What do Ismaili Muslims believe, and what does AKDN do? | Opinion | Daily News Byte

What do Ismaili Muslims believe, and what does AKDN do?  |  Opinion

 | Daily News Byte


One of the most important things about civil institutions established by religious communities is that they give followers the opportunity to deepen their own religious identity, feel more part of their religious history, and more fully embrace their community. serving the needs of people outside of it. This is one way in which institutions built by religious communities can foster pluralism in the wider society.

I am an Ismaili Muslim, part of a community of about 15 million spread over some 25 countries. The Ismailis, led by our spiritual leader, the Aga Khan, are outstanding institution builders.

In response to the discrimination they experienced in colonial South Asia and Africa, the Ismailis started a network of schools, hospitals, economic development organizations and cultural initiatives for themselves. After the end of colonialism, the Ismailis, under the leadership of the Aga Khan, transformed these facilities into institutions serving the general public and organized them into the Aga Khan Development Network.

The purpose of AKDN is articulated in cosmic terms. It is a set of institutions that allows us to “realize the social conscience of Islam” by serving as “a bridge (between) the two domains of faith, din and duniaspiritual and material.”

In the words of Ismaili scholars describing the AKDN’s mandate: “Islam envisages a social order maintained by the expectation of morally just behavior of each individual towards others.” The function of ethics is to encourage self-realization through self-giving, for the common good, in response to God’s benevolent majesty.”

AKDN is probably the most extensive and sophisticated network of Muslim civic and charitable organizations in the world. It operates in 30 countries in South and Central Asia and across the African continent, managing more than 1,000 separate projects and employing nearly 100,000 people. Two million people are educated each year through the network’s schools and universities; 5 million annually receive medical care through its health programs; 8 million people in rural areas are provided with more food through AKDN initiatives; and 10 million people have electricity because of the organization’s infrastructure projects in developing countries.

The Aga Khan University in Karachi is probably the best university in the majority Muslim world. It has a world-class medical program, with a particular strength in nursing, a profession that not only saves lives but also disproportionately employs women. Gender sensitivity is a priority throughout the network’s work, indeed in every quarter of the Ismaili community.

The Ismailis are perhaps the only Muslim community to have both female administrative leaders and female prayer leaders. For example, my aunt was appointed by the Aga Khan as president of the world’s largest Ismaili national council (in India), and my mother was appointed as a worship leader in jamat khan which my father helped build in Naperville, Illinois.

Gender is not the only dimension of identity that the organization pays attention to. Pluralism in general is a core value throughout AKDN. It goes beyond health and education services offered to people regardless of identity and involves active appreciation, tolerance and openness to the culture, social structures, values ​​and beliefs of other people.

The value is most prominently demonstrated in AKDN’s cultural initiatives, which include support for indigenous music, art and architecture from a variety of diverse communities. One of my favorite networking initiatives is supporting Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad project, which brought together a diverse array of indigenous music forms into a unique, magnificent sonic collaboration.

Like other global development networks, AKDN receives funding from national governments and international agencies. But a significant amount of resources are contributed by the Aga Khan himself and the wider Ismaili community. The reason is simple: the demand of Islam is to help others, and that the network is a vehicle for Ismailis to express this Muslim commitment.

Prophet Muhammad showed us that our daily actions are imbued with spiritual significance. In his own life, he modeled the values ​​of inclusivity, inquiry, charity, balance, concern for the environment, and self-reliance. And so it is that teachers in AKDN schools, researchers in network laboratories, doctors in network hospitals and artists in network cultural programs strive, through their work, to embody this ethic.

Their secret, which fosters a pluralism of respect. serve others.

New York Times columnist David Brooks likes to say that social change happens when some people find a better way to live and other people start copying them. It is on this theory of change that the Aga Khan Development Network works. Various network institutions should model an ideal social order based on the ethics of Islam; the rest of the world is invited to follow.

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America, is a contributing writer for the Deseret News, author of “We Must Build: Field Notes for a Diverse Democracy,” and host of the podcast “Interfaith America with Abu Patel.”


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