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The multi-faceted Aga Khan III

In December 2017, the Golden Jubilee of Prince Aga Khan’s ascension to the Aga Khani Imammat was officially celebrated throughout Pakistan and in East Africa and other places where his followers live. Prince Karim was officially welcomed by Prime Minister Abbasi, chief ministers of various provinces and his visit to Chitral and Swat was arranged. Special postal stamps were also issued to mark the occasion. In view of this context, it is imperative that Prince Karim’s grandfather, Aga Khan the Ill, who brought his community into mainstream religious groups during the early nineteenth century should be recalled and commended upon in perspective.

By all standards, Sultan Mohammad Shah, His Royal Highness Prince Aga Khan Ill, was a versatile personality of great distinction. He was the spiritual leader of the Ismailis, an educationist, an accredited leader of Indo-Pakistan Muslims for a decade or more a diplomat and a world statesman. His public career encompassed three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe – and spanned some four generations – from the last decade of Queen Victoria’s to the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

While he was received at Aligarh by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the early 1890s and was presented an address of welcome, he had also worked at various stages and at various times with all the topnotch Muslim leaders during the first half of the twentieth century.

He was responsible not only for the educational, economic and social uplift of the Ismailis in the two continents, but also for breathing into them a breadth of his own worldwide vision, making them a progressive force in countries wherever they happened to be. He founded educational and social welfare institutions for them in various countries; he also inspired others to themselves for their welfare.

His vision and activities, however, extended far beyond the narrow circle of his own Ismaili community. Indeed, they encompassed the entire Muslim community, not only in the subcontinent but also across the Muslim world at All progressive and nation-building movements among the Indian Muslims aimed at their educational, social and political uplift received his unstinted support and generous contribution. He was closely associated with the Mohammedan Educational Conference which he presided over in 1902, and with the M.A.O. College at Aligarh which he was determined to transform into an “intellectual capital – … a home of elevated ideas and high ideals”. And he took upon himself the daunting task of actualizing Sir Syed’s cherished dream of raising the Aligarh college to a university’s status. Through his untiring efforts was collected a princely sum of three million rupees. This along with his sustained efforts at the official level were chiefly responsible for the founding of the Aligarh University in 1920.

He headed the Simla Deputation to Lord Minto in 1906, which demanded and secured separate electorates for Muslims, thus providing them thirty-six year later the launching pad for the Pakistan demand. As the first and permanent President of the All India Muslim League, he charted its course and guided its destinies during its first crucial, formative years.

During the Balkan War of 1912-14, he launched a massive drive to collect funds for the Turkish Red Crescent, and himself made a handsome contribution to it. Later, after the First World War, he along with Syed Amir Ali campaigned relentlessly at various levels to secure justice for the vanquished Turks and prevent the dismemberment of the Turkish homelands. He pleaded the cause of the Indian Khilafat Movement and of the Turkish Caliph through representation at the official level and through the press and the platform. He was in part responsible for convincing the Conservatives through Lord Beaverbrook, the influential press Lord, of “the disastrous character of the relations of the British Governments with the de facto Turkish Government” which, he felt, would lead to a new war. This realization led the Conservatives to withdraw support to the Lloyd George’s coalition, eventuating in its collapse, to the coming to power of the Conservatives under the Bonar Law, and to the formulation of a new policy towards Turkey which made an agreement with the Angora Government under Mustafa Kemal possible. Thus the Aga Khan was in part instrumental in restraining Britain from intervening actively on the Greek side in their invasion of Turkey in the early 1920s.

About a decade later, in January 1929, at yet another critical juncture in the Indo-Muslim history, the Aga Khan presided over the All Parties Moslem Conference, which sought to bring together all schools of Muslim public opinion, in a desperate efforts to formulate alternative Muslim proposals to the Congress-sponsored Nehru Report (1928). According to John Coatman, this was “the most representative gathering of Moslems” which had “ever assembled during the rule of the British in India” as of that date, and Aga Khan’s lead at this juncture ensued the retention of separate electorates.

More crucial was the Aga Khan’s contribution at the Round Table Conference (1930-32) where he led the Muslim delegation, and was able to further the Muslim cause. To quote Majumdar, “In 1906, the Aga Khan presented his demands on behalf of the Muslims and Minto accepted; a quarter of a century later Aga Khan again presented a demand and the Communal Award was the result”.

In subsequent years, he became prominent at the League of Nations to which he was nominated to represent India in 1932. His work at the world body soon brought him recognition as a world statesman of great stature, leading to his unanimous election as President of the League of Nations in 1937 – the only Asian to occupy that high office.

That, however, should not be too surprising since he was regarded as an authority on international affairs since the Peace Conference of 1919. To quote Lord Riddell, “Lloyd George said that the Aga Khan was one of the best informed men he had ever met. His general information was astonishing. He was extraordinarily well read and possessed an intimate acquaintance with international affairs in all parts of the world. He was widely traveled and was always running round the capitals of Europe, in all of which he had influential intimates. His means of securing information was remarkable… Altogether, a very remarkable man.”

Throughout the rest of his life he continued to evince great interest in the problems of the Muslim world. A great friend and well-wisher of Pakistan, he visualised a great future for it. “The world of Islam”, he said, “is at an important period of its history. Pakistan, due to the reason that brought it into being, must go on serving the cause of Islam and all the Muslims of the world.”

The Aga Khan believed in world Muslim unity and supported every move towards furthering it. He showed keen interest in the Motamar-i-Islami and other Muslim organizations, dedicated to further the cause of Islam and of the Muslim world.

Persons of the caliber and stature of the Aga Khan are born but in centuries, and his personality and achievements were such as to command respect and admiration in every country and in every age.

Professor Sharif al Mujahid, "The multi-faceted Aga Khan III," Business Recorder. 2018-02-09.
Keywords: Social science , Postal stamps , Religious groups , Highness Prince , Turkish homelands , Muslim league , Massive drive