colonialism

The past has a ripple effect on the present. Unless we know who we were, we cannot know who we are.

Aamer Rahman, an Australian-Bangladeshi comedian, sheds an ingeniously skewed perspective on the value of history in his ‘Reverse Racism’ bit that now has over a million YouTube hits. By flipping the history of colonialism, he brings to light many of the power dynamics we take for granted in today’s society.

He speeds through the highlights of colonialism, arguing that the only way he could be a ‘reverse racist’ is if he went back in time and convinced the leaders of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central America to occupy Europe and steal their resources (and set up a trans-Asian slave trade).

His irony-laden history lesson gets even more poignant when he suggests that those leaders ‘set up systems that privilege black and brown people at every conceivable social, political, and economic opportunity, so white people would never have any hope of real self-determination.’ And, ‘just for kicks, subject white people to coloured people’s standards of beauty.’

Rahman’s alternate Bizarro World holds up a mirror to our own accepted notions of how things ought to be. The supremacy of the West over the last few centuries was by no means a foregone conclusion. It came on the heels of Europe’s very Dark Ages, a term that is itself loaded with the conception that nothing of any worth transpired during that period. Truth is, while continental Europe was in its Dark Ages, Asia was at a cultural apogee and the Middle East was a global hub for new knowledge.

The fact that we don’t learn this in school is no accident. It is reflective of Rahman’s ‘systems of privilege’ that modern Western history deliberately includes no mention of the scientific, philosophical, and cultural heritage it owes to the Middle East and Asia.

For almost half a millennium – from the 15th to 18th centuries – while most Europeans were living in gutter-ridden mud streets, the Ottoman Empire was a beacon of shining sophistication, and Indian maharajas lived lives so lavish that their individual wealth would have surpassed that of whole countries on the Continent. But, it was a Chinese invention that would change the fate of the West – and the rest – for with the introduction of Chinese gunpowder to the Continent, Europe was able to lay siege to the entire world.

In a way, colonialism has been more of a European obsession than that of other continents, who chose the paths of isolation, in the case of China, or of inclusion, in the case of the Ottomans.

Nevertheless, the point here is that even a simple understanding of the contours of history can radically change our perspective on our world. Why is European Renaissance art considered a global standard today when Chinese art has the world’s richest heritage? Why is English the lingua franca today when Arabic was the language of learning in Europe until 500 years ago?

What we are today is a result of what happened yesterday. Questioning why things are is the only way to understand who we are. Rahman’s comedic bit subversively questions the ruling power dynamics of today’s society, and silently asks the right question: ‘why do things have to be the way they are?’

The unspoken answer, of course, is: ‘they don’t have to be.’

#POP, #THOUGHTS

New York the Great #ThrillingCities

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It’s a tale of two cities. It’s a place where gangs of casually-clad joggers commandeer public space outside Central Park to bend their legs into abnormal positions, while fashion-forward celebrities lounge over restrictively-priced delicacies in the Trump Tower restaurant across the street.

The prohibitiveness to living well in New York is overlooked by its residents, who pay an exorbitant cost to live in an average manner. This is perhaps why the city’s authorities go to great lengths to ensure that there are an endless variety of free distractions of the highest quality. The result being that the people complain less about the dirt and the danger, and extol in ecstatic tones the unparalleled greatness of the city’s offerings and opportunities.

There is no doubt that the city is dangerous and dirty. To this day, there are large parts of Manhattan – what many consider the greatest island on Earth – in which one cannot walk with surety of one’s safety. In even the tourist-heavy areas, garbage is strewn on the streets, upon which are placed at regular intervals human beings of exemplary degradation, left to rot both physically and mentally.

To say that it is better now than it was before is a denial of the great city’s responsibility to its disenfranchised. To say that the griminess of the subway is charming is to ignore the heady stench of crime that remains a hallmark of the city, which seems to spend a great deal of effort enticing people to look up at its pretty marvels rather than down at its dirty truths.

To live in New York is to pay for the privilege of being trodden upon. There are very few cities in which you can pay as much to live as poorly. There is, however, nowhere else that you will be as happy to do so.

That is because New York is a crucible for passion. Everyone you are likely to meet is continually on-the-go, excited about life and its prospects. They are all engaged in atypical endeavours that could only exist in a place like New York, where all things imagined come to life.

New York is the fertile soil that births dreams. It has never lost its New World character, whose two essential aphorisms are: ‘everything is possible,’ and ‘only the strong survive.’

But, that first aphorism – ‘everything is possible’ – is only valid in conjunction with the second: ‘only the strong survive.’ It is true that New York offers the opportunity to be anything, but the price is high, and most do not survive the fire of the forge. Even so, New York can be that smouldering forge in which every man hammers out his own future, fashioned by his own hands, without the restrictions of tradition or establishment.

New York’s traditional foes, London and Moscow, represented to the freedom-loving city the vestiges of those old shackles. The ideology of Moscow, a city with a whiff of decrepitude in the air, was a place where the restrictions of established political structures would forbid a man from gaining the resources needed to forge his own destiny. The social strictures of aristocratic London, a city that is fascinated with the perpetual relevance of its own majesty, would never allow a man to gain more respect than his name allowed, no matter how much wealth he accrued.

Born a mishmash, a place without culture or cultivation, New York was a place where enterprising farmers came to seek their fortunes, escaping an aristocratic Europe where they could never fulfil their upwardly mobile aspirations. In this democratising New World, where everyone was worth only as much as their merit proved, those farmers became industrial magnates within a generation, proving that this was a place where it was the strength of your will that made you, not your name.

That idyllic history retains its grasp on the minds of people today, formulating for them the propelling thought: I can make something of myself here. And perhaps they can. But, the great promise of New York is a fleck of light – something you can’t grasp. The city is the living metaphor of the consumerist dream, populated by too many people who believe that simply being in the orbit of the great city will make their dreams come true.

A place unburdened by history or culture, New York remains, in the popular imagination, a place where one can be what one chooses. For those who are consumed with the need to disrupt norms that restrict their destinies, there is no other place to actualise their visions. It is a place for people who are not willing to do what they’re told. It is a place for people who, for one reason or another, cannot stomach being normal.

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#THOUGHTS, Islam, Religion, Television

The Muslim Thirst for Global Knowledge

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The reawakening to science that took place in Europe hundreds of years later was kindled by a flame that had been long tended by Islamic scholars and scientists.
– Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos (Fox)

The Muslim societies of history were known by their contemporaries as places of pluralism, where people of different religions worked together on an unquenchable quest for knowledge, whatever the source. Intellect was prized above all things, as it was seen as the means to understand God and Creation. The Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation was a command to ‘Read!’ and investigate the depths of the mind, since God teaches humankind ‘by the Pen’ (Q. 96:1-5).

This command was the first revelation of the Qur’an, and it expressed a love for knowledge that was to become the pivot around which all the great Muslim cities flourished. That ardour for intellect was not hindered by any prejudice of race or creed. Knowledge was to be gained from everywhere, and people of all faiths lived and worked side-by-side, inspired by an interpretation of the Qur’an that said ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (Q. 2:256), and that all the world’s diverse humans should ‘come to know one another’ (Q. 49:13).

Spanning time and place, this pluralism of the mind was characteristic of mediaeval Muslim societies like Abbasid Baghdad, Fatimid Egypt, Umayyad Spain, Ottoman Turkey, and Mughal India. Known for their acceptance of diversity and promotion of inter-group cooperation, these societies were composed of different groups with their own philosophies, like an orchestra of different instruments blending harmoniously to create a symphony.

That was the music echoing from the walls of Baghdad’s House of Wisdom, which, by the 9th-century, was the world’s biggest library. A community of global scholars, the House of Wisdom was an unrivaled centre for the study of subjects as varied as astronomy, medicine, zoology, and cartography.

Famously, its translations of Greek texts re-introduced Greek knowledge to Europe and spurred the European Renaissance some 500 years later. Al-Khwarizmi – from whose work we get the words ‘algebra’ and ‘algorithm’ – introduced to future generations the Indian decimal system and its groundbreaking number ‘0’. It was here where scholars like the 10th-century ‘father of optics’ Ibn al-Haytham helped establish the modern scientific method through observable experiments whose revolutionary results reverberate through time to form the bedrock of modern science.

Under the Fatimids, Egypt was to become the heart of Islam’s cultural, intellectual, and scientific life. The world’s first university, al-Azhar, founded in 10th-century Fatimid Cairo, was a haven for scholars from all over the world – regardless of religious persuasion – to collaborate and debate the latest advancements in all fields of human endeavour.

In Cairo, the city founded by this Shi‘i dynasty in 969 CE, was employed a vast administrative service run by Christian and Jewish viziers, Coptic and Jewish officers, and an army staffed by Sunni Turkish as well as Christian commanders. Here, Jews and Christians enjoyed a religious freedom that reflected the modernist tendency of promotion.

Muslim Spain – known as Andalus – was a place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived cooperatively, in a time of Jewish persecution in Europe. In Andalus – the place of ‘three religions and one bedroom’ – people of different faiths interacted freely to create a society that prized the pursuit of knowledge, which both symbolised and actualised for them the freedom of the human soul.

For the 10th-century nun Hroswitha, Muslim Spain was ‘the ornament of the world.’ For her European contemporaries, Andalus was the beacon of civilisation on the continent. It was a place where streets were lamp-lit for miles, where a system of aqueducts and sewers staved off the Plague, and where Averroes and Maimonides produced brilliant philosophical and scientific works that were to become standard texts in European universities for centuries.

It is that strength of the human intellect that the Qur’an aimed to harness. Its vision for humanity was of an ethical community of diverse and different individuals striving to ennoble both themselves and society through the expansion of the mind to all the world’s diverse corners.

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#POP, #THOUGHTS, Consumerism, Religion, Television

True Detective / True Religion

truedickTrue Detective is the modern story of the hero’s journey. It is the allegory of one man’s disenchantment with the cosmic powers that seemed to take away his control over his life and destiny. It’s the story of how, after a lifetime of inner struggle, Rust Cohle finally enters the labyrinth of his mind to face and defeat his own demonic Moby Dick, the great whale, the monstrous Yellow King.

He sees, in his mind’s eye, the grand unity of his life and of every life, and he articulates it in a way that has been done for centuries – as a cosmic shadow-play of light and darkness dancing on the fringes of our consciousness. ‘Looking out those windows every night just thinking,’ he tells his friend, ‘it’s just one story. The oldest – light versus dark.’

At the end of his battle for control of his life, he realises that that was never really the object of his struggle, and that the course of his life was always his to chart. He gets up and walks away from the powerlessness of his past, taking control of his life, making his destiny his decision.

This is our oldest story. This is the allegory of life that each of us plays out on our journeys, on our own quests for that simple realisation that we are the creators of our worlds, that we are the masters of our destinies. This is the simple/profound teaching that we’ve been trying to teach ourselves since we first tapped into our own consciousnesses and articulated the myths that made our earliest religions.

But, if this is old truth, why should a man like Rust – a seeker of truth – have had to endure his mental anguish without the knowledge/faith that he was on the same journey that every human has ever been, and that its conclusion would be in the realisation of his own power? Embittered by his isolation, Rust was a man marginalised because of a neurological system that should have been recognised as genius, but whose ideas were dismissed as rancorous by a society still burdened by superstition.

It seems unfair. The answers are there, but we aren’t taught them. Rust knew there was more to his mind, but he’d been taught to ignore his metaphysical power because it was encased in the shell of dogmatic religion. He was never taught that there was a deeper kernel beyond the dogmatic.

But that’s the bequest of a society that cast out its existential allegories because of its distaste for the corruptions of priests five hundred years ago. It’s the bequest of a society that didn’t realise the value of its spiritual inheritance – the teaching that the cosmic power resides within us, that we are the makers of our own worlds, and that we are the true masters of the universe.

This is the true religion that we were never taught. This was the misfortune that Rust lived with every night when he looked up at the night’s darkness and saw himself alone. Until he came to the edge of death and his mind allowed itself a peek into the power it had been taught to ignore. Then, in that epiphanic moment, when his definitions faded and subject disappeared into object, he felt that ‘beneath that darkness there was another kind – it was deeper – warm, like a substance.’ In that eternal moment, he could feel his father’s peace, he could feel his daughter and her love – ‘even more than before … Nothing but that love.’

And that is the bequest of true religion – to look up at the night sky and see hope in the cosmic play, to see the darkness as simply the shadow of our own great, grand light.

Posted by the Dhaka Tribune at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2014/mar/29/true-detectivetrue-religion

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#POP, #THOUGHTS, Consumerism, Music, Women

Miley’s Purposeless Revolution

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“We Can’t Stop” is a revolutionary anthem. It is a mutiny against an old morality that preaches restraint, to be replaced by a new consumerism that preaches rabid individualism.

Its pace is marked, a slow march on the palaces of power, a declaration of independence from authority. “It’s our party we can do what we want” – the victorious chant of the successful revolutionaries, ousting The Man from his corner office, taking the night in celebration, kissing who they want, like an American soldier in Times Square newly freed from the threat of anti-capitalist invasion.

The chorus appears mid-march: “We can’t stop. We won’t stop.” A fiery square full of youths paused in a unified cry, promising a never-ending struggle against the tyranny of dawns past. “Can’t you see it’s we who own the night,” they ask incredulously, suddenly aware of their own power, the power of the people, the  -cracy of the demos.

The video starts with Miley scissoring herself free from an ankle bracelet, unshackling herself from lawfulness. Red Beats and EOS lip balms everywhere, the Young Twerks are finally free to indulge a wantonness that was previously restricted by an out-dated morality that preached moderation over gratification, prudence over extravagance, communitarianism over consumerism.

That is their victory – the supplanting of a moral order by an indifferent one. Their democratic impulse is piloted by a materialist machine, and fuelled by an unbridled pursuit of desire. But without moral purpose, we become hollow. We get tricked into believing that the need to fulfil desire fulfils the need to have purpose.

The authority of consumerism gave these revolutionaries the freedom to indulge their most purposeless whims, to get lost in the abyss of individualism, to play with abandon in Narcissus’s pool. The authority of consumerism is devoid of purpose. Its acolytes float aimlessly through a life without calling, fooled into doing what the market demands, hoodwinked into thinking they have a choice.

The video is a celebration of what the revolutionaries have won – the freedom to buy what they’re told to buy, the freedom to be who they’re told to be.

In a surreptitious way, it’s in on the joke. It caricatures excess, the traditional preserve of the rich. In their revolution to usurp The Man, they’ve won his freedom of indulgence. It’s a revolution without a cause – a manufactured victory.

In an orgy of destruction that parodies pop consumerism, it pays homage to that Pyrrhic victory. Eating a hundred-dollar-bill-sandwich is a big middle finger not only to the rich, but also to the poor, who have neither sandwiches nor hundred dollar bills. The destruction of a “freedom fry skull” is a wink again to the hungry masses, a stratum to whom these nouveau revolutionaries act as both role model and in an Orwellian twist, the new Man.

You have the freedom to do what we do, they say; if you can afford it.

The purposeless revolution is characterised by its focus on aesthetics, lack of content, and desperate need to be contemporary. The most striking thing about the purposeless revolution is its obsession with image – the refuge of the superficial and the uniform of the hollow.

In a way, the video knows this. A telling scene is a toy sheep in front of a six paned mirror staring at equally vapid reflections of itself. The punch line – they’re all wearing sunglasses.

Miley seems to be conscious of this critique of consumerist culture. She carries her sheep under her arms, aware of the irony that in the fight for independence from conformism, we end up conforming to some other image anyway.

Her non-conformist revolutionaries look the same, talk the same, and act the same –they adopt the image fed to them by a powerful marketing machine that coerces them to want to buy what it wants to sell. She seems to be aware of the irony, and buys into it, ironically.

Buying into it means donning that sheep’s sunglasses, being confronted at every turn by a reflection of a superficial identity constructed by someone else, by the machine of consumerism – the new authority, the new morality, the new dictator of what’s-right-now.

We buy into its promise that happiness is in purposelessness, in the conspicuous consumption of every desire, and that emptiness will be filled by losing ourselves in frivolity and destruction.

We lose ourselves in the endless void of license.

We can do what we want, says the new order. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should, said the old. Freedom doesn’t come with the moral license to abuse freedom. Their revolution supplanted the old morality with a licentious consumerism in which we worship pretend versions of ourselves – like Miley making out with a plastic Barbie doll version of her fabricated Barbie doll self.

The song is a sad, slow commentary on the lies we’re sold. The song is about lies of freedom – freedom to be sold a false dream and to be coerced into buying it. It’s a commentary on the failed revolution to be in charge of our lives and of ourselves.

When we threw out the old authority, we didn’t replace its ethical base, its moral purpose. We only started the revolution because we were sold #YOLO. But with the Happy Meal of freedom-to-do-what-you-want, we got the prize of an imprisoning cycle of consumerism that enslaves us to purposelessness, to false promises of happiness, and a dark truth of emptiness.

“This is our house,” she says. But it’s not mortgage-free, they reply.

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Islam, Religion

There is no such thing as a Muslim name

“Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry has banned 50 names they argue contradict the culture or religion of the Kingdom.” — http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/is-your-name-now-banned-in-saudi-arabia-9192298.html

There is no such thing as a Muslim name. Names come from languages, not from religions. You can have an Arabic name, or a Celtic name, or a Gujrati name. But you can’t have a Muslim name.

Sure, most Muslims choose Arabic names. That’s because Arabic is thought of as the official language of Islam. Truth is, Arabic is just the language of the Qur’an. There is no official language of Islam, because Islam is made up of people who speak all the world’s languages. There are more Muslims in Indonesia than in Saudi Arabia. There are more Muslims in South Asia than in the Middle East.

Any historical reasons for looking to the Arabs as the arbiters of how to be Muslim no longer pertain. Muslims can be of any race, speak any language, and have different rituals and clothes. Islam was built for diversity, it was made to be applicable to different cultures and places. Islam, like many religions, is pan-human – it’s not restricted to a certain ethno-linguistic race.

Since anyone from anywhere can be a Muslim, any name from anywhere can be a Muslim name – so long as its bearer calls him/herself a Muslim.

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Islam, Religion

Partners in Pluralism: Why the Aga Khan loves Canada

agakhanThe Aga Khan’s love for Canada is the sort of love shared by two friends who always know what the other is thinking. Canada is a place that shares wholeheartedly the Aga Khan’s vision for a global community built on the values of pluralism, education, and social action.

As the first religious leader to address Canada’s Parliament, it was perhaps appropriate that the Aga Khan’s parting words on 27 February were a verse from the Qur’an. The verse – which says that humankind was ‘created from a single soul’ – voices a sentiment the Aga Khan called the most ‘beautiful expression about the unity of the human race’ he knows.

The Aga Khan’s respect for pluralism comes not only from his practical experience as the head of the world’s largest development network, but also from his religious commitments. ‘It grows out of the age-old Islamic ethic,’ he said in his Address, ‘committed to goals with universal relevance: the elimination of poverty, access to education, and social peace in a pluralist environment.’

At Toronto’s Massey Hall the following night, Prime Minister Harper lauded the Aga Khan’s dedication to pluralism, which he called ‘a foundational principle of Canadian governance.’ That shared principle – foundational to both the country of Canada and the thought of the Aga Khan – is the bedrock of their long and continuing partnership in pluralism.

Why Pluralism?

The Aga Khan’s support for pluralism derives from both practical experience and religious conviction. His understanding of its practical benefits arises out of his decades of first-hand experience as head of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). As Imam of the diverse global community of Shi`a Ismaili Muslims, it is his mandate to create an enabling environment for success in matters of both faith and world.

And, in his view, pluralism is the key to that success. The source of conflict in today’s world, he believes, is the lack of active understanding and engagement between peoples – not only in war-torn societies, but in all societies where different groups co-exist. In his Parliamentary Address, he lamented that while many governments are unable to meet the challenge of instability, ‘Canada is an exemplary leader’ in the global effort to remedy the clash of ignorance, as he calls it.

The Aga Khan institutionalized his respect for what he called Canada’s ‘robust pluralistic history’ by establishing the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, a joint project between the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada. The Global Centre defines pluralism as an ethic of respect that values human diversity, and as a set of practices and intentions.

Basing himself on the forty years of AKDN’s development work, he concludes that institutional development is the essential for engendering a sustainable pluralist civil society. In his Address, he spoke about the importance of civil society as ‘opening the way for diversity’ and ‘welcoming plurality.’ Canada, in particular, he said, ‘is uniquely able to articulate and exemplify three critical underpinnings of a quality Civil Society — a commitment to pluralism, to meritocracy, and to a cosmopolitan ethic.’

Emblematic of the Aga Khan’s approach to pluralism is that he views it as a ‘process,’ not a product. The work of seeking pluralism, in his view, is never-ending. In this regard, he said in his Address, Canada’s history offers an invaluable lesson in learning about the ‘long, incremental processes through which quality civil societies and committed cultures of pluralism are built.’

The Qur’an and Pluralism

In the Aga Khan’s conception of Islam, pluralism is a central ethic espoused by the Qur’an, which instructs humankind to come to know one another through civic interaction and create a co-operative and united global community. In his Address, he stated that there is ‘little in our theological interpretations that would clash with the other Abrahamic faiths – with Christianity and Judaism.’ Rather, he said, ‘there is much that is in profound harmony.’

The Qur’an’s vision for humanity is of an ethical community of diverse individuals who strive to ennoble both themselves and society through the search for knowledge as well as effective social action. The Qur’an actively promotes diversity (Q. 5:48) as a celebration of humankind, which it says should ‘come to know one another’ (Q. 49:13). This ethic of brotherhood is rooted in the Qur’anic notion of a common humanity, which stresses that all humans, regardless of ideological persuasion, were created ‘from a single soul’ (Q. 4:1). In this view, it matters not whether one is a Jew, or a Christian, or what-have-you (Q. 2:62), since ‘the noblest’ among people, says the Qur’an, ‘is the best in conduct’ (Q. 49:13).

The clashes of modern times, said the Aga Khan, have been more a result of political circumstances than theological divides. ‘Yet sadly,’ he concluded, ‘what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world gets mistaken for what is normal.’ Much of this results from media perceptions of the Islamic world as conveyed through ‘a lens of war’, which tend to neglect the fact of its demographic and intellectual diversity. Changing this relies on re-shaping global discourse about pluralism and the history of Islam and Muslims, an arena in which the Aga Khan thanked Prime Minister Harper for his informed direction.

Muslim History in Pluralist Perspective

The Western world knows very little about the long and diverse history of the Muslim Ummah, says the Aga Khan. In his Address, he stated that the ‘most glorious chapters in Islamic history were purposefully built on the principle of inclusiveness — it was a matter of state policy to pursue excellence through pluralism.’ This was true, he said, of the Abbasids in Baghdad, the Fatimids in Cairo, the Umayyads in Spain, the Safavids in Iran, the Mughals in India, the Uzbeks in Bukhara, and the Ottomans in Turkey, to name a few.

In the grand scope of history, Muslim societies stand out for their acceptance of diversity as well as the promotion of co-operation between groups. Peaceful, pluralistic coexistence is seen as one of the original motors of Islam, exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad’s 7th-century Community, which was comprised of a diversity of socio-religious groups who formalized their unity in the ‘Constitution of Medina’.

The world’s first university, al-Azhar – founded in 10th-century Fatimid Cairo by the Aga Khan’s ancestors – was a haven for scholars from all over the world, regardless of religious persuasion, to collaborate and debate the latest advancements in all fields of human endeavour, including science, theology, and art. Cairo was the heart of Islam’s cultural and intellectual life, and the Fatimids employed a vast administrative service run by Christian and Jewish viziers, Coptic and Jewish officers, and an army staffed by Sunni Turkish as well as Christian commanders.

Spain today is littered with reminders of its architectural, cultural, and linguistic Muslim heritage of one thousand years ago. Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) was called ‘the ornament of the world’ and was in the 10th-century the beacon of civilisation on the European continent. It was where streets were lamp-lit for miles, and an impressive system of aqueducts and sewers staved off the Plague. It was where Hebrew began its Golden Age as a literary language, and where Averroes, Alhazen, and Maimonides produced great scientific and philosophical works that remained standard texts in European universities for centuries. It was also a place of ‘three religions and one bedroom’, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived co-operatively in a time when religious minorities were persecuted elsewhere.

‘Today,’ said the Aga Khan, ‘these Islamic traditions have been obscured.’ It is one function of the work of the AKDN to ‘revive the memory of this inclusive inheritance,’ he said in his Address. Part of this is the initiative to open the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, which he says is ‘an important testimonial in a Canadian setting to the immense diversity of Islamic cultures.’

Ismailis Heart Canada

In his Address, the Aga Khan remembered fondly the establishment of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in 2008 and Prime Minister Harper’s promise to make Canada ‘the headquarters of the global effort to foster peace, prosperity, and equality through pluralism.’ He also praised Canada’s emphasis on education as foundational to its civil society and said that Canada’s ‘record of educational opportunity resonates strongly with the Shi`a Ismaili belief in the transformative power of the human intellect.’

He was further impressed by the high levels of Canadian voluntary activity, which translated into a large number of Canadian Ismailis volunteering in developing countries. This is an important reality for the Muslim leader, who said that ‘this Canadian spirit resonates with a cherished principle in Shi`a Ismaili culture — the importance of contributing one’s individual energies on a voluntary basis to improving the lives of others.’

Canada’s unique conception of the world – embodied in its pioneering policy of multiculturalism – allowed a modern Muslim minority group like the Ismailis to flourish. The Aga Khan’s partnership with Canada, he said in his Address, has been ‘immensely strengthened’ by over four decades of significant Ismaili presence in the country. The Ismaili peoples, he admitted, have had a variety of experiences around the world, but ‘surely our experience in Canada has been a particularly positive chapter.’

Canada’s openness to diversity, its culture of helpfulness, and its dedication to education provided the necessary space for Ismailis to adapt their religion to the contemporary world without fear. Canada has been, for the Ismailis, a uniquely compatible partner, providing the right climatic context for them to articulate their tradition in a way that brings an unexpected dose of religious passion to Canada’s own deep commitments and values.

It is for this reason that, at Massey Hall, the Aga Khan thanked ‘all Canadians for the wonderful Partnership they have given us,’ which, he said, is not an opportunistic one, but, rather, is ‘built on a deep sharing of values.’

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