BY ANDREW KOSOROK
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” –- Malachi 4:6
Yes, I’m quoting the Old Testament in a conversation about the Aga Khan.
Many Christian traditions take this passage to be a reference to the concept that generations must grow closer together to prevent the collapse of society –- it is the Higher Power we reach towards which encourages hearts of many generations to turn towards our fathers and children.
When we show consideration and love among different generations, we develop the keys of listening and mutual respect necessary to sustain a healthy society. When the wise are ignored, when the needs of the young are dismissed, when the “old ways” are completely disregarded –- these are symptoms of a narrowing focus which historically has been shown to contribute to some very, very bad decisions.
On 24 December 1966 in Nairobi, Kenya, the Aga Khan reflected, “A British science writer, Mr. Arthur Clarke, recently forecast that these satellites would have a capacity… to visit all museums, read any book in any library, attend all First Nights, and call up almost instantly the knowledge of the ages stored in the memory circuits of giant computers. A few years ago this would have appeared the language of the most extravagant science fiction.” A prescience eerie in its accuracy.
Living in this rapidly changing world, it will prove to be very unwise if we can’t grow, adapt, and adjust –- a kind of narrow-minded stubbornness the polar opposite of the frame of mind to which Malachi is referring. “Political, social, economic and spiritual problems surround us and must be addressed with all the compassion and commitment we can summon” (Aga Khan, 24 September 1979, New York, USA). “We must adopt only that which is valid and reject that which is inappropriate” (Aga Khan, 4 May 1980, Amman, Jordan).
Unless you ask my twelve-year-old I’m not that weighed down by years –- but even I can remember a time without laptops, smartphones, and the universal ability to look up any information I want in a split second –- making the world an incredibly tiny place. There is an increasing temptation to dive in and be drowned by all this electronic noise, spurred on by the ever-quickening tempo of electronic activity and the media-fueled fiction we “need” it. Many researchers have found alarming percentages of children and young adults develop symptoms of dependency to our electronic devices, labeled “nomophobia” or “digital device addiction”. This is an alarming dark side to an age of miracles derived from unparalleled medical, agricultural, and scientific progress in all fields.
Concerns are expressed by parents and professionals that the dangers of this addiction include poorly developed social skills, a lack of awareness to appropriate social cues, and the alarming development of dysfunctional and unrealistic expectations across a broad range of social interactions. This decay in personal interactions leads directly to a decay in society, and with almost billions of people around the world connected to various extents on their devices, the prospects can begin to look grim.
In my reading of the Qur’an and Hadith, it is clear that our maintaining, repairing, and building healthy family and social relationships is an unequivocal priority to our Creator:
“Surely Allah commands justice and the doing of good (to others), and giving to the kindred, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion. He admonishes you that you may be mindful. And fulfill the covenant of Allah, when you have made a covenant, and break not your oaths after confirming them; and you have indeed made Allah your surety. Surely Allah knows what you do.” –- Qur’an, 16:90-91
“Do not hate one another, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert each other, and o, Allah’s worshippers! Be brothers.” –- Prophet Muhammad
When the Aga Khan addresses this idea, he has clarified its expression to a simple aphorism -– “Only the faith of your fathers will enable you to live in peace” (Aga Khan, 22 October 1957, Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, now Tanzania). This principle is so important to the Atomic Imam he repeated it in his recent Diamond Jubilee remarks on July 11 of this year.
However, this should not be taken to mean we stop growing -– respect for the faith of our fathers does not preclude progress and diversity. “There is no need to discard the great traditions of our faith. There is every need to adapt and invigorate them in the light of the quite altered circumstances of today. We should not be afraid of material progress” (Aga Khan, 12 February 1958, Dacca, East Pakistan, now Bangladesh).
The environment in which the Prophet grew to maturity was terrifying: incessant tribal warfare, socially supported infanticide (particularly of female children) and violent religious intolerance. This was called the Dark Times for a reason! His heartache over such a constant scene of brutality is difficult to imagine, contributing to his state of mind as he begged in prayers for direction and understanding –- setting the stage for audiences with Gabriel and the receiving of the Qur’an.
It is very interesting to note that within a single lifetime after this opening of the Heavens, the impact of the Message on disintegrating society was profound. With the possible exceptions of Jonah’s message to the Ninevites and Melchizedek’s divinely inspired kingship of Salem, the impact of the Qur’anic message on the Meccans and Medinans of the time caused the most rapid and profound change of an entire society as the world has ever seen.
This –- this healing change and healthy societal growth –- is, I believe, the deeper message beneath the Aga Khan’s admonition to remember the faith of our fathers. Although he is speaking as Imam to his people, it is a message applicable to everyone of faith.
Rather than lose ourselves in the fathomless deeps of our devices and the digital world, we must turn our hearts to those things which make life real and worth living.
Respect our elders, care for our families, and look for opportunities to display charity –- and a smile –- to those around us. As we focus on the miracles of our modern age and heal the pitfalls, one of the single most grounding and stabilizing things we can do is cultivate the presence of mind which accompanies honoring the faith of our fathers.
Date posted: July 31, 2017.
Copyright: Andrew Kosorok/Simerg. 2017.
Andrew Kosorok is an artist, educator, and bridge-builder. A professional stained glass window-maker, stained glass sculptor, and university instructor, he is also an interfaith chaplain and a writer. Andrew examines the Christian/Muslim interface looking for opportunities to use art and the creative process to strengthen friendships, encourage exploration, and build community. He writes: “Art is the language which communicates outside of words — it allows us to embrace our similarities and celebrate those wonderful elements which make each of us unique. At the heart of every faith tradition is the knowledge we are all intentionally made different by a wisely governing Creator; understanding these differences is a fundamental part of building a wonderful future for humanity.” Andrew is the author of two forthcoming books Faith, Alchemy, and Stained Glass: Four Lessons for Grownups and Windows in the Cities of Heaven: An Artist’s Guide to World Peace.
Please also see Andrew Kosorok’s ESSAY: Not all heroes wear capes – A Christian reflects on the Aga Khan
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