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Aga Khan

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His Royal Highness Prince Aga Khan of the Imamate of the Nizari Ismāʿīli Shias
Persian: آقاخان
Arabic: آغا خان
The current Aga Khan, pictured in 2014
Shah Karim al-Husseini
since 11 July 1957
StyleHis Highness
First monarchHasan Ali Shah

Aga Khan (Persian: آقاخان, Arabic: آغا خان; also transliterated as Aqa Khan and Agha Khan)[1] is a title held by the Imām of the Nizari Ismāʿīli Shias. Since 1957, the holder of the title has been the 49th Imām, Prince Shah Karim al-Husseini, Aga Khan IV (born 1936). Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of Muhammad, the last prophet according to the religion of Islam.[2]


The title is made up of the titles "agha" and "khan". The Turkish "agha" is "aqa" (Āqā) in Persian. The word "agha" comes from the Old Turkic and Mongolian "aqa", meaning "elder men",[3][4] and means something like "master" or "lord." "Khan" means king or ruler in Turkish and Mongolian languages.[5]

According to Farhad Daftary,[6] a scholar of the Isma'ili movement, Aga Khan[7][8] is an honorific title bestowed on Hasan Ali Shah (1800–1881), the 46th Imām of Nizari Ismai'lis (1817–1881), by the Iranian king Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.[9] However, Daftary apparently contradicts what the Aga Khan III noted in a famous legal proceeding in India: that Aga Khan is not a title but instead an alias that was given to the Aga Khan I when he was a young man.[8][10]


During the latter stages of the First Anglo-Afghan War (1841–1842), Hasan Ali Shah and his cavalry officers provided assistance to General Nott in Kandahar Province and to General England in his advance from Sindh to join Nott.[citation needed] For these and for other diligent efforts made by him in the service of the Empire, the British Raj recognised him as a "Prince". This title was less extraordinary in that time and place than it seems today, because the British while consolidating their hold on India, had been handing out similar titles liberally to any large landowner or tribal chieftain with local influence who made himself useful to them.

The Aga Khan was exceptional in that, while it was the local tribal influence that had enabled him to serve the British and gain their favour, his claim to nobility was based upon his claim to leadership of an entire sect of Islam. Imperial Britain saw great possibilities in having under their control and patronage the head of a major Shia sect; it could even be used at some later stage to counterbalance the influence of the Ottoman Caliph, the head of Islam as recognized by the Sunni sects. The Aga Khan was the only religious or community leader in British India granted a personal gun salute.[11]

When Hasan Ali Shah, the first Aga Khan, came to Sindh (which is now in Pakistan) from Afghanistan, he and his army were welcomed by Mir Nasir Khan Noori of Baluchistan.[citation needed] In 1866, 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. The Aga Khan is also the Pir within the Nizari Ismaili community.

The Bombay High Court decision of 1866 recognized Aga Khan I as the hereditary Imām of Isma'ilis.[12]

In 1887, the Secretary of State for India, acting through the Viceroy of India, formally recognized the title Aga Khan.[13]

List of Aga Khans[edit]

Four Ismāʿīli imāms have held this title:

  • Aga Khan I – Hasan Ali Shah Mahallati (1804–1881), 46th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (1817–1881)
  • Aga Khan II – Shah Ali Shah (about 1830–1885), 47th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (12 April 1881 – August 1885)
  • Aga Khan III – Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah (1877–1957), 48th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (17 August 1885 – 11 July 1957)
  • Aga Khan IV – Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini (born 1936), 49th Imam of Nizari Ismailis (11 July 1957 – present)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daftary, Farhad (2007). The Ismāʻı̄lı̄s: their history and doctrines (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-35561-5.
  2. ^ Compagna, Lawrence (6 March 2019). Genealogy: Tools, Tricks and Tips for putting together your family tree. Candco Publishing, a division of the Candco Corporation.
  3. ^ "the definition of aga". Dictionary.com. Archived from the original on 7 July 2016. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  4. ^ "imla". www.nisanyansozluk.com. Archived from the original on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  5. ^ Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge University Press. p. 367.
  6. ^ "The Institute of Ismaili Studies". Archived from the original on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  7. ^ Daftary, Farhad (2011), "A Modern History of the Ismailis: Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community", I.B. Tauris & Co., 416 p., pp. 1–2 Archived 31 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine ISBN 978-1845117177
  8. ^ a b (...) H.H. the Aga Khan 'who is known amongst his followers by the following names: "Hazarat Mowlana Dhani Salamat Datar, Pir Salamat, Sarkar Saheb, Huzur Pur Nur, Dhani Salamat, Hazar Imam, Dhani Pir, Aga Khan." '
  9. ^ Daftary, Farhad (2004). Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography Of Sources And Studies. Institute of Ismaili Studies. ISBN 978-1-850-43439-9.
  10. ^ Russell, Justice. "Haji Bibi vs H.H. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, 1 September 1908". indiankanoon.org. Indian Kanoon. Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Table of Personal Salutes, 11 Gun Salutes". The India Office and Burma Office List for 1945: 43. 1945. Table of Personal Salutes, Salutes of 11 Guns
  12. ^ Ricardo., Cole, Juan (1989). Roots of north indian shīʻism in Iran and Iraq : religion and state in Awadh, 1722-1859. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-562326-6. OCLC 25380111.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Vankwani, Dr Ramesh Kumar (14 June 2017). "The Aga Khan's legacy". The News International. Retrieved 2 June 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Les Agas Khans", Yann Kerlau, Perrin 2004