“Our history, our interpretation of our faith is anchored in the intellect and we rejoice in investing in the human intellect. It’s part of the ethics of what we believe in and it’s part of what we believe distinguishes us obviously from the environment in which we live.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
Signing of Agreement between Province of Ontario and the Ismaili Imamat
Toronto, Canada, May 25, 2015
“It is a privilege to be associated with a University which has remained true for so many centuries to the principle that the fruits of learning are to be at the service of all humanity. In Islam, this is a core principle of belief. In that tradition, my forefathers, the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs of Egypt, who founded Al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo a thousand years ago, viewed the acquisition of knowledge as a means to understanding, so as to serve better, God’s creation.
For them the true purpose of scholarship, and the gift of reason was to help build society and guide human aspirations. Lest it be forgotten, the society of their times was richly pluralistic when the Quranic notion of the Ahl al-Kitab – the People of the Book – and of one humanity were the driving force for tolerance and respect for difference.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
University of Evora Honorary Doctorate, Portugal, February 12, 2006
The first revelation to the Prophet was about knowledge and learning:
“Read! Your Lord is full of generosity, instructing by the Pen, educating humanity about that which they do not know.” (Qur’an 96: 1-5).
The value placed on knowledge in the Qur’an became the foundation for the development of education among Muslims. The acquisition of knowledge came to be perceived as a way of improving understanding of the faith and its practices; faith and learning were seen to be interactive and not in conflict with each other.
Motivated by the central message of the Qur’an to pursue knowledge, and Prophetic Tradition ‘Seek knowledge, even though it comes from China,’ the rulers incorporated some of this material into their own way of looking at the world.
The need to make the works of the previous civilisations more widely available led the Abbasid ruler Harun al-Rashid (r.786-809) to establish a translation centre in Baghdad, Iraq – the Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom. The centre translated the works of the Greeks as well as knowledge from the Byzantium, Persia, India, and China. This began the period of translation and compilation, ushering in the era of knowledge exchange whose effects are felt today.
The pursuit of knowledge was emphasised by Hazrat Ali, the first Imam of the Shia Muslims and by his descendants, including the Fatimid Caliphs, who founded and endowed institutions of learning such as the Al-Azhar and the Dar al-Ilm.
Imam Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III continued the long tradition of learning by establishing over 300 schools during the first half of the twentieth century in Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, India, and Pakistan. He also supported the development of institutions of higher education. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and their ancestors, Mawlana Hazar Imam has established numerous institutions of learning.
“A strong commitment to learning has been at the very root of Ismaili and Islamic culture, going back to the first Imam of the Shia Muslims, the fourth Caliph, Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib, and his emphasis on knowledge. The tradition was renewed over many centuries in many places by the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Safavids – the Mughals, the Uzbeks and the Ottomans.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy, Kampala, Uganda
August 22, 2007
The education agencies founded by Mawlana Hazar Imam are the Imamat’s contemporary endeavour to enact the ethics of Islam.
AKDN lead agencies in Education:
Aga Khan Development Network
Azim Nanji, “The Prophet, the Revelation and the Founding of Islam.” The Muslim Almanac Edited by Azim A. Nanji. Detroit. Gale Research Inc. 1996
Compiled by Nimira Dewji