The Aga Khan III, a global leader

The month of November is significant for two historic and major blessed events which occurred on consecutive dates, i.e November 1, is the liberation day of Gilgit Baltistan whereas November 2 is the birth day of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, a direct descendent of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the 48th Imam and spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Sir Sultan Muhamamd Shah Aga Khan III, a glorious personality, truly does not require any introduction due to the eternity of his magnificent services, guidance and support to the human beings in general, to the Muslim Ummah and to our dear country Pakistan in particular. Nonetheless, on this auspicious occasion, one can not stand still without paying tribute to him. Therefore, each year, his birthday is celebrated to salute him. Thus this small piece of writing is to pay homage to the Imam (A.S) by discussing his aspiring services in a net shell.

He was born at Honeymoon Lodge in Karachi on Friday, November 2, 1877 at 5:30 pm. When his grandfather, Imam Hassan Ali Shah Aga Khan I, who was in Bomby at that time, heard this happy news, he sent a telephonic message to his family that, “Name him Mouhammad Sultan. He would be a sultan (emperor), his period would see wonderful events, and he would earn the greatest fame and distinguished position in the world”. Later period exactly witnessed the truth of Imam Hassan Ali Shah’s prophesy.

Shah Azam Khan, Gilgit                                                                     
Shah Azam Khan, Gilgit                                                                     

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, the direct descendent of the holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) ascended to the throne of Imamat as the 48th Imam of the Shia Imami Muslims at the age of 7 years, 9 months and 16 days, after the demise of his father Hazrat Imam Shah Ali Shah Aga Khan II, who had declared him as his successor about three months before his demise.

After his father’s death he was brought up by his gifted and farsighted mother who took abundant parental interest under subtle care. Besides oriental languages such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Hindi, the Aga Khan developed command also on English, French and Germany. Similarly in addition to Islamic education, he also studied western thoughts, sciences, metaphysics, astronomy and Mathematics from his western tutors. He had deep interest in the poetic work of Rumi, Hafiz, Sa’adi,, Firdusi and Umer Khayyam. Thus his strongest command and deepest knowledge of the oriental and western education, culture and social dynamics resulted into his extraordinary and enlightened leadership that was convincingly fit both for sacerdotal functions with regard to his spiritual position as Imam and for the challenging sociopolitical responsibilities which he was called upon to discharge by virtue of his splendid position.

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III was the most eminent Muslim chief among the world level dignitaries whose every moment of life was devoted to the well being and comfort for the human beings in general and for the Muslims in particular. His inherited farsightedness, intellectual depth and wisdom led the Muslims to regain their lost dignified status among the world community. His thirst, inherited from his family and from the office of his grandfather Hazrat Muhammad (PBUP) for the well being of the Muslims is glittering from his bravura guidance and support to the Muslims of the world. The chapters of his superb services can not be encircled in a small piece of writing like this. However, a bird’s eye view of his services is discussed here.

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III believed that the root cause of the Muslim backwardness in India was their illiteracy and therefore, he realized that education was the panacea for their all ills. He therefore, started his services for the Muslim community from the Aligarh movement. He was the front line leading figure to materialize the dream of establishing Aligarh University and in the essence this was a stepping stone towards the creation of Pakistan. Sir Aga Khan III first visited M.A.O. college Aligarh in June 1896 and extended unprecedented services to turn it into a university. After the death of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah came to front to pave path for the creation of Muslim University at Aligarh. This required intellectual, social and professional influence for acquiring approval from the government and the mighty personality of the Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, on the one hand awakened the Muslims forcibly and convincingly for united efforts for the creation of Aligarh Muslim university and on the other hand left no stone unturned to exert pressure on the government from every possible plat form to grant approval for the Muslim University. The Muslim educational conferences were the most suitable platforms to sensitize the Muslims for united intellectual and monetary sacrifices for the university and also to convince the government for its approval. In his presidential address in the Muslim educational conference in 1902, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III said,

If, then, we are really in earnest in deploring the fallen condition of our people, we must unit in an effort for their redemption and, first and foremost of all, an effort must now be made for the foundation of a university where the Muslim youths can get, in addition to modern sciences, knowledge of their glorious past and religion and where the whole atmosphere of the place, it being a residential university, nay like oxford, give more attention to character than to mere examinations. Muslims of India have legitimate interest in the intellectual development of their co- religionists in Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and else where and the best way of helping them is by making Aligarh a Muslim Oxford. We are sure that by founding this university we can arrest the decadence of Islam, and if we are not willing to make sacrifices for such an end, must I not conclude that we do not really care whether the faith of I slam is death or not. We want Aligarh to be such a home of learning …… and we want those branches of Muslim learning, which are too fast passing into decay, to be added by Muslim scholars to the stock of the world’s knowledge.

This shows the serious aspiration and strong commitment of the Imam for the establishment of the Muslim University Aligarh as well as the types of learning materials. He well elaborated the consequences of the absence of a Muslim university … a matter of life and death and also indicated his vision about the university and its graduates. He wished that the graduates of the Muslim University should not be well versed only with the latest scientific knowledge, knowledge of their glorious past but also be propertier of   imitable and noble characters.

HH Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan continuously and influentially emphasized the need and legitimate right of the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University. In his breath taking speech in the Muslim Conference in 1903 in Bomby he emphasized on the Muslims that, “ I earnestly beg to you that the cause of such a university should not be forgotten in the shouts of the market place that daily rise amongst us”. He called upon the Muslims for their generous monetary contribution to the cause of establishing of the Muslim University. There was lack of money to process and move ahead with the Aligarh Muslim University Movement. Therefore, a committee named “Central Foundation Committee” for the fund collection was convened and Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan was its chairman. He launched countrywide fund raising campaigns along with Mulana Shaukat Ali, his secretary. Willi Fricschauer quotes the great Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah’s words that he said while going on the fund raising campaign, “ I am now going out to beg from house to house and from street to street for the children of the Indian Muslims:. He further says that, “ It was a triumphal tour. Whereever, he went, people unharnessed the horses of his carriage and pulled it for themselves for miles”. The noble cause for that the Imam was travelling, the way that he was appealing to the people was so exciting and convincing that people stood with him with hole heartedly and wherever he went, the scene of the public and media responses in acknowledging his efforts were worth seeing. In Lahore His carriage was pulled by some of the leaders instead of horses in recognition of his valuable services. The daily Peace of Punjab called upon the Muslims “to wake up” as the greatest personality and benefactor of Islam was in their city”. The news paper further commented that, “Today the son of the holy Prophet (PBUH) is in the city to collect donation for the Muslim University so that the Ummah of the holy prophet (PBUH) be benefited”.

HH Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, the highly dignified personality was so voracious for managing money for the Muslim University that he even did not hesitate going to the door of his terrible opponent for collecting donation for the sake of the children of the Muslims. . Qayyum A Malic writes that once Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan was on his way back to Bomby to collect funds for the university that he stopped his car at the office of a person who was known to be his bitterest critic. The man stood up bewilderedly and said, “Whom do you want sir”?. “I have come for your contribution to the Muslim University fund,” said Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah. The man drew up a check for Rs. 5000.00/. After pocketing the check, Sir Aga Khan took off his hat and said, “Now as a bigger, I beg from you something for the children of Islam. Put something in the bowel of this mendicant.” The man wrote another check for fifteen thousand rupees. He was deeply touched by the greatness of the Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, he, with tears in his eyes begged, “Your Highness, now it is my turn to beg, I beg to you that for the sake of your Allah for give me for what I have done against you. I was totally unaware of your greatness. I beg to you for forgiveness”. The great Imam smiled and said, “Forgiving and forgetting is my nature. I forgive for the cause of the Muslim and Islam” .. …This enthralling event reveals the Imam’s seriousness, commitment and faithfulness towards the long lasting interest of the Muslims. It is thought provoking that His Highness Sir Aga Khan, G.C.S.I. G.C.I.E., G.C.V.O., G.C.M..G., LL.D., the highest prominent personality neglects all his protocols for the sake of the Muslims and the Ummah and bows to normal people with a bowl in his holy hands. He did not need fame or gain as he was above from both of these and the only mission was the welfare of the Muslims and this is called true leadership in Islam. Anyways, due to his impressive untiring struggle the Imam collected twenty six lac rupees for the University including his personal contribution of one lac rupees. Owing to his ceaseless struggle, on December 20, the Aligarh University was given its official charter and Sir Aga Khan was appointed as its Founding Pro Chancellor. His generosity for Aligarh did not stop here. He announced his annual grant of ten thousand rupees for Aligarh Muslim University with subsequent raise. Thus the dream of a Muslim University Aligarh came true under the dynamic leadership of Sir Sultan Muhamamd Shah Aga Khan III. Mr. Saradr Iqbal Ali Shah in his book, The Prince Aga Khan writes that, “ It was Sir Syed Ahamad Khan who founded M.A.O. college at Aligarh, but it was the Aga Khan who an ardent enthusiastic promoter of the ideal of education, has been mainly responsible for the raising of its status to that of a university”. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s prophesy that   an unseen hand will rise and accomplish the uphill task of establishing the university accurately came true in the form of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan.

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah was a sincere patron of the Muslims. His unprecedented services for the Muslim Ummah were based on the prophetic principals. He had put his hands on the pulses of the Muslim Ummah and extended guidance to them for their spiritual as well as material development. In his book India in Transition, the great Imam has given thoughtful message that whether the political alliance and unity of the world Muslims is possible or not ……. but the reality is that Islam preaches and teaches the spiritual brotherhood and the only knotting power for the Muslims is the revitalization of this passion. In his writings and interview the Imam seriously urged the Muslim rulers to be united and prove the universality of the Islam. In addition to his Intellectual support to the Muslims, the Imam provided huge grants to the revival and promulgation of the Islamic teachings and knowledge. He was the ardent supporter of the Turk Khalafat and seriously agitated against the cruelty of Britain and other European alliances. When the Greeks were advancing towards the Turk capital Astanbol with the Britain support, the Imam accelerated his movements, meetings and discussions with the Britain government to cease the invasion. In a meeting he seriously challenged to the Britain prime minister that, “ Mr. Prime minister leave the Greeks to us, although I am old and lack physical strength but we would make the Greeks run away back with the force of our swords. We ourselves would manage our ships”. The enthusiasm and loyalty of the old Imam shows his greed for the survival and development of the Muslim Ummah. The history shows that after the war, the lovely Imam provided substantial support to the people of Turky. In addition to his personal donations and assistance, he arranged support to Turkey from the Red Crescent society. Besides, he provided abundant grants to the Muslims of Iran, Iraq and Syria and constructed mosques in many countries. The construction of a grand mosque and purchase of land for graveyard for the Muslims in England is another lovely service of Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah. Besides, he provided financial support for Islamic teaching (Tabligh) in England. Similarly, he established Muslim Welfare Society for Africa and under this society numerous mosques were constructed and the noble work of Islamic Preaching (Tablegh) was launched in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and southern Africa.

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan had long lasting contribution in the world politics with the focus of benefiting the Muslims. . In the round table conferences he led the Muslim delegations and effectively represented and defended the rights of the Muslims. Due to his magnificent efforts in the third session of the round table conference the separation of Sindh from Bomby was approved which the Imam communicated to Muslims of India via telephonic message. He wonderfully served as member and president of the League of Nations which consisted of the world level influential personalities with the mandate of establishing unity among the countries. The Imam made nonstop efforts to give membership to Afghanistan and Egypt. Peace and co-existing was the Imam’s mission and for this purpose he made extensive visits to European countries to sensitize people and governments against the horrors of war and establishing peace and harmony. He even met with Hitler in Germany and made rigor efforts to deter him from plunging into war but even after a pleasant dialogue the wicked man Hitler attacked on Europe.

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah had an emotional attachment with our country Pakistan. His extraordinary services throughout the long and arduous assignment of Pakistan Movement are the brightest chapters of the history. His dynamic leadership as president of the All India Muslim League and in all subsequent assignments and responsibilities, he brilliantly pushed the freedom movement towards its logical and favorable conclusion that is the creation of Pakistan. Being the world’s greatest statement, enviable intellectual, stormy influential personality and chief of the Muslim community, he delivered unparalleled services to revive the glorified position of the Muslims in the world community and his blessed contribution for the creating of Pakistan is one of them. The newly established country, Pakistan had numerous pressing challenges with its birth and one of the most terrible challenges was lack of money to run the state. On this occasion, the Imam offered a blank check to Quaid Azam and asked him to draw the required money for Pakistan. This shows not only the generosity of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan for the newly born country but also reflects the Imam’s sense of ownership and belongingness with Pakistan. Most importantly, the Imam’s overall contribution was above from all kinds of self interest, gain or fame. His pleasure was inseparably associated with the comfort, development and honor of the Muslims of the subcontinent and all those around the world.

He was a symbol of strength and power and spark of hope for the Muslim community and other sufferers. He was so benevolent and kind that he never hesitate to support even the non Muslims in times of distress which shows his commitment and faith to translate and materialize the Quranic injunction in real forms. Islamic says that, “The best amongst of all human beings is the one who benefits others”. Thus the Imam’s blessed hands also raised in support of the sufferers, regardless creed, faith and color and this was based only on humanitarian ground. He brought back thousands of people from the fatal mouth of hunger to the lap of life when the terrible famine prevailed in Bomby. The Imam with full devotion supplied food, medicine, clothing, seeds and agricultural tools to the famine shaken people of Bomby. In Bobby a large camp was patched at Hasanabad where thousands of people were daily fed at the Imam’s expenses. On that occasion the Imam took care of the sensitive needy peoples’ self esteem who were ashamed of participating in this open hospitality. He therefore, supplied grain to them privately for a period of six months.

The horror of famine was followed by epidemic of bubonic plague in Bomby and the superstitious people refused to be vaccinated against this disease. The Imam obtained the services of an eminent doctor and collected the people at his Khusru Lodge, where the doctor was staying and spoke to the people about the benefits of the vaccination. In order to give them confidence, he got himself inoculated so that others will follow him. This prompted others to follow and thus many lives were saved. The leadership and government was highly indebted to the Imam and it was proposed to give a public dinner to the Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah III in view of his outstanding services. When he was informed about it, he wrote to the secretary of the Reception Committee which is heart touching. He wrote that, ,” I can not accept any entertainment when thousands of people are dying of starvation. It is almost wicket to waste money on rich food when thousands of people are starving. I would urge that every rupee that could be spared should be given for the relief of the sufferers by famine instead of wasting it on the entertainment.” This shows the difference between the vision and deep association and belongingness of the grand son of the holy prophet Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah and other leaders and social workers with the human beings. He like his grand father Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) never tolerated the sufferings of others. The holy prophet has said that “He can not be a good Muslim who enjoys a comfortable sleep while his neighbor is suffering from hunger”. This is what the Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah believed in and showed in his overall programmes and activities. Thus the overall contributions and demonstration of sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan depict the holy teaching of Islam.

As Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Community, he provided magnificent support to his Murids for their worldly as well as spiritual development and set them to a progressive direction to contribute to their families and to the community. He established various social development institutions for the progress and development of his jamaat and also for those who live with them. He established Ismaili Councils to look after the jamaati affairs and provide guidance and support. Owing to his ceaseless and effective guidance and constant support the Ismaili community made progress in all walk of life To acknowledge his splendid guidance and support and as a matter of gratitude, his murids/ followers celebrated his Golden Jubilee in 1936, Diamond Jubilee in 1946 and Platiniam Jubilee in 1954. His musrids contributed for the jubilees and the Imam graciously allocated the jubilee funds for the over all development of the jamaat and the Muslims. Like other parts of the world, he was deeply concerned about his jamaat and other people of Gilgit Baltistan and for their long lasting development, he planned various programmes including the established of the Diamond jubilee schools from the diamond jubilee fund for female education in 1946 and the blessings of these schools are not hidden from all of us. These schools have played and are playing vital role in developing human capital. Today there are 112 diamond Jubilee schools and three Aga Khan Higher Secondary schools in Gilgit Baltistan. Similarly, in Chitral, the same net work of schools is serving to the people. In addition, the Imam allocated funds for scholarship from the diamond jubilee. His affiliation with education is inherited from the office of his great grand father Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). His scholarship programme has benefited thousand of students and one example of his scholarship benefit is that of , Dr. Ziauddin, Mr. Wali Muhammad and Dr. Karim Hyder who on completion of their education played a crucial role for the development of the Muslims at national and international venue.

The great Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah passed away on July 11, 1957 and after his demise according to his will His Highness Prince Karim Ag an ascended to the throne of Imamat AS 49TH Imam and spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

The noble examples of the services, contribution and favors of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III are endless and can not be encircled in this short article. To sump up the words I feel that, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah had serious thirst for the fame and gain of the Muslim Ummah and for that what ever he did is something beyond the intellectual and social capital of a normal human being. He demonstrated and materialized the holy principals of our holy faith Islam and delivered extraordinarily which is imitable for all of us. Today on the occasion of his birth day we pay our humble homage and salute to the Imam with the pledge to follow his teachings to benefit the human beings. I conclude this small article with a poem which Mulwi Nazir Ahmad a great Muslim leader recited while addressing to Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah in the beginning of his speech in the Muslim Educational Conference in 1902. This conference was presided over by Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan.

آفاقہا گردیدہ ام، مہر بتاں ورزیدہ ام
سیار خوباں دیدہ ام، اما تو چیزی دیگری


I have seen worlds, I have witnessed ‘moon like’ faces, I have observed several virtues, but you (Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan) are somehow different.

Related Articles


Back to top button