A leader who played a pivotal role in international affairs during the early 20th century, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan was a social reformer concerned about poverty alleviation and the uplift of women in the society.
To the Muslims of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent he was a beacon of light, a source of inspiration and a provider of moral and material support.
This great Muslim leader, one of the greatest advocates of modern and multi-cultural education for men and women in India and East Africa, was born on November 2, 1877, at Karachi.
In 1902, at the young age of 25, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was appointed by the the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, as the youngest member of the Imperial Legislative Council.
He soon realised that the main cause of political backwardness of the Muslims was due to their neglect of education, and the educational development of Muslims became the most important part of his life’s mission.
During the same year, the Aga Khan III was asked to preside over the Muhammadan Educational Conference held at Delhi.
In his presidential address, he pointed out that the clearest way through which the decay of political power of the Muslims of India could be halted was by laying the foundation of the great central Muslim University at Aligarh. That, he said, would be a fitting tribute to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the father of the Muslim educational renaissance.
In 1911, the Aga Khan was nominated as the chairman of the funds collection committee and took upon himself the task of collecting funds to establish the university. His efforts bore fruit, and he was able to collect Rs3 million for the university, including a personal donation of Rs100,000.
The Aga Khan III became the first chancellor of the Aligarh University, which will remain a living monument to the Aga Khan’s educational activities in the interest of Islam.
On October 1, 1906 the Aga Khan led a distinguished delegation of 35 leading Muslims of India to Simla and presented a memorandum on behalf of the Muslims of the sub-continent.
The Simla Delegation was a success and in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, it was conceded that Muslims should henceforth be elected on the basis of separate electorates.
As a result of Simla Deputation, a movement towards establishing a Muslim political organisation developed, and within three months the All-India Muslim League was formed and Sir Aga Khan was chosen as its first president for six years (1906-1913).
The Aga Khan III also had the privilege to be the representative for India at the Disarmament Conference and in the League of Nations. Later on, he was unanimously elected as chairman of the League of Nations, which is now the United Nations.
After World War I, the first Round Table Conference was organised by the British government in London attended by the great Quaid-i-Azam, the Aga Khan, Sir Mohammed Shafi, Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Fazlul Huq. In this conference, the delegation of Muslim leaders elected the Aga Khan as their leader and spokesman.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was the 48th spiritual Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. For many years, Ismailis have had public celebrations to mark the jubilees of their Imams as a symbolic affirmation of the bond between the Imam of the time and his followers. Ismailis celebrated Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees with much enthusiasm during his 72 years of Imamat.
With the proceeds of all the three jubilee celebrations, many social welfare and development institutions were further developed in Asia and Africa.
All these initiatives are now being taken forward by his grandson, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III spent his last days at Villa Barkat in Geneva and breathed his last on July 11, 1957. He was laid to eternal rest at Aswan in Egypt.
In one of his messages he had identified Pakistan as “the rising star of Islam” and wished the future of the country as bright.
Today, on the occasion of his birth anniversary, we pay tribute to the memory of this great Muslim leader and hope to make Pakistan a stronger and prosperous country.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2010.
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