Saturday, August 16, 2008

391)The Uninterrupted Thread of the Search for Knowledge in the Shia Ismaili Muslim Tradition; Quotes of Aga Khan IV and Hazrat Ali.

"The second great historical lesson to be learnt is that the Muslim world has always been wide open to every aspect of human existence. The sciences, society, art, the oceans, the environment and the cosmos have all contributed to the great moments in the history of Muslim civilisations. The Qur’an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God’s creation"(Closing Address by His Highness Aga Khan IV at the "Musée-Musées" Round Table Louvre Museum, Paris, France, October 17th 2007)

“Parts of the Ummah are concerned about the relationship between Muslims and the contemporary knowledge society, which is now principally rooted in the West. It is my deepest conviction, my deepest conviction, that we must make that knowledge society our own, in keeping with the Alid tradition towards the intellect, but always doing so within the ethics of our faith. Thus, I have sought from my Jamat your Nazrana of time and knowledge.”(Aga Khan IV, Paris, France, July 11th 2007)

"Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God's creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason"(Aga Khan IV, Spiegel Magazine interview, Germany, Oct 9th 2006)

"Our interpretation of Islam places enormous value on knowledge. Knowledge is the reflection of faith if it is used properly. Seek out that knowledge and use it properly"(Aga Khan IV, Toronto, Canada, 8th June 2005)

"A thousand years ago, my forefathers, the Fatimid imam-caliphs of Egypt, founded al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo. In the Islamic tradition, they viewed the discovery of knowledge as a way to understand, so as to serve better God's creation, to apply knowledge and reason to build society and shape human aspirations"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 25th June 2004, Matola, Mozambique.)

"In this context, would it not also be relevant to consider how, above all, it has been the Qur'anic notion of the universe as an expression of Allah's will and creation that has inspired, in diverse Muslim communities, generations of artists, scientists and philosophers? Scientific pursuits, philosophic inquiry and artistic endeavour are all seen as the response of the faithful to the recurring call of the Qur'an to ponder the creation as a way to understand Allah's benevolent majesty"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, 2003, London, U.K.)

"Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator's physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength"(Aga Khan IV, 27th May1994, Cambridge, Massachusets, U.S.A.)

"The Divine Intellect, Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this Intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dictated by the faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given him and that he should know himself. It is the Light of the Intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal, and developing that intellect requires free inquiry. The man of faith, who fails to pursue intellectual search is likely to have only a limited comprehension of Allah's creation. Indeed, it is man's intellect that enables him to expand his vision of that creation"(Aga Khan IV, AKU Convocation Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11, 1985)

"In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation"(Aga Khan IV, AKU, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"No belief is like modesty and patience, no attainment is like humility, no honour is like knowledge, no power is like forbearance, and no support is more reliable than consultation"(Hazrat Ali, the first Imam of Shia Islam, circa 650CE)

The above are 10 quotes and excerpts on the subjects of knowledge, intellect, creation, science and religion taken from:

This post highlights the great importance given by our Imams to the acquisition of knowledge of all types by their followers throughout the ages, something that makes Shia Ismaili Muslims distinct among interpretive communities in Islam.

The Shia Ismaili Muslims, as far as my readings tell me, have always taken a different course right from Islam's inception. Early Muslims took very seriously exhortations from the scripture(some have estimated that as much as 25% of the Quran talks about phenomena of nature, referring to them equivalently as 'ayats' or 'signs' just as the actual verses are known as 'ayats') as well as various well-authenticated utterances of the Prophet Mohammed, such has 'Seek knowledge, even in China', 'Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave' and 'One hour of contemplation on the works of the Creator is better than a thousand hours of prayer', and acted on them.

A close study of Ismaili Muslim history reveals that they have woven a rich tapestry of involvement around the acquisition of rational knowledge, in harmonious balance with that of the revelational, that has its original inspiration from both the scriptural and prophetic exhortations mentioned above. The record shows that, when the Ismaili Muslims were not trying to protect themselves from the genocidal impulses of others, they got busy building institutions of learning and wisdom to entrench this delicate, harmonious balance between knowledge that comes down from revelation and that which man acquires through the use of his own rational intellect. Hence we have the world's first ever university, Al-Azhar, built in Cairo by the Fatimid Ismaili Muslim Caliph-Imam Al-Muiz in 980AD(as opposed to the first ever university in the west, the University of Bologna in 1088AD). The Ismaili Muslim ethos has always placed the greatest emphasis on the development of intellect in both rational and transcendant realms of knowledge:

We can, in fact, trace a thread that begins with the Prophet Mohammed and the first Shia Imam Ali and it will take us first to the Mutazila, early proponents of rational knowledge:

then on to the Ikhwan Al-Safa, the original encyclopedists, who flourished predominantly during the times of the 4th and 5th Ismaili Imams Muhammad Al-Baqir and Jafar Al-Sadiq(around 750 AD) and later. These were a group of predominantly Ismaili Muslim thinkers, operating in secret, who wrote a 52-volume encyclopedia cataloguing all the types of knowledge available to man, ranging from the divine to the secular:

and they represented one of the first attempts to create a harmonious balance between revelation and reason in Islam. The thread continues onwards to the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt(909AD-1171AD) during the times of the 11th to 18th Ismaili Muslim Imams, during which flourished philosophers, cosmologists and scientists like Al-Sijistani:


Nasir Khusraw:

Ibn Sina, aka Avicenna:

among others, such as Ibn Rushd, aka Averroes, who was not Ismaili Muslim and flourished in Umayyad Islamic Spain along with Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher Moses Maimonides

Al-Shahrastani from Central Asia:

Nasir-ud Din Tusi, a theologian, philosopher and astronomer who flourished during the times of the 19th to 23rd Ismaili Muslim Imams(circa 1236AD) during the post-Fatimid Alamut period in the Elburz mountain fortresses of Northern Iran:

and the Ismaili Muslim Pirs, who travelled from Persia to the Indian Subcontinent during the times of the 29th to 32nd Imams(circa 1430AD) and taught about esoteric knowlegde of the highest order, exploiting commonalities between the gnostic traditions of Islam and Hinduism and using remarkable and unique compositions called ginans.

As the thread continues we eventually come into the modern era, typified by the mandates of the 48th and 49th Imams(the present Imam and his predecessor), occupying the period 1885 to the present, during which time they have spearheaded the creation of 3 universities(Aligarh University in India, The Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, with satellite campuses in East Africa, and the University of Central Asia, with campuses in Tajikistan, Kyrgistan and Kazhakstan, the latter university to serve the needs of high mountain societies in the region). There have been the creation of hundreds of elementary and secondary schools in the developing world as well as, recently, highly specialised academies of excellence along the eastern seaboard of Africa from South to East Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These academies of excellence are secondary schools that offer the International Baccalaureate(IB) Diploma and therefore have joined the academic sisterhood of IB Canadian high schools like Pearson College in Victoria, Upper Canada College and the Toronto French School in Toronto, among many others.

The tradition of the search for knowledge of all types in the Shia Ismaili Muslim interpretation, ranging from rationally acquired knowledge to the transcendental knowledge of the divine, reveals a history that goes back to the very beginnings of Islam.

Easy Nash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql)(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)