Aga Khan III

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Aga Khan III
HH the AGA KHAN 1936.jpg
The Aga Khan III in 1936
48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili religion.
Preceded by Aga Khan II
Succeeded by Aga Khan IV
Member (later President) of the Assembly of The League of Nations
In office
2nd President of the All-India Muslim League
In office
1906 (not known)
Preceded by Khwaja Salimullah
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
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 permanent 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]


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).

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]


In 1885, at the age of seven, 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]

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]


Related Research Articles

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Jamaat Khana lit. Congregational place. A place of gathering for religious reasons (not to pray). Not a mosque.

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Institute of Ismaili Studies London in the United Kingdom

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Khoja a caste

The Khojas are a Nizari Isma'ili Shia community of people originating in India. The word Khoja derives from Khwāja, a Persian honorific title (خواجه) of pious individuals used in Turco-Persian influenced areas of the Muslim world.

Aga Khan II Member of the Iranian royal family.

Aga Khan II, or Aqa Ali Shah, the 47th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims. A member of the Iranian royal family, he became the Imam in 1881. During his lifetime, he helped to better not only his own community, but also the larger Muslim community of India. He was an avid sportsman and hunter. He was the second Nizari Iman to hold the title Aga Khan.

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Salamiyah (Arabic: سلمية‎ Salamīya) is a city and district in western Syria, in the Hama Governorate. It is located 33 kilometres southeast of Hama, 45 kilometres northeast of Homs. The city is nicknamed the "mother of Cairo" because it was the birthplace of the second Fatimid caliph al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah, whose dynasty would eventually establish the city of Cairo, and the early headquarters of his father Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah who founded the Fatimid Caliphate. The city is an important center of the Shi'ite Nizari Isma'ili and Taiyabi Isma'ili Islamic schools and also the birthplace of poet Muhammad al-Maghut. The population of the city is 66,724.

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The History of Nizari Isma'ilism from the founding of Islam covers a period of over 1400 years. It begins with Muhammad's mission to restore to humanity the universality and knowledge of the oneness of the divine within the Abrahamic tradition, through the final message and what the Shia believe was the appointment of Ali as successor and guardian of that message with both the spiritual and temporal authority of Muhammad through the institution of the Imamate.

Hassan III of Alamut

Jalāl al-Dīn Ḥassan III (1187–1221), son of Nūr al-Dīn Muḥammad II, was the 25th Nizāri Ismā‘ilī Imām. He ruled from 1210–21.

Imamate in Nizari doctrine

The Imamate in Nizari Isma'ili doctrine is a concept in Nizari Isma'ilism which defines the political, religious and spiritual dimensions of authority concerning Islamic leadership over the nation of believers. The primary function of the Imamate is to establish an institution between an Imam who is present and living in the world and his following whereby each are granted rights and responsibilities.

Nūram Mubīn is a Gujarati Nizari Ismaili text written by Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad Chunara (1881–1966) and first published in 1936. It tells of the lives of the Ismaili Imams from the seventh to the twentieth centuries, and is notable for being the first authorized Ismaili history written in an Indian vernacular language.

The Aga Khan Case was an 1866 court decision in the High Court of Bombay by Justice Sir Joseph Arnould that established the authority of the first Aga Khan, Hasan Ali Shah, as the head of the Bombay Khoja community.

Haji Bibi v. His Highness Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah, the Aga Khan, often referred to as the Haji Bibi Case, was a 1908 court case in the Bombay High Court heard by Justice Russell. The case was fundamentally a dispute over the inheritance of the estate of Hasan Ali Shah, a Persian nobleman with the title Aga Khan I and the hereditary leader of the Nizari Ismailis. A number of the properties and other monetary assets had been passed down to Aqa Ali Shah, Aga Khan II and then to his grandson, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III. The plaintiffs included Haji Bibi who was a widowed granddaughter of Aga Khan I and a few other members of the family that all claimed rights to the wealth. The decision is notable as it confirmed the Aga Khan III's exclusive rights to the assets of his grandfather and to the continued religious offerings by his followers, including some Khojas, as the 48th Imam of the Nizaris.


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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