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Monday, March 27, 2017

Traditionalism and the Aga Khan?

An interesting article in Religions 9 (2016), the journal of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialog, has been brought to my attention. This is “Integral Pluralism as the Basis for Harmony: The Approach of His Highness the Aga Khan” (pp. 147- 62) by Ali Lakhani, a shortened and edited version of an article originally published in the Traditionalist journal Sacred Web in 2014, “Living the Ethics of One’s Faith: The Aga Khan’s Integral Vision” (no. 34, pp. 33-62). The article is interesting because the Aga Khan’s “integral pluralism” and “integral vision” appear as remarkably Traditionalist. Whether this has a basis in reality or is wishful thinking on the part of Lakhani is not known.

The Aga Khan (pictured) is, of course, the 49th imam (leader) of the Nizari Ismailis, a minority branch of Shi’i Islam that now has some five to ten million followers worldwide. The Nizari imams are descended from the Fatimid Caliphs, and thus from the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and grandchildren. Lakhani, the founder and editor of Sacred Web, is a one of the most prominent Traditionalists of the generation following Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Born in England in 1955, he is now a successful lawyer in Canada. He is also an Ismaili, and active within the Ismaili community. He was the first chair of the Ismaili Conciliation and Arbitration Board.

In the 2016 Religions article, Lakhani describes the Aga Khan’s “integral pluralism” as a combination of pluralism and being “true to universal and perennial principles.” This, according to Lakhani, “lies at the heart of the Aga Khan’s interpretation of Islam.” The 2014 Sacred Web article does not use the phrase “integral pluralism” or talk of the perennial, but it does ascribe to the Aga Khan a belief in “a unifying spiritual vision” and explains that he “does not seek a consensus based on outward forms, but on underlying principles that are universal, yet expressed within the Muslim tradition.”

From one perspective, this is uncontroversial, like being true to universal principles. From another perspective, this is precisely the Traditionalist view of the relationship between the exoteric and the esoteric. But is it also the Aga Khan’s view? Lakhani also ascribes to the Aga Khan, whom he sees as “a defender of cohesive traditional Muslim values,” “a trenchant critique of modernism” that sees “rampant materialism” as “a loss of verticality.” These, too, are characteristically Traditionalist conceptions. The 2016 article backtracks slightly, stressing that “The Aga Khan’s attitude to modernity is to embrace the modern world (for Islam is a faith for all time) while being critical of the modernist ethos which rejects the spiritual basis of life.”

Sacred Web is an overtly Traditionalist journal, but Religions is not. It is, however, edited by Patrick Laude, co-author of Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings (SUNY Press, 2004), and many of the original International Advisory Board, which includes Seyyed Hossein Nasr, are Traditionalists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Then what the Aga Khan says in his recent remarks in Canada is sharply at odds with how Lakhani describes it:
"Yet another dimension of the challenge has to do with the realities of human nature. We often hear in discussions of Global Citizenship that people are basically alike. Under the skin, deep in our hearts, we are all brothers and sisters — we are told — and the secret to a harmonious world is to ignore our differences and to emphasise our similarities. What worries me, however, is when some take that message to mean that our differences are trivial, that they can be ignored, and eventually erased. And that is not good advice. In fact, it is impossible. Yes, our understanding and our underlying humanity should motivate our quest for healthy pluralism. But such a quest must also be built on an empathetic response to our important differences. And that, again, is a point which Adrienne Clarkson has emphatically articulated.

Pretending that our differences are trivial will not persuade most people to embrace pluralistic attitudes. In fact, it might frighten them away. People know that differences can be challenging, that disagreements are inevitable, that our fellow-humans can sometimes be disagreeable. As Madame Clarkson has famously said, and I am quoting her here: “the secret to social harmony is learning to live with people you may not particularly like.” My fear is that talking only about our common humanity might seem to threaten people’s distinctive identities. And that can complicate the challenge of pluralism."
http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10954/#Ddu9SYeZQFQze6Br.99