Aga Khan IV

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His Highness
Prince Karim Aga Khan
49th Nizari Ismaili Imam
Prince Karim Aga Khan.png
Born Shah Karim al-Hussaini
(1936-12-13) 13 December 1936 (age 78)
Geneva, Switzerland
Residence Aiglemont estate, France
Ethnicity British Iranian
Citizenship British[1]
Education Institut Le Rosey
Alma mater Harvard University (BA)
Organization AKDN
Net worth US$ 800 million (2010)[2]
Term 11 July 1957–present
Predecessor Aga Khan III
Board member of
Institute of Ismaili Studies
Religion Islam
Denomination Nizari Ismaili Shia
Spouse(s) Salimah Aga Khan
(m. 1969; div. 1995)
Inaara Aga Khan
(m. 1998; div. 2011)
Children Zahra (b. 1970)
Rahim (b. 1971)
Hussain (b. 1974)
Aly (b. 2000)
Parent(s) Prince Aly Khan
Joan Barbara Yarde-Buller
Relatives Yasmin (half-sister)
Sadruddin (uncle)
Official website

Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan (IV) (Persian: شاه کریم حسینی، آقاخان چهارم‎) (Urdu: شاه کریم حسینی، آقاخان چهارم‎) (Aga Khan is also transliterated as Aqa Khan and Agha Khan[3]), NPk, NI, KBE, CC, GCC, GCIH, GCM was born on December 13, 1936, in Geneva, Switzerland. He is a British[4] business magnate,[5][6][7][8] racehorse owner and breeder,[5][9] as well as being the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Ismailism within Shia Islam consisting of an estimated 5-15 million adherents (under 10% of the world's Shia Muslim population).[8][10][11][12] He has held this position of Imam, under the title of Aga Khan IV, since July 11, 1957,[13] when, at the age of 20, he succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III. The Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali,[14] considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali's wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage. In 1986 the Aga Khan ordained the current version of the Ismailia Constitution – an ecclesiastical decree[15] affirming to Nizari Ismailis his "sole right to interpret the Qur'an and provide authoritative guidance on [all] matters of faith"[16] and formalising his sole discretion, power and authority for the governance of Nizari Ismaili jamats (places of worship) and institutions.[17]

Forbes describes the Aga Khan as one of the world's ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million (2010). Additionally he is unique among the richest royals as he does not rule over a geographic territory.[2] He owns hundreds of racehorses, valuable stud farms, an exclusive yacht club on Sardinia,[18] a private island in the Bahamas,[19] two Bombardier jets, a £100 million high speed yacht named after his prize racehorse,[20] and several estates around the world, with his primary residence at Aiglemont estate in the town of Gouvieux, France, north of Paris. In 2008, the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged that the Aga Khan, a British citizen, would be let off all 'direct taxes, stamp duty, and wealth tax' by the country of France - saving the Aga Khan an amount estimated to be in the billions of Euros.[21] The Aga Khan's philanthropic institutions spend about $600 million [USD] per year – mainly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.[22]

Among the goals the Aga Khan has said he works toward are the elimination of global poverty; the promotion and implementation of secular pluralism;[23] the advancement of the status of women; and the honouring of Islamic art and architecture.[22][24][25][26][27] He is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world. The organisation has said it works toward improvement of the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities.[24][27][28][29][30][31] Since his ascension to the Imamate of Nizari Ismailis in 1957, the Aga Khan has been involved in complex political and economic changes which have affected his Nizari Ismaili followers, including the independence of African countries from colonial rule, expulsion of Asians from Uganda, the independence of Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan from the former Soviet Union and the continuous turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan.[24] Aga Khan IV became the first faith leader to address the Joint Session of the Canadian Parliament on February 27, 2014.[32]

Early life[edit]

Born Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Aga Khan IV is the eldest son of Prince Aly Khan, (1911–1960) and his first wife, Princess Tajuddawlah Aly Khan, formerly the Hon. Joan Barbara Yarde-Buller (1908–1997), the eldest daughter of the 3rd Baron Churston.[33]

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 1936, Prince Karim was declared healthy despite being born prematurely.[34] The Aga Khan's brother, Prince Amyn, was born less than a year later. Their parents divorced in 1949, in part due to Prince Aly Khan's extramarital affairs,[35] and Prince Aly Khan shortly after married Rita Hayworth – with whom he had a daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, the half-sister of Aga Khan IV.

The Aga Khan IV also had a half-brother, Patrick Benjamin Guinness (1931–1965), from his mother's first marriage, as Joan Yarde-Buller was previously married to Loel Guinness of the banking Guinnesses.[36]

Prince Karim spent his childhood in Nairobi, Kenya,[37] where his early education was done by private tutoring. His grandfather, Aga Khan III, engaged Mustafa Kamil, a teacher from Aligarh Muslim University, for both Prince Karim and Prince Amyn[citation needed]. Prince Karim later attended the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland, the most expensive boarding school in Europe,[38] for nine years where he ended up with, in his words, "fair grades."[36] As a youngster Prince Karim would have preferred to attend MIT and study science, but his grandfather, Aga Khan III, vetoed the decision and Prince Karim attended Harvard University where he was elected a member of The Delphic Club. There, he switched to majoring in History after flunking an engineering course.[39]

When his grandfather passed away, the young Prince was thrust into the position of the Aga Khan (IV), and he went from being not only a university student but also to replacing his grandfather as the new Nizari Ismaili Imam. He says about it: "Overnight, my whole life changed completely. I woke up with serious responsibilities toward millions of other human beings. I knew I would have to abandon my hopes of studying for a doctorate in History."[36] The Aga Khan IV graduated from Harvard in 1959, two years after becoming the Imam of the Nizari Ismailis, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History (with Cum Laude honors) and his varsity H for soccer.[36]

The young Aga Khan was a competitive downhill skier, and he skied for Iran (at that time led by the secular Shah) in the 1964 Olympic Games.[36][40] Riots broke out in East Africa during the time of the games and the Aga Khan was accordingly besieged with cables and questions from East African Nizari Ismaili leaders, some of whom had flown to Innsbruck, asking their imam for guidance. Specifically, his followers wanted to know whether they should try to hold on to their interests in East Africa or instead return to India and Pakistan.[36]

Paul Ress, of Sports Illustrated, writes that the young, contact lens wearing Prince turned Aga Khan IV, having responsibility to go with his wealth, did not live the playboy lifestyle of his father. He did, however, relish "...speed on water as well as on snow, highways and in the air..." and increased the speed of his 72-foot yacht (the Amaloun) by almost 20%.[36] After being named Aga Khan the young prince, who habitually drove at 90 to 145 miles an hour "road permitting," noted he could no longer afford to risk his life on a piste [ski run].[36] Ress writes about traveling to Chantilly in one of the young Prince's Maseratis. The chauffeur, Lucien Lemouss, slowed to 80 miles per hour as they fell in behind a slower moving Ferrari, and the young Prince had the chauffeur pull over, took over the driver's seat, and swiftly passed the Ferrari.[36]

The young Aga Khan, who at times was followed by "telephoto maniacs" (i.e. paparazzi), discusses his privacy:

I take all sorts of precautions when I go out with friends. I have taught myself not to show any emotion in public places. I never sit next to a woman with whom the press is trying to link me. Here in Gstaad I go often to a bistro outside the village for a fondue because the proprietor will not let anyone take pictures in his establishment. I stopped going to certain Paris theaters because I discovered they were tipping off the press to my presence. I realize that I may seem extreme on the subject, but do not forget that my mail has been stolen and my servants bribed. Close personal friends have taken private snapshots of me in my home and then sold them to magazines. I have been blackmailed on the telephone. All I desire is to have my private life respected. Is that unreasonable?[36]

Marriages, divorces and children[edit]

The Aga Khan married his first wife, former British model Sarah ("Sally") Frances Croker-Poole, who assumed the name Begum Salimah Aga Khan, on October 22, 1969 (civil) and October 28, 1969 (religious), at his home (at that time) in Paris, France. The couple were married for 25 years, during which they had three children. Not many years into the marriage, the Aga Khan (potentially influenced by his father's history of marital infidelity[35]) engaged in multiple extramarital affairs,[41] greatly displeasing Begum Salimah.[41] By 1984, the Aga Khan and Begum Salimah took to separate lives.[41] However, their marriage did not officially end by divorce until eleven years later, in 1995. The Aga Khan agreed to pay £20 million in a divorce settlement, and Begum Salimah sold jewels she received as gifts, including the Begum Blue diamond, for £17.5 million.[41][42][43] The Aga Khan and Begum Salimah had one daughter and two sons together:

The Aga Khan married for the second time with Gabriele zu Leiningen, who assumed the name Begum Inaara Aga Khan, at his walled compound and chateau, Aiglemont, in Gouvieux, France, on May 30, 1998. However, a little over six years later – on October 8, 2004 – an announcement was made that the Aga Khan and Begum Inaara were to seek a divorce.[44][45] Court documents revealed their relationship irretrievably broke down within just two years of their wedding.[46] Court documents also revealed that Begum Inaara (like the Aga Khan's previous wife, Begum Salimah) claimed the Aga Khan had engaged in an extramarital affair while married. Specifically, Begum Inaara argued that her husband had been involved in an affair with an air hostess.[47] In September 2011, a divorce settlement was reached in French courts (where the Aga Khan had divorce proceedings successfully moved to from Britain and where civil settlements are comparatively far lower)[48] and Begum Inaara was to receive a settlement amount of €60 million - overturning a lower court ruling of one-fifth of this amount, after the upper court overseeing the settlement found the Aga Khan exclusively at fault for adultery.[47][49] It was revealed in the court that Begum Inaara had hired a private detective to track the Aga Khan's movements with the air hostess. An intra-marriage liaison of the Aga Khan with Beatrice von der Schulenburg, the divorced wife of an English recruitment company head, whom the Aga Khan has been close to for five years and whom it was expected the Aga Khan could marry following completion divorce proceedings, was also highlighted by the Begum's lawyers.[47] The divorce settlement amount was agreed to by both the Aga Khan and the Begum in March 2014.[49] By Begum Inaara, the Aga Khan has a son:

  • Prince Aly Muhammad Aga Khan (born March 7, 2000)

Ascension to Nizari Ismaili Imamat[edit]

Following the death of his grandfather the Aga Khan III, Prince Karim, at the age of 20, became the 49th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis and Aga Khan IV, bypassing his father, Prince Aly Khan, and his uncle, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who were in direct line to succession. In his will, the Aga Khan III explained the rationale for choosing his eldest grandson as his successor (which marked the first time in the claimed history of the Nizari Ismaili chain of Imamat that a grandson of the preceding Imam – instead of one of the sons of the preceding Imam – was made the next Imam):

In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world has provoked many changes, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Nizari Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on life to his office.[50]

In light of his grandfather's will, the Aga Khan IV has sometimes been referred to by Nizari Ismailis as the "Imam of the Atomic Age."[51] The will of the Aga Khan III added that the next Aga Khan, in the first several years of his Imamat, should look to the Aga Khan III's widow for guidance on general matters pertaining to the Imamat:

I DESIRE that my successor shall, during the first seven years of his Imamat, be guided on questions of general Imamat Policy, by my said wife, Yvette called Yve Blanche Labrousse Om Habibeh, the BEGUM AGA KHAN, who has been familiar for many years with the problems facing my followers, and in whose wise judgment, I place the greatest confidence.[52]

Nizari Ismaili Imamat[edit]

Aga Khan IV receiving a gift of Trinitite, residue from the first nuclear bomb detonation, while visiting the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1959.

Upon taking the position of Imam, the Aga Khan IV stated that he intended to continue the work his grandfather had pursued in building modern institutions to improve the quality of life of the Nizari Ismailis[citation needed]. Takht nashini (installation of the new Imam) ceremonies occurred at several locations over the course of 1957 and 1958. During this time, the Aga Khan emphasised to his followers the importance of fostering positive relations with different ethnicities[citation needed] – a message highly appropriate considering the racially tense atmosphere in East Africa at the time between blacks and South Asians. During the Aga Khan's installation ceremonies in the Indian subcontinent, the Aga Khan stressed his commitment to improving the standard of living of Nizari Ismailis and encouraged co-operation with individuals of other religions[citation needed]. The main themes that the Aga Khan emphasised to his community during these first few months of his Imamat were material development, education, interracial harmony, and confidence in religion[citation needed].

In 1972, under the regime of President Idi Amin of Uganda, people of South Asian origin, including Nizari Ismailis, were expelled. The South Asians, some who of whose families had lived in Uganda for over 100 years, were given 90 days to leave the country.[53] The Aga Khan phoned his long-time friend Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau's government agreed to allow thousands of Nizari Ismailis to immigrate to Canada.[54] The Aga Khan also undertook urgent steps to facilitate the resettlement of Nizari Ismailis displaced from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Burma, to other countries[citation needed]. Most of these Nizari Ismailis found new homes in Asia, Europe and North America[citation needed]. Most of the initial resettlement problems were overcome remarkably rapidly by Nizari Ismailis due to their educational backgrounds and high rates of literacy[citation needed], as well as the efforts of the Aga Khan and the host countries, and moral and material support from Nizari Ismaili community programs.

The Aga Khan has encouraged Nizari Ismailis settled in the industrialised world to contribute towards the progress of communities in the developing world through various development programs[citation needed]. He has described his role as Imam as being partly to uplift the material and spiritual wellbeing of Nizari Ismailis – a duty which requires an understanding of Nizari Ismailis in the context of their geographic location and their time.[34] He elaborated on this concept in a 2006 speech in Germany, saying "The role and responsibility of an Imam, therefore, is both to interpret the faith to the community, and also to do all within his means to improve the quality, and security, of their daily lives and the people with whom Ismailis share their lives."[55] This engagement of the Aga Khan with Nizari Ismailis is said to extend to the people with whom the Nizari Ismailis share their lives, locally and internationally.[56]

The Aga Khan is one of several Shia signatories of the Amman Message which gives a broad foundation for defining those denominations of Islam that should be considered as part of the wider Muslim Ummah.[57]

During the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, he said:

I have two reactions to the pope's lecture: There is my concern about the degradation of relations and, at the same time, I see an opportunity. A chance to talk about a serious, important issue: the relationship between religion and logic.[58]

When the Aga Khan IV was asked about his view on the consumption of alcohol in a 1965 interview with the Sunday Times, he said, in line with Muslim teaching:[59]

Our belief is that the thing which separates man from the animals is his power of thought. Anything that impedes this process is wrong. Therefore alcohol is forbidden. I have never touched alcohol. But this, to me, is not a puritan prohibition. I don't want to drink. I've never wanted to drink. There's no pressure being placed on me by my religion.

Divine nature of the Imam in Nizari Ismailism[edit]

During the time of the 46th, 47th, and 48th Imams (Aga Khan I, Aga Khan II, and Aga Khan III) of the Nizari Ismaili community, respectively – and particularly prior to the creation of the independent country of Pakistan (a major hub for Nizari Ismailis) in 1947 – virtually all available sources of information indicated that the position of the Imam in Nizari Ismailism was that of the incarnation of God and/or the manifestation of God.[60][61] According to the 1866 Khoja Case (also known as the "Aga Khan Case"),[62] presided over by Justice Sir Joseph Arnould in the High Court of Bombay, and where the Aga Khan I served as defendant, the Imam was described as " incarnation of God..." to his community of followers. This assertion was reaffirmed in the 1908 Haji Bibi Case,[63] presided over by Mr. Justice Russell in the High Court of Bombay, where the Aga Khan III served as defendant. In this latter case, the Imam was referenced by virtue of the thrice daily main prayer of the Nizari Ismaili community, the Holy Du'a, as:

...God, the High, the Great, the Merciful, the Magnanimous, the Good, the Great Holy Providence (Who is) in the district of Chaldea, in Persia, in human form, descended from the seventy-seven Patras (ancestors) and who is the forty-eighth Imam (Spiritual Chief) the tenth Naklanki Avatar, our Master, Aga Sultan Mahomed Shah [the given name of Aga Khan III], the Giver.

Note: The word Naklanki or Nakalanki means the stainless one, and it is a name of the tenth avatar originally identified with Ali.[16]

It was also revealed in the Haji Bibi case that the Holy Du'a had gone unchanged since the time of the 46th Imam (Aga Khan I), other than for accounting for changes in the name of the Imam as one passed and a new one was introduced.[63] Additionally, the Aga Khan III wrote in a public letter entitled "I Belong to No Country," in 1934, that:

I am a direct descendant of the Prophet and a large number of Muhammadans numbering about 20 millions acknowledge me as their head. They pay me tribute and worship me, who have the blood of the Prophet in my vein.[64]

In the mid-20th century, Norman Lewis wrote, "The Aga Khan is the spiritual and temporal head of the sect and possesses attributes of divinity."[65] Meanwhile, in a paper discussing the theology of East African followers of the Aga Khan, H.S Morris quotes a Nizari Ismaili who was living in East Africa and educated in England, but had never visited India, as saying:

Our Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is like your Jesus Christ. Even Hindus believe that God will never leave the world deserted, we believe that God, that is Vishnu, descended to earth in Ali [as the Tenth Avatar] and has never left us. When the Imam dies the Light moves on to his son: it follows like the sacred blood—like the King. The King never dies.[14]

However, since a certain number of undefined years after the formation of the independent country of Pakistan (a major hub for Nizari Ismailis, as indicated earlier) in 1947, and particularly since the advent of the 49th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis, the Aga Khan IV, in 1957, the bulk of the public information available on the position of the Imam in Nizari Ismailism indicates that the position may be viewed as 'less divine' than during the lives of previous Nizari Ismaili Imams – or, even, not divine altogether. For instance, in 1967, Thomas Thompson, of Life Magazine (now Time Magazine) wrote: "His [Karim Aga Khan's] authority is roughly analogous to that of the Pope in Roman Catholicism, and he is considered the only mediator between his people and God. The Aga Khan is not considered divine."[66] Additionally, in response to a December 1983 Life Magazine article, the Aga Khan IV's representatives stated that it was incorrect for Life Magazine to interpret him as either "a living god," or as a "spokesman for Allah."[67] The same response stated that the oneness and uniqueness of Allah (compared to Allah's creation), Tawheed, is a fundamental principle of Islam. Additionally, in 1987, while writing how the Aga Khans III and IV had modified Khoja Nizari Ismaili religious practices, which contained "mystical-Indian" Hindu aspects, to conform more with "prophetic-Arabic" Islamic practices, Ali S. Asani noted that the Khoja group of Nizari Ismailis accepted the changes in part because of their strong belief and trust in the guidance offered by their "divinely-appointed" Imam.[16]

There may be a difference between the publicised position of the Imam in Nizari Ismailism, as per the present Aga Khan and his representatives, versus the position he occupies in the private worship services of Nizari Ismailis (which are not open to the public nor other Muslims). For instance, a report was issued at the 1975 Ismailia Association Conference – a meeting of the Aga Khan with senior Nizari Ismaili council leaders from several countries – to address the question of the divinity of the Imam. It mentioned: "The Imam to be explained as the 'mazhar' [meaning 'manifestation' or 'reflection'] of God, and the relationship between God and the Imam to be related to varying levels of inspiration and communication from God to man."[68]

Multiple prominent Nizari Ismaili websites have publicly indicated that the position of Imam is that of the bearer of a unique concept, common to certain denominations of Shia Islam, referred to as (the eternal) Noor of Allah ("Light of God").[69][70] It is unclear whether the Noor of Allah is a portion of God that the Aga Khan is believed by Nizari Ismailis to bear, or the same as God. The Encyclopedia of Ismailism, by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin, a Nizari Ismaili, states that: "The Imam is the mazhar (manifestation) of God on earth as the electric bulb is a device of manifestation of electricity, which itself is invisible. The bulb plays the same role as the body of the Imam. Thus, the Imam is held to be the manifestation of the divine light, which is ever-present in the world."[71] Additionally, Alnaz Jiwa, a Toronto lawyer who describes himself as a "devout" Nizari Ismaili,[72] compared the Aga Khan's role in Nizari Ismailism to that of Jesus in Christianity, as part of motions involving the Aga Khan Copyright Lawsuit in the Federal Court of Canada in August 2010.[73] Thus, multiple sources that come from inside the Nizari Ismaili community strongly indicate that the Aga Khan IV is viewed by Nizari Ismailis as a manifestation of God, or as having a portion of God inside of him (and thereby being divine) – as was the case with his grandfather (based on available historical information), the Aga Khan III. This is despite the Aga Khan IV's own indications to the contrary in the public eye.[74] However, one should be aware of that in many esoterical islamic sects, being the Noor of God does not indicate being a literal, direct incarnation of God, but only of being blessed and manifesting the divine light of Allah (and not of literally being Allah).[75][76][77]

Silver Jubilee Year of Imamat[edit]

From 11 July 1982 to 11 July 1983 – to celebrate the present Aga Khan's Silver Jubilee, marking the 25th anniversary of his accession to the Imamat – many new social and economic development projects were launched[citation needed]. These range from the establishment of the US$450 million international Aga Khan University with its Faculty of Health Sciences and teaching hospital based in Karachi[citation needed], the expansion of schools for girls and medical centres in the Hunza region[citation needed] (one of the remote parts of Northern Pakistan bordering on China and Afghanistan that is densely populated with Nizari Ismailis), to the establishment of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program[citation needed] in Gujarat, India – and the extension of existing urban hospitals and primary health care centres in Tanzania and Kenya[citation needed].

Golden Jubilee Year of Imamat[edit]

11 July 2007 to 13 December 2008 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Aga Khan's reign of Imamat (Golden Jubilee). On this occasion, leaders representing Nizari Ismailis from different areas of the world gathered at the Aga Khan's residence to pay homage to the Imam[citation needed]. As part of the Golden Jubilee, the Aga Khan made official visits to various countries – using the visits to recognise the friendship and longstanding support of certain leaders of state, government, and others, to the Aga Khan and his Nizari Ismaili community, as well as to lay the foundations for certain future initiatives and programmes.[78] Areas of the world visited included the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Aga Khan also organised a Nizari Ismaili sports meet in Kenya, and teams of Nizari Ismailis from different areas of the world came to play in this event.[79]

Aga Khan Development Network[edit]

The Aga Khan is founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the largest private development networks in the world,[citation needed] which coordinates the activities of over 200 agencies and institutions, employing approximately 80,000 paid staff, the majority of whom are based in developing countries[citation needed]. Its partners include numerous governments and several international organisations. AKDN agencies operate in the fields of health, education, culture, rural development, institution-building and the promotion of economic development, with special focus on countries of the Third World. It is dedicated to improving living conditions and opportunities for the poor, without regard to their faith, origin or sex[citation needed]. The AKDN’s annual budget for non-profit development activities in 2010 was approximately US$625 million[citation needed]. The network operates in more than 35 of the poorest countries in the world[citation needed].

AKDN includes the Aga Khan University (AKU), the University of Central Asia (UCA), the for-profit Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES), the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS), and the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM). One of the companies that the AKFED is the main shareholder of is the famous Serena Hotels Group[80] – a chain of luxury hotels and resorts primarily located in Africa and Asia. Despite the Qur'anic prohibition on alcohol (a prohibition that is accepted by Nizari Ismailis[59]), many of Serena's properties have bars and serve alcohol to guests – including in Muslim nations like Pakistan.[81] The Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA)is the largest architectural award in the world[citation needed]. The Aga Khan is also the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, which he founded in 1977[citation needed]. He is also a Vice-President of the Royal Commonwealth Society[citation needed].

Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), an affiliate of the AKDN, is responsible for emergency response in the face of disaster. Recent disasters that FOCUS was involved in helping address include the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan (AKDN earthquake response) and the South Asian Tsunami[citation needed].

Significant recent or current projects that are related to development and that are being led by the Aga Khan include the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat and the Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP) in Ottawa, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, the Al-Azhar Park ([2]) in Cairo, the Bagh-e Babur restoration in Kabul, and a network of full IB residential schools known as the Aga Khan Academies (AKA).

The Aga Khan has expressed concern about the work of the AKDN being described as philanthropy. In his address to the Tutzing Evangelical Academy in Germany, he described this concern:

Reflecting a certain historical tendency of the West to separate the secular from the religious, they often describe [the work of the AKDN] either as philanthropy or entrepreneurship. What is not understood is that this work is for us a part of our institutional responsibility – it flows from the mandate of the office of Imam to improve the quality of worldly life for the concerned communities.[55]

Promotion of Islamic architecture[edit]

In 1977, the Aga Khan established the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, an award recognising excellence in architecture that encompasses contemporary design and social, historical, and environmental considerations. It is the largest architectural award in the world and is granted triennially.[citation needed] The award grew out of the Aga Khan’s desire to revitalise creativity in Islamic societies and acknowledge creative solutions for buildings facilities and public spaces[citation needed]. The prize winner is selected by an independent master jury convened for each cycle[citation needed].

In 1979, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA), which is supported by an endowment from Aga Khan. These programs provide degree courses, public lectures, and conferences for the study of Islamic architecture and urbanism. Understanding contemporary conditions and developmental issues are key components of the academic program.[82] The program engages in research at both institutions and students can graduate with a Master of Science of Architectural Studies specialising in the Aga Khan program from MIT's Department of Architecture.[citation needed]

Personal finances[edit]

Forbes describes the Aga Khan as one of the world's ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million (2009).[83] Additionally he is unique among the richest royals as he does not preside over a geographic territory.[2] He owns hundreds of racehorses, valuable stud farms, an exclusive yacht club on Sardinia,[18] a private island in the Bahamas, two Bombardier jets, a £100 million high speed yacht named after his prize racehorse Alamshar,[20] and several estates around the world, including an estate called Aiglemont at Gouvieux, north of Paris. He founded the Kenyan media company Nation Media Group.[84] His philanthropic institutions, funded by his followers, spend more than $600 million per year – primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.[22]

The Aga Khan is and has been involved in other business ventures such as luxury hotels. In the 1990s, the Aga Khan had a group of $400 a night Italian luxury hotels, called Ciga. Currently the Aga Khan, through his for-profit AKFED, is the largest shareholder in the Serena Hotels chain.[85] The Aga Khan's racing horse businesses bring in considerable income.[86] He owns and operates the largest horse racing and breeding operation in France, the French horse auction house, Arqana, Gilltown Stud near Kilcullen in Ireland, and other breeding/stud farms in Europe.[86]

In 2009, it was noted by Forbes that the Aga Khan's net worth was US$800 million – after a decline of $200 million over the course of the previous year.[83]

Thoroughbred horse racing[edit]

At his self-titled estate Aiglemont, in the town of Gouvieux in the Picardy region of France – about 4 kilometres west of the Chantilly Racecourse – the Aga Khan operates the largest horse racing and breeding operation in the country.[citation needed] In 1977, he paid £1.3 million for the bloodstock owned by Anna Dupré and in 1978, £4.7 million for the bloodstock of the late Marcel Boussac.[87]

The Aga Khan is said to be the France’s most influential owner-breeder and record winner of The Prix de Diane, sometimes referred to as the French Oaks.[88]

The Aga Khan owns Gilltown Stud near Kilcullen, Ireland, and the Haras de Bonneval breeding farm at Le Mesnil-Mauger in France. In March 2005, he purchased the famous Calvados stud farms, the Haras d'Ouilly in Pont-d'Ouilly and the Haras de Val-Henry in Livarot.[citation needed] Haras d'Ouilly had been owned by such famous horsemen as the Duc Decazes, François Dupré and Jean-Luc Lagardère.[citation needed]

In 2006 the Aga Khan became the majority shareholder of French horse auction house Arqana.[86]

On 27 October 2009 it was announced that Sea The Stars, regarded by many as one of the greatest racehorses of all time, would stand stud at the Aga Khan's Gilltown Stud in Ireland.[89]

On 5 November 2013, one of Aga Khan's horses - Verema - fractured its right fore cannon[90] and was put down at the Melbourne Cup, Australia.

Yacht Alamshar[edit]

The Aga Khan IV commissioned a 164-foot yacht, named Alamshar, with a price tag of £100 million. The yacht is named after a prized racehorse of his, and was supposed to have a top speed of 60 knots as part of his hope of setting a new transatlantic speed record. However, the yacht only reached a top speed of 30 knots in its initial trials.[20]

Titles, styles and honours[edit]

Styles of
The Aga Khan
Reference style His Highness
Spoken style Your Highness
Alternative style Sir

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 1936–1957: Prince Karim Aga Khan
  • From 1957: His Highness the Aga Khan IV
  • From 1959: His Royal Highness the Aga Khan IV

The title Prince(ss) is used by the Aga Khans and their children by virtue of their descent from Shah Fath Ali Shah of the Persian Qajar dynasty. The title was officially recognised by the British government in 1938.[91]

Author Farhad Daftary wrote of how the honorific title 'Aga Khan' (from agha and khan) was first given to Aga Khan I at the age of thirteen after the murder of his father: "At the same time, the Qajar monarch bestowed on him the honorific title (laqab) of Agha Khan (less commonly but more correctly transcribed as Aqa Khan), meaning lord and master." Daftary additionally commented, "The title of Agha Khan remained hereditary amongst his successors."[3] On the other hand, in a legal proceeding, the Aga Khan III noted that 'Aga Khan' is not a title, but, instead a sort of alias or "pet name" that was given to Aga Khan I when he was a young man.[63]

The style of 'His Highness' was formally granted to the Aga Khan IV by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 upon the death of his grandfather Aga Khan III.[92] The granting of the title to the Aga Khan IV was preceded by a strong expressed desire of the Aga Khan III to see the British monarchy award the non-hereditary title to his successor.[52][52] The style of His Royal Highness was granted in 1959 to the Aga Khan IV by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, later overthrown in the Iranian Revolution of 1979,[93] but he uses instead His Highness.[94][95][96] Over the years, the Aga Khan has received numerous honours, honorary degrees, and awards.


Honorary degrees[edit]



See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

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External links[edit]