Wednesday, October 23, 2003
The Aga Khan at the weekend spoke about freedom of interpretation as a "generosity which the Holy Koran confers upon all believers".
He also spoke of what was needed to assure "the growth of future generations of our intelligentsia, so that we strengthen our own capacity to determine our destiny".
In a keynote address at an international meeting entitled "Word of God, Art of Man: The Koran and its Creative Expressions," the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the the Shia Ismaili Muslims, said: "The revelation granted to the Holy Prophet Muhammad opened new horizons and released new energies of mind and spirit."
It was, he said, a message "still potent in the Muslim world today, although it is sometimes clouded over, distorted and deformed by political interests and by struggles for power over the minds and hearts of people."
There are attempts, he warned, "at transforming what are meant to be fluid, progressive, open-ended, intellectually informed and spiritually inspired traditions of thought, into hardened, monolithic, absolutist and obscurantist positions."
Later , speaking to postgraduate students in Islamic Studies and Humanities, the Aga Khan described the intellectual development of the ummah as an urgent challenge.
"In what voice or voices," he asked, "can the Islamic heritage speak to us afresh – a voice true to the historical experience of the Muslim world yet, at the same time, relevant to the technically advanced, but morally turbulent and uncertain world of today?"
He spoke of divides so readily perceived today. "On the opposite sides of the fissures," he said, "are the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, the Shia and the Sunni, the Arab and the non-Arab, the theocracies and the secular states, those who search for and are keen to adopt modern, participatory forms of government, versus those who wish to re-impose supposedly ancient forms of governance."
He added: "What should have been brotherhood has become rivalry, generosity has been replaced by greed and ambition, the right to think is held to be the enemy of real faith, and anything we might hope to do to expand the frontiers of human knowledge through research is doomed to failure for, in most of the Muslim world, there are neither the structures nor the resources to develop meaningful intellectual leadership."
"Yet," said the Aga Khan, "there are many across the length and breadth of the Muslim world today, who care for their history and heritage, who are keenly sensitive to the radically altered conditions of the modern world."
The Aga Khan went on to describe a number of initiatives that he had launched in the areas of higher education to address the need to foster intellectual development in Muslim societies. These included the Aga Khan University with campuses in South Asia, East Africa and the United Kingdom and the University of Central Asia with campuses under development in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic.
Among the more significant new ventures he mentioned, was an international network of schools that he had launched across Africa and Asia, and that would provide education of the highest quality from the primary to the higher secondary levels on custom-designed campuses with the best facilities available.
The Aga Khan was in London to attend events marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of The Institute of Ismaili Studies.