Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III will always be remembered as one of the most distinguished and well-reputed leaders and diplomats in the history of Pakistan movement.
During the freedom movement, Sir Aga Khan proved to be a very conscientious and dynamic mediator between the western world and leaders of the subcontinent. With his vast experience and a personality of international stature, he always believed that education was the ultimate tool with which Muslims of the subcontinent could advance to live a life of prosperity and peace.
He helped Muslims build institutes of educational excellence for their intellectual, social and economic development. At the young age of 25, in recognition of his tireless commitment to the cause of educational development of Muslims in the subcontinent, he was unanimously nominated as a member of the Imperial Legislative Council by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon in the year 1902.
Amongst the many contributions of Sir Aga Khan for the Muslims of the subcontinent was his outstanding role in the creation of the Aligarh University. He shouldered the huge responsibility of collecting funds for the formation of this important centre of learning and excellence. He left no stone unturned in supporting Sir Syed’s dream of establishing the Aligarh University, which played a significant role in the freedom movement of Pakistan. From his personal contribution, Sir Aga Khan generously donated an amount of Rs. 100,000.
With his honest belief in the unity of Muslim Ummah and gracious efforts, he was able to collect Rs. 3 million for the university and succeeded in laying the foundation for the Aligarh University. As chairman of the collection fund, it was inspiring for leaders of the Pakistan movement to see someone of his repute working selflessly for collecting funds and saying, “As a mendicant, I am now going out to beg from house to house and from street to street for the children of Muslim India.”
The inspiring and powerful leadership of Sir Aga Khan at the Simla Deputation gave success and confidence to the Muslims of the subcontinent. With the aim of gaining their freedom and rights, the first Muslim political organisation ‘The All India Muslim League’ was formed in 1906 and Sir Aga Khan was chosen as its first president and remained president for six years, from 1906 to 1913.
Many rightly believe that the creation of the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College Aligarh would have remained just a dream without the efforts and dedication of Sir Aga Khan III. When the Aga Khan visited Aligarh in 1936, Dr. Ziauddin, the then vice-chancellor, in his welcome address said: “It must be a matter of real satisfaction to Your Highness that most of the expansion and development of the University are in a large measure due to Your Highness’ patronage and active support.
The great founder of this institution, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, had expressed the hope that this institution would develop into a University, but the realization of the founder’s dream is precisely due to Your Highness, who worked for it with zeal of a missionary. Your Highness infused a new life into the Aligarh movement by touring the whole of India to collect funds for the establishment of the Muslim University.
It was mainly due to Your Highness’ stupendous efforts that we have since been able to realize a sum of seventy lakh (seven million) from various sources, and by carefully handling this amount we have been able to build up several important departments of the University.”
Sir Aga Khan III also had the honour of representing Muslims of the subcontinent at the Disarmament Conference and in the League of Nations. He was also unanimously elected as Chairman of the League of Nations, which we now know as the United Nations Organisation (UNO). The first Round Table Conference was organised by the British government in London and was attended by the great Quaid-i-Azam, the Aga Khan, Sir Mohamed Shafi, Maulana Mohamed Ali and Maulana Fazlul Huq.
The delegation of Muslim leaders elected the Aga Khan as their leader and spokesman. During this meeting, Allama Iqbal fondly spoke of the services of the Aga Khan for the Muslims and said, “We have placed these demands before the conference under the guidance of the Aga Khan whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love.”
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan was also a strong advocate of female education. The first Aga Khan School was established in 1905 in Gwadar. During the 1940s, he established Aga Khan Schools in the remote, mountainous areas of Gilgit Baltistan and stressed on female education. Sir Aga Khan also established many hospitals and health centres across Pakistan.
He was the 48th Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and the eminent grandfather of the present 49th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, Prince Karim Aga Khan. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah laid foundations for progress in the fields of education and health more than a century ago, and the same aims are now being carried forward by the present Aga Khan under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Today, a network of 160 schools is operating under the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan, and 65 per cent of the students in these schools are female. Aga Khan Health Service also operates a not-for-profit health care network in the country, while the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi stands as an icon of quality healthcare and education in Pakistan.
“It was from him, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, that I inherited my present role in 1957. I also inherited from him a deep concern for the advancement of education - especially in the developing world. These two topics - education and development - have been at the heart of my own work over the past fifty years…”
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan
Annual Meeting of the International Baccalaureate, 2008
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah breathed his last on July 11, 1957 and was laid to eternal rest at Aswan, Egypt. In addition to his outstanding services to the world, he has left behind an autobiography of his life entitled “Memoirs of Aga Khan - World Enough and Time”, which is a thorough expression of his 80 years of a full life.
Today we pay accolade to this great Muslim leader by living our pledge to make Pakistan a peaceful and prosperous land.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2014.
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