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The Nizari Isma’ili imams since the time of Hasan ‘Ali Shah (d. 1881) have borne the title Aga Khan. The present imam, Prince Karim alHusayni, Aga Khan IV, is according to this tradition the forty-ninth hereditary imam of the community worldwide, representing direct lineal descent and succession from the first Shl’i imam `All and his wife Fatimah, the prophet Muhammad’s daughter.

The first Aga Khan served as Governor of Qom and Kirman in Iran before intrigues and conflicts at court caused him to leave in 1841. He went first to Afghanistan and then to British-ruled India, where he settled in Bombay. He and his successor Aga Khan II (d. 1885) represent the phase of transition to the modern period of Isma’ili history.

Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah (d. 1957) during his seventy-two-year imamate initiated major developments in Isma’ili institutions, guiding and organizing the community through periods of significant transition in world and Muslim history. He was an international statesman and was appointed president of theLeague of Nationsin 1937. He was a strong advocate of Muslim interests, a supporter of modern education for women, and an activist for global peace.

The present Aga Khan, born in 1936, spent his early childhood in Kenya and after school in Switzerl and attended Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1959 with a degree in Islamic history. His headquarters are in France near Paris, where he is in constant contact with various communities, many of whom he visits regularly. Since becoming imam in 1957, he has consolidated and further developed community institutions, adapting a complex system of administration to a world of nation-states. Several hundred health, educational, social welfare, and economic institutions exist today to serve the worldwide Isma’ili community and others among whom they live. The Aga Khan’s teachings emphasize intellectual inquiry and social commitment in order to solve problems of faith, modernity, and continuity through institution building; they also emphasize partnership with others in the countries in which Isma’ifis live and cooperation among Muslims.

The Aga Khan has also sought to give expression to his view that Islam is an all-encompassing faith that gives direction to every aspect of human life by creating major new institutions. In 1967 he established the Aga Khan Foundation, now a highly regarded international development agency, and in 1977 he launched the Aga Khan Award for Architecture to stimulate concern for a contemporary built environment drawing upon the diverse resources of Islamic culture. He inaugurated the Aga Khan Universityin 1985 as a center for higher education and research on the health-care needs of Pakistanand the developing world in general. The existence of the Aga Khan Development Network reflects the growing role of the imam in contextualizing the Muslim faith according to the circumstances of time and place and in balancing spiritual needs with material concerns. The emergence of Muslim and Isma’ili communities in Central Asia,China, and the Western world presents new opportunities for the Aga Khan, as a Muslim leader, to continue the role of mediating between the spiritual and ethical ideals of Islam and changing worldly contexts.


Aga Khan III, Sultan Muhammad Shah. The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time.London, 1954. Autobiographical account of his life as imam and international statesman.

Daftary, Farhad. The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines.Cambridge, 1990. Excellent and detailed survey up to modern times. Nanji, Azim A. “Shari`at and Haqiqat: Continuity and Synthesis in the Nizari Isma`ili Muslim Tradition.” InShariat and Ambiguity in South Asian Islam, edited by Katherine Ewing, pp. 63-76.Berkeley, 1988. Explores the organizing principles and their relation to Isma’!h thought in the policies of the Aga Khans.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/aga-khan/

  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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