- After Pluralism : Reimagining Religious Engagement.
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I do not govern any land. At the same time, Islam believes fundamentally that the spiritual and material worlds are inextricably connected. Faith does not remove Muslims — or their Imams — from daily, practical matters in family life, in business, in community affairs. Aga Khan IV, It is important to recognize that his role as Imam cannot be divorced from all other areas of human life. This is precisely a function that goes back to the tradition of the Prophet, who was a supporter of the community, looking at the day-to-day lives of the people as well as disseminating knowledge of the faith.
This first wave of major Ismaili migration to Canada, spanning the majority of the s, was comprised of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and various African countries. They were mostly college students and professionals such as lawyers, engineers and doctors. Virani would eventually become the first president of the Ismaili National Council of Canada in , serving for six years.
In the latter part of the s the number of permanent residents and students increased giving rise to nascent Ismaili communities in cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal Nanji, In Nyaz Jethwani, a chartered accountant from Bombay, became one of the first Ismailis to settle in Toronto and he would go on to become president of the Ismaili Council for Eastern Canada in By the late s this new group of immigrants constituted a significant international Ismaili presence in North America. From onwards with the introduction of a new federal Immigration Act, more Muslims were welcomed into Canada.
In that same year, thirty Ismailis settled in Vancouver, and by a handful of Ismailis in Toronto and Vancouver organized themselves into a jamat religious congregation and met once a week in either a rented hall or a residence for prayers and communal activities. Other than these informal gatherings there was no real structural space or organization for these early Ismailis Mawani, ; Nanji, Canada would welcome a second influx of Ismailis that consisted of refugees from Uganda and entrepreneurs from newly independent African countries.
In the Ugandan exodus brought an initial group of around 1, Ismailis to the Greater Vancouver area Nathu, According to Michael Molloy, Canada offered resettlement to about 5, indo-Asians who were expelled by President Idi Amin and over the next three years Canada accepted another 2, Ugandan Asians Molloy, : 6.
The settlement of these Ismailis was subsequently followed, in later years, by relatives and dependants of previous migrants Ross-Sheriff and Nanji, More importantly, Fernando : asserts that ninety percent of the East African Asians in Western Canada in the early s were Ismailis. By the end of it was estimated that there were around 7, Ismailis in Canada Fernando, : Canada also accepted thousands of indo-Asians from Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia who were affected by African socialist movements Molloy, For instance, Tanzanian Ismailis began immigrating to Canada prior to Also in , many Ismailis left Madagascar formerly Malagasy Republic 10 due to the rise in national protests and the eventual fall of the Tsiranana government Campbell, ; Nanji, In addition, between and , immigration statistics indicate a flow of immigration from Zaire to Canada.
Although the numbers do not identify who exactly these people were, one can infer that these groups of migrants would have included Lebanese, Europeans as well as Ismailis Molloy, During the mids, Vancouver had the largest Ismaili population in Canada and thus became the headquarters of the first Ismaili Council for Canada Nathu, She postulates that the increase was due to more immigration as well as new settlement in the west from eastern Canada Fernando, : From the latter half of the s until the mids a third wave of Ismaili migration continued to bring migrants to Canada from India and Pakistan and later included small groups of Iranian Ismailis that settled in large urban centres Mawani, By Parin Dossa noted an estimate of 20, 12 Ismailis living in Canada : During the s Canada also accepted large groups of Afghan refugees wherein a significant number consisted of Ismailis Karim, They arrived in Canada with hopes to escape the political turmoil in their own country.
During this period one also finds many Ismailis transitioning from other countries in search of more permanent homes in Canada Mawani, The first group of Ismaili Afghans, around , started arriving in the spring of By the number of Afghan Ismailis in Canada reached well over 2, As of it had been recorded that 3, Afghan Ismailis arrived in Canada via India, Pakistan, and Germany as well as from Russia and Tajikistan Alimohamed, : 9; Haji, : More recently, these settlements were increased by significant numbers of Ismailis from other countries such as Tajikistan and Syria so that today the Ismaili community in Canada is a diverse body of adherents composed of many races, ethnicities and nationalities who also speak numerous languages Karim, To date, Canada has the largest Ismaili settlement in the Western hemisphere with a population of around 70,—80, Wherever the Ismailis have settled, they generally have set up a well-developed institutional framework.
Under the leadership of Aga Khan IV the Ismailis have evolved their institutional structures, facilitating the implementation of religious, social and economic reforms Takim, The same applies to the Ismailis in Canada who, since their arrival, have firmly established themselves within the Canadian social sphere, building institutions such as jamatkhanas congregational prayer house.
Emphasis is set on an adherence to Islamic ethics and principles that facilitates engagement in all aspects of human life including service to humanity, which is a deeply held Ismaili goal. Martin E. More importantly, modifications and disturbances in world affairs have triggered the concern for a pluralist outlook that embraces tolerance, diversity and mutual respect for the other. Pluralism and diversity are seldom used as synonyms in everyday jargon to discuss issues of inclusivity and unity.
However, a closer look will reveal that diversity is a reality of life and pluralism is a response to that reality. An entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary posits that pluralism was attested as a term in philosophy in , and in political science from onwards — as a theory in opposition to monolithic state power. In his assessment of philosophers Michael P. Lynch and Edward J. Another approach to the concept of pluralism is conceived of through a social and cultural lens.
Institutions such as the United Nations that recognize the rapid growth of a global community as well as the rise of multicultural discourses buttress this approach. Advocates of this perspective describe pluralist cultural communities as adding new dimensions to the discussion on Western liberalism and individualist freedom; at the heart of this perspective is an emphasis on community Said and Sharify-Funk, There are also those who scorn pluralism, labelling it as a threat. The best examples of this position are expressed by the writings of Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, Bernard Lewis and like-minded scholars who view pluralism as a threat to authority and uniformity.
Religious pluralism is a relative newcomer within theoretical formulations of pluralism to address exclusive truth claims in the face of inclusivity and unity. Taking inspiration from the emergence of cultural pluralism, religious pluralism grapples with the manner in which diverse religions are coming into contact with one another and competing for a voice in the public sphere.
Embedded in these perspectives are prescriptive practices of tolerance and respect. Another important component of the discourse on religious pluralism, offered by Diana Eck and William Connolly, is the importance of conscientious encounter with difference. In her book A New Religious America , Eck : 70—72 provides a powerful definition of pluralism worth quoting at length:.
Pluralism is not an ideology, not a leftist scheme, and not a free-form relativism…[It] is not just another word for diversity. It goes beyond mere plurality or diversity to active engagement with that plurality…Pluralism is the dynamic process through which we engage with one another in and through our very deepest differences…It does not displace or eliminate deep religious commitments or secular commitments for that matter.
It is, rather, the encounter of commitments…Such dialogue is aimed not at achieving agreement but at achieving relationship…Finally, the process of pluralism is never complete but is the ongoing work of each generation. Sachedina believes religions, as a collective group, serve as a fundamental contributor to this process since they have within their experience a special concern for the infringements of basic rights.
Scholars in this camp argue that active and dynamic pluralistic attitudes are vital characteristics for coexistence. Through this perspective, there is an attitude towards open dialogue that eschews any form of dogmatism. These definitions put forward the powerful role of human agency and dialogue in the process of pluralism. Such a discourse leads to a process of understanding how any faith can coexist with others in a plural society and how their interpretations can allow for a communal goal of citizenship in the public arena. Suffice it to say, pluralism is a loaded concept that has emerged in a multitude of approaches as a response to various challenges of human life — none of which responses can be deemed perfect.
Nevertheless, the model of pluralism may offer a working route to move beyond celebrating differences. Although Western theories of pluralism offer a variety of avenues to tackle important concerns of human diversity, they are not the sole models to glean from. Evidence for the support of pluralist models within Islamic sources and traditions is found in a vast body of literature that demonstrates how, for example, the medieval Andalusian empire, Ottoman cities, Mughal courts, African and Indonesian ports had once served as centres of multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual diversity.
Islam offers an array of ethical teachings that inspire inward and outward manifestations of tolerance, diversity and pluralism. Furthermore, Nathan Funk and Abdul Aziz Said assert that Islam carries within it a basis for tolerance that is based in a spiritual understanding of scripture and Islamic practices: 1 Islamic precepts provide a coherent and affirmative position on the desirability of peace for human flourishing; 2 Islamic culture provides numerous paradigms through which efforts to translate these precepts into reality may be pursued As such, the Aga Khan favours an ethical approach to Islam rather than a dogmatic attachment to its theological doctrine — an interpretation that focuses on the esoteric batin teachings that has much in common with Sufi perspectives Corbin, Pluralism means not only accepting, but embracing human difference.
Pluralism does not mean homogenization — denying what is different to seek superficial accommodation. To the contrary, pluralism respects the role of individual identity in building a richer world. Pluralism means reconciling what is unique in our individual traditions with a profound sense of what connects us to all of humankind. Simply stated, pluralism for the Aga Khan functions as both an orientation and a civic process that are derived from religious, cultural, and social values that are shared by people of all backgrounds.
This verse and many others 19 affirm the divine origins of human pluralism. Tawhid serves as the founding principle that brings an overall harmony to the world, all the while appreciating the diversity of existence:. Tawhid is a conception whose reality enters into human life at many levels.
After Pluralism : Reimagining Religious Engagement.
It is a kind of ecology of the spirit that reconciles the apparent multiplicity of created things with the unity of existence. Said and Sharify-Funk, : As a leader of a religious community, the Aga Khan provides guidance in both spiritual and worldly matters that upholds the universal values of Islam while encouraging a dialectic orientation that seeks to highlight the common heritage of humanity. We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know each other. Truly, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most God-conscious of you.
This verse offers an awareness of the human condition that takes into account the reality of diverse societies. Amir Hussein, a prominent voice among Muslim scholars in the West, draws four relevant aspects that give impetus to a pluralistic interpretation: 1 the verse places an emphasis on humanness; 2 it explains that the groupings of humanity come from God and are positive in nature; 3 it is an encouragement to all peoples to transcend differences and glean from one another; and 4 it does not single out Muslims as the best community, rather it highlights that the best of people are those who are aware of God Islam, as noted, offers resources and inspiration for the embrace and practice of a genuine pluralism.
It is known, for example, that Muslim Ottoman policy expressed tolerance through its various legal attitudes towards other communities and was based on an interpretation of Islam that was inherently pluralistic. It was this Ottoman tolerance that would influence the famous Edict of Torda , a first of its kind in the European world to express an inclusive policy of tolerance Shah-Kazemi, : This spirit is and always has been deeply rooted in the historical and theological realities of Islam.
After Pluralism - Courtney Bender - Paperback () » Bokkilden
These interpretations suggest a profound theological basis for the development of pluralism. Another pillar of pluralism concerns knowledge as a tool to bridge faith and action.
Knowledge is the basis by which we are able to safeguard human cultural capital and identity in the face of globalization, secularization and the counter-currents of tribalism. Knowledge and practice of pluralism serve as a viable antidote to such opposing forces that risk homogenizing human culture on a global scale and at the local level. Humans will have to find a way to identify with the groups closest to them while still building empathy for others who are different; and this can only be attained if we are ready to welcome the other in all its alterity and learn from each other.
In order to engage pluralistically in a world that is by its very nature diverse in all aspects that is, ethnicity, religion, culture, views and values , individuals will have to rise above the limitations of ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue in order for communities to work and live together and to improve the quality of life of entire societies.
Quality of life here does not simply concern material well-being, but it refers to the entire social, ethical context in which people live. The greatest challenge ahead, of which the Aga Khan has repeatedly made mention, is balancing and reconciling the personal and the global.
Verses like and its exegeses should be understood as divinely ordained directives of morality and ethics that emphasize a genuine understanding between individuals, communities, cultures and nations. In this sense, pluralism is seen as a blessing of the Divine that instills a propensity to learn and grow with one another Aga Khan IV, a. This verse understood in unison with the spirit of tawhid , leads to more than just tolerance:. Shah-Kazemi, : Hence, for pluralism to succeed, the general education of the populations involved must be thorough and comprehensible in order for all groups to understand the potential consequences of actions that might impinge on others.
The Aga Khan has broached this void of knowledge in a speech delivered at a gathering of German ambassadors in Berlin. He noted that in order to begin a dialogue across communities there needs to be a stronger appreciation of culture and civilization:. Today, theological interpretation and proselytization continue to divide among Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant interpretations in the Christian world, as they do in the Islamic world between Sunni and Shia and their various subdivisions.
I would hope to see the day when the definition of an educated person in Judeo-Christian culture would include an intelligent understanding of the Muslim world. That person would appreciate the eminent position of Islamic civilizations in human thought and knowledge, including an understanding of the tradition in those civilizations of research and achievements, from philosophy and the arts to the sciences, architecture and engineering.
The current void of knowledge makes it impossible to establish a dialogue, because you cannot build a dialogue based upon ignorance…Without meaningful dialogue, you cannot construct coherent sustainable foreign policy, because you will not have the ability to predict.
You will not understand the forces at play. Aga Khan IV, c : 65— The call for a new mode of understanding Islamic—Western relations is justified by the reality of the highly complex global interactions of this century. Certainly communities, religious and cultural, contain within them teachings and experiences to grapple with human diversity and differences.