The birth anniversary of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, is being observed today (Nov 2). Sir Aga Khan III was the 48th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
He was born in Karachi in 1877 and dedicated his entire life to the cause of Islam. He will always be remembered as one of the most distinguished and well-reputed leaders and diplomats during Pakistan’s freedom movement. Sir Aga Khan, with his vast experience and personality of an international stature, proved to be a responsible and productive mediator between the western world and the leaders of the subcontinent.
From every platform, he advocated free, universal, practically oriented primary education; improved secondary schools for Muslims, and a generous provision of government and private scholarships to enable talented Muslim students to study abroad. During the 20th century, he established more than 200 schools in Asia and Africa.
The first Aga Khan School was established by Sir Aga Khan in 1905 in Gwadar. Today, there are over 160 Aga Khan Schools all across Pakistan catering to nearly 40,000 students. It was in pursuit of his educational vision, that the Aga Khan successfully dedicated himself to the project of transforming the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh into a leading Asian University.
He envisaged Aligarh University as “an intellectual and moral capital” for Muslims, a university which would “preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large-hearted toleration and of pure morality”. In recognition of his tireless commitment to the cause of educational development, in 1902 he was, at a young age of 25, unanimously nominated as a member of the Imperial Legislative Council by the viceroy, Lord Curzon.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III played a pivotal role in making the Pakistan Movement a success by inculcating political awareness among the Muslims of the subcontinent.
To safeguard the interests of the Indian Muslims, the Aga Khan led a long and successful campaign for separate Muslim representation in the Indian legislature.
Under the leadership of Sir Aga Khan, the Simla Deputation brought success and confidence for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Sir Aga Khan was also chosen as the spokesman for the Muslim delegation to the Round Table Conferencse where Allama Iqbal graciously spoke on the services of the Aga Khan for Muslims and said, “We have placed these demands before the conference under the guidance of Aga Khan whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love.”
The first Muslim political organisation, The All India Muslim League, was formed in 1906 and Sir Aga Khan was chosen as its first president for six years.
Aga Khan III also had the privilege to represent India at the Disarmament Conference and in the League of Nations. Later on, he was unanimously elected as Chairman of the League of Nations or the present United Nations Organisation. He rendered valuable services for the Muslim community in the fields of health, education, social development and economic rehabilitation, which are now being carried forward by Prince Karim Aga Khan under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Sir Aga Khan breathed his last on 11th July 1957, and was laid to rest at Aswan in Egypt. His autobiography titled Memoirs of Aga Khan is an in-depth reflection of his life.