As part of the New-England Maritimes Regions American Academy of Religion Conference (NEMAAR), Khalil Andani will deliver a conference presentation on the theological views of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III.
Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III (1878-1957) is well known for a number of reasons: his spiritual leadership as the hereditary Imam of the Nizari Isma‘ili Muslims; his role as a Muslim leader through his involvement in Pakistan’s independence movement; and his international political career which culminated in his being President of the League of Nations. However, there has been less attention given to his theological and philosophical views and his role as a Muslim thinker. This study explores the Aga Khan’s theological views on the concepts of God, Creation, Spirit, Soul, and Nature as presented in his public speeches, interviews, and writings.
The study argues that the Aga Khan’s theological views, as articulated in his Memoirs and other public writings, constitute a synthesis of the Sufi concept of wahdat al-wujud (from Ibn al-‘Arabi and his interpreters) and Fatimid Isma‘ili Neoplatonic ideas (of Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani and Nasir-i Khusraw) which he employs in response to certain Western theological concepts that were prominent in his lifetime such as pantheism and deism. In particular, the Aga Khan’s concept of God as “Monoreality” and the Universe as a reflection of God follows Ibn al-‘Arabi’s doctrine of God as Absolute Being – what later became known as wahdat al-wujud. His metaphysical ideas – of Creation as the continuous manifestation of God’s Will, God’s creative power as the “womb” or “matrix” for all existents, the Universal or Holy Spirit as the intelligent source of the laws of nature and spiritual illumination and the Universal Soul as an all-pervading spiritual reality that sustains and embraces the Universe – resembles the Neoplatonic concepts of the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul from Fatimid Ismaili thought and the Akbarian doctrines of the All-Merciful Breath and the renewal of creation. Thus, the Aga Khan’s theological views draw upon the rich intellectual heritage of Fatimid Ismaili philosophy and Akbarian Sufi mysticism.
Khalil Andani – https://www.khalilandani.com – is Ph.D candidate (ABD) and an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow (2014-2019) at Harvard University studying Muslim intellectual history with a focus on Islamic theology, philosophy, and mysticism. His dissertation in progress focuses on how Muslims understand the nature and revelation of the Qur’an, with special attention to the concepts of scripture (kitab), revelatory inspiration (wahy), and hermeneutics in the Qur’an, classical Sunni exegesis (tafsir), classical Sunni kalam theology, and Shi’i Ismaili thought. His focus area in Ismaili thought is the theology and philosophy of Nasir-i Khusraw (d. ca. 1088).
His publications include articles in the Oxford Journal of Islamic Studies, Religion Compass, The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy, forthcoming chapters in A Guide to Sufi Literature and Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion, and two articles in Sacred Web. He has also taught several courses in Islamic studies and religious studies as a Graduate Teaching Fellow. His recent conference papers and academic talks are featured on his Research Blog.
Khalil holds a Master of Theological Studies degree (2014), specializing in Islamic philosophy and Ismaili thought, from Harvard University. He is Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and articled with KPMG Canada and also completed Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath) and Master of Accounting degrees at the University of Waterloo (2008).
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