[Over the years, this piece has been read more than 55,000 times on this blog and our sister website Simerg. Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, was born on November 2, 1877, and became the 48th Ismaili Imam in August 1885 when he was only 7 years old. He passed away on July 11, 1957; his reign of 71 years is the longest in Ismaili history. As we mark his 144th birth anniversary on November 2, 2021, we present his reflections on life as our featured post. One can read this piece over and over again; it is ever so fresh as if the Imam is speaking to us for the very first time – Ed.]
1. Life: An exalted destiny
Life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can but a lofty and exalted destiny.
2. Seek harmony with God
First, I would place spiritual happiness. A man must be at one with God. This may sound old-fashioned to some people. A few may think that they do not believe in God, and some others that it matters little to the individual in his daily life how he stands with regard to Him.
Ruling out the atheist, it is surely strange that a believer in an Omnipotent and Ever-Present Deity should fail to realise that how we stand this instant and every instant toward Him matters to us more than anything else in the universe.
That is the fundamental question: Are you in harmony with God? If you are – you are happy.
3. Appreciate nature
Next I would place appreciation and enjoyment of the glories of nature. All those sunrises and sunsets – all the intricate miracle of sky colour, from dawn to dusk….then comes night – “a night of stars.” I look up at night and I know – I know the glory of the stars. It is then that the stars speak to us. All that splendid spendthrift beauty…As a very rich man treasures the possession of some unique picture, so a man should treasure and exult in the possession – his individual possession – of the sights of this unique world.
4. Be literary minded
Then comes literature – above all poetry. Poetry is the voice of God speaking through the lips of man. If great painting puts you in touch with nature, great poetry puts you in direct touch with God. It is not a soft indulgence, you need to be wide awake, with all your wits about you, to share the poet’s joys. And, indeed, happiness is never a negative affair; it is to be won by men who are fully alive, full of the joy of living.
5. Be active
Next I would place the joys of rapid movement such as you get from games like golf, tennis, football…As with literature for the mind, so with games the body feels itself vividly, happily alive.
These are the independent means of happiness. Any man may worship God, wonder at the miracle of nature, exult when he hears (in literature) the sons of God shouting for joy, and give praise for the perfection of his body in rapid movement.
6. Don’t fear marriage and parenthood
When I speak of marriage, I need not emphasize the joys of a happy marriage and fortunate parentage. They are inextricably interwoven – warp and woof of the same pattern, and the pattern is the whole of life in miniature. He who refuses that venture because of the risk is refusing life.
7. Don’t be solitary
I have no liking for hermits and other solitaries who refuse all responsibilities. They may live in a town as likely as in a desert, and their avowed purpose may be to lead holy lives; but, in fact, if they have ecstasies, they are the ecstasies of self-indulgence. My concern is not with them.
8. Reject despondency and have hope
You must remember that life will have for you many disappointments. If one-fifth of one’s hopes are realised, one is extremely lucky and fortunate, so do not be discouraged by disappointments.
Failures should be forgotten and new efforts made. Despondency is a sin, and hope a necessary part of Iman (faith) both for material wealth and, above all, for progress to spiritual enlightenment.
9. Be grateful
I should have a word to say to those who deem themselves unfortunate from a worldly point of view. I should say to them, ‘Do not look up and lament that you are not as well off as those above you. Look down and congratulate yourself that you are better off than those below you’. To a man who looks with such eyes upon the world, it is not a prison but a garden. A marvelous garden – the garden of the Lord.
10. Make struggle a joy
Struggle is the meaning of life; defeat or victory is in the hands of God. But struggle itself is man’s duty and should be his joy.
Date posted: January 1, 2020.
Last updated: November 1, 2021.
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This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan and members of his family, as well as the Ismaili Imamat.
- Aga Khan interview with Daily Sketch, London, on November 2, 1931.
- The Memoirs of Aga Khan, Cassel and Company Limited, London, 1954.
- My Philosophy of Happiness by Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah.
- Messages of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah – Message No. 1 published by Shia Imami Ismailia Association for Africa, 1955.
- Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah’s Concept of Life by Kamaluddin A. Muhammad, Ilm, Volume 3, Number 2, November 1977.
- Literary Reading: Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III – The Road to Happiness and The Concept of Life