Unit 3: the ethical spirit of Islam

Overview of the unit
3. 1     Muslim societies in the modern age
A large number of developing countries are located in the Muslim world. The millions of people who live in these countries face similar problems of poverty and development as experienced by other developing nations. We begin this unit by examining the situation of Muslim societies as it emerged in the twentieth century.
3.2     Islam and social responsibility
Today, as in the past, a strong ethical tradition of care and support exists in Muslim societies. This tradition draws its inspiration from the ethical spirit of Islam. In this section, we examine the teachings of the Quran, the Prophet and the Imams. We also become aware of the application of these teachings to create institutions of support in Muslim communities.
3.3     The guidance of the Imams
As a case study, we examine how the ethical spirit of Islam has been translated into humanitarian programmes and institutions in the Ismaili community. We learn about the entry of the Ismaili community into the modern period and the challenges of development it faced. We find out about the role of the Imams in the modern period in uplifting the quality of life of people in both developed and developing countries.
3.1     Muslim societies in the modern age
The Muslim world and colonial rule
As we learned in the previous unit, large parts of Asia, Africa and America became colonised by the Europeans from the sixteenth century onwards. The regions where Muslim societies were to found were no exception. The rule of Muslim empires in these regions gradually weakened. Territories once controlled by Mughals, Safavids and Ottomans were taker over by British, French and other European powers.
By the end of the nineteenth century, most Muslim regions were under colonial control. In North Africa, Algiers was taken from the Ottomans by France in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881. Britain occupied Egypt in 1882 and Italy annexed Libya in 1912. In 1858, the British government took control of ruling over India. Other regions in South East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and West Africa also became colonised.
1n the twentieth century, the struggle by Muslims to free themselves from colonial control intensified. As in other parts of the world, most Muslim countries achieved their independence from colonial powers in the period following the Second World War.
What problems of development do Muslim societies face today?

  • GNP per capita
Look at the map of the least developed countries given on page 22. Identify five countries on this map that have large Muslim population.
The quality life in Muslim Countries
Today the standard of living in Muslim countries varies from one state to the other. The majority of the countries are located in the low income group of least developed nations. Examples of this category include Bangladesh, Mali and Pakistan.
Countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey fall under lower middle income category. These countries are better off than poorest nations, but still face major problems of development.
Less than dozen Muslim countries fall into the upper middle and high income brackets. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Most of these countries have achieved a high level of prosperity through their oil revenues.
Muslims and poverty
As in other countries, differences in wealth also exist within each Muslim state. Each country has a percentage of their population that suffers from poverty. This percentage increases from the high to low income countries.
The large gap in the standard of living between the wealthy and the poor in Muslim countries, as elsewhere, is a major source of tension and conflict. In rich nations particularly, those who suffer from poverty ask why the prosperity of their nation has not benefited them.
A significant number of Muslims live in poor countries. Here, they face the difficult struggle of meeting their basic needs. Many of these Muslim countries suffered from both natural disasters and human conflicts. Countries such as Afghanistan have suffered from earthquakes and droughts, and long years of war. Under these conditions, it has become difficult for them to make progress.
In the following cases examine the difficulties faced by Bangladesh, a country with large Muslim population that is constantly plagued by floods and storms.
Levels of income Examples of countries with large Muslim populations
Low income countries

(GNP per capita of US$765 or less)
Afghanistan Bangladesh Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mali Niger Nigeria
Pakistan Senegal Somalia
Sudan Tajikistan Yemen
Low middle income countries
(GNP per capita between US$ 766 and US$3,055) 
Algeria  Egypt  Indonesia 
Iran  Iraq  Morocco 
Syria  Turkey  Uzbekistan 
Upper middle income countries
(GNP per capita between US$3,036 and US$9,385)
Bahrain Libya Malaysia
Oman Saudi Arabia
High income countries
(GNP per capita between US$9,386 or more) 
Brunei  Kuwait  Qatar 
United Arab Emirates 
(Source: World Bank, 1995) 


Bangladesh country profile
Background:     Bangladesh was created
1971 when Bengali East Pakistan became independent from West Pakistan
Location:     Southern Asia, bordering the Bay of Bengal, between India and Myanmar (Burma)
Climate: Tropical: mild winter (October to March): hot, humid summer (March to June): humid, warm rainy monsoon (June to October)
Natural resources:    Natural gas, arable land, timber, coal
Land use:        Arable Land: 61%: permanent crops: 3%; other: 36% (1998)
Natural hazards:     Droughts, cyclones; much of the country is flooded during the summer monsoon season
Environment:        Many people are land less and forced to live on flood prone land; water borne diseases are to be found in surface water; water pollution, especially of fishing area results from the use of commercial pesticides: ground water contaminated by naturally occurring arsenic; soil degradation and erosion: deforestation
Geography:     Most of the country is situated on the deltas of large rivers flowing the Himalayas: the Ganges unites with the Jamuna (main channel of the Brahrnaputra) and late: joins the Meghna to eventually flow into the Bay of Bengal
Population:     133.376.684 12002)
Age structure: 0-1 1 year: 33.8%; 15 64 years: 62.8%; 65 years and over: 3.4% (2002)
Population growth rate: 1.59% (2002)
Infant mortality rate: 68.05 deaths per 1,000 live births (2002)
Life expectancy at birth: 60.92 years
Ethnic groups: Bengali 98%, tribal groups. Non-Bengali Muslims (1998)
Religions:     Muslim 83%. Hindu 16%, other 1% (1998)
Languages:    Bangla (official, also known as Bengali), English
Literacy (age 15 and over who can read and write): Total population: 56%; male: 63%; female: 49% (2000)
Population below poverty line: 35.6% (1995/96)
Unemployment rate: 35% (2001)
Industries: Cotton textiles, jute, garments, tea processing. paper newsprint. chemical fertilizer, light engineering, sugar
Agriculture products: Rice, jute. tea, wheat, sugarcane, potatoes, tobacco, pulses, spices, beef, milk, poultry
Exports:     Garments, jute and jute goods, leather, frozen fish and seafood
Imports:    machinery and equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, cotton, food, crude oil and petroleum products, cement
(Source: PBS, 2004) 
Waves of disaster
The voices of the poor
Bangladesh has made great progress in improving the lives of its people since it gained independence in 1971. Yet, it remained one of the poorest countries in the world.
With nearly half of its 135 million population living under poverty line, Bangladesh still has the highest level of poverty in South Asia, It also has the third highest number of poor people living in a single country after India and China.
Like other countries in South Asia, Bangladesh is exposed to urban and industrial pollution. It also suffers from natural disasters such as flooding, cyclones and rising sea levels linked with global climate change.
As with poor countries, communities in Bangladesh face serious difficulties in meeting their health, nutritional and educational needs. The level of malnutrition in Bangladesh is the highest in the world. Newer problems have also arisen in recent years, such as poisonous arsenic in the country’s groundwater, and HIV/AIDS.
Strikes by workers are frequent in Bangladesh and weak rule of law are also a major weakening efforts towards development through out the country.
The following case study describes difficulties related to development faced by communities in Bangladesh. It is adapted from a field study carried out by researchers in Bangladesh in 1999. The information is based on small group discussions and life histories provided by men and women in eight villages and two urban slums in Bangladesh.
Five groups of people
The participants in the study identified the following groups to be found in their society:
Rich people are those who ‘have their own land and other properties, livestock for cultivation, and money for investments, and can afford sufficient meals, wear good clothes, send their children to school, have jobs anti mobility, and are free from disability.’
The middle-level people also have assets and a stable means of income. In rural areas, these are farmers who own some land and animals, or fishermen with their own fishnets and boats. In urban areas, some of the people in this category earn incomes from factories.
The social poor do not own any property or wealth. They support themselves by earning wages through labour or doing other jobs to increase their income. In the town most work as day labours or part- time domestic servants, and live in rented tin or bamboo houses.
The helpless poor are largely landless, without homes or farmland. Wage labour is their main means of earning a living. They can afford neither health care nor education for their children.
The lowest poor is a term used to describe households, usually headed by women or elderly men, in which there is no one to earn an income. Members of these households often suffer from hunger. Lacking land other assets; they do not have access to loans, even from family or friends. Some discussion groups identified as poor which consists of beggars.
The participants estimate that three quarters of the households where they live belong to cite of the three categories of poor people.
Floods and erosion
Bangladesh consists of a vast delta plain formed by one of the largest river systems in the world. The Ganges and Brahamputra rivers and their tributaries drain into the Bay of Bengal. Flooding occurs every year, with catastrophic floods happening once or twice a decade.
In 1998, Bangladesh was hit with a devastating flood that covered two-thirds of the country, left half a million people homeless, and caused more than 1,100 deaths. Businesses, industries, schools, roads, farms and crops were destroyed. The floods damaged all the communities of the participants. The 1998 floods sent many better-off households into poverty. Rich families sold off bullocks and land at rock-bottom prices to local money lenders, and poor people fell deeper into poverty.
Some participants say that dozens of rich households became the lowest poor overnight as the river submerged their land and homes. Those who were already poor suffered even greater ill-being. The social poor attempted to overcome the destruction of the flood by borrowing money to replant rice. unfortunately, another flood destroyed their crops for a second time and they were unable to pay back their loans.
Hunger, weakness and poor health
Many people in rural Bangladesh say they go hungry on a daily basis. Hunger is face4 in the urban communities as well, though it is less severe.
Ziad, a poor man in one of the villages, sells fish for a living, but he can afford to purchase it himself only rarely. Ziad’s family is always shoort on food. He never has enough to eat in the morning and his wife sometimes goes without food in the evening.
Jobeda, who lives in the same community attempts to extend the two and a half kilograms of rice she cooks for her eight-member family every day by adding one kilogram of flour. Often in the evening, she and her children go to bed hungry.
A woman in another village, whose house was away in the 1998 flood, explained to researchers that she had been without food since that morning. She did not know if she would be able to be able to eat later in the day. The baby in her lap was suffering from fever and her husband had gone out in search of work. She says, ‘If he can bring food for me, I can eat.’
Hunger is also mentioned in the urban slums visited. Poor agricultural workers describe a vicious cycle in which inadequate food leads to weakness, reduced energy to work, and illness, which in turn reduces income.
A group of elderly men says that they suffer more illness than other people due to hard work and low food intake. When they are ill, they cannot do hard work. As a result, their wages may be reduced.
A struggle to earn a living
Many rural men who participated in the study report that they migrate to the cities when farm work is scarce and return to the farms during peak growing seasons.
Employment opportunities are very few in the villages, whole areas remain under water for about seven months and farmers harvest only one crop a year. Most of the families are landless so they work as day labourers.
I order to help with earning income, women in nearly every community studied say they are taking on more work in order to support their families. Women in both villages and cities who work outside the homes are usually domestic servants.
In most cases women work for food. When they are paid in cash, they typically receive far less than men’s wages. ‘A woman always gets 50 percent less than a man on the excuse that a woman cannot work as hard as a man,’ reports one female participant.
Life in the city
Most participants from the urban areas consider themselves better off than a decade ago. According to a group of women, when most of them migrated to the town slums some ten years ago, they arrived unemployed, unskilled and illiterate. Since then, the opening of new factories has given them work opportunities and improved their lives some what.
Urban participants say that rickshaw-pullers lose their rickshaws if they are late with rental payments, and garment workers may lose their jobs for many reasons. Factory workers may be fired immediately if they miss a day of work, as others can replace them immediately.
Without a job
Seventeen-year-old Monira Akhter is the youngest daughter in a poor farming family with six children. When her family could no longer support her, she was sent to live with her married sister’s family in one of the slums. Shafiq, Monira’s brother-in-law, earned the family’s only income as a rickshaw-puller. A year ago, Shafiq abandoned his wife, two children and Monica without any notice. Monira’s sister borrowed money from a neighbour to overcome the immediate crisis of paying rent.
Next, the sister took on job as a servant, and Monira found work in a garment factory. With these incomes, the two women were able to pay their rent and provide meals for their four-member family, but nothing more. Shortly before the researchers spoke with Monira, she had developed a high fever that kept her from work for ten days. Not only was she fired, but her employer refused to pay her for the twenty days she had already worked.
Child labour
The participants in the study also indicate that children of the poorest families may have to go out to work and beg. In, one area, about half of the children work for food as day labourers for wealthy families in nearby villages. A child who works for an entire year for a wealthy family may receive an allotment of rice. Other children are involved in fishing and collecting cow dung from fields.
In another village, children engage in activities such as aping bricks or collecting twigs to sell as fuel. Both boys and girls perform domestic chores and farm work. Their workload is described as heavy and sometimes even as harmful or deadly. Parents in their villages send their children to other households to live and work in exchange for food and sometimes cash payments which sent back n the family They say they are worried by harsh labour demanded of young children.
The parents worry especially about the fate of their girls. According to a discussion group of women, girls employed as servants in wealthy peoples homes are often given workloads that are too heavy to complete in assigned time. Mothers of these girls report that the girls may be beaten in the employer’s household for failing to ‘finish their work:
Dependence on moneylenders
Participants in the study say they borrow money from the moneylenders during times of need. Men say they borrow money to cover travel expenses to town to find work. Even children from poor family backgrounds find themselves making use of the moneylenders.
Participants report that the moneylender evicts people forcefully from their homes for failing to repay debts on time. One of the participants explains, Most of those who take a loan from a moneylender to cope with a sudden crisis end up repaying the loan by selling their assets.’
Poor people have little trust in, or access to, commercial banks. Participants mention that they cannot get a bank loan because they have little land or any other property which they can offer as security.

Children in debt
Abandoned by his separated parents, Mizan, 12 years old, has been living with his grandparents. Mizan never went to school and started working when he was 10 years old. His first job for a moneylender paid him only in food. But the heavy workload made him ill, so he began farm labour. He found jobs only between October and May, earning from Tk 10 to Tk 20 (20 to 40 US cents) per day.
In the lean period of 1991, Mizan borrowed Tk 300 (US $6) from a moneylender. Though he is still too young to be a borrower, the moneylender gave him an advance based on Mizan’s ability to work in the field. The loan was given on the condition that Mizan harvest rice in the coming season at a low rate. Mizan had no alternative but to accept it. He tried to get assistance from an NGO, but he was disqualified because he could not deposit monthly savings.
The problem of dowry
Participants identify dowry as an urgent problem facing their communities. Dowry is the money and other gifts given by bride’s parents to the bridegroom’s family as part of the marriage contract. Many families drastically reduce their basic expenses in order to save for dowry. In many cases across Bangladesh, saving is impossible because of the poverty people face. Families get into large debts and must sell their land and other assets to cover dowry expenses. An old man from one of the villages says, ‘Every poor father becomes destitute after giving his daughters in marriage. They sell out all their belongings, even their houses, to give dowry,’
The inability to pay a dowry forces many of the poor to marry their daughters at an early age. Shitol Biswas, a poor man from one of the villages, says he had no choice but to give his eldest daughter in marriage to a 50-year-old man. ‘I had no financial capacity. If I had, I would not have given my daughter in marriage to that old man. It was difficult for me to wait to give her to a good marriage as she was young.’
Shitol gave his second daughter in marriage when she was just seven years old because he was too old and poor to wait any longer, and feared for her safety.
Women at risk
The low status of poor Bangladeshi women in their families has shown some improvements. The freedom of women to travel and work is increasing, but it varies widely among the communities.
Despite changes in women’s roles, they remain in a lower position in comparison to men. Existing attitudes continue to leave many poor women exposed to abuse and abandonment by their husbands. There are widespread reports of domestic violence against women. They also face additional insecurity due to polygamy.
Participants give a worrying picture of the situation. They say the incidence of’ physical and mental abuse of women in their households has increased two to three times. Women in the study associate the rising rate of violence with growing poverty in the area. They indicate that men are always bad tempered because they cannot eat a full meal after a hard day’s work. Women also report that their own income earning activities are interfering with their ability to finish household duties, for which their husbands sometimes beat them and deny them food.
Convocation Address at the University of Sind
by Mawlana Hazir Imam
February 6, 1970, Hyderabad Pakistan

… The issue, very simply, is this: what kind of nation states do we hope will emerge in the Muslim world during the next century? What are we looking for? What do we want of our society? What kind of institutions should we seek to create?
These questions will have to be answered. And they must be answered by you. Indeed, within thirty years, you will be living in the twenty-first century. You are already living in the largest Muslim country in the world.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, most of the Muslim world was in one form or the other subjugated by the will of the West. England and France between them controlled most of the Middle East including Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, the whole of North Africa with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya; most of those parts of Africa south of the Sahara which had substantial Muslim population such as Nigeria, Senegal, Dahomey, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zanzibar; and finally most of those parts of Asia which were totally or substantially Muslim, including the Indian subcontinent, and Malaysia.
Thus at the dawn of the twentieth century, practically no Muslim areas of the world were self-governing. This is a startling fact, but none the less true…
‘Within the last 30 years, most of the Muslim world has regained its independence, and now is totally in control of its own affairs. But the loss of control of government in the recent past has left the Muslims of today in a situation either of prolonging the inherited forms of Western Government or of adopting a pragmatic approach, the results of which are impossible to forecast.
If the Muslim countries had controlled their own destinies over a longer and more continuous period of recent history, there is little doubt that appropriate institutions would already have evolved in a form which would have come to terms with this technological and materialistic age. So far, however, there simply has not been enough time.
In the Muslim world of the twenty-first century, what is going to be the accepted form of Government? What institutions will be best suited to provide the Islamic world with stable, progressive government which will have a strong and dynamic sense of direction?
Everyone here will agree with me, I am sure, that the source of national motivation in the future must continue to be our faith. But once this is said, how is it to be achieved? If institutions are born from society, then I affirm that it is to our society that we must turn, and ask ourselves: If Islam is to be the source of inspiration, how do we transform this inspiration into practical terms of everyday life? And how do we do this and at the same time continue to make material progress…?
These questions have a special urgency and relevance in a democratic society such as Pakistan is now seeking to create. It is society which gives birth to its institutions in democracy – and not the institutions which shape and impose themselves upon society.
I am convinced that our faith and our heritage contain all the indicators that we shall need. More than this, I am convinced that it will take relatively little effort to isolate those elements which, through the centuries, were responsible for the amazing development of the Muslim Empire. And once we have identified these basic elements, we should be able, without difficulty, to use them to our advantage.
I do not pretend to know an infinitesimal part of the answers to the problems facing the Muslim state in the twenty-first century. But I believe that its inspiration and its institutions must come from a Muslim society which has a clear understanding of the pillars of Islamic greatness in the past.
We are still in the process of disentangling ourselves from a long period of foreign rule, and although the early years of independence have provided immense problems to successive governments, almost a generation has now passed.
We must renew our resolve and determination to complete the revival of our own Islamic heritage so that it may become the stepping stone to a brilliant future. The need to break finally with the immediate and largely alien past, and to rebuild on the foundations of our historic greatness is more than a condition of further progress; it has now become an urgent necessity throughout the Muslim world.’

  • Alien – foreign
  • Infinitesimal – very small
  • Prolonging – extending
  • Resolve – firm decision or intention
  • Revival – bringing back to life
  • Subjugated – overpowered, dominated
  • Substantial – of large size or number

Review questions and activities

Ref1ecting on the text
After the collapse of the Muslim empires, in what situation did the Muslim find themselves?
Having gained their independence what challenges Muslim countries face?
How are Muslim countries divided today in terms of their levels of Income? Give some examples of countries in each category.
Give a brief description of Bangladesh in your own words. What are some major issues it faces?
What do the participants in the field study reveal about the life of ordinary people in Bangladesh?
What kinds of struggles do people experience in earning income to support their families?
What special problems do children and women face?
What are the main points reflected in the Imams address at the University of Sind?
What important questions do Muslim states have to ask themselves?
What are some of the factors that have hindered progress in Muslim countries?
How can Muslim countries make progress in the twenty-first century?
Select a Muslim country from each of the categories listed un page 61. Find out more information about the quality of life of people in these countries.
Choose a Muslim country and construct a country profile for it, such as that shown for Bangladesh on page 62.
Imagine you are going to undertake field research in the country selected above. Which groups of people would you interview? Make a list of questions you would ask these groups.
Select one of the boxed examples on pages 65-67 that form part of the field research report on Bangladesh. What kinds of programmes could be mounted to help the people mentioned in the example?
Find out more about the problems faced by women in Muslim countries. To what extent are these problems common to those faced by women in other parts of the world? To what extent are they different?
Examine a developing country in which the majority of people belong to a faith tradition other than Islam, To what extent are the problems faced by this country similar to or different from those in a Muslim state?
Some people argue that religion is not an important factor in the development of modern society. Others feel that it plays a vital role in the progress of people in modern times. To what extent do you agree or disagree with these views?
What kind of inspiration can Muslims draw from their faith and history to help them make progress in the twenty-first century?
Muslim countries find themselves today at different stages on the road to development. Many of them face problems that are common to developing nations around the world.

3.2 Islam and social responsibility
What ethical principles are in the message of Islam?
Find out about some of the charity organisations operating in your country. What is the motivation behind the work they do?
Self-help and support in Muslim societies
Muslim societies find themselves today battling against poverty, hunger, illness and illiteracy. Muslim nations, as part of the developing world, face an uphill struggle to raise the quality of life of their people.
In the past, Muslim societies experienced varying periods of prosperity and poverty. There were times when states and empires grew rich and poerful. There were times of decline and decay.
Muslim societies in the past, had strong sense of self-reliance. They did not seek to be dependent on other people, but took control of shaping their own destinies. They proceeded with confidence as their civilisations flourished in different parts of the world.
Over the centuries, institutions of help and support evolved in Muslim
societies. Some of these institutions reached out to people most in need of help. They included those who were vulnerable, such as widows and orphans, the aged and the weak, abandoned or maltreated slaves, and many other groups in need of protection.
The ethical inspiration of Islam
The tradition of self-help and social support in Muslim societies has its roots in the ethical spirit of Islam. From the time of Prophet Muhammad onwards, Muslims were inspired by the ethical message of Islam to work towards the greater good of their fellow brothers and sisters. Islam motivated them to improve the quality of their physical and spiritual lives.
In each period of Muslim history, the ethical message of Islam stood as a strong reference point for the Muslims. Each generation was faced with the challenge of translating the ethical principles into practical action in the context of their times.
Muslims were able to assess the nature of the progress made by their societies by reflecting on the ethical principles they found in-the Islamic message.
In the following pages, we examine the key sources that inspired Muslims towards ethical conduct in heir lives: the Quran and the life of the Prophet. Shia Muslims looked to the Imams from the Prophet’s family to translate the ethical message of Islam, and as models of inspiration.
These sources continue to call upon Muslims today to create a better society wherever they live.
Ethical message of the Quran
Humankind created from a single soul
In the message of Islam, we find a vision of society that is inclusive. All human beings have been have been created from a single soul which unites them spiritually. Regardless of their race, gender or wealth, all human beings are bonded to one another. The Quran states:
Oh humankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and nations that you may know one another. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of God is the best in conduct.49:13
In Islam the life of each person is sacred and precious. The Quran says that whoever kills the single person, it is as if he killed all human beings, and whoever gives life to a single person, it is as if he has given life to the whole of humanity. (5:32)
The message of Islam calls upon human beings to recognise their humanity and to act as guardians of one another. It makes them aware  of their responsibilities towards their fellow human beings, not only those who are alive today, but also future generations yet to be born.
The ethical responsibility of Muslims
The Quran outlines the duties of Muslims towards their fellow human
beings in very simple and clear terms:
And do good to parents kinsfolk orphans those in need neighbours who are near neighbours, who are strangers the companion by your side the way farer you meet. 4.36
These responsibilities era not limited only to one’s family but extend to those in need who may be strangers. The responsibility to help others is ultimately on individual one. The Quran says:
And each of you has a goal towards which he turns so vie with one another in good works. 2:148
For a Muslim, the practice of the faith becomes complete only when it is accompanied by ethical action:
It is not righteous that you turn your faces to the east or west but righteous is he who believes in Allah and gives his wealth for love of Him to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free.2:177
The concept of wealth and giving
As God’s trustees on earth, human beings are asked to care for the bounties of creation. All wealth and resources in the natural world have been bestowed by God to humanity through His mercy. Human beings hold this wealth in trust for God, as His representatives on earth.
In Islam, wealth is regarded as a blessing if it is honestly created and used for the general welfare of society.
The likeness of those who spend their wealth in Allah’s way is as the likeness of a grain which gives seven ears in every ear a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He will.2:261
When misused or hoarded, wealth becomes a source of misery:
And spend something out of the substance which We have bestowed on you before death should come to any of you and he should then say O my Lord Why did You not give me respite for a little while? I would then have given largely in sadqa and I would have been one of the doers of good. 63:10
This responsibility upon Muslims to spend a portion of their wealth in the way of Allah evolved into many forms. It has taken on both obligatory and voluntary giving. Such as zakat, sadaqa and waqf in the Shia tradition, the murids have given mal i wa ibat (dasond) to the Imam of the time as part of their ethical and religious responsibility.
Spending in the way of God is not just sharing one’s material wealth; it can also take the form of generosity or service which is intellectual, spiritual, material or physical. The concept of voluntary service forms an important part of Muslim traditions.
Verses from the Quran on charity
The likeness of those who spend their wealth in God’s way is as the likeness of a grain which gives seven ears in every ear a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He will. Allah is All- embracing, knowing.
Those who spend their wealth in the way of God, and do not follow up what they have spent with reproach and injury, their reward is with their Lord, and no fear will be on them, neither shall they grieve.
Kind words and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury; and Allah is All- sufficient, All- clement.
O believers make not your charity worthless by reproach and injury, like him who spends his wealth to show off to men and believes not in God and the last day. His likeness is as the likeness of a smooth rock on which is soil, then a rainstorm strikes it and leaves it bare. They have no power over anything they have earned.
But the likeness of those who spend their wealth, making to please God and strengthen their souls, is as likeness of a garden upon a hill. A rainstorm strikes it and it produces its fruit twofold
O believers, spend of the good things you have earned, and of that We have produced for you from the earth, and intend not the corrupt of it for your spending, when you would never take it yourselves except with closed eyes; and know that God is All- sufficient, Praiseworthy.
‘Satan promises you poverty and bids you unto indecency; but God promises you His forgiveness and His bounty; and Allah is All- embracing All- knowing.
‘He gives wisdom to whom He will, and whoever is given the wisdom, has been given much good. Yet none remembers except men of understanding.
‘And whatever you spend in charity, and whatever vows you, surely God knows it; but the wrong doers have no helpers.
‘If you give your charity openly, it is excellent, but if you conceal it and give it to the poor, that is better for you, and free you of some of your evil deeds. God is aware of the things you do…..
‘(Charity is) for the poor who are restricted in the way of God, and are unable to travel in the land. The ignorant man supposes them rich because of their restraint, but you shall know them by their mark. They do not beg from men with importunity. And whatever good you spend, surely God knows it.
‘Those who spend their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly, their reward is with their Lord, and they shall have no fear, neither shall they grieve.’
The Quran (2:261-274) 

  • Beg with importunity – beg persistently, demand with insistence
  • Bounty– generosity
  • Clement – merciful
  • Ear- the seed – bearing head of a cereal plant
  • Grieve– suffer deep sorrow
  • Reproach– blame a person for an action or fault
  • Restraint – the act of holding back (from spending money)
The Ethical example of the Prophet
The Prophet and social injustice
The ethical principles expressed in the Quran are also reflected in the life of Prophet Muhammad. We can find many examples in the Prophet’s life that reveal the ethical spirit of Islam.
In the Prophet’s time, the Arabs were experiencing great changes in their society. The nomadic way of life was giving way to settlements in towns. At the same time, there was growing trade in the towns, creating a wealthy class of merchants.
However, there were also an increasing number of people who led a life of poverty, deprivation and suffering. They included women and children who were without families, individuals who did not have the protection of their tribes, slaves who were ill treated by their masters, and other vulnerable people.
The Prophet’s mission was devoted to addressing what was unjust in his society. He drew attention to the needs of those who required help and care, and sought to lessen their suffering. He urged those who were wealthy and powerful not to forget the plight of the poor and the defenseless.
In one of the traditions, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: ‘Do you love your Creator? Love your fellow beings first.’
Communities through history
After the Prophet’s time, the changes that Muslim communities underwent raised new ethical challenges for them. Like the Prophet, they too were called upon to respond to injustices in their times.
In the period of the empires for example, Muslim rulers came to control vast areas and govern large numbers of People. There were many groups who prospered from the new land and vast richness came under their possession. However, the majority of the people in these empires, most of whom dwelled in the countryside, struggled hard for their daily living. They were often victims of conflicts, floods, famines, plagues and other disasters.

The ethical message of Islam was a constant reminder to rulers and communities to address the plight of the needy and disadvantaged in their societies. The faith of Islam called on Muslims to extend care and compassion towards the poor, the sick, and the hungry. The struggle towards achieving a fairer society was an ideal for which Muslims of each age had to strive.
Forms of help and care
Muslims, as individuals and communities, responded to the ethical call of Islam in many ways. The help they extended took a variety of forms. In some cases, it took material form through the donation of food, clothes, wealth or property. In other cases, people gave their services by sharing their time, effort, skills and knowledge.
Among the forms of help that came about were institutions that were built for the benefit of all people. Such institutions included places of prayer, colleges, libraries, hospitals and inns for travellers. They also included public works such as dams and canals, roads, bridges, water fountains, and bathhouses.
People often donated their property or wealth to fund these institutions and works. They answered to the Quranic call of ‘giving to God a beautiful loan’ (73:20; 64:17). Pious endowments (awqaf) allowed donors to extend their giving so that people would benefit from their donation even after their death. Descendants of the Prophet, rulers, wealthy patrons and women from the higher classes contributed significantly to their community through these endowments.
Teachings of the Prophet
Every kindness is sadaqa’ (Bukhari Muslim)
‘Visit the sick, feed the hungry and procure the freedom of slaves.’ (Bukhari)
‘The food of two is enough for three, and the food of three is enough
for four,’ (Bukhari Muslim)
‘When a person dies, his actions come to an end, except three: that he leaves behind: a continuous charity, knowledge from which benefit may be derived, and righteous offspring who pray for him,’ (Muslim)
Some people said to the Prophet: ‘The wealthy walk away with a great deal of merit. They pray as we pray and fast as we fast, but then they are able to give in of their spare wealth’.
He said: ‘Has not Allah granted you with that which you can employ for charity? All glorification of Allah is charity, all praise of Allah is charity, all affirmation of Allah’s unity is charity, all affirmation of Allah’s greatness is charity, enjoining good is charity, forbidding evil is charity …’ (Muslim)
‘Sadaqa is due on every joint of a person, every day the sun rises. Bringing about justice between two men is also a sadaqa. Assisting a man to ride upon his beast, or helping him load his luggage upon it, is a sadaqa; and a good word is a sadaqa; and every step that you take towards prayer is a sadaqa, and removing of harmful things from the pathway is a sadaqa.’ (Muslim)
The Apostle of Allah said: ‘Giving of sadaqa is essential for every Muslim.’
He was asked: ‘What do you say of him who does not have the means to do so?’
The Prophet said: ‘Let him work with both his hands, thus gaining benefit for himself, and give sadaqa.’
He was asked: ‘What about him who does not have the means to do so?’ The Prophet said: ‘Then let him assist the needy and the aggrieved. He was asked:’ What do you say of one who cannot even do this? He said: ‘Then he should enjoin what is reputable or what is good.’ He was asked: What if he cannot do that?’ The Prophet said: ‘He should then avoid doing evil.’ (Muslim)

  • affirmation – declaration
  • aggrieved – those suffering from grief, sorrow or loss
  • njoining – ordering, instructing or advising a person to do something
  • offspring – a person’s children or descendants
  • procure – obtained by care or effort
An example from the Prophet’s life
The following story is related by one of the Prophet’s companions: ‘We were present in an audience with the Prophet one day in the forenoon. In the meantime, some people came there who had nothing but pieces of sackcloth on their bodies …
‘The Prophet was greatly moved on seeing them with their emaciated and starved bodies. He got up and went into his chamber, then came out and asked Bilal to call the adhan as it was time for prayer. He led the prayer, and at the end he recited the following verse of the Quran:
mankind, be careful of your duty to your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them has spread abroad many men and women. And fear God by whom you claim from one another, and the wombs that bore you . Surely God ever watches over you. (4:1)

‘And then he read another verse from the Quran,
O believers observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul consider what it has sent on for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah: God is aware of what you do. (59:18)
‘After this, the Prophet asked those present to make contributions towards charity out of their dinars and dirhams, clothes, wheat and dates; even though it might be only half a date.
‘Hearing this, one of the ansars brought a heavy bag, the weight of which became difficult for him to hold; then others followed, one after the other, until the collections made two heaps of food and clothes. The face of the Prophet was shining like gold.’  (Muslim)


  • ansars – ‘helpers’; Madinan Muslims who supported the Prophet
  • dinars – gold coins
  • dirhams – silver coins
  • emaciated – thin or feeble
  • forenoon – the part of the day before noon
  • morrow – the following day
Ethics in Shia Islam

Imams as guides to the ethics of the faith

In the life of Prophet Muhammad, we find examples of how ordinary actions can become uplifted through ethical principles. The Prophet’s example remains a source of inspiration for Muslims of every age.
Since the time of the Prophet, Muslim communities have tried to live by the ethical principles revealed in the message of Islam.
The Quran says:
For each community we have granted a law and a code of conduct. He could have made you one community but He wishes rather to test you through that which has been given to you. So vie with each other to excel in goodness and moral virtue.5.45
In Shia Islam, it is the imams of the time from the Prophet’s family’ who guide the followers towards an ethical way of life. The Imams act as the guardians of the ethics of the faith. They translate the ethical message of Islam in a way that takes account of the conditions of each age. In a world of change, the Imams give leadership in maintaining a balance between the spiritual and the material.
Towards creating a just society
The lives and teachings of the Imams provide us with many lessons on the importance of ethical conduct, Imam Ali, for example, set out the guiding principles for a just society when he became the fourth caliph of the Muslim community. When he appointed Malik al-Ashtar as the governor of Egypt, the Imam advised him on hove to govern the people so that all groups were treated with fairness. The Imam urged him not to forget the plight of the nee3dy and the poor.
In the Fatimid times, the Ismaili Imam-caliphs set up states in North Africa and Egypt where they became the rulers. The Imams aimed at creating states based on principles that were in keeping with the message of Islam.
In each age, the Imams acted as ethical models for their rnurids. The guidance and teachings of the Imams explained the ethical principles and ideals of Islam. The murids learned from the farmans of the Imam of the time how to apply the ethics of the faith in their lives.
The ethics of care and compassion
In the Shia Ismaili tradition, the moral principles emphasised in the message of Islam are of central importance in the practice of the faith. The values of generosity, care and compassion, giving and sharing, service and sacrifice, have always played an important role in the Ismaili tradition.
In modern times, the Imams have reminded Jamats and murid’s of the importance of the ethics of the faith.
Mawlana Hazir Imam has said:
‘What has been called the permissive society where anything goes. nothing matters, nothing is sacred or private any more, is not a promising foundation for a brave anti upright new word. This fearful chase after material ease must surely be tempered by peace of mind, by conscience, by moral values, which must be resuscitated, If not, man will simply have converted the animal instinct of feeding himself before others and even at the expense of others, into perhaps a more barbaric instinct of feeding himself and then hoarding all he can at the cost of the poor, the sick and the hungry.
‘It would be traumatic if those pillars of the Islamic way of life, social justice, equality, humility and generosity, enjoined upon us all, were to lose their force of wide application in our young society. It must never be said generations hence that in our greed for the material good of the rich West we have forsaken our responsibilities to the poor, to the orphans, to the traveller, to the single woman.’
(Convocation Address at Peshawar University, 30 November 1967, Peshawar, Pakistan)
The guidance of Imam Ali
Imam Ali’s letter to Malik al Ashtar
The following passages are extracts from a letter that Imam Ali wrote to Malik al-Ashtar when the Imam appointed him to be the Governor of Egypt and the surrounding areas in the seventh century CE.
‘Know, O Malik, that I have sent you to
an area where mere have been rulers before you, both just as well as oppressive … Do justice for Allah and do justice towards the people because if you do not do so, you will be oppressive.
(Fear) Allah and keep Allah in view in respect of the lowest class, consisting of those who have few means: the poor, the destitute, the penniless and the disabled: because in this class are both the discontented and those who beg. Take care for the sake of Allah of His obligations towards them for which He has made you responsible. Fix for them a share from the public funds and a share from the crops of lands …
All these people are those whose [claims] have been placed in your charge. Therefore, a luxurious life should not keep you away from them. You cannot be excused of ignoring small matters because you were deciding big problems. Consequently, do not be unmindful of nor turn your face from them out of vanity.
‘Take care of the affairs of those of them who do no approach you because they are of unsightly appearance or those whom people regard as low. Appoint for them some trusted people who are God-fearing and humble. They should inform you of these people’s conditions. Then deal with them with a sense of responsibility to Allah on the day you will meet Him because of all the subjects, these people are the most deserving of fair treatment, while for others also you should fulfill their [dues] so as to render account to Allah.
‘Take care of the orphans and the aged who have no means or (livelihood) nor are they ready for begging …
And fix a time for complainants when you make yourself free for them, and sit with them in common audience and feel humble for the sake of Allah who created you. (On that occasion), you should keep away your army and your assistants, such as the guards and the police, so that anyone who likes to speak may speak to you without fear. I have heard the Messenger of Allah in more than one place, ‘The people the [honour] of the weak is not secured without fear will never achieve purity. Tolerate their awkwardness and inability to speak. Keep away from you narrowness and haughtiness.’
complainants – people with grievances or complaints
• conscience – the moral sense of right and wrong
• destitute – those without any means of support
• discontented – unhappy, dissatisfied
• haughtiness – arrogance, pride
• hoarding – storing or accumulating more than one’s required share
• oppressive – harsh, cruel
• permissive – free, tolerant, giving permission
• resuscitated – brought back to life, restored
• tempered- made moderate
• traumatic – distressing
• unsightly – unpleasant to loop at, ugly
• vanity – pride, conceit. self- importance
Review questions and activities
Reflecting on the text
What do you understand by the ethical message of Islam?
How has this message inspired Muslims towards striving for a just  society in each age?
What are some important ethical principles expressed in the Quran?
What are some of the teachings of the teachings in Quran on sadaqa?
How has the Prophet’s life acted as a model for Muslims?
What is the role of the Imams in Shia traditions in relation to the ethics of the faith?
Give some examples of the ethical principles reflected in Imam Ali’s letter to Malik al-Ashtar.
Explain in your own words the extract of Mawlana Hazir Imam’s speech quoted on page 77.
Make a collection of Quranic verses that redact key ethical principles. In what ways can these principles be applied by Muslim societies and communities today?
Review the life story of Prophet Muhammad, Write an essay on how the Prophet brought about social reforms in seventh century Arabia. What ethical principles underlie these reforms?
Using the guidance given in Imam Ali’s letter to Malik al-Ashtar; discuss practical steps the governor would have taken to implement the Imam’s advice. What difficulties would he have encountered in following the guidance, and how could he have overcome these problems?
Identify a speech or farman of Mawlana Hazir Imam that he has delivered recently. Identify the main points reflected in the Imam’s guidance. How is the Imam guiding the murids to apply the ethics of the faith in their lives?
Ethical ideals lie at the heart of every religion. Find out what other religious traditions teach about leading an ethical way of life. What ethical principles are common to all religious traditions?
One view of ethical principles derived from religious teachings is that they will always be important in human life, no matter in which age we live. Another view is that these ethical principles belong to the past and are no longer required in the modern world. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above views? Explain the reasons behind your answer.
Why do you think ethics forms an important part of each religious tradition?
The ethical message of Islam has reminded Muslims in each age of their responsibilities towards their fellow human beings.
3.3    The guidance of the Imams
A history stretching to the time of the Prophet
The Ismailis are the second largest Shia community among the Muslims, after the Ithna Asharis. Throughout their history, the Ismailis have been led by a living, hereditary Imam. They trace the line of Imamat in hereditary succession from Imam Ismail to Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni, who is the 49th Imam and the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali and Hazrat Fatima.
Inspired by the guidance of their Imams, Ismailis have made important contributions to Muslim history and civilization.
From the tenth to the twelfth centuries, the Ismaili Imam-caliphs ruled over the Fatimid state in North Africa and Egypt. Its centre was Cairo, founded by the Fatimids as their capital. The Fatimids promoted the development of art, science, learning and trade in the Mediterranean region for over two centuries.
The Fatimids founded the al-Azhar university and the Dar al-Ilm in Cairo which became important centres of learning. Renowned philosophers, jurists, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers and scientists flourished under the patronage of Ismaili Imams. They included scholars such as Qadi al-Numan, Hamid al-Din Kirmani, Ibn al-Haytham (al-Hazen), and Nasir-i Khusraw.
Imams in the modern period
Following the Fatimid period, the Nizari Ismaili Imains moved their base to Persia. After their centre in Persia, Alamut, fell to Mongol conquerors in the thirteenth century, Ismailis lived for several centuries in dispersed communities, mainly in Persia and Central Asia, but also in Syria, India and elsewhere.
In the l830s, Imam Aga Hassanaly Shah, the 46th Ismaili Imam, was granted the honorary hereditary title of Aga Khan by the Shah of Persia. In 1843, he left Persia for India, which already had a large Ismaili community. His son, Imam Aga Ali Shah (Aga Khan II), died in 1885, only four years after assuming the Imamat. He was succeeded by the present Imam’s grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah (Aga Khan III), who became the 48th Imam of the Ismailis. Mawlana Hazir Imam, who is also known as His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, is the present Imam of the Ismailis.
In the following sections, we learn more about how Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and Imam Shah Karim guided the Ismailis into the modern period.
Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah
Ismailis at the dawn of the twentieth century
The beginning of the twentieth century, Ismaili communities were to be found living in South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. Large parts of these regions were under British or French colonial rule. Central Asia was under the control of the Russians.
Most of the Ismailis lived in the rural areas, with a small percentage located in towns and cities. The quality of life experienced by Ismailis was similar to that of the wider population living in these regions. Ismaili communities, like other people in colonial areas, suffered from poverty, ill-health and illiteracy.
The conditions of Ismailis living in the rural areas and mountainous regions was even more acute. Most of them were farmers and their livelihood depended on the crops they grew. Like other farmers, they experienced periods of drought, pestilence or floods when their harvests were reduced or wiped out altogether. In mountainous areas, severe winter storms exacted a heavy toll in the villages.
Those who lived in towns and Cities were traders and merchants, engaged in running small businesses. Their trade was limited to the local areas in which they lived. They earned just enough to make their ends meet. Their livelihood was often affected by wider forces, such as wars and conflicts breaking out in their region.
The Ismaili community, as a whole, suffered from under-development at the beginning of the twentieth century. People in the community had limited access to schools and hospitals. Most of them lived in remote and harsh regions of the world, isolated from the progress that was beginning to make its way elsewhere. Like other communities in colonised areas at this time, their life was occupied with the struggle to survive.
Imam Sultan Mohammad Shah’s guidance
In 1900, the Ismaili community was led by a young Imam who was twenty-three years old. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah had become the Imam in 1885, when he was only eight years old. As the new century began, the young Imam was faced with the immense task of improving the quality of life of his followers.
The Imam began by guiding the Ismaili community to face the challenges of the modern period with confidence. He told them to hold fast to the principles of their faith of Islam while working to improve the quality of their lives. If they were to progress, it was vital that they maintain the balance between the spiritual and material aspects of their life. In undertaking their worldly responsibilities, he urged them to observe the ethics of their faith.
In his farmans, the Imam gave practical guidance to his murids on matters to do with health and education. He urged them to send their children to school and to have their health checked regularly by doctors. He advised them to eat healthy food and to undertake regular exercise.
The Imam reinforced these messages through practical actions and interventions. In 1897, a terrible famine affected the people living in areas around Bombay. The Imam immediately made arrangements for the supply of food and seed, cattle and agricultural tools to the needy. In Bombay, a large camp was pitched at Hasanabad, where food was provided to thousands of people daily.
The famine was followed by an epidemic of bubonic plague. At this time, many people were reluctant to be immunised because the benefits of vaccination were not known to them. The Imam asked a doctor to inoculate him in front of a large gathering of people to dispel their fears. This action led many people to take vaccinations and to save to save their lives.
The establishment of institutions
Concerned with the long-term welfare of the community, the Imam recognised the need for the setting up of institutions that would promote education, health care and economic development.
The Imam began by setting up primary and secondary schools in India, East Africa and other areas that were open to people of all denominations. The Imam placed great emphasis on the education of girls, since an educated mother would educate the whole family. The brightest students were given scholarships to study in Europe and America, many of whom became lawyers, doctors, teachers and engineers.
The Imam also established health clinics, maternity centres and hospitals to make health care more widely available. As with the schools, these health facilities were open to all people. They became vital in combating illnesses and saving lives of people lives of people living in tropical zones of the world.
During the 72 years of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah’s Imamat, the Ismaili community celebrated his Golden (1937), Diamond (1946) and Platinum (1954) Jubilees. These jubilees became events for generating large amounts of funds which were used to further the social welfare and development institutions in Asia and Africa.
The Imam also gave attention to the development of institutions within the Ismaili community. In 1905, he ordained the first Ismaili Constitution for the East African Ismaili community. It enabled the community to set up administrative councils at the local, national and regional levels. It also set out rules of personal law dealing with aspects such as marriage and divorce, and guidelines for dealing with internal disputes. Similar institutions were set up for Ismaili communities in South Asia.
Under the guidance of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, the first half of the twentieth century became a period significant development for the Ismaili community.
A world leader
Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah’s concern for development extended beyond the Ismaili community to Muslim societies and people of other traditions around the world. He took an active part in the setting up of the Aligarh University that became a leading Asian university. He also supported proposals for the establishment of the Hindu University of Benares.
In East Africa, the Imam pledged to contribute a pound for every pound donated by non-Ismaili Muslims towards the setting up of social welfare institutions for Muslims. By the end of his Imamat in 1957, the East African Muslim Welfare Society had built scores of schools, mosques, health clinics and a higher education centre in East Africa.
The Imam also worked hard to improve the relation between Western powers and the Muslim world. He called for peaceful solutions to problems in India, the Middle East and other troubled regions in the world, seeking to free Muslims and other nations from colonial control.
Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah became a well-known statesman on the global stage. During his life, the Imam witnessed two world wars and saw the consequences they had for people around the world. He spent a large part of his life actively promoting peace between nations for the well-being of humanity. For his role in world affairs, he was selected to be the president of the League of Nations from 1937 to 1939, an organisation that: eventually became transformed into the United Nations.
His greatest wish was for lasting peace and understanding among nations and people of different faiths and culture.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni
New challenges in a rapidly changing world
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni succeeded his grandfather as the 49th Imam of the Ismaili community on 11 July 1957. At the age of 20, the new Imam faced a challenge of leading the Ismailis in a world that had changed radically in the past half century, and which as to change even further by the end of the twentieth century.
One of the first set of events that directly affected the community was the gaining of independence of Asian and African countries from colonial rule. The Imam guided the Ismailis to become active citizens of the countries in which they lived and to contribute to the development of their home nations.
The second half of the twentieth century also saw a series of wars, conflicts and civil disturbances that affected parts of Asia and Africa. Millions of people were displaced from their homelands and were forced to become refugees. Among these events were the civil war in Pakistan leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972, and the series of wars and crises experienced by Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. Thousands of Ismailis were among the displaced people and the Imam took urgent steps to help with their resettlement in Europe, North America and Asia.
Yet another significant development was the collapse of Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan became independent in the 1990s. Afghanistan, too, became liberated from the communists and the Taleban. The situation of Ismaili communities living in Central Asia and Afghanistan, like other communities in this region, was critical. This region became a new focus for the Imamat’s programmes of relief aid and social development.
The establishment of new institutions
In the first four decades of his Imamat, Mawlana Hazir Imam has had to deal with a series of crises that have affected Ismaili communities in different parts of the world. While these crises have required urgent attention, the Imam has been concerned about the long-term development of the Ismaili community as well as people living in developing countries. A large part of the Imam’s efforts and resources have therefore been directed at the building of a network of institutions that will work towards achieving these long- term goals.
When Mawlana Hazir Imam became the Imam in 1957, he devoted the initial period of his Imamat to strengthening the institutions that were set up by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. He also began to establish new institutions in the areas of education, health, culture and economic development. The Imam linked the programmes and activities of these institutions by setting up the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). In the next unit, we will examine the various institutions of the AKDN and the programmes of development in which they are involved. In every country in which they operate, these institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their origin.
Mawlana Hazir Imam has also continued to strengthen and extend the institutions within the community set up by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. In 1986, the Imam introduced a Constitution for the world-wide Ismaili community. The Constitution is founded on each Ismaili’s spiritual allegiance to the Imam of the time, which is separate from the secular allegiance of Ismailis as citizens of their countries. The Imam’s guidance enables Ismailis to contribute actively both to their community and to the development of their countries.
Mus1ims in a new century
During his period of Imamat, Mawlana Hazir Imam has been deeply concerned about the relations between Muslims and people of other traditions. In the second half of the twentieth century, Muslims living in various parts of the world have been at the centre of devastating wars and conflicts. These areas have included the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Some of these conflicts are internal to Muslims, while others have been created by outside forces.
In response to these conflicts, Mawlana Hazir Imam has called for a greater understanding between the Muslim world and people living in other parts of the world, He has constantly tried to promote plurality and tolerance among Muslims belonging to different traditions. He has argued that plurality should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness by Muslims. At the same time, he has called for better knowledge about Islam in the West. The terrorist attacks in America on 11 September 001 awakened the world to the urgent need for this understanding. The Imam is convinced that educating people about Islam will remove many of the misconceptions that have arisen about Muslims in recent times.
Mawlana Hazir Imam has emphasised the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith. It is a religion that teaches compassion and upholds the dignity of human beings as Allah’s noblest creation. Though his humanitarian work, the Imam has shown how the ethical message of slam can be translated into practical action for the well-being of humanity as a whole.

Review questions and activities
Reflecting on the text
What are some significant periods in the history of the Ismailis?
What was the situation of the Ismaili community at the beginning of the twentieth century?
How did Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah guide the community into the modern period?
What kinds of institutions did the Imam set up? What was their purpose?
What role did the Imam play as a world statesman?
What major events in the second half of the twentieth century affected the Ismailis and people of other communities?
How did Mawlana Hazir Imam lead the community through this period?
What new institutions did the Imam establish?
How has the Imam tried to create greater understanding about Islam in his period of Imamat?
Do a project on the life of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, focusing on how he helped to improve the quality of life of the Ismailis and other communities.
Write a biography of the life and work of Mawlana Hazir Imam, identifying some of his major achievements in the area of development.
Do a case study of the modern history of an Ismaili community in a selected region of the world. Focus on some of the challenges faced by the community in the twentieth century, and how the community has developed in this period.
Examine the recent farmans of Mawlana Hazir Imam. Make a summary of the guidance that the Imam has given to jamats in different parts of the world.
How did the Ismaili community respond to issues of development it faced in its entry into the modern period?

  • development institutions
  • social welfare

  • 1885:     Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (Aga Khan Ill) becomes the 48th Imam of the Ismailis.
  • 1957:     Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni (Aga Khan IV) becomes the 49th Imam of the Ismailis
Find out about the history of the Ismailis in the past, such as in the Fatimid and Alamut periods.
Select a community in your area other than the Ismailis. Find out more about
this community’s history in the twentieth century. What similar experiences does this community share with the Ismailis?
What challenges have arisen for Ismailis and people of other religious traditions in being true to their faith while also seeking to progress in the modern world?
How have the Imams in the twentieth century guided the Ismailis to interpret and apply their faith of Islam modern times?
In the modern period, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and Mawlana Hazir Imam have guided the Ismaili community into a new phase in their long history.

Review of Unit 3: The Ethical Spirit of Islam
Review questions

3.1 Muslim societies in the modern age
• What issues did Muslim societies face as entered into the modern period?
• How are Muslim countries categorized in terms of their levels of wealth?
• What does the case study of Bangladesh reveal about some of the problems faced by Muslim countries suffering from poverty?
• What factors are hindering the improvement of the lives of people in countries such as Bangladesh?
• In his address at the University of Sind in 1970, what guidance does Mawlana Hazir Imam give regarding the betterment of Muslim societies?
3.2 Islam and social responsibility
    • What do you understand by the ethical message of Islam?
• How has this message inspired Muslims striving for a just society in each age?
• What are some important ethical principles expressed in the Quran?
• How has the Prophets life acted as an ethical model for Muslims?
• What does Imam Ali’s letter to Malik al-Ashtar teach us about the exercise of ethics in the Shia tradition?
3.3 The guidance of the Imams
• What was the situation of the Ismaili community at the beginning of the twentieth century?
• What significant progress was made by the Ismailis in the Imamat of Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah?
• How was this progress extended and given Mawlana Hazir Imam?

       • What contribution have both imams made to improving the quality of life of Muslims as well as people of other traditions?


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