A lesson from Ismailis?

They make up less than a tenth of the Shia population, yet the Aga Khani (Nizari) Ismailis are one of the most influential and successful communities in the world.

Their leader, Karim Aga Khan IV, is a regular feature in the Sunday Times Rich List, however it is the development and forward thinking of the Ismailis that has yielded their success.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is one of the largest of its type in the world, and one learns a great deal when looking at its factions, including health, education, and technology. Nearly all of us have a relative who attended an Aga Khan school or was taken to an Aga Khan hospital back home in Africa. However much one disagrees with Ismaili beliefs or practices, one cannot help but admire their support to people regardless of faith, origin or gender.

But it is not just the AKDN that we can learn a lesson from. The progress of the Ismaili community in setting up institutions and centres is next to none. Recently, the Aga Khan opened a new £11 million Ismaili Centre in Dubai, making it the fourth hub of Ismailism in the world, with centres already present in Lisbon, Vancouver, and London, and more on the way in Toronto and Tajikistan.

With only 8,000 Ismailis in the UAE, most of the services the Ismaili Centre offers will be towards non-Ismailis, such as its 225-child capacity early learning centre, and neighbouring Islamic garden gifted to Dubai locals by the Aga Khan.

Meanwhile the £9.5 million Ismaili Centre in South Kensington is known to house one of the largest collections of Islamic art, and is aptly located in the midst of other museums.

One might view all this “advancement” as nothing except superficial materialism, and I wholly agree that progress should not be judged by how much wealth one has acquired. But one thing is for sure: the Ismaili community certainly has a vision for the future, something which many of our communities seem to be lacking.


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