The Aga Khan in Marawi

My piece on Marawi elicited the fraternal concern of   Mr. Mahmoud S Aziz who read it online.  He resides in Canada, it seems, works in a pharmaceutical company and has been to Marawi and the Aga Khan Museum.  “I share your sentimentality and sincerely appreciate your thoughts on the situation in Marawi… I am deeply saddened and disturbed at the extremist and violent behavior of a small part of the Muslim population in Mindanao. …It appears that none of the Muslims there took heed and learnt from the Aga Khan’s speech.”

On 24 November 1963, the first anniversary of the opening of the Aga Kahn Museum of Muslim Art, His Highness himself went to Marawi to address local leaders and the student body of the Mindanao State University (MSU). Mr. Aziz was kind enough to send me a copy of that momentous speech, the salient points of which are, as follows:

  1. “A man’s position in society, wherever he may be, will depend less and less upon his cultural or family heritage and more and more on the power and development of his mind.” In every society the Aga Khan had seen, he observed that it is “the intellectual elite which is capturing the outstanding offices, the most interesting work, the best situations. That is bound to be the case so long as the world population continues to increase and we are forced to deepen specialization.”
  2. “The great Omayyad and Abbaside Khalifates were created through the spread of the message of Islam and the conquering power of the Muslim armies…” But, once the waves of conquest were over and the Muslim religion spread from Arabia to Southern France to China, there arose the problem of organizing and running the state. “The unifying force, which allowed the Khalifates to weld immense empires with peoples of different languages, ethnic origins and culture, was the “administrative machinery.”
  3. That “administrative machinery” comprised people who were formed in the greatest centers of learning that ever existed — the universities in Damascus and Bagdad, those of Cairo, Tehran, Cordova, and Istanbul. The Muslim universities were producing the best scholars, doctors, astronomers, and philosophers. So, during the reign of those two Khalifates, after the armies withdrew, “ it was the power of the intellectual elite which took over and governed, ran and maintained the state.”
  4. The Aga Khan said that throughout his journeys, “I have been deeply pained to see the lack of initiative which my brother Muslims have shown in educational matters. In some circles there may have been a fear that modern education would tend to lessen the sharpness and deepness of our Faith. I am afraid that I must reject this with vehemence…. I am afraid that the torch of intellectual discovery, the attraction of the unknown, the desire for intellectual self-protection has left us. “Today, we need tools that will extend man’s knowledge but, generally speaking, these  are possessed by the more advanced and essentially Christian areas of the world.  “What is the point of undergoing untold misery for political independence, if the result is no better than abject dependence Intellectually and economically on one’s old political masters?”
  5. Alluding to the MSU, the Aga Khan said, “it is a tool which is being fashioned into an instrument for self-perfection. But, for it to become perfect, the founders, faculty, and students have to be vigilant. They have to assure that the standards are continually raised, so that this instrument will render you greater service at less cost in time and energy.”
  6. Those who will leave it (MSU) for further studies should approach the world “with a sharp vengeance — vengeance for the torpor and indifference of the past; vengeance for having temporarily lost their rightful position among the intellectual elite of the country.” Let us show the state in which we live that we are determined to become first class citizens, nay leaders, not for the futile glory of leadership, but to help this country become a better place which to live…so our children willbe born to brighter horizons.”
  7. He warned us: “The Saudi Wahhabi/Salafi government has been exporting pernicious extremist Wahhabi/Salafi ideology to the Philippines by establishing and funding their mosques, madrasses and other institutions with the aim of brainwashing and converting the people of Mindanao to their perverted, insidiousideology which is NOT ISLAM! “ (Emphasis the Aga Khan’s)
  8. If the Philippine government does not stop Saudi Arabia from funding mosques, madrassas, schools, and the MILF and other such groups in the Philippines, the Philippines will continue to be subjected to the Wahhabi/Salami extremists.

Education, Education, Education — was the core of the Aga Khan’s message, echoing Jose Rizal and the other brains of our nation. That was 1963; the women I met in Marawi who had gone to Mecca were wearing gossamer veils of brilliant colors that matched their silk blouses and elegant malongs. There were no black veils then.


(ggc1898@gmail. com)