‘There’s No Conflict Between Islam and Democracy’

The Aga Khan, spiritual head of Ismaili Muslims, listens to a speech during the inauguration of the restored 16th century Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. It took six years of conservation works and 200,000 work days by master craftsmen to restore the tomb's Mughal finery, according to a press release. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

In an interview, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the hereditary imam of Shiite Ismaili Muslims, argues that today’s Middle Eastern terrorists are fueled by political motivations and not religion.

Your majesty, the world is shocked by terrorist attacks that are carried out by people who claim to be fighting for Islam. You, as a prominent Muslim leader, have claimed that Islam is a religion of peace. Does that mean that Islam has two faces?

Prince Karim Aga Khan IV: No, I don’t think so. For one thing, you have to think about the fact that this is just represents a very, very small minority of the world’s Muslim population. Also, these people are primarily driven by political and not religious motives. It would be wrong to consider them representative of Islam. The Western world has to take a close look to see which forces are in play in order to differentiate between belief and things that have nothing to do with belief. We as Muslims could also ask the same things: like what’s happening in Northern Ireland. If I as a Muslim came to you and were to say: What’s happening in Northern Ireland reflects Catholic and Protestant beliefs, then you would say: you’re uneducated.

In many western countries, including Germany, more and more people have the opinion that Islam and democracy are irreconcilable. If that’s true, then a mutual understanding and effective cooperation between Muslims and the Western world would be practically impossible.

That’s true, but I don’t see a conflict between Islam and democracy. There’s absolutely no conflict if you look at the original form of the Muslim community.

Tolerance and pluralism are at the top of your agenda for improving conditions for all humans. Is that because your own followers, the minority Ismaili Muslims, are discriminated against? At times, other Muslims have even gone so far as to describe you as a heretic.

In every religion there are differences of opinion about the interpretation of the religion. But I don’t think the Ismailis are still discriminated against today. To the contrary, we’re building bridges to the representatives of other directions of Islam. Because the idea of pluralism is tightly anchored in Islam. Of course there are many different interpretations. But the differences in interpretation is not a problem in Islam. I would even go so far as to say that Islam is a very broad religion. There’s a very famous line by Allah in the Quran: “I have created you from one soul.” With that line, he meant all of humanity.

Since the end of 2001, the West has been seeking a dialogue with the Muslim world. But more and more people are frustrated because no real answer is coming from the Muslim side. They’re waiting for the voices of moderate Muslims who will vocally and clearly speak out against terrorism in the name of Islam. Why aren’t we hearing these voices?

I think you can hear these voices more often now. We have to consider that there are forces inside the Islamic world that do not promote freedom of opinion — especially in regards to religion.

Is there hope that we can someday stop terrorism?

Firstly, I’d say this: Let’s remedy the causes of terrorism. Generally that’s political frustration and not a question of religion. The situation in the Middle East was not created by Islamic beliefs. The situation in Kashmir was not created by Islamic belief. The situation in Afghanistan was not created by Islamic beliefs. So we have to identify the core of the problem, and that is political in nature. And when we know the real causes of what drives people to desperation, then we can get a grasp on it.

Deutsche Welle.

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