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Aga Khan Speaks of Islam and Syria's Contemporary Challenges


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Al Khwabi, Syria, 9 November 2001 -  His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, today described how he saw Syria facing the challenges of the future in the context of the current global situation.

“In recent years, human society has, sadly, witnessed a polarisation of differences amongst people into all forms of conflict,” said the Aga Khan. “This is a situation which I deplore and which cannot be acceptable to any individual who aspires to live life in peace, dignity and security.”

The Aga Khan, who is on an extensive visit to Syria, was speaking to over ten thousand people of different traditions of Islam and of other faiths gathered in this picturesque mountain valley in which large numbers of Ismaili Muslims have had a long history.

“It is thus clearly evident,” said the Aga Khan, “that peace in the decades ahead can only be achieved when the pluralist nature of human society is understood, valued, and built upon, to construct a better future. In Islam, the pluralism of human society is well recognised, and the ethics of its multiple interpretations require that this diversity be accorded respect.”

The Aga Khan reminded his audience that “the shahada (the Muslim profession of faith), La-illaha-Illallah-Muhammadur-Rasullilah – binds a thousand million people who, over the centuries, have come to live in different cultures, speak different languages, live in different political contexts, and who differentiate in some interpretations of their faith.”

“The plurality of the Muslim world” he stressed, “is not just an irreversible historical fact, but it is a strength for which we must be grateful, and a strength that must be continuously harnessed to the building of the future within the ethics of Islam.”

“Any differences must be resolved through tolerance, through understanding, through compassion, through dialogue, through forgiveness, through generosity, all of which represent the ethics of Islam.”

Noting with “deep happiness and admiration that here in Syria the principles of tolerance, brotherhood, and mutual support amongst communities are already well established,” the Aga Khan said, “perhaps more could be done, in particular, by greater and strengthened collaboration in identifying and analysing social and economic challenges that lie ahead, and in determining how best to anticipate and respond to them.”

The Aga Khan also spoke of “the new global context in which countries, or regions, will be in competition with each other, to develop a better quality of life for their populations” and said that “in the forthcoming decades, countries, institutions, organisations and programmes, to be effective, will need to be increasingly competent in whatever they are doing. Today, and even more so for generations to come, that will require more consideration to be given to meritocracy.”

He confirmed “that during this visit, a context has been set, whereby all the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network will be positioned to contribute to the future economic and social strengthening of Syria, its peoples and institutions.” The Aga Khan said “we hold in common many convictions about the best way to build for the future, including our trust and confidence in pluralism; a need to respond to the challenges of modern global society; a need to make decisions and prepare for institutional leadership through meritocratic processes; the need for society to draw strength and direction from shared ethical principles, including generosity in the use of intellect, professional competencies and voluntary service.”

Advising the younger members at the gathering, the Aga Khan urged them “ to remember that in today's world of accelerating change, education is, and should remain, a lifelong process. It is only by investing continuously in your intellectual capacities that you can hope to survive in the world of tomorrow.”

The Aga Khan reiterated that “Islam enjoins upon an individual the maintaining of a balance between spiritual life and material well-being, and to ensure that his or her material endeavours are underpinned by the ethical principles of Islam. This balance between din and dunya entails not only the fulfilment of the individual's spiritual obligation but also of the obligation to acquire knowledge and to use it for the benefit of others.”

The Aga Khan continues his visit to Syria.

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