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Remembering Aga Khan III

The year 1911 is not a distant past in the history of the subcontinent; Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, in his inaugural address to the Muslim Educational Conference, highlighted the need for a serviceable and extended system of education to raise Muslims of the subcontinent to their legitimate sphere of power, influence and usefulness. He said, “If our people take to science and scientific education in the right spirit, the industrial and economic future of our community will no longer be in doubt.”

An eminent Muslim leader, thinker and reformer of the 19th century, Aga Khan III was born in Karachi on the 2nd of November 1877. In his lifetime, he encompassed a multitude of roles, yet the guiding principle and motivating element was a humanistic concern for the betterment of the Muslims of the subcontinent. Having this particular characteristic served as the foundation of his social conscience, enthused by the needs of the rural masses.

For Aga Khan III, the advancement of science and technology was essential to growth and development. He preached the importance of science as much as he did for education, for integrating science into the educational system would improve the quality of life and socioeconomic development of Muslims. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah emphasized that education should be upheld with religion, applied sciences, agriculture, medical technology and women’s education to provide Muslims with the skills, knowledge and views they required to meet the needs of modern times.

Islam, according to Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, is the religion of nature, and therefore the study of science was a religious obligation for Muslims. Time and time again, he reminded Muslims of their glorious past when Islam was a leader in scientific discoveries and intellectual traditions. He stated, “Our social customs, our daily work, our constant efforts, must be tuned up, must be brought into line with the highest form of possible civilization. At its greatest period, Islam was at the head of science, was at the head of knowledge, was in the advanced line of political, philosophic and literary thought.”

It was in 1902, when Aga Khan III expressed, in his presidential address to the Muslim Educational Conference held in Delhi, his dream of establishing a university of the highest standard where Muslim youth of the subcontinent have access to modern scientific education and where they can learn of their “glorious past.” He wanted Aligarh to have a University in which, as he believed, “The standard of learning should be the highest and where with the scientific training, there shall be that moral education.” Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s accomplishment, which brought him the utmost joy, was the setting up of Aligarh University with the vision and mission he set out to achieve.

With this passion, Aga Khan III asserted that only those with proven ability should be entrusted with the responsibility of research provided with the fullest means for investigation. “In this way, scientific research and progress would be revitalized with the fire of individual genius.” In 1946, he reminded the court of Aligarh University that, “The world of the future depended upon science.” Aga Khan III appealed to establish a great scientific research institute in Karachi so that it could draw students from south Iran, Afghanistan and East Africa. After the creation of Pakistan, he implored the University of Dacca in the then East Pakistan to build institutions focused on modern science and technology, such as the model of the famous Zurich Technological School.

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah also suggested reforms be made in agriculture that should seek the benefit of research and experimental farms. He further suggested that scientific methods must be applied to agriculture and the improvement of cattle breeding. In doing so, incorporating the subject of agriculture into the education system was crucial, for educated manpower who have a strong background in scientific knowledge should be developed to overcome the prerequisites of the agriculture sector.

Furthermore, Aga Khan III refused to relegate women to a secondary role. To his core, he was driven by the imperative of women’s advancement and enhancement of their social status, whom he termed “guardians of the life of the race.” He emphasized the fundamental value of educating girls, as he went on to say, “Personally, if I had two children, and one was a boy and the other a girl, and if I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl.”

The proof of his unflinching commitment to the development of Muslims was further established with the first Aga Khan School in Gwadar in 1906. During his Diamond Jubilee in 1945, Aga Khan III, the 48th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims, donated all the presents he received from his followers to the advancement of healthcare and education in East Africa and the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The funds were utilized to start maternity homes, medical facilities, schools and hostels. A total of 16 schools were established, named Diamond Jubilee schools, and provided the necessary impetus for turning the wheel of fortune in the remote terrains of northern Pakistan.

Currently, his grandson, Prince Karim, the Aga Khan IV, has carried on his grandfather’s legacy by building upon the foundation his grandfather laid, and stretching forth the largest network of development agencies known as the Aga Khan Development Network, commonly recognised as AKDN, that operate to improve the quality of life of the people in Asia and Africa. Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, AKDN has made enormous contributions to rural development, health, education and architecture. Investing in research to find innovative solutions to development problems has been one of the key components of AKDN’s approach to advancement. The Aga Khan founded the first campus of the Aga Khan University (AKU) in 1983 in Karachi, following in his grandfather’s footsteps to promote education, science and technology. As an international university, AKU has grown into a research-focused institution in the field of health sciences and medical education in Pakistan. As a notable example, one of the university’s strategic platforms, the Centre for Innovation in Medical Education, aims to promote the use of technology to foster excellence in teaching, innovation, research and learning in the medical and healthcare field.

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s mission was the true expression of reconstruction and reform for the Muslims of the subcontinent, placing the foundation of welfare and prosperity for future generations. Today, on the anniversary of his birth, we pay tribute to this prince whose name will forever shine in golden words in the history of Pakistan.

Sujjawal Ahmad, "Remembering Aga Khan III," Business recorder. 2022-11-02.
Keywords: Economics , Economic future , Educational system , Modern science , Medical education Sultan Mahomed Shah , Pakistan , Iran , Afghanistan , East Africa , AKU , AKDN

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