Islam Isn’t Monolithic, Says Muslim

Azim Nanji Speaks at Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies

ROME, JULY 24, 2006 ( Islam must make an effort to “recognize” its plurality and internal diversity, says the director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies of London.

Azim Nanji made that assessment in Rome before the newest outbreak of new violence in Lebanon. “Islam is rich because it is diverse,” he had said at the headquarters of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.

Nanji addressed the topic of “The Muslim World and the Ismaili Community Today: Challenges and Perspectives,” and pointed out how a united Islam does not mean “everybody should believe exactly the same.”

The scholar indicated, for example, that demographically, Islam is present in non-Arab lands such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

“To impose a monolithic view would be a historical error,” he said. In this connection, he recalled historical moments in which Islam and other religions coexisted in peace and mutual respect.

Nanji added that “these are difficult times in which to conduct dialogue,” and referred to films such as “The Da Vinci Code” and cartoons of Mohammed, stating that “We cannot allow fiction to be the only forum to inform about what Christianity or Islam is.”

“The relationship between Islam and the West cannot be reduced to the Crusades, the Ottoman Empire or immigration,” he continued. Nanji instead called for meetings on concrete subjects such as bioethics and poverty.

Building bridges

Nanji belongs to Ismailism, a branch of Shiite Islam. The institute he heads was founded by Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

Father Justo Lacunza Balda, director of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, noted professor Nanji’s efforts “toward building bridges with the Muslim world through its course programs and publications.”

Father Lacunza recalled how the pontifical institute “continues to display its efforts to promote understanding, to improve relations and to explore avenues of religious and cultural interaction between Christians and Muslims.”

This does not mean that there are no difficulties, as the director pointed out.

“We are fully aware that such noble aims are hard to explain, arduous to follow and difficult to achieve,” he said. “A scientific approach to the study of world religions, and Islam is not an exception, is today more necessary than ever. This leads to a continuous interaction in the fields of study, research and education.”


“This is particularly true in these times of political turbulence, cultural tensions and religious rivalries,” Father Lacunza continued. “But we do not despair in our toilsome enterprise and will not slow down in our day-to-day endeavors to foster better relations between Muslims and Christians in a spirit of freedom of thought, human dignity and mutual respect.”

The director added that the “challenges of religious pluralism and cultural diversity often give rise to fiery and senseless confrontation. Therefore, we need the tools of intellectual freedom, profound knowledge and sound scholarship. These are the powerful antidote against easy condemnation, polemical attitudes and superficial perception of human societies.”

Nanji spoke at the conference of the Bradley Foundation which every May hosts an expert from the Muslim world to talk at the headquarters of the pontifical institute.

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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