Increasingly fragmented planet in need of a cosmopolitan ethic, Hazar Imam tells Harvard audience

Cambridge, MA, 13 November 2015 — For decades, technology and globalisation have been held up as a panacea for humanity’s ills. But although today’s world is now more connected than ever before, it has also become more fragmented.

“Whether we are looking at a more fragile European Union, a more polarised United States, a more fervid Sunni-Shia conflict, intensified tribal rivalries in much of Africa and Asia, or other splintering threats in every corner of the planet, the word ‘fragmentation’ seems to define our times,” said Mawlana Hazar Imam.

“Perhaps it is a natural condition of an insecure human race to seek security in a sense of superiority,” he remarked, “but in a world where cultures increasingly interpenetrate one another, a more confident and a more generous outlook is needed.”

Speaking yesterday at Harvard University — his alma mater — Hazar Imam suggested that such an outlook is to be found in a pluralist, cosmopolitan society.

“A cosmopolitan society regards the distinctive threads of our particular identities as elements that bring beauty to the larger social fabric,” said Hazar Imam. “A cosmopolitan ethic accepts our ultimate moral responsibility to the whole of humanity, rather than absolutising a presumably exceptional part.”

“The truth of the matter is that we can address the dysfunctions of fragmentation without obscuring the values of diversity.”

Mawlana Hazar Imam was delivering the 2015 Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture co-sponsored by Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program. One of the university’s most distinguished lectureships, it provides for “the delivery of lectures by eminent and well-qualified persons for the promotion of tolerance, understanding and good will among nations, and the peace of the world.”

Following his speech Hazar Imam sat down for an on-stage conversation with Diana L. Eck, a Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and the Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society from Harvard’s Department of South Asian Studies.

Also a member of the Faculty of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School and the Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Professor Eck noted that Mawlana Hazar Imam had laid out a theological basis for pluralism in his speech — one that might hold appeal for people of other faith traditions. At the same time, she was also struck at how Hazar Imam’s linking “issues of poverty and education and human development with the foundation of pluralism.”

For the American Jamat, having Mawlana Hazar Imam visit the United States and speak at one of its most enlightened halls of learning was a proud moment.

“It is a privilege to have Mawlana Hazar Imam here in the United States, delivering the prestigious Jodidi Lecture at Harvard University,” said Rai Barkat Fazal, President of the Ismaili Council for the USA. “Hazar Imam emphasised that pluralism is not just about identifying the similarities among communities, but about learning to enjoy and actively learn from our differences.”

“In the face of rising ignorance and intolerance, the call to embrace a cosmopolitan ethic has never been more important.”