Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan belonged to the galaxy of great men who lived in the 20th century. He rose to eminence and reached the height, not only by sheer merit but also by his noble heritage. He was the one who guided Muslims of the Indian sub-continent when they were in the difficult phase of their history in British India.
1857 was a dreadful year in the history of the sub-continent, especially for Muslims. They fought a valiant war against the British colonial rule but lost it. The defeat brought sorrow, pain and miseries for the Muslims as they became the main target for official persecution. The British considered the Muslims as having been responsible for the revolt against them. Hence, they unleashed a reign of terror and subjected them to reprehensible actions. They closed all doors of survival and tried to suffocate Muslims politically, educationally, economically and religiously.
During this time, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) came forward and advised Muslims to remain apolitical but equip themselves with modern education and learn the English language. This would pave the way for the economic development of Muslims. The Aga Khan also supported Sir Syed in his thinking and later led the Muslims to political rejuvenation.
When Sir Syed passed away, the circumstances stood changed. The leading Muslim figures including Aga Khan decided to re-start the peaceful struggle for the political rights of Muslims. In 1906 they formed a delegation to meet the British Viceroy to India, Lord Minto at Shimla seeking the rights of Muslims and ensuring safety of their nationhood.
They met Lord Minto who assured them that their political rights and interests would be safeguarded in any future administrative reforms. Thus, the Act of 1909 was promulgated and conceded separate electorates for the Muslims on the insistence of the Muslim delegation.
With the success of the Simla delegation, the Aga Khan suggested the formation of a political to organize and awaken the Muslims of India.
Thus, the first Muslim political party All India Muslim League came into being on 31 December 1906 in the meeting held at Dhaka which elected Aga Khan III as the first President. Sir Aga Khan remained the President of All India Muslim League till 1912.
Sir Aga Khan was a multi-dimensional leader – he was reformist, modernist, thinker, spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and an international diplomat. But for the Indian Muslims, his interest was paramount; he never lost sight of the Indian Muslims’ problems and lobbied strenuously, pursuing the British Raj in India to allow self-rule to ordinary Indians.
In 1918, he published his first book “India in Transition” pleading strongly for Indian participation in the government. He was critical to the state policy based on the theory that the government is superior to the governed. He was of the view that unless the government and the governing classes took up the task of raising the masses, the state would render itself liable to anarchy, chaos, disaster and perhaps to dissolution. He was an advocate of Muslims’ rights, particularly women’s rights and urged for a peaceful political struggle for the rights of Muslims.
The role of Sir Aga Khan in the political struggle of Indian Muslims was pivotal. He was one of the founders of Muslim League, which later spearheaded the struggle for Pakistan. In 1947 when Pakistan became a reality and destiny of Indian Muslims, Sir Aga Khan was over joyous. He visited East and West Pakistan in the early 1950s thrice and saw the sentiments of the people of Pakistan. He advised his compatriots at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi, on 1st February, 1952. “Without a proper spiritual motive power, a great native is never built.” For that reason, he was entirely absorbed with what should be the spirit of Islam in Pakistan. He continued, “According to the Muslim ideas, perfection is only reached when body and soul alike, have reached their zenith. So a nation like Pakistan must also think of its material body… if real independence for Pakistan is desired or for that matter in any Muslim country, then the present generation must be ready to reduce welfarism and consumerism to the very limit and replace it by capital investment.”
He left the world in 1857 but his words continue to illuminate Pakistan on the path of development and national integrity.