Aga Khan and Malala – the Muslim role models

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Every child, teen and an adult has someone he or she looks up to, and wants to-be-like that person and eventually becomes one.  Indeed, good role models are a key to the success of a civil society.

I have been studying religious pluralism and civil societies for the last twenty years, and have found a sense of regret among Muslims for the dearth of role models. Invariably they compare themselves with the Jewish community more often than they care to admit.  At least twice a year, an email makes the rounds showing the innumerable Nobel laureates among the tiny Jewish community versus the negligible numbers among the big Muslim community. It almost appears that they cannot move forward without some one leading them.

Don’t despair, there is hope, we have a few good men and women who are great role models.

In the last 100 years we have had legends like Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others who have created institutions of learning or left a legacy of critical thinking.  They were not only heroes for Muslims, but for others as well.

These individuals followed the foundational Sunnah of the prophet to be Amins, the truthful, trustworthy, Just and without barriers between them and people of other faiths and traditions. They contributed towards the common good of humanity. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad was called Amin by fellow Citizens who were Jewish, Christian and Pagans. That should be our model; to be contributors and be the Amins of the society.

In the last 50 years, we have had a few great men and women, but we did not accord them the place they deserved.  It’s time for us to recognize them for their contributions and their legacy in building better societies for humanity.

There are plenty of men and women in religion, business, arts, sports, music, entertainment and academic fields, but very few in civil societies. 

The following men and women have created enduring values to last for generations to come, it is their legacy. I am embarrassed that I could not come up with more names from around 56 Muslims nations, but I welcome them all.

  1. Abdurrahman Wahid  (planted the vision of Madinah like society),  
  2. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (Critical thinking in Islam),
  3. Malala Yousafzai (Role model for women),
  4. Aga Khan (Role Model for Universal human development) ,  
  5. Benazir Bhutto (a symbol of Democracy), 
  6. Muhammad Yunus (an economic model of uplifting the down trodden)
  7. Aamir Khan (Cultural Pluralism and his Satyameva Jayate Series), 
  8. Abdus Salam (Physicist and Nobel Laureate),
  9. Abdus Sattar Edhi (Charity),
  10. Al-Waleed bin Talal (Research in Education)
  11. Abusaleh Shariff (Solutions for up-liftment of minorities )
Abusaleh Shariff is relatively less known than the others, but his pioneering research work about Indian Muslims has become the foundation for economic, educational, social and statistical models for planning societies, and finding pluralistic solutions for the majoritarian-minoritarian conflict mitigation in a given society.

Gamal Abdel Nasser could have been one of the heroes, had he succeeded in creating a value for Arab Unification, he could not make it.  Mahathir Muhammad could have been an economic hero, but his work was time-bound and not timeless, and he did not leave anything impactful other than the rhetoric. What did Yasser Arafat leave behind?  I am not sure about the legacy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah- is anyone following his vision other than hanging his pictures on event walls?  General Pervaz Musharraf had all the potential to re-establish Jinnah’s vision, a secular pluralistic Islamic model nation – but he blew it. 

Even though Kings Abdullah of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Muhammad Ali, Dilip Kumar or Shahrukh Khan are big names, they have not contributed to the common good of humanity, once they are gone, they are gone. Would they be legends in Muslim history? Are they Amins of the society at large? We need to discuss.

I am glad at least Malala and Aga Khan
have been recognized worldwide, and their work is not restricted to just one community, but most people around the globe will look up to them for what they represent. 

It is our duty to honor and cherish individuals who have dedicated their lives in building bridges between communities. Their pioneering spirit in facilitating communities to know and to respect each other must be appreciated.

I urge fellow Muslims to work on writing about these men and women, and how their work can last for centuries to come. Can we include them in our school text books, Islamic social education at Mosques and private schools? They are our role models, aren’t they?   

To be a Muslimis to be a peacemaker, one who mitigates conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence of humanity. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; life and matter.
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Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Presentation of the Gold Medal by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Ottawa


Mike Ghouse is a Muslim speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, Islaminterfaith and other topics. He is committed to nurturing pluralistic values embedded in Islam and building cohesive Societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day, all his writings are at   

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