Origin: Though there are several paths (tariqah) within the Ismāʿīlīs, the term in today’s vernacular generally refers to the Nizari path, which recognizes the Aga Khan IV as the 49th hereditary Imam and is the largest group among the Ismāʿīlīs (Shia Islam).The Ismailis’ stronghold of Alamut – Iran which had warded off several Sunni offensives including one by Salah ad Din Yusuf ibn Ayyubi (Saladin), soon meet destruction in 1206 by Genghis Khan who led his Mongol hordes across Central Asia into the Middle-East where they won a series of tactical military victories using a scorched-earth policy. His son, Hulagu Khan, led the devastating attack on Alamut in 1256, before sacking the Abbasid Caliphate in Beghdad in 1258, Healso devastated the House of Wisdom in Beghdad & destroyed the Ismailias well as Islamic religious texts. The Imamate that was located in Alamut along with its few followers were forced to flee and take refuge elsewhere. When the Nizari Imams still lived in Iran the honorific title of Agha Khan was bestowed upon Aga Hasan Ali Shah, the 46th Imam of the Ismailis, by Fatih Ali Shah Qajar, The Shah of Persia. The title combines the Turkish military title Agha meaning noble or lord with the Altaic title Khan for a local ruler, which combinly means Commanding Chief. In Persia where under Qajar court protocol, Khan (& Amir) was common part of commanders of armed forces & a provincial tribal leaders which ranked fourth in precedence amongst the eight title classes for non – members of the dynasty. It is the longest & un – disputed muslim dynasty which claims its roots to Imam Ali & his wife Fatima as Zahra (daughter of Prophet Mohammad (p.b.u.h).
First Aga Khan & Start of Princely Era: When Hassan Ali Shah, the first Aga Khan came to Sindh from Afghanistan, he and his army were welcomed by Mir Nasir Khan of Sindh. The military assistance provided by Agha Khan I to General Nott in Kandhar Province & also to General England in his advance from Sindh to join Nottduring the latter stages of the Afghan War in 1841 & 1842 & rendering to Sir Charles Napier in his conquest of Sindh in 1843 – 44, the British Empire provided Agha Khan with rank & nobility. In 1887 he was started receiving pension for his services & alliance with British Raj. He was then awarded his ‘princely status’ by the British Government of India & became the only religious or community leader in British India granted a personal gun salute as all other salute dynasties were either rulers of Princely States or Political Pensioners holding ancestral titles in states abolished by Britishers.
List of Ismailis who held the Agha Khan title
- Aga Khan I = Hasan Ali Shah Mehalatee Aga Khan I (1800–1881), 46th Imam (1817–1881)
- Aga Khan II = Ali Shah Aga Khan II (about 1830–1885), 47th Imam (12 April 1881–1885)
- Aga Khan III = Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah (1877-1957), 48th Imam (17 August 1885–1957)
- Aga Khan IV = Prince Karim Al Husseini (b. 1936), 49th Imam of the Ismailis (11 July 1957–present)
The 49th Imam of Ismailis: Karim al Hussaini became the present Aga Khan IV upon assuming the Imamat of the Ismailis on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan (Aga Khan III). In his will, his grandfather stated the conditions that led him to select his grandson as successor to the Ismaili Imamat, thus bypassing his father, Prince Aly Khān, and his uncle, Prince Sadruddin Āgā Khān, who were in direct line of succession. In his will, the Agha KhanIII explained the rationale for choosing his eldest grandson as his successor:
In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes that have taken place, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Ismaili 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.
Family: Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the 49th Ismaili Imam, claiming lineage to Ali, cousin of Muhammad, and his wife Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter. Who was born in Geneva – Switzerland on December13, 1936. He was married two times. His first wife was HH Begum Salima Aga Khan (formerly Sarah (Sally) Croker-Poole), he had three children from her namely: Princess Zahra Aga Khan (b. September 18, 1970), Prince Rahim Aga Khan (b. October 12, 1971), Prince Hussain Aga Khan (b. April 10, 1974). He got married to his second wife HH Begum Inaara Aga Khan ((formerly Dr Gabriele Princess of Leiningen (née Gabriele Thyssen)) who gave birth to his fourth child named: Prince Aly Muhammad Aga Khan (b. March 7, 2000). The title His Highness was granted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1957, and His Royal Highness by the Shah of Iran in 1959. On July 11, 2007, Aga Khan IV completed 50 years of the imamat of the Ismaili community.The Agha Khan has sometimes been referred to by Ismailis as the Imam of the Atomic Age. He is the most decorated person in the world as his honors, awards, decorations stand apart from many historical leaders of the world. He had been honored & awarded by most of the countries of the world spanning almost throughout the globe. The latest Honors, Decorations, Awards of Aga Khan IV are:
1) Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France (2010)
2) Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, (2009) (He is the first Muslim in the World to be conferred with this degree in the university’s 800 year history. “The Honorary Doctorate of Divinity is awarded to individuals who have made a global impact through their religious leadership,” said Tim Winter, Academic Secretary in the Faculty of Divinity. “I am delighted that His Highness the Aga Khan, whose charitable and spiritual leadership has a truly worldwide reach, and whose support for scholarship has impacted profoundly on Islamic Studies, should have been chosen for this well-deserved honour.” Hazar Imam was among ten eminent individuals who were presented with honorary doctorates by the Chancellor of the University, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. Other recipients included Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, who together established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
3) One of The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world, by Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Amman, Jordan (2010)
The Aga Khan, heir to the family fortune and a society figure, is founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world. AKDN continues to work with a variety of African and Asian countries to improve living conditions and promote education. For instance, in Afghanistan the AKDN has mobilised over $750 million in development projects. In 1979, the Aga Khan also established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to promote the study of Islamic art, architecture, urbanism, landscape design, and conservation – and the application of that knowledge to contemporary design projects.The program engages in research at both institutions and students can graduate with a Master of Science of Architectural Studies specializing in the Aga Khan program from MIT’s Department of Architecture. The Agha Khanhas described his role as Imam as being a guide to Ismailis in the daily practice of Shia Islam, a duty which requires an understanding of Ismailis and their relationship with their geographic location and their time. He elaborated on this concept in a 2006 speech in Germany stating,
The role and responsibility of an Imam, respectively, to interpret their religion to his community, and to do his utmost to improve the quality, and security of their quotidien.
This engagement is not limited to the Ismaili community but also extends to the people with whom the Ismailis share their lives, locally and internationally.
During the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, he said: “I have two reactions to the pope’s lecture: There is my concern about the degradation of relations and, at the same time, I see an opportunity. A chance to talk about a serious, important issue: the relationship between religion and logic”.
The Aga Khan has expressed concern about the work of the AKDN being described as philanthropy. In his address to the Tutzing Evangelical Academy in Germany, he described this concern:
Reflecting a certain historical tendency of the West to separate the secular from the religious, they often describe [the work of the AKDN] either as philanthropy or entrepreneurship. What is not understood is that this work is for us a part of our institutional responsibility — it flows from the mandate of the office of Imam to improve the quality of worldly life for the concerned communities.
He is among the few elite who are listed as the most busiest dignitartories of the world. He is regularly visited by so many state leaders from all corners of the world that even the President of US did not get to meet. He has a great passion for Horse breeding & racing & to live his passion & enjoy it he owns plush & some of the largest stud farms & breeding centres in Europe. His Aiglemont estate, at Gouvieux in the Picardie region of France, about 4 kilometres west of the Chantilly Racecourse, where he operates the largest horse racing and breeding operation in the country. The Aga Khan owns Gilltown Stud near Kilcullen, Ireland and Haras de Bonneval breeding farm at Le Mesnil-Mauger in France. In March 2005, he purchased the famous Calvados stud farms, the Haras d’Ouilly in Pont-d’Ouilly and the Haras de Val-Henry in Livarot. In 2006, the Aga Khan became the majority shareholder of Arqana, a French horse auction house. On October 27, 2009 it was announced that the Epsom Derby (Eng-G1), Coral Eclipse Stakes (Eng-G1), Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-G1), Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-G1), and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sea The Stars will stand stud at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud in Ireland.