Calgary Sun
June 17, 2003
By PAUL JACKSON -- Calgary Sun

Working together

Ismaili Muslims believe education must be used for benefit of us all "If I am only for my-self then what am I?"
-- Rabbi Hillel the Elder, legendary Jewish spiritual leader (70 BC to 102 AD)

There are some 8,000 Ismaili Muslims in our community and upwards of 60,000 across our country and they are surely the type of people you would wish as a next door neighbour.

When most of us today hear the words Muslim or Islam we tend to think of terrorists like Osama bin Laden or dictators such as Saddam Hussein.

But to Ismaili Muslims, these individuals are anathema.

Indeed, Prince Karim Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims, described the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as "repugnant" to the very ideals of Islam.

The words of the Aga Khan echoed this Sunday as I sat amidst tables of young Ismaili Muslims and their parents and teachers at a presentation ceremony under the auspices of the Aga Khan Education Board for the Prairies.

Ismaili Muslims believe greatly in the value of education and the acquirement of knowledge. That knowledge, Ismaili Muslim officials such as Nashir Samanani, Riaz Jiwani, Karim Manji and Din Ladak, made clear, must not be used solely to benefit the receiver alone. It must be used to benefit every one in a community -- indeed, everyone in the world -- regardless of race or faith.

That the guest speaker at the event, Aalim Weljie, would quote one of Judaism's most legendary spiritual leaders, Hillel the Elder, surely demonstrates the vision and tolerance of Ismaili Muslims.

Weljie, both a scientist and a humanitarian, has travelled much of the world initiating health programs.

With his vast knowledge -- and he is always acquiring more -- Weljie could be a rich man, but instead he has dedicated his time and his talents to making others rich. Rich not in monetary terms, but rich in enabling them to enhance their lives.

He is very much a personification of what being an Ismaili Muslim is all about.

The title of his speech -- Civil Society in Canada -- might initially make you want to yawn -- but his words gracefully outlined why every individual and every community should work together to better their lives and the lives of others.

He contended communities, governments and the corporate sector all overlap and in doing so, have a duty to play a role in enhancing society.

The words of 15th century poet and scholar John Donne "No man is an island," came to mind.

Weljie didn't quote Donne, but he did talk about individuals ranging from Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas to India's civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi.

As a boy, Douglas, a Baptist, almost lost a leg because his parents were too poor to pay for good medical attention. So he spent his life in a campaign to ensure no Canadian would ever be refused medical care because of an inability to pay.

As a young lawyer travelling in South Africa, Gandhi, a Hindu, was told he had to sit in a special train carriage reserved for non-whites.

So incensed was he at this injustice, he went on to spend his life seeking equality for all and freeing India from British rule by peaceful, non-violent means.

Weljie noted if people do not work together, society ultimately falls apart with, as history as shown, drastic results.

Yet, working together, people are the "glue" that holds a community together.

The examples he used were not always those on a great worldwide scale -- and some were surprising.

He painted a picture of a beautiful neighbourhood park that, unless people tender it, loses its heart.

One doesn't even have to agree with someone, or particularly like them, to work with them for the better good and make "space" for them in the "home" of humanity.

He listed voluntary and charitable organizations both religious and secular whose members worked day-in, and day-out to enhance the lives of others.

He even included the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation for challenging voter apathy!

Yes, Weljie surely is a speaker who can surprise an audience!

This column started with a quote by Hillel the Elder, and will conclude with another one. The Babylonian also proclaimed: "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man; this is the whole Law. The rest is mere commentary."

Ismaili Muslims surely do exemplify not only the teachings of Mohammed, but also other great preachers of history.

Jackson, associate editor of the Sun, can be reached at
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