How can we inspire people to reach beyond rampant materialism, self-indulgent individualism, and unprincipled relativism?
Relativism — the worldview that suggests there are no “black and white answers” as all points of view are equally valid because knowledge, truth, ethics and morality are not absolute but relative to, and depend on, the individuals, groups or contexts (cultural, religious, societal, historical, civilisational) holding them — is, arguably, one defining facet of contemporary, liberal society. Indeed, it may even be the signature characteristic of a liberal society.
As champion of cosmopolitan ethics, pluralism and of an interpretation of Islam which unequivocally a) upholds the legitimacy of diverse and individual interpretations, b) reprimands bids to normatise, and c) insists on personal search as an essential facet of Islam, it is often assumed that His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, therefore, also embraces relativism, given its air of legitimacy that arises from the “pluralistic equity” it accords to all points of view. However, it may come as a surprise to many — as is often the case when the Aga Khan’s actual remarks are not studied but his position only assumed — that the Aga Khan has emphatically and unambiguously described relativism as “unprincipled.”
Leaving aside logical and philosophical absurdity of relativism — in that it cannot even confirm its own validity, for doing so would itself require an absolute statement and, therefore, it condemns itself, I review below the Aga Khan’s exact remarks on the above principles so as to reconcile his disdain of relativism with the apparent relativistic thread common to these principles he holds near and dear to his heart.
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About the author
Mohib Ebrahim is the Editor and Publisher of the NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings. An honours graduate of Simon Fraser University in Computer Science and Mathematics, Mohib has been involved in software development and the IT industry since the ’80s. His religious interests lie in understanding the intersection of faith and reason: validation of faith and the nature of truth.
Image: Mawlana Hazar Imam, theismaili.org (Permitted use) (Bill C-11, Section 29.21 http://bit.ly/1yRu6UZ)