The Aga Khan III’s Letter to “Times of London”

In response to an article published by the Times of London, in 1951, the 48th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims had written an explainatory reaction. The text below has been shared by Engineer Baig Ali.


“In your leading article of October 22, 1951, you have stated that ‘in the Muslim countries the violent reaction against the West is exaggerated by an Intolerant religion which preaches the duty of shunning foreign influences. This sweeping generalization not only  against Muslims but against their faith and Islam itself is both untrue and  unfair, and, indeed, shows a lamentable dearth of knowledge regarding Islam  and it legal and religious principles, even among  leading writers of the  leading journals of the West.

“Even a little knowledge of Islam will show that its religion is not only tolerant of other faiths, but most respectful, and indeed fully accepts the divine inspiration of all theistic faiths that came before Islam. It does  not only teach tolerance to its followers, but goes a step further and  enjoins on them all to create the godly quality of Him, that is, tolerance,  forbearance, patience, calmness and forgiveness. It is due to the spirit of tolerance of Islam that even the smallest Christian and Jewish minorities survived and kept all their doctrines during the thousand years of Muslim rule. Nothing like what happened to Muslims in Spain after the Christian conquest has ever happened to a non-Muslim faith in any Islamic dominion.

“How can Europeans be so ignorant as to have forgotten that in the first century of Islam the Khalifas ordered that all that was best in Greek and Roman cultures should be assimilated; that not only the philosophy, medicine, and science of Greece but its poetry and drama were carefully translated into Arabic and were generally sought no only by the learned buy also by the pious?

“In fact, in the interest of the universal unification of mankind the Quran ignores the minor differences and says: ‘Come, let us unite to what is common to us all’, which obviously encourages Muslims to assimilate ideas and even customs from others.

“If there has been violent reaction against the West in some of the Muslim countries, the reason is to be found in the attitude and behavior of the Westerners, their ignorance and want of respect for the faith and culture of Islam, of which the reference to that faith in your leading article is a typical and usual example.

“If the West wants better relationship with the Muslims, the solution lies  in their own hands, and this can be done only if they change their mental  attitude and cultivate better  understanding of the Muslims’ material needs  and loyal recognition of the high quality of their national culture and the  purity of their faith.”

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  1. Thank you for posting this important letter by Aga Khan III. It seems as if it could be used again today to clear up the misunderstanding of the Muslims by the West.

  2. The contents of this letter by His Highness Aga Khan III are as valid today as they were back then in what continues to be a “clash of ignorance” rather than a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West.

  3. The misconceptions about Islam have increased many folds in west and everything interpreted is on the contrary to what the real essense od Islam is.The contents of this letter by His Highness Aga Khan is the true representation of Islam and the need is to once again share these things with the west and let them know about what the reality is.
    Even His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan has also clearly mentioned that the clash of civilizations is because of ignorance.
    I would like to thank Engr Baig Ali Sahab for his contribution of such a precious letter that would really put a great impact if shared with the west.

  4. Dear Ghalib, nice sentiments, observations and suggestions.

    Nevertheless, I think His Highness has not said that “clash of civilization is because of ignorance”. In my understanding he negates the concept of “Clash of Civilizations” as conceived by Sameul P. Huntington.

    MHI terms this clash to be the result of our ignorance about history, values and achievements of other civilizations.

    Our civilizations don’t make us fight. Our ignorance does.


  5. Dear Noor,
    The word ignorance in my view encompasses many areas as disregarding the values,denying the facts behind the history and putting aside the general manifestation of the history,a more tilt towards materialization and globalization.What all this shows is the ones who are more developed and have more material achievements do not very much bother about what the values are and how vauable the self esteem of others is.
    This kind of approach leads to ignorance and the ignorant definately turns out to be an agitator but having no proper aeration.

  6. The speech of Moulana Hazir Imam in Tutzing, Germany clarifies the civilizational ignorance and clashes.

    “”…………………..But it is striking to me how many modern thinkers are still disposed to link tolerance with secularism — and religion with intolerance. In their eyes — and often in the public eye I fear — religion is seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution.

    There are reasons why this impression exists. Throughout history we find terrible chapters in which religious conflict brought frightening results. When people speak these days, about an inevitable “Clash of Civilizations” in our world, what they often mean, I fear, is an inevitable “Clash of Religions.” But I would use different terminology altogether. The essential problem, as I see it, in relations between the Muslim world and the West is “A Clash of Ignorance.” And what I would prescribe — as an essential first step on both sides of that divide– is a concentrated educational effort.

    Instead of shouting at one another, we must listen to one another — and learn from one another. As we do, one of our first lessons might well center on those powerful but often neglected chapters in history when Islamic and European cultures interacted cooperatively to help realize some of civilization’s peak achievements……………””
    click for full speech http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/muslims_speak_out/2007/07/tolerance_a_religious_imperati.

    World-renowned scholar and best-selling author Ms. Karen Armstrong also rejects the Clash of Civilisation theory while delivering lectures on ‘Tolerance in Islam’ and ‘Clash of Civilisations: Myths or Reality’ at the Jinnah Convention Centre.

    Click below for her speech: http://ismailimail.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/press.pdf

  7. While we are on the timely topic of Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah, His Highness Aga Khan III, here are a few of his timeless sayings on the subjects of creation, science and religion, which are part of one megapost from my blog:

    1) Quote from a letter written by Our 48th Imam to a friend in 1952 under the title: “What have we forgotten in Islam?”:Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Quran God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of divine power, divine law and divine order. Even in the Ayeh of Noor, divine is referred to as the natural phenomenon of light and even references are made to the fruit of the earth. During the great period of Islam, Muslims did not forget these principles of their religion. Alas, Islam which is a natural religion in which God’s miracles are the very law and order of nature drifted away and still drifting away, even in Pakistan, from science which is the study of those very laws and orders of nature.……Islam is a natural religion of which the Ayats are the universe in which we live and move and have our being………..The God of the Quran is the one whose Ayats are the universe……(Aga Khan III, April 4th 1952, Karachi, Pakistan)

    2) About Hafiz, the renowned Iranian poet:“Then came Hafiz – by far the greatest singer of the soul of man. In him we can find all the strivings, all the sorrow, all the victories and joys, all the hopes and disappointments of each and every one of us. In him we find contact, direct and immediate, with the outer universe interpreted as an infinite reality of matter, as a mirror of an eternal spirit, or indeed (as Spinoza later said) an absolute existence of which matter and spirit alike are but two of infinite modes and facets.”(Inaugural Lecture Before the Iran Society by Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, November 9, 1936 London, United Kingdom.)

    3) There is a fundamental difference between the Jewish idea of creation and that of Islam. The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will (Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).

    4) Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God. (Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).

    5) Thus there was an absolute need for the Divine Word’s revelation, to Mohammed himself, a man like the others, of God’s person and of his relations to the Universe which he had created. Once man has thus comprehended the essence of existence, there remains for him the duty, since he knows the absolute value of his own soul, of making for himself a direct path which will constantly lead his individual soul to and bind it with the universal Soul of which the Universe is, as much of it as we perceive with our limited visions, one of the infinite manifestations. Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allah-o-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul. Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allah is the sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain (memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).


  8. DEAR ALL,

  9. I don’t know if it is appropriate to post this here but Ismaili Mail published a beautiful gallery of pictures of the Hunza Valley and I made a comment on it consisting of some amazing quotes and excerpts from Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan III, Nasir Khusraw and Prophet Muhammad:


    By the way I am going to put a link to your blog on the ‘Suggested Links’ section of my blog.

    NashVelshi aka Easy Nash

  10. Thank you, Nash and Noor, for refreshing our eyes and hearts with the wonderful work done by our Imams. Indeed, their aim is to dialog “guftagu” and to include everyone equally. This was done by our beloved Prophet Muhammad when he taught the principles of ethics in Islam that God sees all creation equally and that is why the other religions of peoples under the Muslim rule survived. This was a strength, not a weakness.

    By education, by dialog, by the pen, as Allah says, we can show them the way.

    Please visit http://www.amaana.org/ismanew.html for more speeches and Milad info.


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