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Aga Khan (Persian: آقاخان; also transliterated as Aqa Khan and Agha Khan) is a name used by the Imam of the Nizari Ismailis since 1818. The current user of the name is Shah Karim who claims to be the 49th Imam (1957–present), Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini Aga Khan IV (b. 1936).
According to Farhad Daftary, Aga Khan is an honorific title bestowed on Hasan Ali Shah (1800–1881), the 46th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (1817–1881), by Persian king Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. However, what Daftary says contradicts what the Aga Khan III noted in a famous legal proceeding in India – that Aga Khan is not a title, but instead a sort of alias or "pet name" that was given to the Aga Khan I when he was a young man.
During the latter stages of the First Anglo-Afghan War (in 1841 and 1842), Hasan Ali Shah and his cavalry officers provided assistance to General Nott in Kandahar Province and also to General England in his advance from Sindh to join Nott. He was awarded the status of "Prince" by the British government's representatives in India and became the only religious or community leader in British India granted a personal gun salute; When Hasan Ali Shah, the first Aga Khan, came to Sindh from Afghanistan, he and his army were welcomed by Mir Nasir Khan of Baluchistan. In 1861, the Aga Khan won a court victory in the High Court of Bombay in what popularly became known as the Aga Khan Case, securing his recognition by the British government as the head of the Khoja community. In 1887, the Secretary of State for India acting through the Viceroy of India, formally recognized the title Aga Khan.
The four persons who have had this title are:
- Aga Khan I – Hasan Ali Shah Mehalatee (1800–1881), 46th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (1817–1881)
- Aga Khan II – Ali Shah (about 1830–1885), 47th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (April 12, 1881 – 1885)
- Aga Khan III – Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah (1877–1957), 48th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (August 17, 1885 – 1957)
- Aga Khan IV – Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini (b. 1936), 49th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (July 11, 1957 – present)
- Daftary, Farhad (2007). The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines Second Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-35561-5.
- "The Institute of Ismaili Studies". Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- Daftary, Farhad (2004). Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography Of Sources And Studies. Institute of Ismaili Studies. ISBN 978-1-850-43439-9.
- Russell, Sir Justice. "Bombay High Court:Haji Bibi vs H.H. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah 1 September 1908". High Court of Bombay. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
- "Les Agas Khans", Yann Kerlau, Perrin 2004