His Highness the Aga Khan: ‘the Muslim world, once a bastion of scientific and humanistic knowledge’

Today in the Occident, the Muslim world is deeply misunderstood by most. The West knows little about its diversity, about the religion or the principles which unite it, about its brilliant past or its recent trajectory through history.”

From the seventh century to the thirteenth century, the Muslim civilisations dominated world culture, accepting, adopting, using and preserving all preceding study of mathematics, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, among other areas of learning. The Islamic field of thought and knowledge included and added to much of the information on which all civilisations are founded.

His Highness the Aga Khan
May 26, 1996

Aga Khan Brown UniversityPresident Gregorian tells me that I am the first Muslim ever to give the Baccalaureate address at a Brown Commencement in the school’s illustrious two hundred and thirty two year history. This makes the occasion a very special honour for me. It also carries the considerable, even intimidating responsibility to speak about the place of Islam and of Muslims in the world today, about their hopes and aspirations, and about the challenges that they face. It is also my responsibility, and indeed a pleasure for me, to speak about what might be done, and some things that are being done, to respond to these challenges. My position, since 1957 as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims bears no political mandate, it is an independent one from which I can speak to you openly.”

“Today in the Occident, the Muslim world is deeply misunderstood by most. The West knows little about its diversity, about the religion or the principles which unite it, about its brilliant past or its recent trajectory through history.”

“The Muslim world, once a bastion of scientific and humanist knowledge, a rich and self-confident cradle of culture and art, has never forgotten its past.”

“From the seventh century to the thirteenth century, the Muslim civilisations dominated world culture, accepting, adopting, using and preserving all preceding study of mathematics, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, among other areas of learning. The Islamic field of thought and knowledge included and added to much of the information on which all civilisations are founded. And yet this fact is seldom acknowledged today, be it in the West or in the Muslim world, and this amnesia has left a six hundred year gap in the history of human thought.”

“Little of what was discovered and written by Muslim thinkers during the classical period is taught in any educational institutions. And when it is, due credit is not given. This gap in global knowledge of the history of thought, and the faith, of a billion people is illustrated in innumerable ways, including in such diverse worlds as that of communication and of architecture. Our cultural absence in the general knowledge of the Western world, partially explains why your media sees the Islamic world and its thought as an ideological or political determinant in predominantly Muslim cultures, and refers to mere individuals affiliated with terrorist organisations as Muslim first and only then by their national origin or ideological or political goals.”

Extracts from Baccalaureate address by His Highness the Aga Khan at Brown University
May 26, 1996

Read full speech at http://www.akdn.org/Content/1241/Address-by-His-Highness-the-Aga-Khan-at-Brown-University

Research by Nimira Dewji

One thought

  1. Many of us forget that when The Imam refers to the Occident, it also implies us, who reside in the Occident. Our world view and values are often being shaped by what has been evident in the Occident. The education that we have and continue to receive, in its lack of how the Muslim, as well as other civilizations such as Indian, Chinese, etc have not only contributed, but even more important in how the study of natural science was conducted in its wholesome, rather than simply empirically.
    To this, we must refer back to the values, ethics and principles of Islam, and in particular to those of Shiia Imami Ismaili Tariqah. It will help us better ourselves, as well in shaping the environment in which we live for a better understanding of Muslims, its civilization, its contribution in shaping the world in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, etc; while maintaining and preserving the contributions that came from lands and cultures of civilizations past. The Aga Khan Museum and The Ismaili Centre Toronto will assist in this, but we need to do a fair bit of work on our own by reading, attending intellectual seminars, conferences, and by collective dialogue. I would love to partake in such dialogue – any interest?

    Like

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