Aga Khan compares Sunni-Shia conflict to Ireland

Published: February 28, 2014
The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, addresses a joint session of Parliament as House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer listens in Ottawa February 27, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, addresses a joint session of Parliament as House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer listens in Ottawa February 27, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA: The hereditary spiritual leader of the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims Thursday compared a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims to Ireland, urging the West to engage both branches of Islam.

Speaking to both houses of Canada’s parliament, the Aga Khan said tensions between the two denominations “have increased massively in scope and intensity recently and have been further exacerbated by external interventions.”

“In Pakistan, Malaysia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster,” he warned.

To help bring an end to the strife in these countries, the Aga Khan said “it is important for (the West) to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices.

“To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants. Or trying to resolve the civil war in Ireland without engaging both Christian communities.”

Highlighting the span of the crisis, he said: “What would have been the consequences if the Protestant-Catholic struggling in Ireland had spread across the Christian world as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries.”

Canada is home to approximately 100,000 Ismaili Muslims, who found refuge in this country after being expelled by Ugandan President Idi Amin in 1972.

The Aga Khan himself was made an honorary Canadian citizen in 2010.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Feb 28, 2014 - 10:22AM

    The problem arises due to the emphasis on the one true word and one true Religion, which is absent in Christianity’s divisions.

    If Sunnis say their version is correct, that means the other side is misrepresenting their Religion. For some they are even worse than infidels.

    Just like how ordinary Pakistanis feel about Ahmadis. The Pakistani state itself has agreed to this theory that some sects can be considered non-Muslim. Why shouldn’t that theory and line of thought extended to other sects?

    Considering Shia Terror is much less in intensity to Sunni Terror, the world should support the former.


  • Sunni Muslim
    Feb 28, 2014 - 11:00AM

    A true Muslim leader. Respect!


  • BlackJack
    Feb 28, 2014 - 11:16AM

    How this becomes the West’s problem beats me. Irish history shows that the Protestants were largely British transplants into Ulster at a time when Britain was virulently anti-Catholic, and a major reason for that part to choose to remain with the UK instead of with Ireland – thus the conflict was less between religious sects and more about political power within Northern Ireland – this is why it did not spill over into other parts of Europe. The Shia-Sunni conflict on the other hand is about an inherent lack of acceptance of divergent beliefs and an ambiguous value system that sanctions violence against non-believers.


  • Thinker
    Feb 28, 2014 - 11:59AM

    Diversity and Pluralism that’s it….


  • Rumormonger
    Feb 28, 2014 - 12:19PM

    When states start sponsoring sectarianism, the current scenario arises….


  • Sam
    Feb 28, 2014 - 12:35PM

    Considering the Aga Khan Network work and support for Pakistani people, government should also honor Aga Khan in same way. And ask Aga Khan to address our Parliament. His words will be very insightful for political and military leadership


  • Saj
    Feb 28, 2014 - 1:03PM

    @Sam: Agreed.Recommend

  • H. Khan
    Feb 28, 2014 - 1:08PM

    The problem has been correctly identified and needs to be urgently addressed. Plurality and respect of each others religious persuasion is the way forward.
    Pakistan Government should invite Aga Khan saheb to address both houses of parliament and advice the members of the Parliament about development to improve quality of life of citizens of pakistan.. Please remember Sir Sultan Muhammad Aga Khan saheb was first president of Muslim League


  • S R Khan
    Feb 28, 2014 - 1:12PM

    The Aga Khan has been busy in showing Islam’s face of peace and respect for humanity.He is a leader whose work should provide us insights into the social ethics of Islam.


  • Hunzai
    Feb 28, 2014 - 1:41PM

    Indeed, an act to follow that developed nations seeking guidance from The Aga Khan. Pakistan must also invite Him to address the house of commons in the same way seeking His valueable guidance and advice to the legislatures, and officially commend His continued contributions for the development of Pakistan since its inception.


  • SAD
    Feb 28, 2014 - 1:44PM

    Couldn’t agree more.


  • ahmed
    Feb 28, 2014 - 2:11PM

    Irrespective of beliefs and no one can prove their version is better is any other ‘s we can put all the religions in same category because none of them are based on any scientific reasoning or facts ,,,,they don’t offer anything that we can quantify and evaluate objectivity which religion is better then the other or that sect is supperior then the other. In this day and age we should all follow science that teaches us to prove things and it will be good for all of us.
    Religions can be great motivator now they have become a sour of bruatality and inhumane treatment to fellow humans. I have never heard of more brutality then last 20 years.
    Agha Khan is the only face of Islam that is progressive and admirable for Ismailis and others alike. His family ;s contributions are enormous to all communities irrespective of their faith. He is the man we can all follow for his good deeds and they are the most educated and least violent of branches of Islam like Ahmadi’s.


  • Habib Younus
    Feb 28, 2014 - 2:15PM

    A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.


  • goggi (Lahore)
    Feb 28, 2014 - 3:01PM

    Your Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan,

    with deepest respect I would like to say, that

    “The Northern Ireland conflict”, in english “The Troubles” can be better compared with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    In both the cases it is not just about a religious war rather a war of dominance between two

    different social groups.

    The conflict in Israel is between the richer Jews and poorer Arabs, and the conflict in Ireland

    is between the richer protestant English and Scots intruders and the indigenous farmerly catholic Irish people.

    The case of Sunnis and Shias, at least in Pakistan, is different. We are by large not

    two different social groups or ethnicities. We Sunnis and Shias are mostly CONVERTS from

    the same Hinduism or Buddhism and the inhabitants of this land.

    Sir, if you wish to eliminate this conflict, then please make an appeal to the Shia people, that they should stop with their violent flagellations every year before our houses. Sir you cannot imagine what negative and hateful impact this has on our senses, especially as children. This breeds hatred and counter violence! Sir just imagine some people would on your yearly basis immolate themselves before your children in front of your castle? Wouldn’t they be not traumatized?
    Otherwise the Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan have absolutely no problems with each other in social life. As long as these yearly flagellations in the public do not stop, there can never be peace among us.

    Thank youRecommend

  • Advisor
    Feb 28, 2014 - 3:24PM

    I am not sure about his religious beliefs but I can assure you that we, defiantly need more leaders like him. SaluteRecommend

  • Rahim J
    Feb 28, 2014 - 5:03PM

    @ goggi i beg to defer with your below thoughts

    Sir, if you wish to eliminate this conflict, then please make an appeal to the Shia people, that they should stop with their violent flagellations every year before our houses. Sir you cannot imagine what negative and hateful impact this has on our senses, especially as children. This breeds hatred and counter violence! Sir just imagine some people would on your yearly basis immolate themselves before your children in front of your castle? Wouldn’t they be not traumatized?

    I think the whole idea is about tolerating each other beliefs and values as far as they are not hurting someone..let me give an example every year on eid ul adha we sacrifice hundreds and hundreds of animals in plain sight on every street, nook and corner. A non-Muslim can easily say that this is disturbing to watch, especially for young children; and that we should stop it.

    Would we agree to it?? Think….


  • Haymard
    Feb 28, 2014 - 5:12PM

    Accepting Pluralism is the strength of a society. Engaging hard-liners from both sects is the need of the time. Hard liners may not come on a single platform initially however bringing them on common principles with accepting space for others would resolve this issue.


  • AmeerAli
    Feb 28, 2014 - 5:39PM



  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Feb 28, 2014 - 5:45PM

    why should muslim sects of islam be problem of other religions.
    did christians fight each other all over the world,
    or did they not fight because all others were speaking to both?
    this is a ridiculous suggestion and worse still wants others to get involved in there fight.

    Islam should solve its problems itself if it truly represents a peaceful religion.
    Hindus have more sects than any other religion.
    Buddhism and Jainism also have sects, but nobody kill each other.


  • goggi (Lahore)
    Feb 28, 2014 - 8:17PM

    @Rahim J:

    Let us suppose if we both were wall-to-wall neighbours and something in my social behaviour would terribly disturb you, your children, your family and other families of our neighbourhood! Such behaviour of mine is classified as a Public Nuisance!

    Than for the sake of communal harmony, I would certainly change my behaviour. It can be loud music, or cooking stinking pork, or wearing indecent clothes, or indecent loud conversation etc etc etc

    When you mention the word tolerance, than please always mutual tolerance! All modern western societies, of which Prince Karim Aga Khan is a respectable citizen, are based on Mutual tolerance, Mutual fairness and Mutual harmony!!! Whereas the case of Shia rituals is a one-sided obsessive behaviour!

    And never please forget, that as responsible citizen of any country, we have our due rights but at the same time we have our liabilities towards our fellow citizens.


  • gp65
    Mar 1, 2014 - 1:55AM

    @goggi (Lahore): I disagree with you and agree with Rahim J.

    Mutual tolerance means that as long as someone does not impose their beliefs upon you, you respect their beliefs. Rahim is exactly right. If non Muslims can put up with Qurbani, Sunnis should be able to put up with the Muharram processions also.

    @BlackJack – I do not think he is saying that this is a problem for the rest ofthe world. Rather he is asking for help for Ismailis living in countries where they are getting slaughtered and trying to find asylums for them so that they can be safe. As a leader isn’t that what is expected from him?Recommend

  • ARW
    Mar 1, 2014 - 2:36AM

    @goggi (Lahore):
    I beg to differ with your comments. Practicing your religion / sect is everyone’s right! You are referring to Muharram’s religious activities organized by Shias if that is giving you trouble then it might be a case may be in future that you’ll say that because of Friday / Eid prayers at Masjid where people are praying even outside of Masjid is giving me problem or may be when AZAAN is recited from Masjid five times a day is irritating me, so will you demand to shut all these activities … i think no muslim will demand for this … specially who is living in Muslim country.

    Above all the problem b/w Shia and Sunni is not because of such pitty matters, it is mainly because of Saudi & Iran. Both these countries want to deminate each other. If these two countries stop interferring / poking their nose in out countries I am sure all these problems will be resolved!!!


  • Babar
    Mar 1, 2014 - 8:00AM

    Aga Khan has become a world leader just like the Ahmadi Khalifa. Both are respected in all civilized nations.Both have sects which are very educated and at the same time very peaceful and law abiding. Both have been confeered honorary citizenship in several countries. Both leaders beelive in mutual tolerance and both are prootecting their sect memebers from being slaughtered by religous fanatics who have knowlegde of Islam.

    May peace and posperity become the norm in the Islamic world and they learn to live with respect with all other religons and sects.


  • Ismaili.reader.hunzai
    Mar 1, 2014 - 6:43PM

    with respect to shia , sunni , ismaili’s i believe that no matter how we are practicing , no matter how we are praying , we are worshipping one creator i.e Allah Almighty. for example there are are multiple ways to go to a mosque , some people will go from one way while some other will go from another but they all will reach the same destination i.e mosque. similarly i think we should respect others way of practice and sects after all we all believe in the oneness of God, kalima , Hazrat Muhammad (P.B.U.H) , Asmani kitab and Malaiyka. which defines a muslim. and if you want to interfere in others sect than instead of debating we should go for reading and our self search that would be more peaceful.


  • misaq
    Mar 2, 2014 - 1:01AM

    With respect, please don’t invite any more western intervention, if you compare the sunni-shia problem to northern Ireland then also keep in mind that they did not invite any external intervention rather dealt/dealing it at their own. External engagement/interventions made conflicts more complex and worse history is full of examples. We don’t have to go that far in history to understand this. I appreciate the work you doing for communities in Pakistan but the way you inviting external engagement is not what a patriotic citizen want, well may be you dont have these feeling because you are not an ordinary citizen of country. Please keep on doing good work of welfare and stay away from these political statements.


  • saleem
    Mar 2, 2014 - 2:29AM

    One of the best Muslim leaders and make the right call. Its about time we got out of this stupid genocide in iraq and syria Recommend

  • Mar 2, 2014 - 10:03AM

    The Aga Khan is a great humanitarian. His contributions to education, hospitals and medical care, social welfare, preserving cultural heritage are recognized global landmarks. Salams


  • chosen one
    Mar 4, 2014 - 1:04AM

    By external forces, it includes both the Muslim and non Muslim world.

    Muslim world needs to understand the plurality of their faith and the outside world needs to also understand that supporting only one side will not fix the problem but make it worse.

    Ismailis people should be congratulated for their progress in all parts of the world. War or no war, east or west, ismaili people tend to succeed in all aspects of the society from education, woman rights, progressive thinking and good citizens. Not forgetting great business women and men with ethical values and always willing to help regardless to others religion beliefs.

    Knowledge is power.


  • Arif Alam
    May 7, 2014 - 10:37AM

    Agreed,, Aga khan wants the world to live together with Peace and HarmonyRecommend

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