Interview of H. H. The Aga Khan Given to and Telecast by Pakistan Television Corporation- 1985-11-12
AH-Men have different reasons for serving humanity and their country. What are yours, Your Highness?
MHI - First of all my interpretation of my faith and my office. I was brought up from my youngest days as a Muslim. I observed my family practicing Islam. I was educated from a very early age in the Faith and studied the Faith as a university student. Any my interpretation is that any man who is in a position of authority, has a duty to use that authority and whatever wealth he has, for the benefit of the Ummah and of humanity. That is part of the essence of Islam. it is the way in which the Faith defines the role of the wealthy and of the powerful in relation to society. And that is a profound part of my belief.
AH - To what extent this belief you refer to, Your Highness, has influenced your judgement in your philanthropic work?
MHI - A great deal. In fact it is the motivating force. That is the force which has encouraged me to look at various areas of help. I think there are two forms of help. There is helping people without instigating them to help themselves. And then there is helping people by helping them help themselves. I prefer the second form. I believe it is also the intent of Allah to what He said in the Quran and in the tradition that you don't help people once. You try to help them in such a way that they become self sufficient, make them help the others.
AH - You have known the best of the occident and the orient - such has been you background, your education and upbringing. What have you discovered to be the best in the field of education?
MHI - I think in term of, let us say, the philosophical environment in which an individual lives, there is no doubt that the Faith of Islam places the individual in society in the world in which he lives, in a position where he is not in conflict with his time and he is not in conflict with science and technology of his time. The eternal values of Islam are such that whether the man lived a hundred years ago or lives a hundred years from now, he is always in his correct position. The is no conflict. So in terms of the humanistic, permanent values of a faith, I would say that obviously Islam put an individual in a very privileged position.
In the occident what I have found challenging and interesting is the concept of change; and the acceptance that the world does evolve, society evolves, man himself evolves. The concept of the static individual in a static society, in a static civilisation is totally in conflict with western philosophy.
AH - Excuse me for interrupting, but as they say "You cannot step into the same river twice".
MHI - (Laughing) That is right. And I think what I find so inspiring is that Islam is the bridge between those two philosophies.
AH - Why do you call it a bridge? Why is it that we find this blend of the east and west - west being so different in technology, moral values, spiritual values. Why do not we manage to find or discover a blend of the two?
MHI - I think it probably stems from a number of factors. First of all I do not think that science and technology has ever existed in a vacuum. It exists in a society and it only survives in a society if that society needs the science and technology and uses the science and technology and invests in it. Therefore, science and technology, per se, are areas of difficult development in countries which do not have a strong industrial sector, which are basically rural, whose demography is rural. And I think that this whole issue of science and technology is intimately linked with the productive industrial sector of a country. If that does not function, and after all it is that sector which does in most industrialised countries; more than 50% of the Investment in research and development comes in the industrial sector.
AH - You are the spiritual leader and the moral leader and of course the temporal leader as well, of a very large community in the world. You have the spiritual leadership and moral guidance on one side and establishment of a purely scientific and technological university on the other. How have you been able to find some blend between the two?
MHI - Because I have tried to give this institution a mandate which is within Islamic Philosophy, within the Faith of Islam, but interpreting the mandate in such a way that the university can evolve, can grow.
AH - Now as Chancellor of the University, what do you envisage to be the future of Pakistan's younger generation?
MHI - I think it is a difficult question. First of all I start from the premise of Pakistan - a big country, a big population, a spread of Muslims from all interpretations of the Faith, a rural country with a reasonably developed industrial sector, but not an extensively developed industrial sector, that makes me think of a country whose development could, and Insha Allah will, be multi - faceted; not a monolithic economy; not a monolithic society; perhaps not even a monolithic interpretation of the Faith. In that sense, Pakistan represents the multifaceted face of the Islamic World. Therefore, within its frontiers it contains all the challenges, all the opportunities of the Islamic World. What I hope is that in its diversity, there will be a sense of strength rather than a sense of antagonism, or conflict. And that sense of strength which could come from many different peoples, many different attitudes, is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities.
The difficulty is what needs to be done sot that the youth of Pakistan interpret this situation as one of tremendous, perhaps even unique opportunities.
AH - The subject of architecture is very close to your heart. You are the first non - architect to receive the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Medal in Architecture. And you have created the largest architectural award in the world. In what way does this intense involvement reflect the cause of Islam?
MHI - Well, one of my concerns, in thinking about the future of the Islamic World in the years to come, is whether we have sufficiently interpreted the fact that Islam is a complete Faith, touches every aspect of the man's life, but his contact with his environment, with his family, with the world around him. the fact was translated for centuries into some of the greatest architecture in the world - recognised by all civilisation not just by us. And not only was it an inspiration for buildings related to the practice of the Faith but for secular buildings.
Now for a number of reasons and perhaps essentially the fact that the economic centre moved out of the Islamic Empire onto other parts of the world, the news of Islamic society started to be: progress is related to physical forms of other societies. Any there was, I think , a gradual degradation, lack of appreciation for our own traditions and, I think that in so far as my conviction is that Islam is a total faith, all aspects of the Faith's action on the man's behaviour must be taken into account. The way in which the man lives in society, in hi environment, is critical. And in that sense, reviving Islamic architecture, adapted to our time, I think, is very important.
AH - Here we talk of the classical heritage of Islam and of course the rapid, endless innovations of modern architecture. There are some very strange buildings that we see and come across in our Television programmes as well sometimes from the west (Mawlana Hazar Imam chuckles). Do you think it is possible to create a meaningful blend of the two in the future? or would they just go in different directions?
MHI - No. I again think there is strength in diversity. Let me explain. I don't think they type of architecture you will get in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia will be identical to the type of architecture you get in the Gulf. I don't think the Gulf will be identical to the architecture you get in the mountains in Hunza and Chitral. you will always have a local element in that architecture.
I am looking at the inspiration behind that. What is man's relationship to his family? What is man's relationship to his environment? God's blessings in the forms of water, sand, colour - how are those used? How do we use them to improve our living conditions. Those, I think, are the inspiring forces that Islamic architects, Muslim architects will revitalise. Now I hope they will revitalise. Now I hope they will revitalise this in a form which is appropriate to their own culture, their own climate, and their own environment. The inspiration is there.
AH - Why this stagnation? You were talking of the revival which means that there was some form of stagnation for a couple of centuries. For example if we talk of the Indo - Pak sub - continent we think of the Moghul architecture and now we think of the present day architecture. And in between there does not seem to be any particular development or evolution.
MHI - I think there are a number of reasons, Probably one of them is that the large institutional buildings for many years were not part of the Islamic Empire because Islamic Empire was loosing its wealth; wealth was moving elsewhere. Because wealth had moved elsewhere, the high impact buildings were being developed in other societies. And there was a form of feeling that that was the physical form that power and wealth had to take. I think new materials had a lot to do with it - the development of steel, concrete, aluminium, glass. These were all foreign to Islamic architecture in its traditional forms. Some, for a number of reasons. But I think the exciting part about it is that Muslim architect are re - utilising these materials and their own indigenous materials in forms which come back to the inspiration of Islam. That is where, I think the blend will occur.
AH - The Aga Khan University is a very great gift. Did you have any specific reason in your mid while choosing Pakistan for it? I am sure our viewers will like to know.
MHI - (Chuckles) Well let me go back to the genesis of the problem. In 1964 there was an insufficiency of facilities for training doctors in Pakistan. And there was a request that I should assist, as I have done in other parts of the world, to develop a teaching hospital. This I did. And yesterday (November 11, at the inauguration ceremony of the University) I explained some of the reasons why that teaching hospital changed from a teaching hospital to an independent university with a charter which enabled it to develop faculties even outside Pakistan, if necessary.
Why I started with a teaching hospital in 1964? Why I accepted that was that we already had in Pakistan a very large network of health units. They had no focal point. They had no apex health institution. Now that was a Pakistani concept. But then with the President, we started asking the questions of where is Pakistan within the Ummah and what should a new university in Pakistan be in relation to the Ummah and in relation to the Third World? From there concepts expanded to what the institution is today.
AH - I understand that this great university starts, with great resources - they will not be short of funds or skill or devotion and of course as you say we have the intellectual vigour. We lag behind the West. I keep coming back to it because we have never been able to quite resolve what the main causes could be. We lag behind the west nevertheless in many ways; for instance the quality of our life, perhaps in quality of our thinking sometimes, are we indolent, we do not want to work? Are we pessimistic, or is it, Your Highness, that we do not have the kind of unity we want to have in the Ummah so that all of us could get together, pool our resources? What could be the main cause?
MHI - I am not sure I could say what is the main cause. I think there are a number of factors which have influenced this. The first thing is that we are dealing with problems which are not problems of the industrialised world. Let me give you an example. The population of Pakistan is 70% rural. The population of China is more than 70% rural. The population produces probably 100% of the agricultural product of the country. In United States less than 2 1/1% of the population is agricultural and it produces a 100% of the agricultural produce. So in the first place we are talking about different lands and different demographies.
I think in the second place, there has been a swing of economic development. After the Ottoman Empire fell part, wealth moved to other parts of the world.
And that wealth induced a new civilisation - the industrial civilisation. that generated more wealth. Islamic world was not part of that and therefore in a sense we have been removed from recent economic development from recent economic development. Our difficulty today is that we cannot simply blindly seek to recreate the same forms of wealth as the industrialised world because our land is different, our people are different. So we have to find new solutions. I think that is one problem. I think the other problem is, as you said, a lack of integrity in view. Every country, for historical reasons very often has been under different influences. Many countries were under French government in the last century, others under British governments, and so on and so forth. That has not allowed an integral view of the Islamic Ummah. I think that is another reason.
Perhaps the third reason is that we have been faced with a historical question: how does government change in an Islamic country? What are the political forms which are acceptable within Islam, acceptable within our time; how do they function? And that has caused a large number of different forms of government, of processes of change - some inherited, some new. The fact is that there has been a lot of change. That destabilises, it breaks continuity in development. I think we have to try and find solutions to that problem.
AH - Before I ask you another question, I would like to ask Your Highness, something more interesting from the point of view of our viewers. What, Your Highness, has been the most pleasant moment of your life?
MHI - Ah! the most pleasant moment of my life (Pause) you know, man's mind is not perfect, and to reconstitute all the important events in my life would be very difficult.
I think what is important in any man's life is the satisfaction he gets from what he does. And certainly yesterday (the formal inauguration of the Medical University) was one of the important days in my life. Because it is not given to every man to create a new university. It is not given to every man to receive the sort of support that I think this university has received. It is not given to every man to say that may be an institution has come into existence that might one day have a significant impact on people who are important in my life.
AH - In other words you like to see it grow?
MHI - Yes.
AH - You did pay tributes to you team, which was really very kind of you and very realistic because it is really the team which puts the whole thing together.
MHI - Of Course.
AH - You have a dream - the renaissance of Islam. All you activities really converge on that particular point. But what makes you believe it will become a reality?
MHI - Simply because I believe in the eternity of the Faith and I believe it is the Faith for man. And in that sense, Muslims will find within their Faith all the dimensions they need to live satisfactorily in the future. The question is not one of the faith; it is a question of what man does. The faith gives him the environment in which to function today and tomorrow. It s what we do as individuals in our lives.
AH - How do you resolve this then that people who do not have the Faith of Islam, they have their own faiths, may be followers of holy books or otherwise, they have made great progress. How is it, if correct faith and true faith was the foundation.
MHI - I would question what you interpret as , or the elements you put in the word "progress". There are many aspects of the industrialised world as it is called today which I do not wish for the future of the Islamic world, nor for my own children. I think there are imbalances there, which of course exist in other societies but the imbalance is there, which I don't think are healthy, which I would wish changed, which I would hope Islamic society in the future will address and find different forms, perhaps better forms, of solutions. So, I don't think one can equate "progress" exclusively with what is happening in the industrialised world now, very far from it.
AH - And what would be your ideal world view of the future of Islam? And what kind of world, Islam as a Faith and followers of Islam would envisage where really we can say that yes this is an Islamic country with the best of ideals and practices?
MHI - I would like to essence of the Faith to be more predominant in everyone's life. Go back to the origins of Islam. It was a Faith practiced in a land with no physical frontiers. The concept of the modern state is not really an Islamic concept. Islam was a brotherhood, is a brotherhood. That is the first thing - the free movement of people, the generosity of people's attitudes towards their brothers around the world. That is itself I think is important. Secondly, living in the context of the moral discipline of Islam, I think, is important. Because living in a society where freedom eventually becomes equated with license, is not what I would want.
AH - Is there anything else you would like to tell our viewers?
MHI - Yes. One the occasion of the opening of the University, I would like to thank everyone in Pakistan and everyone outside Pakistan who has enabled this institution to come into existence. Because I have a very deep feeling of gratitude. A man, whoever he is. cannot create institutions of this sort without that sort of help and support. Any I hope and pray that it will continue because its growth and strength will come from further support.
And hold fast all together by the Rope of Allah, and be not divided amongst yourselves. - Holy Qur'an (3:103)
I am leaving amongst you two things after me - the Qur'an and my posterity; verify, if you follow them both, you will never go astray. both are tied with a long Rope and cannot be separated till the day of Judgement: - Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.)
So in terms of the humanistic permanent values of a faith, I would say that obviously Islam puts an individual in a very privileged position.
- Mawlana Hazar Imam