KARACHI: A leader who played a pivotal role in international affairs during the early 20th century, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan was a social reformer concerned about poverty alleviation and the uplift of women in the society.
To the Muslims of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent he was a beacon of light, a source of inspiration and a provider of moral and material support. This great Muslim leader was born on November 02, 1877 at Karachi and dedicated his life worked for the development and advancement of the Muslims. He strongly advocated modern and multi-cultural education for both men and women in India and east Africa.
Through his intimate knowledge of eastern as well as the western cultures, he was uniquely placed to play a significant role in the international affairs of his time.
In 1902, at the age of 25, Lord Curzon appointed Sir Aga Khan as a youngest member of the Imperial Legislative Council in recognition of his services for the education of the Muslims.
His speeches at the Imperial Legislative Council clearly defined him as the political leader with a great promise, and he emerged as the leader of educational and political causes advocated by the Indian Muslims.
He soon realised that the main cause of the political backwardness of the Muslims was their neglect of education. From that point the educational development of Muslims became the most important mission of his life.
The Aga Khan III presided over the Muhammadan Educational Conference at Delhi. In his presidential address, he pointed out that the way to stop the decay of the political power of the Muslims of India was by laying the foundation of Muslim university at Aligarh. “We want to create for our people an intellectual capital a city that shall be a home of elevated ideals, a centre from which light and guidance shall be diffused among the Muslims of India and the wider world, and shall live up to the world as a standard of justice, virtue and purity of our beloved faith.”
Addressing the annual session of the Muslims Educational Conference in 1904 in Bombay, he said: “The far-sighted among the Muslims of India desire a university where the standard of learning should be the highest and where alongside scientific training there shall be moral education, that serves as the constant reminder of the eternal difference between right and wrong, which is the soul of education. I earnestly beg of you that the cause of University should not be forgotten in the shouts of the market place that daily rise among us.”
In 1911, the Aga Khan was nominated as the Chairman of the Funds Collection Committee and he took upon himself the task of collecting funds to establish the University. He announced a personal donation of Rs 100,000, and the committee headed by him visited many cities of India, collecting funds for the University. Wherever they went, they received spontaneous and tumultuous welcome from the Muslims. His efforts bore fruit, and he was able to collect Rs three million for the University and thus, the foundation stone for the future Aligarh University was laid. The Aga Khan III became the first Chancellor of the Aligarh University, which will remain a living monument to the Aga Khan’s educational activities in the interest of Islam. When the Aga Khan visited Aligarh in 1936, Dr. Ziauddin, the then vice-chancellor, in his welcome address said: “It must be a matter of real satisfaction to your Highness that most of the expansion and development of the University are in a large measure due to your Highness’ patronage and active support. The great founder of this institution, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had expressed the hope that this institution would develop into a University, but the realization of the founder’s dream is precisely due to your Highness, who worked for it with the real zeal of a missionary.”
The Aga Khan III was a great advocate of female education and advancement. He stressed on the need to educate the girl child stating that “personally if I had two children, and one was a boy and other was a girl, and I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl.” He realized that the future of every generation was determined by the woman’s ability to lead the young along the right path and teach them the rudiments of culture.
On October 1, 1906 the Aga Khan led a distinguished delegation of 35 leading Muslims of India to Simla and presented a memorandum on behalf of the Muslims of the sub-continent. His address to the Viceroy stated that:“Muslims of India should not be regarded as a mere minority but a separate nation, whose rights and obligations should be guaranteed by the statute, and this was sought to be achieved through adequate and separate representation for Muslims both on the Local Bodies and in Legislative Councils”. (The Memoirs of Aga Khan).
The Simla Delegation was a success and, in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, it was conceded that Muslims should henceforth be elected on the basis of separate electorates. The principle of separate electorates having been accepted, the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims as a separate nation was to become the inevitable in the course of time. As a result of the Simla Deputation, a movement towards establishing a Muslim political organization developed, and within three months the All-India Muslim League was formed and Sir Aga Khan was chosen as its first president for six years, i.e. from 1906 to 1913.
The Aga Khan III also had the privilege to be the representative for India at the Disarmament Conference in the League of Nations. Later on, he was unanimously elected as Chairman of the League of Nations, which is now the United Nations Organisation. After the World War I, the first Round Table Conference was organised by the British government in London attended by the great Quaid-e-Azam, Sir Aga Khan, Sir Mohammed Shafi, Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Fazlul Huq.
In this conference, the delegation of Muslim leaders elected the Aga Khan as their leader and spokesman. During this meeting, Dr Allama Iqbal graciously spoke of the services of the Aga Khan for the Muslims and the Round Table Conference and said: “We have placed these demands before the conference under the guidance of His Highness the Aga Khan, that worthy of statesman whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love for the blood that runs through his veins”. (Letters and writings of Iqbal: B.A Dar, Iqbal Academy, Karachi 1967, p. 72)
The Aga Khan championed the cause of Muslims of the world throughout his life. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the Holy Prophet Mahomed, ( PBUH) was the 48th spiritual Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. The Ismailis celebrated Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees with enthusiasm during his 72 years of Imamat. With the proceeds of the three Jubilee celebrations, many social welfare and developmental institutions were developed in Asia and Africa. In India and Pakistan, these educational and health institutions were established for the humanitarian relief and uplift of the Muslim community.
The era also gave birth to the Diamond Jubilee schools in 1946. The Diamond Jubilee Schools for Girls, now commonly known as DJ schools, were established throughout the remote Northern Areas of what is now Pakistan. In addition, the scholarship programmes were established to give assistance to the needy students. All these initiatives are now being taken forward by his grandson, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is a group of development agencies that look after the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of the historic cities. The AKDN agencies are dedicated to improving the living conditions and opportunities for the poor, without regard to faith, origin or gender.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III spent his last days at Villa Barkat in Geneva and breathed his last on July 11, 1957. He was laid to eternal rest at Aswan in Egypt. Today, on the occasion of his birth anniversary, we pay tribute to the memory of this great Muslim leader and hope to make Pakistan a stronger and prosperous country. In one of his messages, the Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan identified “Pakistan as “the rising star of Islam” and wished the future of the country as bright.
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