Aga Khan III

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Aga Khan III
HH the AGA KHAN 1936.jpg
Aga Khan III in 1936
48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili religion.
Preceded byAga Khan II
Succeeded byAga Khan IV
Member (later President) of the Assembly of The League of Nations
In office
2nd President of the All-India Muslim League
In office
1906 – (not known)
Preceded byKhwaja Salimullah
Born(1877-11-02)2 November 1877[1]
Died11 July 1957(1957-07-11) (aged 79)[1]
Versoix, near Geneva, Switzerland
Resting placeMausoleum of Aga Khan, Aswan, Egypt
ReligionShia Islam
  • Shahzadi Begum
  • Cleope Teresa Magliano
  • Andrée Joséphine Carron
  • Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan (birth name, Yvonne Blanche Labrousse)
SchoolNizari Ismaili
Other namesSultan Mahomed Shah
Senior posting
Post48th Nizari Imām

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III GCSI GCMG GCIE GCVO PC (2 November 1877 – 11 July 1957) was the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili sect of Islam. He was one of the founders and the first permanent president of the All-India Muslim League (AIML). His goal was the advancement of Muslim agendas and protection of Muslim rights in India. The League, until the late 1930s, was not a large organisation but represented the landed and commercial Muslim interests of the British-ruled 'United Provinces' (as of today Uttar Pradesh).[2] He shared Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's belief that Muslims should first build up their social capital through advanced education before engaging in politics. Aga Khan called on the British Raj to consider Muslims to be a separate nation within India, the so-called 'Two Nation Theory'. Even after he resigned as president of the AIML in 1912, he still exerted major influence on its policies and agendas. He was nominated to represent India to the League of Nations in 1932 and served as President of the League of Nations from 1937 to 1938.[3]

Early life[edit]

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was born in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province in British India, (now Pakistan) to Aga Khan II and his third wife,[4] Nawab A'lia Shamsul-Muluk, who was a granddaughter of Fath Ali Shah of Persia (Qajar dynasty).

He attended Eton and the University of Cambridge.[5]


In 1885, at the age of seven, he succeeded his father as Imam of the Shi'a Isma'ili Muslims.[1][3]

The Aga Khan travelled in distant parts of the world to receive the homage of his followers, and with the objective either of settling differences or of advancing their welfare by financial help and personal advice and guidance. The distinction of a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) was conferred upon him by Queen Victoria in 1897; and he was promoted to a Knight Grand Commander (GCIE) in the 1902 Coronation Honours list,[6][7] and invested as such by King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace on 24 October 1902.[8] He was made a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI) by George V (1912), and appointed a GCMG in 1923. He received like recognition for his public services from the German Emperor, the Sultan of Turkey, the Shah of Persia and other potentates.[9]

In 1906, the Aga Khan was a founding member and first president of the All India Muslim League, a political party which pushed for the creation of an independent Muslim nation in the north west regions of India, then under British colonial rule, and later established the country of Pakistan in 1947.

During the three Round Table Conferences (India) in London from 1930 to 1932, he played an important role to bring about Indian constitutional reforms.[1]

In 1934, he was made a member of the Privy Council and served as a member of the League of Nations (1934–37), becoming the President of the League of Nations in 1937.[3]


Under the leadership of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, the first half of the 20th century was a period of significant development for the Ismā'īlī community. Numerous institutions for social and economic development were established in the Indian Subcontinent and in East Africa.[10] Ismailis have marked the Jubilees of their Imāms with public celebrations, which are symbolic affirmations of the ties that link the Ismāʿīlī Imām and his followers. Although the Jubilees have no religious significance, they serve to reaffirm the Imamat's worldwide commitment to the improvement of the quality of human life, especially in the developing countries.[10]

The Jubilees of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, are well remembered. During his 72 years of Imamat (1885–1957), the community celebrated his Golden (1937), Diamond (1946) and Platinum (1954) Jubilees. To show their appreciation and affection, the Ismā'īliyya weighed their Imam in gold, diamonds and, symbolically, in platinum, respectively, the proceeds of which were used to further develop major social welfare and development institutions in Asia and Africa.

In India and later in Pakistan, social development institutions were established, in the words of Aga Khan III, "for the relief of humanity". They included institutions such as the Diamond Jubilee Trust and the Platinum Jubilee Investments Limited which in turn assisted the growth of various types of cooperative societies. Diamond Jubilee High School for Girls were established throughout the remote Northern Areas of what is now Pakistan. In addition, scholarship programs, established at the time of the Golden Jubilee to give assistance to needy students, were progressively expanded. In East Africa, major social welfare and economic development institutions were established. Those involved in social welfare included the accelerated development of schools and community centres, and a modern, fully equipped hospital in Nairobi. Among the economic development institutions established in East Africa were companies such as the Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust (now Diamond Trust of Kenya) and the Jubilee Insurance Company, which are quoted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and have become major players in national development.

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah also introduced organizational forms that gave Ismāʿīlī communities the means to structure and regulate their own affairs.[10] These were built on the Muslim tradition of a communitarian ethic on the one hand, and responsible individual conscience with freedom to negotiate one's own moral commitment and destiny on the other. In 1905 he ordained the first Ismā'īlī Constitution for the social governance of the community in East Africa. The new administration for the Community's affairs was organised into a hierarchy of councils at the local, national, and regional levels. The constitution also set out rules in such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance, guidelines for mutual cooperation and support among Ismā'īlīs, and their interface with other communities. Similar constitutions were promulgated in India, and all were periodically revised to address emerging needs and circumstances in diverse settings.[10]

In 1905, the Aga Khan was involved in the Haji Bibi case, where he was questioned about the origin of his followers. In his response, in addition to enumerating his followers in Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Syria and other places, he also noted that “In Hindustan and Africa there are many Guptis who believe in me…I consider them Shi’i Imami Ismailis; by caste they are Hindus”.[11]

Following the Second World War, far-reaching social, economic and political changes profoundly affected a number of areas where Ismāʿīlīs resided. In 1947, British rule in the Indian Subcontinent was replaced by the sovereign, independent nations of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh, resulting in the migration of millions people and significant loss of life and property. In the Middle East, the Suez crisis of 1956 as well as the preceding crisis in Iran, demonstrated the sharp upsurge of nationalism, which was as assertive of the region's social and economic aspirations as of its political independence. Africa was also set on its course to decolonisation, swept by what Harold Macmillan, the then British prime minister, termed the "wind of change". By the early 1960s, most of East and Central Africa, where the majority of the Ismāʿīlī population on the continent resided, including Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire, had attained their political independence.

Religious and social views[edit]

The Aga Khan was deeply influenced by the views of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan.[12] Along with Sir Sayyid, the Aga Khan was one of the backers and founders of the Aligarh University, for which he tirelessly raised funds and to which he donated large sums of his own money.[13] The Aga Khan himself can be considered an Islamic modernist and an intellectual of the Aligarh movement.[14]

From a religious standpoint, the Aga Khan followed a modernist approach to Islam.[14] He believed there to be no contradiction between religion and modernity, and urged Muslims to embrace modernity.[15] Although he opposed a wholesale replication of Western society by Muslims, the Aga Khan did believe increased contact with the West would be overall beneficial to Muslim society.[16] He was intellectually open to Western philosophy and ideas, and believed engagement with them could lead to a revival and renaissance within Islamic thought.[16]

Like many other Islamic modernists, the Aga Khan held a low opinion of the traditional religious establishment (the ʿUlamāʾ) as well as what he saw as their rigid formalism, legalism, and literalism.[17] Instead, he advocated for renewed ijtihād (independent reasoning) and ijmāʿ (consensus), the latter of which he understood in a modernist way to mean consensus-building.[18] According to him, Muslims should go back to the original sources, especially the Qurʾān, in order to discover the true essence and spirit of Islam.[18] Once the principles of the faith were discovered, they would be seen to be universal and modern.[19] Islam, in his view, had an underlying liberal and democratic spirit.[20] He also called for full civil and religious liberties,[21] peace and disarmament, and an end to all wars.[22]

The Aga Khan opposed sectarianism, which he believed to sap the strength and unity of the Muslim community.[23] In specific, he called for a rapprochement between Sunnism and Shīʿism.[24] This did not mean that he thought religious differences would go away, and he himself instructed his Ismāʿīlī followers to be dedicated to their own teachings.[25] However, he believed in unity through accepting diversity, and by respecting differences of opinion.[25][26] On his view, there was strength to be found in the diversity of Muslim traditions.[27]

The Aga Khan called for social reform of Muslim society, and he was able to implement them within his own Ismāʿīlī community.[28] As he believed Islam to essentially be a humanitarian religion, the Aga Khan called for the reduction and eradication of poverty.[29] Like Sir Sayyid, the Aga Khan was concerned that Muslims had fallen behind the Hindu community in terms of education.[30] According to him, education was the path to progress.[31] He was a tireless advocate for compulsory and universal primary education,[32] and also for the creation of higher institutions of learning.[33]

In terms of women's rights, the Aga Khan was more progressive in his views than Sir Sayyid and many other Islamic modernists of his time.[34] The Aga Khan framed his pursuit of women's rights not simply in the context of women being better mothers or wives, but rather, for women's own benefit.[35] He endorsed the spiritual equality of men and women in Islam, and he also called for full political equality.[36] This included the right to vote[36][37] and the right to an education.[38] In regards to the latter issue, he endorsed compulsory primary education for girls.[39] He also encouraged women to pursue higher university-level education,[38] and saw nothing wrong with co-educational institutions.[40] Whereas Sir Sayyid prioritized the education of boys over girls, the Aga Khan instructed his followers that if they had a son and daughter, and if they could only afford to send one of them to school, they should send the daughter over the boy.[41]

The Aga Khan campaigned against the institution of purda and zenāna, which he felt were oppressive and un-Islamic institutions.[42] He completely banned the purda and the face veil for his Ismāʿīlī followers.[43] The Aga Khan also restricted polygamy, encouraged marriage to widows, and banned child marriage.[42] He also made marriage and divorce laws more equitable to women.[42] Overall, he encouraged women to take part in all national activities and to agitate for their full religious, social, and political rights.[36]

Today, in large part due to the Aga Khan's reforms, the Ismāʿīlī community is one of the most progressive, peaceful, and prosperous branches of Islam.[44]

Racehorse ownership and equestrianism[edit]

He was an owner of thoroughbred racing horses, including a record equalling five winners of The Derby (Blenheim, Bahram, Mahmoud, My Love, Tulyar) and a total of sixteen winners of British Classic Races. He was British flat racing Champion Owner thirteen times. According to Ben Pimlott, biographer of Queen Elizabeth II, the Aga Khan presented Her Majesty with a filly called Astrakhan, who won at Hurst Park Racecourse in 1950.

In 1926, the Aga Khan gave a cup (the Aga Khan Trophy) to be awarded to the winners of an international team show jumping competition held at the annual horse show of the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland every first week in August.[45] It attracts competitors from all of the main show jumping nations and is carried live on Irish national television.

Marriages and children[edit]

  • He married, on 2 November 1896, in Pune, India, Shahzadi Begum, his first cousin and a granddaughter of Aga Khan I.
  • He married 1908,[46] Cleope Teresa Magliano (1888–1926). They had two sons: Prince Giuseppe Mahdi Khan (d. February 1911) and Prince Aly Khan (1911–1960). She died in 1926, following an operation on 1 December 1926.[47]
  • He married, on 7 December 1929 (civil), in Aix-les-Bains, France, and 13 December 1929 (religious), in Bombay, India, Andrée Joséphine Carron (1898–1976). A co-owner of a dressmaking shop in Paris, she became known as Princess Andrée Aga Khan. By this marriage, he had one son, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933–2003).[48] The couple were divorced in 1943.[49]
  • He married, on 9 October 1944, in Geneva, Switzerland, Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan (Yvonne Blanche Labrousse) (15 February 1906 – 1 July 2000). According to an interview she gave to an Egyptian journalist, her first name was Yvonne, though she is referred to as Yvette in most published references. The daughter of a tram conductor and a dressmaker, she was working as the Aga Khan's social secretary at the time of their marriage. She converted to Islam and became known as Om Habibeh (Little Mother of the Beloved). In 1954, her husband bestowed upon her the title "Mata Salamat".[50]


He wrote a number of books and papers two of which are of immense importance, namely (1) India in Transition, about the prepartition politics of India and (2) The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time, his autobiography. The Aga Khan III proposed "the South Asiatic Federation[51]" in India in Transition that India might be re-organized into some states, and those states should have own automonies. He was the first person who designed a detail plan such a federation of India.

Mausoleum of Aga Khan – Aswan, Egypt.
Mausoleum of Aga Khan, on the Nile.

Death and succession[edit]

Aga Khan III was succeeded as Aga Khan by his grandson Karim Aga Khan, who is the present Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. At the time of his death on 11 July 1957, his family members were in Versoix. A solicitor brought the will of the Aga Khan III from London to Geneva and read it before the family:

"Ever since the time of my ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of thirteen hundred years, it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants, whether they be sons or remote male issue and in these circumstances and in view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interest of the Shia Muslim Ismailia 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 as Imam. For these reasons, I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my own son, Aly Salomone Khan to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to the Imam and Pir of all Shia Ismailian followers"

He is buried in at the Mausoleum of Aga Khan, on the Nile in Aswan, Egypt. 24°05′18″N 32°52′43″E / 24.088254°N 32.878722°E / 24.088254; 32.878722


Pakistan Post issued a special 'Birth Centenary of Agha Khan III' postage stamp in his honor in 1977.[52] Pakistan Post again issued a postage stamp in his honor in its 'Pioneers of Freedom' series in 1990.[3]



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  2. ^ John Keay (2001). India: A History. Grove Press. p. 468. ISBN 9780802137975.
  3. ^ a b c d "Agha Khan III". Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  4. ^ Daftary, Farhad (1990). The Ismā'īlīs: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 518. ISBN 0-521-42974-9.
  5. ^ "Aga Khan, Fashionable Londoner, Holds Enormous Power in Islam", The New York Times,8 July 1923, p. XX5.
  6. ^ "The Coronation Honours". The Times (36804). London. 26 June 1902. p. 5.
  7. ^ a b "No. 27448". The London Gazette. 26 June 1902. p. 4197.
  8. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36908). London. 25 October 1902. p. 8.
  9. ^ Bhownagree 1911.
  10. ^ a b c d Daftary, Farhad (1998). A Short History of the Ismailis. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 199–206. ISBN 0-7486-0687-4.
  11. ^ Virani, Shafique N. (February 2011). "Taqiyya and Identity in a South Asian Community". The Journal of Asian Studies. 70 (1): 99–139. doi:10.1017/S0021911810002974. ISSN 0021-9118. S2CID 143431047.
  12. ^ Purohit, Teena (2012). The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-674-06639-7.
  13. ^ Mukherjee, Soumen (2017). Ismailism and Islam in Modern South Asia: Community and Identity in the Age of Religious Internationals. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-1-107-15408-7.
  14. ^ a b The Shi'a in modern South Asia : religion, history and politics. Jones, Justin, 1980-, Qasmi, Ali Usman. Delhi, India. 5 May 2015. p. 53. ISBN 9781316258798. OCLC 927147288.CS1 maint: others (link)
  15. ^ Haider, Najam Iftikhar, 1974- (11 August 2014). Shi'i Islam : an introduction. New York, NY. p. 193. ISBN 9781107031432. OCLC 874557726.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ a b Aga Khan III, 1877-1957. (1998). Aga Khan III : selected speeches and writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah. Aziz, Khursheed Kamal. London: Kegan Paul International. p. 1067. ISBN 0710304277. OCLC 39678354.
  17. ^ Rattansi, Diamond (August 1981). "The Nizari Isma'ilis of Pakistan: Isma'ilism, Islam and Westernism Viewed Through the Firmans: 1936-1980". McGill University: 65.
  18. ^ a b Aga Khan III 1998, p. 1183
  19. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, pp. 1345-1346
  20. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 211
  21. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 876
  22. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 1415
  23. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, pp. 210, 803
  24. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 1184
  25. ^ a b Aga Khan III 1998, p. 1407
  26. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, pp. 842 & 1063
  27. ^ Rattansi 1981, p. 207
  28. ^ Voices of Islam. Cornell, Vincent J. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers. 2007. p. 235. ISBN 9780313051166. OCLC 230345942.CS1 maint: others (link)
  29. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 216
  30. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 235
  31. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 208
  32. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 217
  33. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, pp. 212-213
  34. ^ Khoja-Moolji, Shenila, 1982- (June 2018). Forging the ideal educated girl : the production of desirable subjects in Muslim South Asia. Oakland, California. p. 27. ISBN 9780520970533. OCLC 1022084628.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  35. ^ Khoja-Moolji 2018, p. 31
  36. ^ a b c Kaiser, Paul J. (1996). Culture, transnationalism, and civil society : Aga Khan social service initiatives in Tanzania. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 51. ISBN 0275955281. OCLC 34545670.
  37. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, pp. 593 & 645
  38. ^ a b Aga Khan III 1998, p. 586
  39. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 1117
  40. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 587
  41. ^ Aga Khan III 1998, p. 1211-1212
  42. ^ a b c Leonard, Karen Isaksen, 1939- (2003). Muslims in the United States : the state of research. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. pp. 68. ISBN 9781610443487. OCLC 794701243.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  43. ^ Khoja-Moolji 2018, p. 32
  44. ^ Twaddle, Michael (July 1995). "Asians in East Africa Quest for Equality: Asian Politics in East Africa, 1900–1967. By Robert G. Gregory. Hyderabad and London: Orient Longman and Sangam Books (57 London Fruit Exchange, London E1 6EP, UK), 1993. Pp. xvi + 231. £14.95 (ISBN 0-86311-208-0)". The Journal of African History. 36 (2): 335–336. doi:10.1017/s0021853700034289. ISSN 0021-8537.
  45. ^ The Aga Khan Trophy, Dublin Horse Show, accessed 9 July 2007
  46. ^ "Marriages of the Aga Khan III". Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  47. ^ "Aga Khan's Wife Dies As He Buys Big Gem", The New York Times, 2 December 1926, p. 2
  48. ^ "Aga Khan Again a Father", The New York Times, 18 January 1933, p. 9.
  49. ^ "Princess Andrée", The New York Times, 30 December 1976, p. 19.
  50. ^ "The Begum Aga Khan III", The Daily Telegraph, Issue 45115, 3 July 2000.
  51. ^ The Aga Khan; India in Transition, Bombay,1918, pp.45-46.
  52. ^ "Pakistan Philately". Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  53. ^ "No. 34010". The London Gazette. 1 January 1934. p. 1.
  54. ^ "No. 26969". The London Gazette. 21 May 1898. p. 3230.
  55. ^ "No. 28559". The London Gazette. 12 December 1911. p. 9357.
  56. ^ "No. 32830". The London Gazette. 2 June 1923. p. 3947.
  57. ^ "No. 40366". The London Gazette. 1 January 1955. p. 4.
  58. ^ "No. 27291". The London Gazette. 5 March 1901. p. 1576.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBhownagree, Mancherjee Merwanjee (1911). "Aga Khan I. s.v. Aga Khan III.". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 363.
  • Brown, Frank Herbert (1922). "Aga Khan III" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company.
  • Daftary, F., "The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines", Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Naoroji M. Dumasia, A Brief History of the Aga Khan (1903).
  • Aga Khan III, "The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time", London: Cassel & Company, 1954; published the same year in the United States by Simon & Schuster.
  • Edwards, Anne (1996). "Throne of Gold: The Lives of the Aga Khans", New York: William Morrow, 1996
  • Naoroji M. Dumasia, "The Aga Khan and his ancestors", New Delhi: Readworthy Publications (P) Ltd., 2008
  • Valliani, Amin; "Aga Khan's Role in the Founding and Consolidation of the All India Muslim League", Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society (2007) 55# 1/2, pp 85–95.

External links[edit]

Aga Khan III
of the Ahl al-Bayt
Clan of the Banu Quraish
Born: 1877 CE Died: 1957 CE
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Aqa Ali Shah
48th Imam of Nizari Ismailism
Succeeded by
Karim al-Hussayni