Monday June 17, 2024

The Aga Khan’s legacy

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
July 14, 2017

The Ismaili community across the world is celebrating the diamond jubilee of their beloved spiritual leader Prince Karim Aga Khan IV with zeal. In 1957, 20-year-old Prince Karim Aga Khan succeeded his late grandfather as the leader of the Ismaili community, which now has 15 million followers globally.

The Ismailis, rejecting all forms of violence and extremism, are known as the most peace-loving people and this was especially true under the leadership of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, who has spent 60 years promoting quality education, advocating tolerance and empowering the community.

In his message on Imamat Day, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that: “The Aga Khan has used his role to advance global humanitarian causes, helping to support sustainable development and poverty reduction projects and enhance civil society and education around the world”.

The Aga Khan – whose roots can be traced to the Egyptian and Persian empires – has enjoyed cordial relations with the elite classes of various countries. Even in British India, the Viceroy of India had formally recognised the title ‘Aga Khan’ for Prince Karim’s predecessors in 1887.

Aga Khan I, whose real name was Hasan Ali Shah, was also awarded the status of ‘Prince’ by the British government and he was the only religious community leader in British India who was granted a gun salute. After his demise, Aqa Ali Shah, who became Aga Khan II, played a pivotal role in maintaining close relations with other communities.

Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, who succeeded Aqa Ali Shah as Aga Khan III, was one of the most active and dynamic leaders of the Pakistan Movement and a close aide of Quaid-e-Azam. He was also one of the founders and the first president of the All-India Muslim League (AIML). He was a strong supporter of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s vision that the Muslims of India should first focus on strengthening their economic conditions through education before entering politics. In this regard, he also offered the Aga Khan Foreign Scholarship for talented Muslim students at Aligarh University.

After the creation of Pakistan, Aga Khan III, on the request of the then prime minister Feroz Khan Noon, purchased Gwadar from Oman and gifted it to Pakistan. Gwadar is now considered to be a game-changer for the region due to CPEC.

In 1957, at the age of 20, Aga Khan IV Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini succeeded his grandfather as 49th Imam of the Ismaili community. He also inherited his grandparent’s positive agenda that was based on tolerance and serving mankind. As a British citizen who was born in Switzerland, raised in Kenya, educated at Harvard and lived in a French chateau, the life of Aga Khan IV is a shimmering example of pluralism and global harmony.

In the 1970s, when racial discrimination was on the rise in the African continent, Ugandan nationalist leader Idi Amin began expelling people of Asian descent from the country. The then prime minister of Canada, in response to the Aga Khan’s request, accepted as many as 7,000 Ugandan Asians as refugees on humanitarian grounds. The specific incident reflects the extent to which the Western world trusted the Aga Khan. The refugees from Uganda later played a pivotal role in bringing prosperity to Canada’s pluralist society.

In another incident, Prince Karim Aga Khan decided to raise the standard of living through education during his first visit to Gilgit-Baltistan. Today, the literacy rate of Gilgit-Baltistan is the highest across Pakistan. He also founded the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which operates in more than 35 countries across the globe. The AKDN agencies are active in the spheres of education, health, rural development, institution-building and economic development.

The Aga Khan looks after various welfare initiatives as well. Through the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, he is taking steps to preserve Islamic heritage sites, particularly the historical buildings belonging to the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt, the tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun and the ancient city of Agra in India. The Aga Khan is truly a role model. I drew inspiration from him and founded the Pakistan Hindu Council in 2005 to serve my community.

The international community has also announced various awards for Prince Karim Aga Khan. Around 50 countries have conferred national awards on him while leading universities across the world have also awarded honorary degrees to him.

The reason behind the respect that the Aga Khans have earned is their ability to serve mankind by making the best use of their wealth. On the occasion of the diamond jubilee celebrations, we must request him to serve as a bridge between the Muslim world and the West.


The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani