By Muhammad Jalaluddin Shamil
His Highness the Aga Khan-IV is a spiritual leader and the 49th Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and is a direct descendent of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) from the progeny of his daughter Fatima. For Ismailis the institution of Imamat is a source of spiritual and material guidance and it is termed an agency which makes the teaching of the Quran, the Holy Prophet and Ali’s traditions appropriate for every age and time. The Ismaili Imam’s efforts in making Islamic teachings appropriate to emerging needs of the society is evident from the speeches of the Aga Khan on various occasions targeting his own community, world leaders and general audience on various occasions.
In Booni Darbar on December 9, 2017, the Aga Khan drew the attention of his followers towards the basic “ethical dimension” of Islam like “honesty” and “peaceful and respectful” co-existence. His directive to his followers from abstaining from “drugs” in terms of “consumption” and “trading” is a dimension drawn from the Islamic teaching which directs all believer to abstain from “consumption, trading, ordering and supplying” of drugs.
It is not new for the Muslim Community, since the death of the Holy Prophet, that they have endeavored to make the teaching of Islam appropriate to the emerging needs of human society. Various Muslim schools of thoughts have done marvelous undertakings to understand Islamic teaching and to make it appropriate for ever evolving and emerging needs of human society. The early Great Sunni Imams of jurisprudence, including Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi and Imam Hambal, were the earliest thinkers and leaders who tested their knowledge in making Islamic teaching ever fresh and applicable for the society. Imam Baqir and Imam Jaffar Al-Sadiq were the two earliest Shia Imams who tried to formulate philosophies and teachings to make Islamic teaching appropriate to emerging needs. One can also trace such efforts of making Islamic teachings relevant to time and age during the times of Khulaf-e-Rashideen, which is out of the scope of our today’s discussion.
In Sunni understanding of Islam, the works of the four Imams of jurisprudence in making Islamic teaching appropriate for emerging needs are worth mentioning. In judicial parlance, the introduction of themes such as Qiyas, Ijma, Istidlal, Istihsan, Istislah, Marsala Mursal and the modern concept of Ijtihad, which were not present in the formative years of Islam but now in vogue within Islam, are nothing more than the efforts of the learned in making Islamic teaching appropriate for every age and time. The later Muslim scholars in guise of Imams of traditions, like Imam Muslim, Bukhari, Nisai, Abu Daud, Tirmizi and the commentators on Quran by towering personalities like Tibri, Zamkashari, Bayzdawi, Sayuti etc also put lots of effort in keeping the message of Islam ever green and appropriate to emerging needs. In Asna Ashari understanding of Islam the emphasis on using “Intellect” and the guidance drawn from the “infallible Imam” or from his representative is just another form of efforts by Muslims in making teachings of Islam appropriate to emerging needs. In Shia Ismaili understanding, the responsibility of making the teaching of Islam appropriate to the emerging needs and time rest with the “Living Imam” of every age. The Ismaili Imam is termed by his followers as the supreme guide in both the spiritual and temporal dimensions of his followers. This is the reason the Ismaili Imam addresses both the spiritual and material needs of his followers in form of his development network (health, education, socio-economic development etc) to tackle the latter dimension and by urging his followers to abide by the “ethical system of Islam,” seeking and searching for spiritual enlightenment, urging to be regular in remembering God, offering Tasbehaat and Zikr, helping the downtrodden and reserving portion of one’s wealth for others in form of Ismaili Zakat, donation for better tomorrow and offering Time and Knowledge Nazrana for other people to fullfil his role as Imam for spiritual upliftment of his Jamat. For the Aga Khan and Ismaili understanding, there is no “dichotomy” between Deen and Dunya (spiritual and material aspects), therefore, to Aga Khan and the Ismailis, material wellbeing is linked with spiritual wellbeing, so the Imam fulfils both the responsibilities for his followers as a supreme guide in both the aspects.
To my understanding, and indeed impressed by the vision and teaching of His Highness the Aga Khan, all the interpretations of Islam (be it Sunni, Shia or Ismaili) are all valid for their subscribers – and are different shades of understanding the magnificent message of Islam – and all are worthy and should be honored and respected. Chitral is a blessed land where respect for other’s understanding/community is most robust and effective. This was shown in the recent harmonious activities of Sunnis and Ismailis of Chitral (especially Booni), the former extended full support to the latter in materializing and facilitating their Darbar/Didar activities. Even more beautiful and emotional was the scene, where the Ismailis were waiting for their Imam inside the enclosure and Sunnis, hundreds in number, were waiting for their worthy guests in the adjacent hills, who waited there till the departure of the Aga Khan from Booni. The Ismailis were so happy with the benign support of their Sunni brothers in the whole process that the Ismaili congregation in the Darbar collectively prayed many time during their 14 hours long event for the happiness, good health and success of their Sunni brethren. Such peaceful co-existence and respect for each other is what Islam’s teaching be interpreted in the globalized and interdependent world of 21st century.
In my own life, I feel that this is the peak moment where I see the most profound love and respect for Sunnis within Ismaili Community and indeed the Sunnis have already shown their love and respect for Ismailis in form of their full-fledged support in the Darbar activities. May Allah bless both the communities with the sensibility and receptivity to retain and sustain this mutual love and respect for ever. The social media-a double edged sword- is a great trouble making agent, which may sometime disturb this mutual tolerant relation and the use of media by immature and none-sense youth must not be allowed to disturb this beautiful relation. Moreover, there may be some trouble makers present in the fold of both the communities, such element either be stopped to make such troubles or their views should generally be ignored by the subscribers of both the community.
The Booni Darbar speech of the Aga Khan had many dimensions encompassing both the spiritual and material wellbeing for his followers. One important dimension he underscored for his followers was to establish strong ties with other communities among whom they live. Now, to my understanding, the majority of responsibility of creating warm and respectful relations with Sunni brothers lies in the shoulder of the Ismailis and their institutions, as it is the directive of their Imam to respect, care and love their Sunni Brothers, with whom they share their happiness, success, troubles, difficulties and pleasures. Moreover, on numerous occasions the Aga Khan has directed his followers to view humanity, irrespective of faith, with a benign outlook. In one of his speech he addressed his follower by saying, “Your brothers and sisters in Ismaili faith, your brothers and sisters in Islam and your brothers and sisters in Humanity”. Keeping in view the directives of their Imam, majority of responsibility to permeate peaceful and respectful relations between Sunni and Ismaili community of Chitral lies in the shoulders of Ismaili Community and its institutions.
I would like to end this piece from the thoughts of Iqbal;
Munfait Ek hai, is Qaum ke Nuqsan b Ek
Kia Achi Baat thee, hoti jo (Hojayeen) Musalman b Ek
(Disclaimer: All the points discussed above are solely my own. Nothing therein represents the worldview of any community or organization. As a freelancer , I am personally responsible to each and everything in the write-up).