By SABIHA NIZAR
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah—one of the leading figures in the independence movement of Pakistan and was the 48th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims—was born in Karachi on November 2 in 1877.
As a statesman, he held various positions of influence and importance which included him being the founding president of All India Muslim League (AIML), the founding chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, president of the General Assembly of the League of Nations – the forerunner of present-day United Nations, representative of Indian Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council, member of the Privy Council and as delegate to the first Round Table Conference amongst other forums, building a case of Muslim cause and that of independence.
He also played a significant role in the Simla Delegation which demanded separate electorates for the Muslims of British India in 1906. The demands were successfully accepted through Morley-Minto Reforms, a key milestone around which Muslims organised themselves under the banner of AIML, which Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah presided over for its first six years of inception.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s voice was well received among the power corridors of the world in general, and in Britain in particular where he was honoured with the title of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (prefixed to Sir).
The life of Agha Khan III is a true epitome of the word sultan (which literally means a king or a ruler), a name his father Hasan Ali Shah gave to him at the time of his birth, predicting that his son will attain a distinguished position in the world and play his role in the international affairs.
All major countries of the world recognised and bestowed him with highest honours because of his immense work in the fields raising human capital, social inclusion and socio-economic development.
From his early childhood, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was brought up with an excellent education, including languages and religion.
Starting with oriental languages of Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Hindi he had complete command over English, French and German. In terms of fields of study, he learned the Quran and Hadith, and his European tutors taught him science, mathematics and philosophy. Apart from being politically active throughout his life, he worked for the welfare of societies and communities, particularly in India and Africa.
Education and health were his priorities, and he considered lack of modern education as the reason, the Muslims were lagging behind the rest of the world – the idea shared equally by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan as well. He took a keen interest in architecture and worked towards repairs and constructions of mosques throughout the world.
He also authored two books, India in Transition and an autobiography Memoirs of Aga Khan. These books provide a glimpse into his life, his various intense ventures and travels, political upheavals in the midst of and post-World War I and II era, his interactions with the royal family of Britain and his insights into life, happiness, purpose of education, religion and its values, social services and civil institutions.
During his Jubilee celebrations, marking 50, 60 and 70 years of his reign as the Imam, his followers showered him with gold and diamond.
The funds raised through the celebrations were used for social development spanning South Asia and Africa. In terms of education alone, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah built over 200 schools in the twentieth century, and the legacy is carried forward by the present day institution of AKDN (Aga Khan Development Network) and the AKES (Aga Khan Education Services).
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah spent last days of his illustrious life at Barkat Villa, Geneva and died on July 11, 1957, passing the beacon to Prince Shah Karim Al-Hussaini, the present day Aga Khan IV. His resting place is in Aswan area of Egypt in the mausoleum of Aga Khan overlooking the Nile. The New York Times reported his departure these words, “The Aga Khan III’s death leaves our contemporary world just a little less colourful it was.”
As Sir Samuel Hoare aptly puts it, “The Aga Khan does not belong to one community or one country. He is a citizen of the world par excellence.”