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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Prince Karim Agha Khan and "The Other Islam"

Last month's issue of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica on the condition of Christian minorities in Muslim countries. 1 Because nothing is published in this journal without the formal approval of the Vatican's Secretary of State, Catholics critical of Pope John Paul II's previous relations with Islam -- characterized as "a dialogue to the point of extremism" -- heralded the article as a recognition that the Vatican (and the Pope himself) had finally recognized Christianity's struggle for survival against the jihad of militant Islam. As Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, has put it, "A key first step to fighting and winning a war of ideas [against radical Islam] is having the courage to point out the deficiencies of the competing ideas. Clearly someone at the Vatican has gone from kissing the Qur’an to reading it, and has at last taken this step." 2

Last week I expressed my concerns about the manner in which some media (and certain bloggers) portrayed Islam. While I do believe that we should strongly and clearly speak out against the many injustices of militant Islam, I think that a disproportionate emphasizing its radical elements would skew the public's understanding of a spiritually rich and culturally-diverse religion. Thankfully, Sandro Magister of the Italian website Chiesa, who had initially reported the story of Rome's confrontation with Islam in La Civiltà Cattolica, has also published an article on the thought and work of Prince Karim Aga Khan, the imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims. 3 According to Magister:

It is revolutionary, but perfectly orthodox. The Ismaili are part of Shiite Islam, the strain according to which – in opposition to Sunni Islam – the interpretation and historical application of the Koran is a never-ending work, always open to new solutions. The Khomeini revolution came from Shiite Islam, but it can also give rise to humanistic and liberal interpretations of the same Muslim faith. It is not an accident that, in the history of Islamic thought, the most original authors and those most open to other faiths and cultures have been, for the most part, Shiites and Ismaili.

It is a good article and worth reading for a presentation of another side of Islam -- the 'moderate side' whose voice is so desparately called for by Robert Spencer and others. (Coincidentally, it was earlier this week that I came across an article the interfaith magazine CrossCurrents on the efforts of the Aga Khan Development Network, whose mission is "building institutions that nurture a progressive Muslim identity" and counter the perverse influences of organizations like Al Queda and the Taliban and other radical Islamic organizations). 3

Relevant Links:

  1. The Church and Islam. La Civiltà Cattolica Breaks the Ceasefire, by Sandro Magister. Chiesa. 10/21/03.
  2. "The Vatican's New Realism about Islam", by Robert Spencer. | October 31, 2003.
  3. "The Other Islam. The Peaceful Revolution of the Ismaili Shiites.", by Sandro Magister. Chiesa. November 3, 2003.
  4. On Nurturing a Modern Muslim Identity by Eboo Patel.


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