Aga Khan III

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Aga Khan III
HH the AGA KHAN 1936.jpg
The Aga Khan III in 1936
TitleAga Khan III
Born(1877-11-02)2 November 1877 [1]
Died11 July 1957(1957-07-11) (aged 79) [1]
Versoix, near Geneva, Switzerland
Resting place Mausoleum of Aga Khan, Aswan, Egypt
Religion Shia Islam
  • Shahzadi Begum
  • Cleope Teresa Magliano
  • Andrée Joséphine Carron
  • Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan (birth name, Yvonne Blanche Labrousse)
Denomination Isma'ilism
School Nizari Ismaili
Lineage Fatimid
Other namesSultan Mahomed Shah
Senior posting
Predecessor Aga Khan II
Successor Aga Khan IV
Post48th Nizari Imām

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III GCSI GCMG GCIE GCVO PC (2 November 1877 11 July 1957) was the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili religion. He was one of the founders and the first president of the All-India Muslim League (AIML). His goal was the advancement of Muslim agendas and protection of Muslim rights in India. The League, until the late 1930s, was not a large organisation but represented the landed and commercial Muslim interests of the British-ruled 'United Provinces' (as of today Uttar Pradesh). [2] He shared Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's belief that Muslims should first build up their social capital through advanced education before engaging in politics. Aga Khan called on the British Raj to consider Muslims to be a separate nation within India, the so-called 'Two Nation Theory'. Even after he resigned as president of the AIML in 1912, he still exerted major influence on its policies and agendas. He was nominated to represent India to the League of Nations in 1932 and served as President of the League of Nations from 1937–38. [3]

Privy Council of the United Kingdom Formal body of advisers to the sovereign in the United Kingdom

Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council of the United Kingdom or just the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Its membership mainly comprises senior politicians who are current or former members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Nizari Non-twelver branch of Shia Islam

The Nizaris are the largest segment of the Ismaili Shi'i Muslims, who are the second-largest branch of Shia Islam, second only to the largest, the Twelver. Nizari teachings emphasize human reasoning, or ijtihad—using educated, independent reasoning in solving legal questions; pluralism—the acceptance of racial, ethnic, cultural and inter-religious differences; and social justice. The Aga Khan, currently Aga Khan IV, is the spiritual leader and Imam of the Nizaris. The global seat of the Ismaili Imamate is in Lisbon, Portugal.

All-India Muslim League political party within the Indian Empire

The All-India Muslim League was a political party established in 1906 in the British Indian Empire. Its strong advocacy for the establishment of a separate Muslim-majority nation-state, Pakistan, successfully led to the partition of British India in 1947 by the British Empire.


Early life

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was born in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province in British India, (now Pakistan) to Aga Khan II and his third wife, [4] Nawab A'lia Shamsul-Muluk, who was a granddaughter of Fath Ali Shah of Persia (Qajar dynasty).

Karachi Metropolis in Sindh, Pakistan

Karachi is the capital of the Pakistani province of Sindh. It is the most populous city in Pakistan, and sixth-most-populous city proper in the world. Ranked as a beta-global city, the city is Pakistan's premier industrial and financial centre and is considered as the cultural, economic, philanthropic, educational, and political hub of the country. Karachi is also Pakistan's most cosmopolitan city. Situated on the Arabian Sea, Karachi serves as a transport hub, and is home to Pakistan's two largest seaports, the Port of Karachi and Port Bin Qasim, as well as Pakistan's busiest airport, Jinnah International Airport.

Sindh Province in Pakistan

Sindh is one of the four provinces of Pakistan, in the southeast of the country, and the historical home of the Sindhi people. Sindh is the third largest province of Pakistan by area, and second largest province by population after Punjab. Sindh is bordered by Balochistan province to the west, and Punjab province to the north. Sindh also borders the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the east, and Arabian Sea to the south. Sindh's landscape consists mostly of alluvial plains flanking the Indus River, the Thar desert in the eastern portion of the province closest to the border with India, and the Kirthar Mountains in the western part of Sindh.

India Country in South Asia

India, also known as the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the northeast; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

Under the care of his mother, he was given not only that religious and Oriental education which his position as the religious leader of the Ismailis made indispensable, but also sound European training, an opportunity denied to his father and paternal grandfather. [5] He also attended Eton and the University of Cambridge. [6]

Eton College British independent boarding school located in Eton

Eton College is a 13–18 independent boarding school and sixth form for boys in the parish of Eton, near Windsor in Berkshire, England. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as Kynge's College of Our Ladye of Eton besyde Windesore , as a sister institution to King's College, Cambridge, making it the 18th-oldest Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference school.

University of Cambridge University in Cambridge, United Kingdom

The University of Cambridge is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Founded in 1209 and granted a Royal Charter by King Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's fourth-oldest surviving university. The university grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople. The two 'ancient universities' share many common features and are often referred to jointly as 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Cambridge has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.


In 1885, at the age of eight, he succeeded his father as Imam of the Shi'a Isma'ili Muslims. [1] [3]

The Aga Khan travelled in distant parts of the world to receive the homage of his followers, and with the objective either of settling differences or of advancing their welfare by financial help and personal advice and guidance. The distinction of a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) was conferred upon him by Queen Victoria in 1897; and he was promoted to a Knight Grand Commander (GCIE) in the 1902 Coronation Honours list, [7] [8] and invested as such by King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace on 24 October 1902. [9] He was made a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI) by George V (1912), and appointed a GCMG in 1923. He received like recognition for his public services from the German Emperor, the Sultan of Turkey, the Shah of Persia and other potentates. [5]

Order of the Indian Empire series of award in an order of chivalry of the British Empire

The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire is an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1878. The Order includes members of three classes:

  1. Knight Grand Commander (GCIE)
  2. Knight Commander (KCIE)
  3. Companion (CIE)
Queen Victoria British monarch who reigned 1837–1901

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India.

The 1902 Coronation Honours were announced on 26 June 1902, the date originally set for the coronation of King Edward VII. The coronation was postponed because the King had been taken ill two days before, but he ordered that the honours list should be published on that day anyway.

In 1906, the Aga Khan was a founding member and first president of the All India Muslim League, a political party which pushed for the creation of an independent Muslim nation in the north west regions of India, then under British colonial rule, and later established the country of Pakistan in 1947.

During the three Round Table Conferences (India) in London from 1930–32, he played an important role to bring about Indian constitutional reforms. [1]

In 1934, he was made a member of the Privy Council and served as a member of the League of Nations (1934–37), becoming the President of the League of Nations in 1937. [3]


Under the leadership of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, the first half of the 20th century was a period of significant development for the Ismā'īlī community. Numerous institutions for social and economic development were established in the Indian Subcontinent and in East Africa. [10] Ismailis have marked the Jubilees of their Imāms with public celebrations, which are symbolic affirmations of the ties that link the Ismāʿīlī Imām and his followers. Although the Jubilees have no religious significance, they serve to reaffirm the Imamat's worldwide commitment to the improvement of the quality of human life, especially in the developing countries. [10]

The Jubilees of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, are well remembered. During his 72 years of Imamat (1885–1957), the community celebrated his Golden (1937), Diamond (1946) and Platinum (1954) Jubilees. To show their appreciation and affection, the Ismā'īliyya weighed their Imam in gold, diamonds and, symbolically, in platinum, respectively, the proceeds of which were used to further develop major social welfare and development institutions in Asia and Africa.

In India and later in Pakistan, social development institutions were established, in the words of Aga Khan III, "for the relief of humanity". They included institutions such as the Diamond Jubilee Trust and the Platinum Jubilee Investments Limited which in turn assisted the growth of various types of cooperative societies. Diamond Jubilee High School for Girls were established throughout the remote Northern Areas of what is now Pakistan. In addition, scholarship programs, established at the time of the Golden Jubilee to give assistance to needy students, were progressively expanded. In East Africa, major social welfare and economic development institutions were established. Those involved in social welfare included the accelerated development of schools and community centres, and a modern, fully equipped hospital in Nairobi. Among the economic development institutions established in East Africa were companies such as the Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust (now Diamond Trust of Kenya) and the Jubilee Insurance Company, which are quoted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and have become major players in national development.

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah also introduced organizational forms that gave Ismāʿīlī communities the means to structure and regulate their own affairs. [10] These were built on the Muslim tradition of a communitarian ethic on the one hand, and responsible individual conscience with freedom to negotiate one's own moral commitment and destiny on the other. In 1905 he ordained the first Ismā'īlī Constitution for the social governance of the community in East Africa. The new administration for the Community's affairs was organised into a hierarchy of councils at the local, national, and regional levels. The constitution also set out rules in such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance, guidelines for mutual cooperation and support among Ismā'īlīs, and their interface with other communities. Similar constitutions were promulgated in India, and all were periodically revised to address emerging needs and circumstances in diverse settings. [10]

Following the Second World War, far-reaching social, economic and political changes profoundly affected a number of areas where Ismāʿīlīs resided. In 1947, British rule in the Indian Subcontinent was replaced by the sovereign, independent nations of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh, resulting in the migration of millions people and significant loss of life and property. In the Middle East, the Suez crisis of 1956 as well as the preceding crisis in Iran, demonstrated the sharp upsurge of nationalism, which was as assertive of the region's social and economic aspirations as of its political independence. Africa was also set on its course to decolonisation, swept by what Harold Macmillan, the then British prime minister, termed the "wind of change". By the early 1960s, most of East and Central Africa, where the majority of the Ismāʿīlī population on the continent resided, including Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire, had attained their political independence.

Religious and Social Views

The Aga Khan was deeply influenced by the views of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan. [11] Along with Sir Sayyid, the Aga Khan was one of the backers and founders of the Aligarh University, for which he tirelessly raised funds for and donated large sums of his own money to. [12] The Aga Khan himself can be considered an Islamic modernist and an intellectual of the Aligarh movement. [13]

From a religious standpoint, the Aga Khan followed a modernist approach to Islam. [13] He believed there to be no contradiction between religion and modernity, and urged Muslims to embrace modernity. [14] Although he opposed a wholesale replication of Western society by Muslims, the Aga Khan did believe increased contact with the West would be overall beneficial to Muslim society. [15] He was intellectually open to Western philosophy and ideas, and believed engagement with them could lead to a revival and renaissance within Islamic thought. [15]

Like many other Islamic modernists, the Aga Khan held a low opinion of the traditional religious establishment (the ʿUlamāʾ) as well as what he saw as their rigid formalism, legalism, and literalism. [16] Instead, he advocated for renewed ijtihād (independent reasoning) and ijmāʿ (consensus), the latter of which he understood in a modernist way to mean consensus-building. [17] According to him, Muslims should go back to the original sources, especially the Qurʾān, in order to discover the true essence and spirit of Islam. [17] Once the principles of the faith were discovered, they would seen to be universal and modern. [18] Islam, in his view, had an underlying liberal and democratic spirit. [19] He also called for full civil and religious liberties, [20] peace and disarmament, and an end to all wars. [21]

The Aga Khan opposed sectarianism, which he believed to sap the strength and unity of the Muslim community. [22] In specific, he called for a rapprochement between Sunnism and Shīʿism. [23] This did not mean that he thought religious differences would go away, and he himself instructed his Ismāʿīlī followers to be dedicated to their own teachings. [24] However, he believed in unity through accepting diversity, and by respecting differences of opinion. [24] [25] On his view, there was strength to be found in the diversity of Muslim traditions. [26]

The Aga Khan called for social reform of Muslim society, and he was able to implement them within his own Ismāʿīlī community. [27] As he believed Islam to essentially be a humanitarian religion, the Aga Khan called for the reduction and eradication of poverty. [28] Like Sir Sayyid, the Aga Khan was concerned that Muslims had fallen behind the Hindu community in terms of education. [29] According to him, education was the path to progress. [30] He was a tireless advocate for compulsory and universal primary education, [31] and also for the creation of higher institutions of learning. [32]

In terms of women’s rights, the Aga Khan was more progressive in his views than Sir Sayyid and many other Islamic modernists of his time. [33] The Aga Khan framed his pursuit of women’s rights not simply in the context of women being better mothers or wives, but rather, for women’s own benefit. [34] He endorsed the spiritual equality of men and women in Islam, and he also called for full political equality. [35] This included the right to vote [35] [36] and the right to an education. [37] In regards to the latter issue, he endorsed compulsory primary education for girls. [38] He also encouraged women to pursue higher university-level education, [37] and saw nothing wrong with co-educational institutions. [39] Whereas Sir Sayyid prioritized the education of boys over girls, the Aga Khan instructed his followers that if they had a son and daughter, and if they could only afford to send one of them to school, they should send the daughter over the boy. [40]

The Aga Khan campaigned against the institution of purda and zenāna, which he felt were oppressive and un-Islamic institutions. [41] He completely banned the purda and the face veil for his Ismāʿīlī followers. [42] The Aga Khan also restricted polygamy, encouraged marriage to widows, and banned child marriage. [41] He also made marriage and divorce laws more equitable to women. [41] Overall, he encouraged women to take part in all national activities and to agitate for their full religious, social, and political rights. [35]

Today, in large part due to the Aga Khan’s reforms, the Ismāʿīlī community is one of the most progressive, peaceful, and prosperous branches of Islam. [43]

Racehorse ownership and equestrianism

He was an owner of thoroughbred racing horses, including a record equalling five winners of The Derby (Blenheim, Bahram, Mahmoud, My Love, Tulyar) and a total of sixteen winners of British Classic Races. He was British flat racing Champion Owner thirteen times. According to Ben Pimlott, biographer of Queen Elizabeth II, the Aga Khan presented Her Majesty with a filly called Astrakhan, who won at Hurst Park Racecourse in 1950.

In 1926, the Aga Khan gave a cup (the Aga Khan Trophy) to be awarded to the winners of an international team show jumping competition held at the annual horse show of the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland every first week in August. [44] It attracts competitors from all of the main show jumping nations and is carried live on Irish national television.

Marriages and children


He wrote a number of books and papers two of which are of immense importance, namely (1) India in Transition, about the prepartition politics of India and (2) The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time, his autobiography.

Mausoleum of Aga Khan - Aswan, Egypt. Assuan 9785.JPG
Mausoleum of Aga Khan – Aswan, Egypt.
Mausoleum of Aga Khan, on the Nile. Assuan 9932.JPG
Mausoleum of Aga Khan, on the Nile.

Death and succession

Aga Khan III was succeeded as Aga Khan by his grandson Karim Aga Khan, who is the present Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. At the time of his death on 11 July 1957, his family members were in Versoix. A solicitor brought the will of the Aga Khan III from London to Geneva and read it before the family:

“Ever since the time of my ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of thirteen hundred years, it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants, whether they be sons or remote male issue and in these circumstances and in view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interest of the Shia Muslim Ismailia Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam. For these reasons, I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my own son, Aly Salomone Khan to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to the Imam and Pir of all Shia Ismailian followers”

He is buried in at the Mausoleum of Aga Khan, on the Nile in Aswan, Egypt. 24°05′18″N32°52′43″E / 24.088254°N 32.878722°E / 24.088254; 32.878722


Pakistan Post issued a special 'Birth Centenary of Agha Khan III' postage stamp in his honor in 1977. [50]

Pakistan Post again issued a postage stamp in his honor in its 'Pioneers of Freedom' series in 1990. [3]


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Aga Khan III
of the Ahl al-Bayt
Clan of the Banu Quraish
Born: 1877 CE Died: 1957 CE
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Aqa Ali Shah
48th Imam of Nizari Ismailism
Succeeded by
Karim al-Hussayni