic, social and cultural uplift, toward that better life for themselves and for their children which their talents and their virtues can secure.

Perpetual Source of True Happiness

Never, in my life - I may say with complete honesty - have I for an instant been bored. Every day has been so short, every hour so fleeting, every minute so filled with the life I love that time for me has fled on far too swift a wing. A mind that is occupied, in health or in sickness, with things outside itself and its own concerns is, I believe, a perpetual source of true happiness. In ordinary prayer, as we in Islam conceive it, adoration of the beloved fills up every nook and cranny of the human consciousness; and in the rare, supreme moments of spiritual ecstasy, the light of Heaven blinds mind and spirit to all other lights and blots out every other, sense and perception.

Islam's Moral and Spiritual Force

Wherever the indigenous population is Muslim, there is remarkably little racial antagonism or sense of bitterness against the European, in spite of the European's obvious economic superiority. Islam, after all, is a soil in which sentiments of this sort do not take root or flourish easily. This is not a shallow and fatalistic resignation; it is something much more profound in the essence of the teaching of Islam - a basic conviction that in the eyes of God all men, regardless of colour or class or economic condition, are equal. From this belief there springs an unshakable self-respect, whose deepest efforts are in the subconscious, preventing the growth of bitterness or any sense of inferiority of jealousy by one man of another’s economic advantage.

Islam in all these countries has within it, I earnestly believe, the capacity to be a moral and spiritual force of energizing enormous significance, both stabilizing and energizing the communities among whom it is preached and practiced. To ignore Islam’s potential influence for good, Islam’s healing and creative power for societies as for individuals, is to ignore one of the most genuinely hopeful factors that exist in the world today.

Life's Enduring Lesson

I can only say to everyone who reads this book that it is my profound conviction that man must never ignore and leave untended and undeveloped that spark of the Divine which is in him. The way to personal fulfillment, to individual reconciliation with the Universe that is about us, is comparatively easy for anyone who firmly and sincerely believe, as I do, that Divine Grace has given man in his own heart the possibilities of illumination and of union with Reality. It is, however, far more important to attempt to offer some hope of spiritual sustenance to those many who, in this age in which the capacity of faith is non-existent if the majority, long for something beyond themselves, even if it seems second-best. For them there is the possibility of finding strength of the spirit, comfort and happiness in contemplation of the infinite variety and beauty of the Universe.
Life in the ultimate analysis has taught me one enduring lesson. The subject should always disappear in the object. In our ordinary affections one for another, in our daily work the hand or brain, most, of us discover soon enough that any lasting satisfaction, any contentment that we can achieve, is the result of forgetting self, of merging subject with object in a harmony that is of body, mind and spirit. And in the highest realms of consciousness all who believe in a Higher Being are liberated from all the clogging and hampering bonds of the subjective self in prayer, in rapt meditation upon and in the face of the glorious radiance of eternity, in which all temporal and earthly consciousness is swallowed up and itself becomes the eternal.

True Islamic Charity in Thought and Prayer for the Brotherhood of Believers

"Though Ismailis have been always staunch and firm believers in the truth of their own faith in the Imamat Holy Succession, they have never, like some other sects, gone to the other extreme of condemning brother Muslims who have other interpretations of the Divine Message of our Holy Prophet (S.A.S.).

"Ismailis have always believed and have been taught in each generation by their Imams that they hold the rightful interpretation of the succession to the Holy Prophet, but that is no reason why other Muslims, who believe differently, should not be accepted as brothers in Islam and dear in person and prayed for and never publicly or privately condemned, leave alone abused.

"I hope that in these days when the Muslims have to hold together in view of all the dangers, external and internal, from all quarters, I hope and believe and pray that Ismailis may show their true Islamic charity in thought and prayer for the benefit and happiness of all Muslims, men, women and children of all sects." (Cairo, 1955)

Pioneering Hockey

I was a pioneer of another sport in India - hockey, which now-a-days is one of the main national games of both India and Pakistan. I began to play it with my cousin and other companions of my own age in the early nineties. I encouraged interest in the game, I gave the cups, I got the Indian Army to play. Teams were built up among the various communities in Bombay, and competitions extended steadily all over India. Hockey and cricket developed at much the same time in India, cricket fostered and encouraged by the then Governor of Bombay, Lord Harris; young Indians who had been to England for some part of their education continued the game when they came home, and it exerted an appeal which it has never lost and which has extended to wider and wider circles in India and Pakistan, both of which now produce teams of Test Match caliber and quality.

What Have We Forgotten in Islam?

Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Quran God’s Signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitude and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of divine power, divine law and divine order. Even in the Ayat of Noor, divine is referred to as the natural phenomenon of light and even references are made to the fruit of the earth. During the great period of Islam, Muslims did not forget these principles of their religion.

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