“…even a distant acquaintance with the world of Islam is nearly totally absent from the general knowledge of Western society… In an effort to address these concerns, the Aga Khan Development Network is working closely with a number of leading North American Universities and State educational authorities with a view to developing and implementing appropriate school curricula on Islam. In a related, though separate, initiative, the Ismaili Imamat is currently in the process of establishing a museum in Toronto as a significant resource for disseminating information and education about Islam’s vast and varied heritage, and its interface with the many cultures in which it has evolved. These and other initiatives, including The Institute of Ismaili Studies, are a continuation of the historic Ismaili tradition to promote knowledge and learning, in line with the great ideals of Islam.”
The previous article, focused on what it means to be an Ambassador of Islam. This article will examine the ways in which Mawlana Hazar Imam – in his words, deeds, and institutional endeavors – has contributed to a better understanding of Islam and Muslim Civilizations, confronting the “clash of ignorance” with profound clarity and consistency. Mawlana Hazar Imam, through the work of various Imamat institutions, has provided mediums which address, and which the Jamat can use to address, misperceptions of Islam.
How does the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) combat the Clash of Ignorance?
The IIS engages in academic scholarship and teaching about Islam and Muslim civilizations. Its work is not confined to the theological and religious heritage of Islam, but seeks to explore the relationship of religious ideas to broader dimensions of society and culture. Its books are found in many university libraries as reference works for those in Islamic studies. Additionally, the IIS seeks to address the Jamat’s religious education needs. This includes research on the Jamat’s history and heritage; the study of the Jamat’s intellectual and literary traditions; the creation of teaching materials including the Pre-Primary, Primary Talim and Secondary Curriculum; and the training of educators, including the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP) and the training of Waezeen.
The IIS’ educational materials provide excellent frameworks, vocabulary and resources for all members of the Jamat, regardless of what part of the world they live in, to build their capacity to be effective Ambassadors of Islam.
What role does the Aga Khan Museum play in promoting peaceful coexistence?
Similarly, the Aga Khan Museum, through art and culture, provides an alternate way in which misperceptions of Islam can be challenged and addressed. At its Foundation Ceremony in Toronto in 2010, Mawlana Hazar Imam remarked:
“It will be a place for sharing a story, through art and artefacts, of highly diverse achievements — going back over 1 400 years. It will honour the central place within Islam of the search for knowledge and beauty. And it will illuminate the inspiration which Muslim artists have drawn from faith, and from a diverse array of epics, from human stories of separation and loss, of love and joy — themes which we know reverberate eloquently across the diverse cultures of humanity. In a world in which some speak of a growing clash of civilisations, we believe the Museum will help address what is not so much a clash of civilisations, as it is a clash of ignorances. The new Museum will have a strong educational vocation: it will be a place for active inquiry, for discussion and research, for lectures and seminars, and for an array of collaborative programs with educational institutions and with other museums.”
How do we continue to counter misperceptions throughout the Diamond Jubilee year and beyond?
Countering misperceptions of Islam is not easy. It requires hard work to educate our children and ourselves so that we can confidently, peacefully and patiently challenge these misperceptions where we find them. It requires one to live as Ambassadors of Islam and act in accordance with the values and ethics of the faith in their everyday lives.
At the same time this work has been made easy. The Jamat is blessed in this effort to have the Imam, who embodies the values and ethics, which we aspire to uphold; who has, through his institutional endeavors, provided us an abundance of tools and resources to achieve this; and who, in his guidance, provides an articulation of Islam that is in keeping with the needs of the time.
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, 25th Anniversary of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2003
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, The 'Musée-Musées' Round Table Louvre Museum, 2007
- Speech: Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Opening of the Aga Khan Museum, 2014
- Website: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
- Website: The Aga Khan Museum
- Article: Aleem Karmali, “Material Culture's Role in Dispelling the 'Clash of Civilisations' Theory,” 2015
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