Aga Khan foresees bridge between Islam and West - 2008-11-25
Muslim leader says education is the key to better relations
The spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims says he sees real prospects for new bridges and better relations between Muslim states and the West.
The Aga Khan, touring Canada as part of his celebration of 50 years as Ismaili Muslim leader, said despite the West's 'failure' in Iraq and conflict in Afghanistan, there are reasons for hope.
One, he said, is growing acceptance on both sides of the divide for his urgent call to combat what Harvard professor Samuel Huntington dubbed 'the clash of civilizations' and the Aga Khan terms 'the clash of ignorance.'
This is what led to the present situation in Iraq, he said. It was 'entirely predictable.'
Education is the key to better relations, he said.
On the Muslim side, he said this involves continuing his 50-year push for acceptance of pluralism and an end to insistence that tribal or ethnic priorities always trump the greater good.
And it involves schooling -- one of the key thrusts of his Aga Khan Development Network.
This $500-million-a-year group of agencies works in a score of poor countries on projects as diverse as preschool religious teaching to on-the-job teacher training in places where qualifications are sometimes at a rock-bottom low.
On the western side, it involves the development of more inclusive curricula in institutions unaware of Muslim history and culture.
He said it is happening gradually, with western governments coming to understand the diversity of the Muslim world, and how in every Muslim country, the relationship between religion and state is, unlike in the West, inextricably intertwined.
What's still needed, he said, are two things:
The Muslim world has to be clearer about what it wants. And the western world must learn to assess the risks in doing what it does.
'Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim leaders would have told the western world exactly what to expect when Saddam Hussein was eliminated,' he said.