Divine Diversity: The Aga Khan’s Vision of Pluralism – Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies – article

Divine Diversity: The Aga Khan’s Vision of Pluralism

Andani | Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies


This article analyzes the Aga Khan’s discourse on pluralism and cosmopolitan ethics, arguing that these ideals are rooted in and expressive of his Muslim theological vision and constitute his interpretation of Islam. The Aga Khan is the forty-ninth hereditary Imam of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims and a public Muslim intellectual. Whereas many theorists’ approaches to pluralism are premised on the religious diversity of America, the Aga Khan pragmatically situates pluralism as a prerequisite for humanitarian development in a global context and as an antidote to dangers posed by both political tribalism and globalism. In common with the scholar of religion Diana Eck, the Aga Khan defines pluralism as a personal and civic orientation toward human diversity that actively embraces difference while also emphasizing commonality without overriding differences. At the same time, he presents pluralism as a divine imperative for humans in responding to God-given diversity and attaining self-knowledge. The theological underpinnings of the Aga Khan’s pluralistic vision are the integration of Faith (dīn) and World (dunyā) and a theology of ”mono-realism” (waḥdat al-wujūd) stressing God’s continuous manifestation through diversity. Certain dimensions of this pluralism are rooted in the pre-modern Ismaili theological heritage. The Aga Khan also presents a concept of cosmopolitan ethics as a necessary concomitant of applied pluralism. Rejecting both moral relativism and a hegemonic universalism, the Aga Khan defines cosmopolitan ethics as universal virtue ethics informed by multiple religious traditions that can also accommodate a pluralism of values in local contexts. The Aga Khan theologically roots cosmopolitan ethics in the Qur’ānic vision of humankind as created from a single soul (Q 4:1).


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