The Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), Professor Azim Nanji, spoke on ‘Pluralism and its contents’ at a seminar on 23 November 2007 at Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC). The seminar was the last in the series ‘Possibility of Pluralism’, which discussed pluralism and its specific relevance to Muslim societies.
Other speakers in the last seminar included Professor Rajeev Bhargava, Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; Louis Greenspan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at McMaster University in Ontario and Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary, Director of AKU-ISMC.
In his talk, Professor Nanji provided an example of a group of scholars in tenth century Basra who, in his view, wrote about issues related to plurality of religious interpretations in their own context. The group, known as Ikhwan al-Safa’ (Brethren of Purity), had written a series of 52 epistles in which they explored arguments about what ought to be the foundations of a society that took knowledge seriously. He framed the question the Ikwan were engaging with as: “If a society is to start from the premise that knowledge should be a foundation, what should be the form of that knowledge?” Further, he noted that the group was also “interested in the fact that the Muslim world in the 10th century had become very cosmopolitan, after three centuries of expansion and growth and conversion.”