Building God’s Kingdom – Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Atomic Imam, on patriotism and community


In Western media there is a consistently badgering narrative reminding us that Islam is a vast monolith of secret, closely knit terrorist cells, just aching for the go-ahead to make their dastardly move.

Except for the serious subject matter, this absurdity is almost comically profound — but when mere moments are given to news consumption in social media, depth of research and critical thought are often the first casualties.

Are Muslims truly united in a single, massive, secretly structured hierarchy? Are they poised all around the world on tippy-toes, ready to topple governments and establish their own worldwide Holy Caliphate at a moment’s notice? Of course, worldwide the Muslims of all sects who refuse any association with terrorism of any kind are a tiny 96% “minority” (from a number of polls by Pew Charitable Trusts). And the Muslims who have emigrated to areas like North America and countries supporting freedom of faith expression — these Muslims themselves have fled horrific conditions of suppression, racism, religious discrimination and persecution. Worldwide, the single largest population of victims from terrorism are Muslims (Daniel Hummel, PhD).

By the way — I asked a friend who is a Sunni cleric that question about the “Holy Caliphate”, a phrase used by populist media as a signifier for Islamic teleology (often without using such college-level words).  “Yes, we’re supposed to agree on a Caliph at the end of times who will rule the world with justice alongside the returned Jesus, who will temper justice with mercy — but I believe this means time will stretch forever” he joked.  “Muslims are people just like everyone else — many of us can’t agree on which hats are most fashionable, how can we agree on a Caliph?”

Humor aside, there is concern among the poorly informed that Muslims are planning a sort of governmental takeover — as shown by media (mis)use of terms like “Caliphate”, “Sharia Law”, and other charged phrases. And sadly, responses by government leaders can be at many times just as uninformed and even profoundly inappropriate, revealing a shocking ignorance regarding significant portions of their own constituencies.

Muslims are charged with building God’s Kingdom on earth (one of the many implications of the term “vice-regent” used so often in the Qur’an to describe the role of human beings), as are Christians. This refers not to the forced institution of a theocracy, but to the active spreading of Divine ideals through our own individual actions.  Following Jesus’ teachings of the Beatitudes, for example, and doing our best to personally exemplify the godly principles manifest by Names such as Mercy (Ar-Raman) and Compassion (Ar-Rahim), Forgiving (Al-Ghaffar) and Peaceful (As-Salam) – these are the “bricks and mortar” of the future we (Christians and Muslims) are guided by our scriptures to construct.

I profoundly appreciate the Aga Khan’s comments regarding our roles and responsibility in the never-ending process of building a better future — for ourselves, our families, our physical world, and our future spiritual well-being: “By the way you conduct your daily lives, by the compassion you show to your fellow men and women, and above all by your faith in God” (Aga Khan, 11 March 1958, Mumbai, India).

When we speak about building the “Kingdom of God” as religious or spiritual people, what does this look like practically, in the real world?

In addition to following the laws of the land (throughout the world, these are generally recognized to be based on the Biblical Ten Commandments or their parallel), this kind of “Kingdom” building requires the builder follow the tenets of his or her own faith – guidelines leading the religious or spiritually inclined person in a lifestyle dedicated to producing truly worthwhile, humane human beings.

Although we fall short of the ideal, we try — and even when we fail, the trying manages to produce loving relationships, strong communities, and an honest sense of belonging.  We will ultimately overcome these weaknesses “if you stand by your faith and meet your difficulties in the spirit of humility and tolerance that our religion demands of us” (Aga Khan, 22 October 1957, Nairobi, Kenya). “Islam, I should like to underline, is an all-encompassing Faith.  It gives direction to man’s life, urging the individual to achieve such a balance between material progress and spiritual well-being” (Aga Khan, 21 November 1982, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania). It’s more than just a habit of attending mosque or church, but rather a lifestyle to support being a decent human being.

Is there any incentive to foist intolerant religiosity on an unwilling populace?  Of course not!

From a Christian perspective, the phrase “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25) declares that the Divine Kingdom is not meant to be an earthly political structure.  The Christian aphorism “being in the world but not of the world” gives a further clue; whatever political environment within which a Christian finds him or herself has little to do with the individual’s commitment to lead a Christian lifestyle — a lifestyle given meaning entirely through personal commitment and attitude. We are obligated to think of others, receive with gratitude, and constantly find excuses to be kind to others, regardless of our situation.

And of course the same is true of Muslims! As the Prophet said, “The doors of goodness are many: enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’ arms — all of these are charity prescribed for you.  Your smile for your brother is charity.”

So how do we do this, and live within the context of earthly governments? From the beginning, the Aga Khan has repeated the same message — “Our faith keeps us a united community. This is essential to our spiritual welfare.  But in every other way, you must remember that you are citizens of [your country]. It is to this government that you owe allegiance” (Aga Khan, 22 October 1957, Nairobi, Kenya). Faith binds us together as members of a spiritual community; integrity as law-abiding citizens allows us to exercise our faith in a practical manner, uplifting our physical communities wherever they are in the world.

As a Christian I participate in a wide variety of volunteer efforts, a priority shared by countless other Christians in numberless organizations all around the globe.  Organizations like Feed My Starving Children, a Catholic-founded charity with which I volunteer regularly (alongside Jewish, Muslim, and Native Church friends), provide a platform for charity which blindly reaches across every political clime.

This leads me to another reason for which I am grateful for the Aga Khan — his Aga Khan Foundation uses its incredible and apolitical resources to find those in desperate need and to help them, also across every political clime. “The position which I hold has no political significance. The Ismailis are scattered all over the world, owing allegiance to many flags and serving beneath many different forms of government…The behavior of each individual, however humble he may be, is reflected ultimately in the progress or otherwise of the country to which he owes allegiance” (12 February 1958, Dacca, Bangladesh, then East Pakistan).

The inspiring example of the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan’s words motivate millions of Ismailis all around the world to volunteer in every worthy venue, from maternity and trauma nursing wards to adopt-a-highway programs — across the globe, no good deed is safe from an Ismaili volunteer! Around the world, those who benefit know precisely the integrity of the Nizari Ismailis helping them. “And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity: And whatever good ye send forth for your souls before you, ye shall find it with Allah: for Allah sees well all that ye do” (Qur’an 2:110).

From the wide array of Muslims I have spoken with around the world, it is obvious to me we (Christians and Muslims both) share a devotion to building God’s Kingdom on earth — through strengthening families, bolstering communities, and our commitment to living the kind of life most strengthened by the uplifting tenets we share.

It may seem odd to others that a Christian includes himself with those so wonderfully inspired by a luminary such as the Atomic Imam, Aga Khan IV. One of the sacred tenets of my own Christian faith is the idea that all Truth, all Goodness come from the same ultimate Source, and this can perhaps be best expressed by my use of another aphorism: “That which is of God invites and entices to do good continually; wherefore every thing which invites and entices to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.” And from the Qur’an: “But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, they are your brethren in Faith” (Qur’an 9:11).

How then can I not include myself among those who admire the Aga Khan?

Sincere Christians and Muslims around the world are united in our desire to build a Kingdom of Heaven in whatever political clime we find ourselves, constructing a better future for ourselves, our children, and our communities as we honestly strive to live by the Divine principles revealed through our respective faiths.

“As we work towards that vision of the future we will remember the Surah of Light from the Qur’an. It tells us that the oil of the blessed olive tree lights the lamp of understanding, a light that belongs neither to the East nor West. We are to give this light to all.  In that spirit, all that we learn will belong to the world and that too is part of the vision I share with you.”  (Aga Khan, 25 September 1979, New York, USA)

Date posted: October 20, 2017

COPYRIGHT: Andrew Kosorok/Simerg. 2017.


Andrew KosorokAndrew 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 read the following earlier pieces by Andrew Kosorok published in this website:


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