Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV, KBE, CC is the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Isma’ilism within Shia Islam with an estimated 10–15 million adherents (10–12% of the world’s Shia Muslim population).The Aga Khan is a business magnate with British and Portuguese citizenship, as well as a racehorse owner and breeder. He has held this position of Imam, under the title of Aga Khan IV, since 11 July 1957, when, at the age of 20, he succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III. It is believed that the Aga Khan is a direct lineal descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage.
On October 4th, 2018, Karen Armstrong, writer and religious historian, delivered the sixth Annual Pluralism Lecture titled “Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”.
Each person invited to give the Annual Pluralism Lecture is asked to reflect on how to build and strengthen pluralist societies. The Lecture is hosted by the Global Centre for Pluralism, an independent, charitable organization founded by His Highness the Aga Khan in partnership with the Government of Canada. It is based in Ottawa, Canada.
In her lecture, Ms. Armstrong spoke about the value of religion during what could be the “last gasp” of nationalism: “What the religions all tell us… [is] that enlightenment insists on overcoming the ego, letting the ego go. Nationalism is about ego, it’s about swelling the ego, and often that means excluding the other, as Lord Acton pointed out.”
Citing her current work on the scriptures of three of the world’s great religions, she went on to say that “the scriptures — all, in every tradition — say you have to work for the good of others, all others, not just those in your own camp, practically and creatively. That is the route to enlightenment.”
During his introduction, His Highness the Aga Khan remarked that “I think that one of the greatest challenges for the entire world will be finding ways in which we can all achieve a deeper understanding of the other, and what makes each of us distinct, as human beings and as communities. To achieve this vital goal, reflective, creative and empathetic thinkers and writers will be critically important.”
Over the last 20 years, Karen Armstrong has written more than 20 books on faith and the major religions, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity. She is the author of Islam: A Short History, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. She is also the author of two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into 45 languages. She is also a former Trustee of the British Museum and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Literature. Ms. Armstrong was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2015.
The Global Centre for Pluralism is an independent, not-for-profit international research and education centre located in Ottawa, Canada. Inspired by the example of Canada’s inclusive approach to citizenship, the Centre works to advance respect for diversity worldwide, believing that openness and understanding toward the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other peoples are essential to the survival of an interdependent world.