Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Aga Khan, the light of Islam?   posted by Razib @ 7/07/2007 09:13:00 PM

Since 9/11, and more broadly since the eruption of Islamic terror as a significant phenomenon in the past few decades, the media has attempted to impart to the general public information about Islam. Unfortunately, the media just plain sucks. Consider this article, Do Business and Islam Mix? Ask Him. "Him" refers to Aga Khan IV. The article suggests that he is the leader of the Ismaili Muslims, but more properly he is leader of about half the Ismaili Muslims in the world, the Nizari branch. For a detailed exposition of the multitudinous sects of Ismailis I recommend Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras. Though focused on the Daudi Bohra sect, there is a detailed history in the first third of the book which relates how Ismaili sects differ from each other, other Shia, and Sunni Islam. The distinctiveness of Ismaili Islam is important to emphasize: to simplify they are the Shia of the Shia, a minority within the minority. Additionally, the Nizari Ismaili in the West have been very keen to acculturate to the norms of the surrounding population, even more so than other Ismaili groups, who remain more distinctive and recognizably "Muslim." So you have here a situation where the leader of a small sect of Muslims is held up as an Islamic exemplar from which we can learn about the faith. Though I do not deny that the Nizaris are Muslims, I think it must be emphasized that on a character-by-character basis of comparison they are very distinctive and peculiar as Muslims go. It is a fact that many Sunnis will even reject that Ismailis are Muslims at all (though with far less force than against the Ahmadiyya sect). As an analogy, imagine that the leader of the Seventh Day Adventists was being treated as a seminal and fundamental authority within Christianity. Finally, the article states that the Aga Khan is a "moderate Muslim." Moderate implies that someone is within the broad middle central tendency of a distribution, and that is simply not correct in the case of the Aga Khan and his followers. They lay at a tail. The mainstream media isn't really biased as much as it is mediocre, forgive them for they know not what they write, but also remember to be very cautious when they take any steps away from first order reportage.