How religious and spiritual leaders relate to money can significantly contribute to their spiritual power. We are struck by how some have done this through harnessing great wealth, while others have moved millions of people by offering their teachings while modeling lives of great simplicity. Two such contrasting figures are touched on below-the Aga Khan and the Peace Pilgrim.
The Aga Khan
The Aga Khan, who traces his ancestry 49 generations back to the Prophet Mohammed, is the spiritual leader, or Imam, for about twenty million Shia Muslims. Tradition invests the office of Imam with a significance beyond anything the Western mind can easily accept. To millions, he is king, high priest, and supreme judge. The Aga Kahn's followers pay a tithe (zakat, which is 2.5% of income, and khums, 10% of income) voluntarily and directly to him. In 1970 the Aga Khan's fortune was estimated to be over $300 million.
Because of his many industrial interests, the Aga Khan sometimes seems more like a business tycoon than a religious leader. He is aware of this, but explains that Islam is concerned with the whole life of the faithful, not only their religion. The Prophet, too, he adds, was a businessman. The Aga Khan primarily concerns himself with enterprises that have social purpose (including education, housing, and health) and from which the Ismaili community benefits either directly or indirectly.
--Adapted from The Aga Khans by Willi Frischauer. Hawthorn Books, New York, 1971.
Peace Pilgrim was a living example of the notion that wealth is not required for happiness or spiritual fulfillment-she owned nothing and was supremely happy. Following a vision of herself walking while wearing a tunic inscribed with "Peace Pilgrim," she walked for 28 years, from 1953 through 1981, inspiring many thousands with her message. She clocked 25,000 miles in 11 years, and then stopped counting. She vowed to "walk until given shelter and fast until given food, remaining a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace."
"After I dedicated my life to service, I felt that I could no longer accept more than I need while others in the world had less than they need. As soon as I brought myself down to need level, I began to feel a wonderful harmony between my inner and outer well-being, between spiritual and material well-being. Now that I own only what I wear and what I carry in my pockets, I don't feel deprived of anything. For me, what I want and what I need are exactly the same." .
--From a review by Beverly Rich of Peace Pilgrim's book Steps Towards Inner Peace: Harmonious Principals for Human Living.
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