By: Zulfiqar Ali Khan
The 49th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV was the first Imam to visit the Ismaili community in Northern Areas of Pakistan, from October 20th to October 26th, in the year 1960. To signify the importance of this historical visit, the Ismaili community of Northern Areas (Gilgit – Baltistan) celebrates these days, with great zeal and festivity since 1960.
According to oral historical accounts, the people of Hunza accepted Ismaili faith after 1823, during the reign of Mir Saleem Khan II and later, by paying Bayath (promise of loyalty) on the hands of Ismaili Pirs(saints) from Central Asia. There are also evidences that the people, who migrated from Central Asia to Hunza, were already believers of the Ismaili faith. However, after 1823, Ismaili interpretation of Islam got the status of the faith of Hunza state.
The Ismaili community of Hunza received the messages of their Imams through different indirect channels till the time when the 49th Imam, Shah Karim Al-Hussaini, Aga Khan IV, for the first time paid a visit to the Ismaili Community of Northern Areas of Pakistan. In this regard he offered Didar (visual contact) to the community of Hunza on October 23rd, 1960.
During this visit he, for the first time, directly witnessed the socio-economic conditions of the Ismaili community of Northern Areas. The elders still cherish candid memories of this visit and regard it as a turning point in the overall development of the region.
After this historical visit, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) started offering services in health, education and later on in integrated rural development sectors. During 1960, there were hardly a few people having the ‘primary passed’ certificate in the entire state of Hunza but today the literacy rate is above 75% overall and close to hundred percent among people below the age of 25. At that time, the communities were trapped in vicious cycle of poverty but now the community has the capacity to help out others to get rid of ignorance and poverty…and so on.
Pictures Courtesy: Ismaili Heritage