LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: How much are you guided by your faith? Is your faith everything?
AGA KHAN: Yes. I wouldn't be guided by anything else. I wouldn't understand that.
SEVERSON: So every minute of every day, you're guided by your faith?
AGA KHAN: Well, the faith has 1400 years of tradition. It has been exposed to so many different situations that there's practically no human situation unknown to it, although science is changing things today.
SEVERSON: Can you give me an example or two of where your ethical framework is in play in some of your projects?
AGA KHAN: Absolutely. I think first of all, we are concerned about the quality of life, and therefore we have to be concerned with the poor. So one of the continuing objectives is to change or eliminate, as far as humanly possible, poverty—people who live in conditions which are not acceptable in terms of quality of life. That’s clear. The second one is having communities work together. We used to have situations, particularly in isolated parts of the world, high mountain areas, where different communities were practicing a different form of Islam from one village to the other. What we want to do is to have those villages work together, accept that there are different interpretations. We always knew right from the time of revelation of the faith that there were going to be different interpretations. That's not new. What’s important is that these different interpretations work together and apply the same ethical principles to the quality of life, and that’s happening. I have to tell you that there are parts of the world where that is happening, and it’s happening successfully.
SEVERSON: Give me an example.
AGA KHAN: Central Asia, high mountain areas, communities who live in villages who have never gone from one village to the next. What you suddenly find that they will share a microcredit program, they will share the distribution of grain, they will share the knowledge of new commercial activities. And it is inspiring to see how these people come together and work together to improve their quality of life.
I think in many parts of the Christian world, you’ve inherited the Augustinian attitudes towards division between faith and world. That’s in direct contradiction to Islam. We are required to act in our worldly lives in a way which is in keeping with the ethics and the premises of Islam, so we are not allowed to make that division. Indeed, if we tried or attempted to devote the totality of our lives either to one or the other, that in principle is not acceptable in Islam.
Generosity is part of our faith. So it’s an ethical principle for all of us, whether you’re Shia or Sunni or whatever it may be. So that’s intrinsic in the nature of faith for us. The basic premise for the wealthy is you use what you need to live in a dignified manner. What you don’t need, you share.
SEVERSON: If religious intolerance and ignorance is one of the reasons we have so much violence, is it up to religions to fix the problem?
AGA KHAN: I wouldn’t say it’s only up to religion. It’s up to social conscience also. The person who doesn’t believe in any faith still has responsibility to society, so I don’t think it’s an issue of faith exclusively, frankly.