Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.


Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"He was born in Geneva on 28th Ramzan, 1355/December 13, 1936. Lady Aly Shah (d. 1938) had given his name, Karim. He was born in the wake of cataclysm in the world. From the age of four years, he acquired the rudiments of formal education from Miss Doris Lyon, the governess and a friend of his family.

During the Second World War (1939-1945), when his father, Prince Aly Salomone Khan had offered his services to the Allies, the Imam with his brother Prince Amyn Muhammad, accompanied by his mother, Princess Tajudawla, had gone to Beirut, and thence to Nairobi on May 27, 1941 via Cairo, where they lived for four years. By the time, the Imam was seven years old, he had been well versed in religious education under the tutorship of Missionary Kaderali B. Patel. In 1943, he led the Eid al-Fitr prayer amidst a large congregation of the Ismailis in the Jamatkhana in Nairobi. On that occasion, his mother remarked: "A great accomplishment for such a small boy." Prayers over, he shook hands and greeted each and every Ismaili. On being asked if he was not tired, he lovingly replied, "I am not at all tired. I am indeed very glad to meet and greet the whole jamat and young children on this auspicious occasion of Eid."

At the end of the World War, the Imam went back to Europe on May, 1945, where he joined the Le Rosey School, situated in Rolle, Switzerland. His classmates included numerous Europeans, including the Duke of Kent, the future king Baudoin of Belgium, the Prince Victor Emanuel of Italy, etc. Besides the prescribed education, the Imam was taught Arabic, Urdu and Islamic History at home by Mustapha Kamal of Aligarh University. At the end of seventeen years, his school days came to an end and proceeded to United States, where he enrolled as an undergraduate at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachussetts, where Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah had founded a Chair for oriental studies. His style of living at Harvard was quite frugal. John Feil Stevenson, son of the Democratic presidential candidate for America, who was his room-mate, recalls, "Karim didn't go in much for clothes. During the time I knew him, he owned two suits and one pair of shoes in his closet. I never saw either of them pressed. He had about a dozen neckties, but they were all the same colour." He didn't own a car. And even when he was to return to Harvard, after succeeding to the Imamate, his friends were wondering whether he would buy a new suit. Without a car, he queued up for the public bus and strap-hanged when there was no seat available. He lived at Leverett House overlooking the Charles River. He was also a member of the Hasty Pudding Club and of the Islamic Association. He was also on the Freshman Soccer Team and for two years, played hockey with Leverett House in the Intramural competition. He was officially listed on the University roster as Karim Khan.

Initially, he studied mathematics, chemistry and general science. Soon afterwards, he started study of Islamic history and had an occasion to mix with the eminent professors, like H.A.R. Gibb, Philip K. Hitti etc. Besides his paper on Islamic Sects and Mysticism, his paper, Rise of the Nizaris and the Beginning of Dawa in Indo-Pakistan was highly applauded by his professors. He however could not finish his another paper on Free Will and Predestination in Islam when he had to leave the University.

In 1954, he under the instructions of his grandfather, paid a short visit to the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and East African countries with his brother. During the death of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah on July 11, 1957, his family members were in Geneva. Otto Giesen, a solicitor with the firm of Slaughter and May, brought the Will of the Imam to Geneva from Lloyds Bank, London, and read it at Barkat Villa before the Imam's family that:- "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 Shi'a 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 Shi'a Ismailian followers."

Soon after the declaration, the Present Imam sent following message to the world Ismailis:

Geneva : July 13, 1957

On my ascension to the holy Imamate according to absolute will and nomination of my late beloved grandfather of reverend memory, I send my best maternal paternal blessings all dear spiritual children all over the world.

Mata Salamat, Umm Habibeh also sent following message:

Geneva : July 13, 1957

According to Ismaili traditions and in accordance with late beloved Hazar Imam's explicit will and nomination, Prince Karim has been installed as Hazar Imam of all Ismailis at Barkat Versoix, Geneva in presence of Ismailis from all parts of the world when all Ismailis here paid bayat homage and offered loyalty and devotion.

Raymond Brandy Williams writes in Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan (New York, 1988, p. 190) that, "The Nizaris are the only Ismailis who claim an Imam for this time in a line that is traced to Ali: Prince Karim Shah, Aga Khan IV, is followed as the forty-ninth Imam with the designation (nass) traced back to Muhammad."

Upon his accession to the Imamate in 1957 at the age of twenty, he interrupted his undergraduate studies at Harvard for a year to visit to the various Ismaili communities, during which time he was installed to the Imamate in a number of enthronement ceremonies held in Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, Kampala, Karachi and Bombay. Having toured for 18 months, the Imam returned to Harvard, where he worked twice as hard, studying as well as guiding the community. He took eight courses instead of four and wrote thesis on relation between Druze and Maronites in Lebanon from 1829 to 1835. He was awarded the degree of M.A. on July 11, 1959 at Harvard, and thus, he remained about 23 months as a student of Harvard University during his Imamate period. He also granted 50,000 dollars worth scholarships for students from the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan. Already, a large sum had been donated to introduce the Aga Khan Chair of Islamic Studies at the Harvard and Beirut Universities.

The first ceremonial Takhat Nashini of the Imam commemorated in Dar-es-Salaam on October 19, 1957 amid great pomp and splendour, and was attended by 30,000 Ismailis. The next Takhat Nashini took place in Nairobi on October 22, 1957 in presence of 18,000 Ismailis. The third ceremonial Takhat Nashini took place in Kampala on October 25, 1957 among 15,000 Ismailis and other dignitaries and high officials. The next Takhat Nashini was celebrated at Karachi on January 23, 1958 in National Stadium, where a mammoth gathering was recorded to be over 1,50,000. The fifth Takhat Nashini was celebrated in Dacca on February 12, 1958 amongst 30,000 Ismailis, and the sixth one held in Bombay on March 11, 1958 at Walla Bhai Patel Stadium, witnessed by 80,000 Ismailis.

Malise Ruthven writes in Islam in the World (New York. 1991, p. 218) that, "The Aga Khan's spiritual authority has enabled him to impose religious and legal obligations on his followers which have allowed them to adjust to modern conditions without loss of religious faith - something which Sunni Islam, with its legalistic and literalistic traditions, has found much harder to achieve. The Ismailis have become the world's most prosperous Islamic community outside the oil regions; it is a community, moreover, whose prosperity has been achieved as a result of its own efforts under a succession of astute and capable living Imams."

In three years (1957-1960), he traveled about 264,000 miles. In 1960, he covered 15,000 miles of back country roads in Pakistan, where he also visited the mountainous region of Hunza.

The Imam continued and extended the modernization policies of his grandfather, and closely supervised the religious and temporal affairs of his followers, through their institutions, and paying regular visits to them. He has shown a particular interest in improving the socio-economic and educational conditions of the Ismailis. In the field of education, he has encouraged the Ismailis to acquire specialized and technical skills, and providing numerous scholarships in western institutions for eligible students. Currently, he supports a network of over 300 educational institutions and programmes in India, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania and elsewhere.

On February 4, 1971, the foundation stone was laid for the Aga Khan Hospital with a medical college and nursing school at Karachi, and its nursing school was inaugurated in 1981, which was graded to the University. The Aga Khan University and the University Hospital were built at an estimated total commitment of 300 million dollars. The University's Faculty of Health Sciences consists of a School of Nursing, which began classes in October, 1980 and a Medical College commissioned in September, 1983. The School of Nursing graduated its first class of nurses in December, 1983 and is programmed to educate 110 skilled nurses each year. The 721-bed Aga Khan University Hospital is located on a Campus. The Medical Complex represents both a link to the great Islamic traditions of the past, and a bold progressive action aimed at addressing the health needs of the Third World.

The Aga Khan Health Services consist of an elaborate network of about 200 health programmes, including six general hospitals in different Asian and African countries. The Aga Khan Health and Education services are available to all people regardless of their caste and creed. Many new projects in these fields were launched during 1982-3 during the Silver Jubilee of his Imamate.

Being keenly concerned with the administrative and economic efficiency of his programme, the Imam promotes and finances many of his different projects in the field of health, education, rural development and social welfare through the Aga Khan Foundation, established in 1967. With headquarters in Geneva and branches in several countries, the Aga Khan Foundation now collaborates with more than thirty national and international organizations for the implementation of numerous programmes in the third world.

For the realization of his economic programmes, the Imam set up the Industrial Promotion Services (I.P.S.) in 1963, operating in several Asian and African countries including Canada. It has launched more than one hundred projects in the field, ranging from textiles to modern enterprises in tourism, providing employment for ten thousand persons. All the Imam's existing projects and institutions relating to the economic activities, are now absorbed into the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development. The Fund, established in 1984 seeks to promote economic projects in the third world.

Being a modern Muslim leader with an international outlook, the Imam has shown a profound interest in promoting a better understanding of Islam and its cultural heritage. W. Montgomery Watt writes in Islamic Philosophy and Theology (Edinburgh, 1985, p. 154) that, "Under the leadership of recent Imam, the Ismailites have given other Muslims an example of how Islamic faith may be adapted to the modern world and may lead to effective action in it." In pursuit, he has established a number of specific institutions and programmes. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), formed in Switzerland in 1988, promotes and focuses attention on contemporary expressions of the Islamic humanistic tradition. Its objectives are universal, perpetuating what is valuable from the past and to identify directions for the future.

The Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture, established in 1976, seeking to encourage architectural excellence for the Islamic world, declaring its prize like a noble prize on every three years from 1980. It includes five prizes to be awarded during 15 years, each prize will cover one lac dollars. Akbar S. Ahmed writes in Living Islam (London, 1993, p. 54) that, "In particular his (the Imam) propagation of Islamic Architecture has allowed him to provide a lead and draw in Muslims in all over the world. The combination of tradition and modernity has generated a global feeling of Muslim pride and identity." The students from different Islamic countries also continue to benefit from the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, established in 1979 at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its mandate is to educate new generations of architects, planners, teachers and researchers. Harvard was chosen because it is a major centre of scholarship in Islamic art and architecture, and MIT because of its expertise in high technology architecture. In the long term, the Program's graduates, two thirds of whom are from the Islamic world, will serve as designers, and teachers of designers of a built environment that meets the needs of societies in transition.

In 1974, the Imam called a meeting of the scholars and members of the eleven Ismailia Associations in Nairobi. It was followed by the Paris Conference in 1975, where an International Co-ordinating Committee was formulated under the Ismailia Association for Kenya, and also the formation of Institute of Ismaili Studies had been finalized to promote Islamic studies. Finally, the Imam announced the formation of the Institute of Ismaili Studies to the world Ismaili jamats through a written message on November 25, 1977, during his birth-day celebration, which was held before three days due to the Muharram on December 10, 1977.

None equals the selfless and valuable services of the Imam in the world, which can be gauged from the face of the facts that he has been invested many state titles, key of the city, honorary degrees, honorary membership and awards to appreciate his illustrious services. The details follow as under:-

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