Life – An Exalted Destiny – Aga Khan III
Islam – The Religion of Equality — Prince Aly Khan
Islam – The Religion of Equality — Prince Aly Khan
Speech by H. R. H. Prince Aly Khan
Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the Council of Islamic Affairs,
New York, May 27th 1958.
The late Prince Aly Khan (d. 1960) was the father of the present Aga Khan (IV), and eldest son of the previous Aga Khan (III) — who was also the Chairman of the League of Nations (1933 – 1936).
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the honour you have done me by inviting me to be your guest at this luncheon and for the kind words you have said about me.
If you feel that you can bear with me for a few minutes, I should like to speak about my country; Pakistan, as a member of the Islamic fraternity of nations.
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 pro-claimed 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. That it has not exhausted its vitality, has been strikingly demonstrated by the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state, as recently as 1947. Faithful to their Islamic heritage, the Moslem people of the subcontinent, under their great leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah, staked their claim for an independent national existence as a people apart from those of the Hindu faith and culture.
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 Quran 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 Quran 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 Quran 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. Perhaps the key to it lies in the statecraft of princes, who found in the appeal to religion a force, of tremendous power which could be exploited to serve their ambitions.
Fortunately, historians are now beginning to recognise the historic role of Islam as a liberating force for peoples oppressed by the burdens of unjust social systems. Islam challenged the contemporary societies of Asia and Europe, which rested on absolu-tism, intolerance and the privilege of birth and race. Instead it offered equality. Swami Vivekanananda, the distinguished Hindu savant, had this to say of its impact on India:
“To Muslim rule we owe that great blessing, the destruction of exclusive privilege …The Muslim conquest of India came as a salvation to the down-trodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Muslim….”
The emergence of Pakistan, a decade ago, was an act of protest against the existence of privilege in the social order of the subcontinent of India. It reflects the will of the Muslims of the subcontinent to escape from the fear of being reduced, in course of time, by the inexorable facts of the situation in which they found themselves, to the status of second class citizens. It is a symbol of their determination to ensure for themselves an existence based on human dignity and equality in accordance with the social concepts of Islam.
If I may be forgiven a reference to my family, the origin of this protest goes back to the beginning of this century, when my revered father, the Aga Khan, won for the Moslems of the subcontinent, recognition of their right to separate representation in the political life of India, then under British rule. For fifty years, he strove for the rights of Moslems and lived to see the day when his efforts finally led to the creation of the largest Moslem State in the world. As a founding-father of the new nation, he played a decisive role in the fortunes of the Islamic world, with which my ancestors have for many centuries been intimately linked.
Pakistan, with a personality of its own in the Moslem world, calls itself an Islamic Republic, in the sense that the overwhelming majority of its people, are of the Moslem faith and aspire to a social and political order based on justice and equality, in accordance with the spirit of the injunctions of Islam that I have quoted.
The appellation “Islamic” however, does not imply that Pakistan is a theocratic State, run by religious fanatics who seek to reduce the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan to the status of inferior citizens. The relevant provision of our Constitution, under which Pakistan became a democratic Republic on the 23rd of March 1956, lays down:
“Section 5 (1): All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”
The Constitution further nullifies as void, any law, custom, or usage, which is inconsistent with the fundamental right to equality under the law, which is an enforceable right under an independent judiciary, the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
This means that non-Moslems are guaranteed equality with Moslems under the laws of Pakistan.
With the exception of the Presidency, all governmental offices in Pakistan, including that of Prime Minister, are open to all citizens alike, regardless of their caste or creed.
While it is true that the President of Pakistan must be a Muslim, he is in fact the symbol of the State, and the executive powers are vested almost exclusively in the Prime Minister and his cabinet. Pakistan is not unique in basing its political institutions on fundamental religious concepts. For example, a number of European nations, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and the United Kingdom restrict the office of the head of state to those who profess the predominant religious beliefs of their countries.
Although Moslems, the Chiefs of State that Pakistan has had in succession, have made it their special concern to assure to religious minorities the full protection of their equal rights under the Constitution. President Iskander Mirza, the present Chief of State, has pledged his personal responsibility to guarantee to them the exercise of all their human rights. In this great man, the people of other religions have a sincere friend and champion.
The leaders of the Government of Pakistan are liberal and enlightened men, responsible to a freely elected Parliament in accordance with the popular will. They function entirely within the framework of the Constitution and laws of Pakistan.
I am well aware that the people of the United States are deeply committed to the doctrine of separation of church and state. We, in Pakistan do not have an established church as such. Basically, the fundamental values and virtues which you cherish and try to practice in the United States, are virtually identical with those we believe in and try to practice in Pakistan.
Turning now to a broad consideration of Pakistan’s international relations, the foundations of our foreign policy rest on the Purposes and Principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Among the most important questions which are debated in the United Nations are those concerning the self-determination of peoples and their freedom from colonial rule.
The rising nationalism, which we see today in Asia and Africa, is a continuation of the same tide of freedom which was loosed in Europe and America in the 18th century. It is now in full flow. -It presents a great challenge to the world. Those who have a sense of history will see in this historic process, element of necessity which in the end will remove the evil of exploitation of one people by another.
Asia has shaken herself free almost completely of colonial rule. The emancipation of all Africa is not far distant. The Bandung Conference of 29 Asian African nations held in Indonesia in 1955 and the Conference of the independent African State last month in Accra, capital of Ghana, are historic landmarks in the march of the two Continents towards freedom, equality and the assertion of an Asian and an African personality in the counsels of the world.
To all such movements, Pakistan, faithful to her own historical past, has committed its full moral and political support.
The concept of the United Nations is based on the rule of law in international relations. If the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the world, for an international order based on justice and the principles of international law, and not on force, to be fulfilled, law must be the same for all. No nation, great or small, may claim immunity.
Therefore, nothing made us happier than the declaration of President Eisenhower, in the Suez crisis in 1956, that there cannot be one code of law for friends and another for opponents… In that great decision, we saw a powerful nation uphold the principles of international law and justice, where a weaker and smaller power was concerned, even to the extent of an agonising break with its historic and trusted allies.
As you are aware, Pakistan is aligned with the West in regional defense pacts. That these alliances, namely, the South East Asia Collective Defense Treaty and the Baghdad Pact, are purely defensive, and are recognised by the Charter of the United Nations as based on the right of legitimate self-defense, has not made them immune from onslaughts by those, who for reasons of their own, are opposed to such groupings.
The two instruments of regional security that I have mentioned are not mere military organisations. Under their aegis, member countries are pledged to international cooperation in the political, economic and cultural fields; also to promote the well being of a large part of the populations of South East Asia and the Middle East. Nothing would be more welcome than a greater emphasis on the economic and cultural aspects of their cooperation rather than on their purely military effort. But this does not depend on ourselves alone. To permit this evolution, international danger and tension must first abate.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have taken much of your time. One thought more and I will conclude. On the plane of ideals and morals, we find in Islam and the Quran, a perennial source of inspiration and guidance. One of the basic teachings of this faith is Divine Unity and the oneness of humanity. The Quran 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.
- Imamat Day
- His Father Prince Aly Khan
- His Uncle Prince Sadruddin
- His Grandfather Aga Khan III – Mowlana Sultan Mahomed Shah
- His Great Great Grandfather – Prophet Muhammad
- His Great Ancestor the First Imam – Imam Hazrat Ali
- His Works
- Nanowisdoms Archive of Aga Khan Speeches, Interviews and Writings
- Aga Khan Mowlana Hazar Imam’s 79th Birthday Salgirah 2015
- New Moon on Friday – Shukarwari Beej
- His Highness the Aga Khan Speech at the International New York Times Athens Democracy Forum
- Eid ul Fitr — July 2015
- Imamat Day July 11, 2015 – 58 Years! Mashallah!
- Layla tul Qadr — Islam’s Birthday Anniversary
- Ramadan Kareem Mubarak!
- His Highness the Aga Khan Speech at the Aga Khan Park, Toronto
- Miraj Articles
- Arabic Universal Language of the Muslim World — Aga Khan III
- Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan — Inauguration of Amir AqSunqur Mosque in Cairo
- Yaum-e Ali — Imam Hazrat Ali’s Birthday Anniversary
- Imam Ali Bin Abu Talib — 1st Imam
- Imam Ali and the Power of Compassion — Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi
- Imam Hazrat Ali the Great!
- The Imams, The Holy!
- The Peterson Lecture by His Highness the Aga Khan to the IB 40th Annual Meeting
- Aga Khan Speech at Foundation Ceremony Museum at Humayun’s Tomb
- Beyond Polemics and Pluralism: The Universal Message of the Qur’an — Reza Shah-Kazemi
- The Middle East — Prince Aly Khan