Wednesday, September 24, 2008

408)Celebrating Dr Azim Nanji of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, my all-time Ismaili intellectual hero in the current era; Quote of Azim Nanji.

Dr Azim Nanji’s departure from the IIS(Institute of Ismaili Studies) is a sad one for me. He is my all-time Ismaili intellectual hero in the current era, one of the bright 'stars' in my night sky. A quote from one of his articles even made it to my list of quotes on Blogpost Four Hundred, putting him in some seriously venerated company:

“In sum the process of creation can be said to take place at several levels. Ibda represents the initial level - one transcends history, the other creates it. The spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous, since in the Ismaili formulation, matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy. Though they require linguistic and rational categories for definition, they represent elements of a whole, and a true understanding of God must also take account of His creation. Such a synthesis is crucial to how the human intellect eventually relates to creation and how it ultimately becomes the instrument for penetrating through history the mystery of the unknowable God implied in the formulation of Tawhid.”(Azim Nanji, Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, U.K., 1998)

The above quote is taken from a seminal article he wrote on Ismaili Philosophy:

which, I recently discovered, was a distillation of a much longer article he wrote in 1990:

Welcome back to North America, Dr. Nanji, and to Stanford University in California, home to Stanford's Linear Particle Accelerator and a good many Science Nobel laureates:

"Our religious leadership must be acutely aware of secular trends, including those generated by this age of science and technology. Equally, our academic or secular elite must be deeply aware of Muslim history, of the scale and depth of leadership exercised by the Islamic empire of the past in all fields"(Aga Khan IV, 6th February 1970, Hyderabad, Pakistan)

The much-visited and wildly popular Ismaili mail website published these two articles on Dr Azim Nanji:

IIS Director Bids Farewell
September 2008

In the autumn of 1998, Professor Nanji became the Director of the IIS. After leading the Institute for ten years, he is now leaving to join the Abbasi Programme in Islamic Studies at Stanford University as a Senior Associate Director. Under his leadership, the IIS expanded its programmes and activities and has emerged as an institution known for its high quality research and publications in areas related to Muslim cultures, particularly in the fields of Ismaili and Shi‘i Studies.

Perhaps the most enduring achievement of his period at the Institute is the creation of a community of scholars resulting in a large number of publications from some of the best names in Shi‘i and Islamic Studies. The Institute’s fellowship programme ensured that many young and upcoming scholars would work with well-established names in the field. During Professor Nanji’s tenure, the Institute also hosted many innovative conferences and seminars, such as Word of God, Art of Man: The Qur’an and its Creative Expressions; Muslim Pluralism; Civil Society in the Muslim World; Nasir Khusraw: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and Contemporary Islam(s) and Muslims. The Department of Community Relations, the Quranic Studies Unit and the Central Asian Studies Unit were established under his leadership while the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities grew from strength to strength and the new Secondary Teacher Education Programme was launched.

Professor Nanji was also pivotal in furthering the Institute’s intellectual support to the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the Ismaili community world over. The secondary curriculum materials are now in advanced stage of publication; a series of training programmes are well established and the IIS supports various AKDN activities on a regular basis. Initiating closer co-operation between the Institute and various organisations in Europe engaged with the educational activities of Muslims was yet another feature of his period.

He leaves his imprints not only through programmes but also through his personal style of leadership that valued empowerment, decentralisation and responsibility. It was during his tenure that the Institute celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Asked about his experience of working with the Institute, Professor Nanji said: “An opportunity to lead and build further an institution like the IIS is a rare privilege. In this case also, there was a happy coming together of a moment in history, committed colleagues, as well as Imamat and Jamati support. My stay here will remain for my wife Razia and myself, a period full of fond memories and lasting friendships.”

It is poetically apt that Professor Nanji joined this institution and the next one in the season of Fall. For it is said that “Autumn is indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil”. Professor Nanji’s stay at the IIS did indeed bring to fruition not months but rather years of thought and care. Following his departure, the Associate Director, Dr. Farhad Daftary has been appointed as the Acting Director.

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)