I was a young boy of seven years old when one very early morning, as I was preparing for school, there was a gentle knock on our 2nd floor apartment door in Lourenço Marques (LM), now Maputo, Mozambique. My father opened the door to Mukhisaheb’s son, a boy of my age. He had walked about a mile to deliver a message for my parents – we didn’t have a phone – that Prince Aly Khan (June 13, 1911 – May 12, 1960) had passed away in a motor car accident and that Mukhisaheb and the leadership had convened a meeting in Jamatkhana later that morning. He asked that we should turn on the radio. Yes, indeed the news was on it. There was deep sadness in our faces and hearts. My parents, as teachers, had had the great privilege of meeting Prince Aly Khan during his visit to LM in 1957, a few months before Mawlana Shah Karim became the 49th Imam on July 11, 1957.
During his lifetime, Prince Aly Khan, travelled around the world on behalf of the 48th Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah for the welfare of the Jamat. During the last few years of his life, he was Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations.
As for Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s uncle, my fondest and unforgettable memories are of his appointment as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees in 1966, and his visit to Dar es Salaam sometime later when he joined Jamati members at the Diamond Jubilee Hall for a round of rasuda, the traditional dance of moving around in a circle clapping hands. In today’s versions of rasuda, the youth bring a highly electrifying and energetic show which is beautiful to watch.
Prince Sadruddin died of cancer on May 12, 2003 at the age of 70, exactly 43 years after the death of his older brother Prince Aly Khan.
In this first of two installments, we remember Prince Aly Khan, father of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prince Amyn Muhammad and Princess Yasmin, through excerpts from a speech delivered by him at the Council of Islamic Affairs on May 27th 1958 in New York when he was Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations.
Islam: The Religion of Equality and Universal Brotherhood
Excerpts from speech made in New York in 1958
By PRINCE ALY S. KHAN
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Council of Islamic Affairs is doing a great service to the world by promoting a greater understanding in America of the rich heritage of the Islamic peoples and their hopes and aspirations for the future.
For centuries, the Moslem and Christian peoples have lived and moved in different worlds. Today, the two worlds have become one. This fact alone, if no other, should compel them to get together to meet the challenge of a godless, totalitarian creed, which has proclaimed as its ultimate purpose the destruction of both.
Despite the ebb and flow of its fortunes, the vicissitudes and calamities of its history, Islam claims nearly four hundred million adherents from the Atlantic to the Far East. As a living force in the lives of one fifth of mankind, it is a political fact of great significance in the world of today.
Given a right understanding of the foundations of Islam and Christianity, and the spiritual values which they have proclaimed, it should not prove very difficult to build a bridge of mutual respect and co-operation between the two great religions. Unfortunately, it is a fact that the close similarity between the two remains largely unknown to the West.
Both Moslems and Christians believe in the Unity of God, in the revelations of his Divine Message through his chosen messengers — namely the great prophets, and in the spiritual and ethical foundations of a social order based on the principles of equality, liberty and universal brotherhood.
To bring out the closeness of our basic beliefs, let me quote to you from the Holy Qur’an which sets forth the basic doctrines of Islam:
First, the bedrock of faith — Divine Unity: “And your God is one God; there is no God but He,…there is none like unto Him.”
Second, the whole of humanity is one: their division into tribes and nations is but to facilitate human relations: “All peoples are a single Nation.”
Third, equality: “The White man is not above the Black, nor the Black above the Yellow, all men are equal before their Maker.”
Fourth, dignity of the human person based so often on pride of birth, is rejected.
Fifth, freedom of belief and conscience must be respected. The Qur’an says: “There is no compulsion in religion. Wherefore, let him who will believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.”
These are the fundamental beliefs of the Islamic peoples. There is no need for me to emphasise the identical precepts to which the Christian world owes allegiance.
Indeed, to a religion founded on love — love of God and love of one’s neighbour — such as Christianity, the excerpts that I have quoted from the Qur’an must sound as recitations from the Bible.
In the early centuries of Islam, the great schools of Islamic jurisprudence were built upon the above principles. Basic to all their legal systems, they developed the doctrine that liberty is the fundamental basis of law.
The science of law was defined as: “The knowledge of rights and duties whereby man is enabled to observe right conduct in the world.”
Thus, Islamic jurisprudence was developed to respect and promote the rights of men.
The contribution of Islam to history and modern civilization is the product of the efforts of peoples of many races and tongues which came to accept its way of life. It is not the contribution of any one single race or nation.
Although in the early centuries of Islam, Arabic was the common vehicle of expression, such as Latin was in Europe in the Middle Ages, the Persians, Turks and other peoples, as well as the Arabs, contributed immensely to the flowering of the unique culture which for many centuries governed the lives of a large section of mankind.
It is not necessary to dwell on the political and social principles of Islam, to underline how close they also are in spirit to the concepts of human rights which govern the political and social systems of the West.
It is one of the paradoxes of history that the West and the Islamic world which have so many beliefs and values in common, should have lived in antagonism for centuries. When we consider the great contribution of the Islamic peoples to modern Western civilization, particularly in the realm of scientific enquiry, philosophic thought, and mysticism, wherein the religious spirit is lifted to the sublime, the paradox of conflict becomes all the more striking.
One thought more and I will conclude.
On the plane of ideals and morals, we find in Islam and the Qur’an, a perennial source of inspiration and guidance. One of the basic teachings of this faith is Divine Unity and the oneness of humanity. The Qur’an says:
“And your God is one God.”
“This your community is one community.”
“All people are a single nation.”
If we, the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are to remain loyal and obedient to the commandments of our faith, we have no choice but to cast away all thoughts of East and West, of Asian, American or European and of all those barriers which alienate man from man, and people from people, so that we may join together to promote universal brotherhood under God.
I thank you.
Date posted: May 11, 2019.
Before departing this website, please click Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 150 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Prince Aly Khan visited Lourenço Marques after Mawlana Shah Karim became the 49th Imam on July 11, 1957. Actually, Prince Aly Khan’s visit took place slightly earlier in 1957.
- Source of speech excerpts: Ismaili Crescent, June 14, 1970. The magazine was published weekly on Fridays in Dar es Salaam by the Ismailia Association for Tanzania.
- United Nations Photos: http://www.unmultimedia.org/.
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