[Birth anniversary special]
As the Aga Khan University commemorates its 40th anniversary, it is important to acknowledge the deep-rooted traditions of the Shia Ismaili culture that have influenced this remarkable institution.
When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him.) received his first revelation, the first word disclosed to him was IQRA, which meant “to read.” The Prophet and his descendants throughout time have encouraged the importance of education, where knowledge, intelligence and learning was regarded as a mission.
One of the first and greatest research centres, Baytal Hikmah, established in Baghdad in the 8th century, led in translating philosophical and scientific works from Greek, Roman, Persian and Indian classics into Arabic.
Research then advanced further and in new directions in institutions like Daral Ilm, which spread to many cities during the 9th and 10th centuries. Institutions such as these launched the scientific revolution in Europe and advancements in mathematics by Muslim scholars and scientists.
Traditions further strengthened the importance of education during the Fatimid era, which founded the first school for higher education, Al-Azhar University. Established in 972 AD in Cairo, Egypt, Al-Azhar University is one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the Islamic world, playing a pivotal role in Islamic scholarship, theology and culture.
Continuing in the footsteps of the Fatimids, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III (1877-1957), made significant contributions to education for Muslims of diverse backgrounds. Many believe the inception and creation of the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College at Aligarh would have remained a dream without his sheer effort and dedication.
Paying homage to the valuable financial and moral support of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah to the Aligarh Muslim University, the renowned writer of Seerat-un-Nabi, Maulana Shibli Nomani once wrote, “That which could not be achieved by six crore (60 million) Muslims was accomplish by Prince Aga Khan.”
His vision laid the foundation for the Aga Khan School system in Pakistan, which includes over 200 schools – the first of which was inaugurated in 1905 in Gwadar, Balochistan. Diamond Jubilee Schools, now commonly known as DJ schools, were established throughout the remote northern areas in order to impart education to even the most inaccessible communities of the country, and, in particular, for girls. Important to note, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s commitment to education also extended to women, a groundbreaking stance for the time. Furthermore, scholarship programmes were founded to provide assistance to students who were academically-gifted.
Aga Khan III’s influence expanded beyond education; his life was dedicated to the welfare and well-being of Muslims worldwide. With significant contributions to their social, cultural and economic growth, he also played a historic role in advocating for the rights of Muslims in various political forums. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s impact was such that Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who admired his services, said, “We have placed these demands before the conference under the guidance of the Aga Khan whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love.”
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s vision of accessible education for all was carried forward by His Highness, Aga Khan IV, who founded The Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi. In 1983, on the occasion of accepting AKU’s charter, he emphasised the University be on the “frontiers of scientific and humanistic knowledge, radiating intelligence and confidence, research and graduates, into flourishing economies and progressive legal and political systems.”
Today, AKU’s influence spans six countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. With 3,400 enrolled students and a network of nearly 17,000 alumni holding leadership positions globally, it is a cornerstone of education and healthcare. The University’s seven hospitals and 350 outreach clinics care for over two million patients annually, making it one of the largest private healthcare providers in Pakistan and East Africa. AKU has consistently been ranked amongst leading universities in Asia, Africa and the world in several fields, contributing valuable knowledge for public welfare.
The Aga Khan University stands as a beacon of excellence in healthcare and education. AKU has taken a leadership role in the healthcare sector, offering top-tier medical services and training for healthcare professionals. AKU’s commitment to addressing critical health issues, particularly in underserved regions, places it at the forefront of the global healthcare landscape. Supported by the vision, leadership and philanthropy of the Aga Khan Development Network and His Highness, the Aga Khan, AKU continues to be a driving force for positive change, making a significant and lasting contribution to society.
One of its remarkable achievements is the Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME), which harnesses technology to transform education, innovation and learning. CIME supports student-centred, problem- and team-based learning through real-life patient simulations. This commitment to excellence in healthcare education is pivotal in preparing future healthcare professionals for evolving challenges.
Today, on the 146thbirth anniversary of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, we can honour his legacy by contributing to the prosperity and progress of Pakistan, a country he believed had a bright future within the Muslim Ummah. Let us unite, work diligently and make Pakistan a beacon of Islam, just as Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah envisioned – a fortress of Islam built on unity, discipline and hard work.