This is part three of a three-part series on Ismaili Muslims. Read part one here, “A Brief History of Ismaili Muslims.” Read part two here, “Understanding Ismaili Muslim Theology and Practice.”
THE AGA KHAN WELCOMED BY A CROWD IN TAJIKISTAN, IN 1998 >AKDN/GARY OTT
Beyond the realm of ritual worship, the Ismaili Imamat and community understand the religious obligations of Islam to include undertakings that help uplift the human quality of life for all people. To meet this objective, the present Ismaili Imam, Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, founded the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) as a contemporary endeavor of the Ismaili Imamat. Today the AKDN operates across 35 countries with 80,000 employees and 100,000 volunteers. With an annual budget over $925 million, the AKDN executes development projects in many areas, including the eradication of poverty, the restoration of historic sites, gardens and parks, operating hospitals, creating schools, providing electricity, financial services and drinking water for millions.
The Aga Khan grounds his vision of pluralism in Islamic metaphysics and mysticism: He describes diversity as a reflection of God’s creative blessings and preaches pluralism as a means for humans to attain self-knowledge — echoing the Prophet’s statement that, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord.”
For the Ismaili Imam, pluralism is not merely a theory, it is enacted in the real world in the form of what he terms a “cosmopolitan ethic,” consisting of ethical principles and universal human values that are broadly shared across multiple religions, cultures and communities. This ethic entails a collective commitment to these universal values while affirming every community’s right to practice their own distinct value systems.
The Imam’s vision of pluralism, cosmopolitan ethics and quality of life is ultimately based on the belief that all humans share and participate in an essential spiritual unity that underlies all human diversity. In numerous speeches over the past decade, the Aga Khan has consistently cited Quran 4:1, which speaks of all human beings as created by God from a single soul.
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