By NIZAR A. MOTANI, Ph.D

My first pictorial essay posted on February 18, 2017, offered some glimpses of the Aga Khan’s exceptionally remarkable accomplishments since becoming the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims (henceforth the Ismailis) on July 11, 1957. His “inspiring words” (talks) and “commendable deeds” (walks) have been frequently extolled across the world conferring upon him the status of a global citizen, an international leader, and a virtual head of states.

The New Prince Karim Aga Khan Iv In Switzerland After The Death Of The Aga Khan Iii. Portrait du prince Karim AGA KHAN IV devant une photographie de son grand-père l'AGA KAHN III. (Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images)

An early portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan, with a framed photo of his grandfather, the 48th Ismaili Imam, Aga Khan III, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah (1877-1957) in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

This essay provides additional glimpses of his “extra-ordinariness,” and its enthusiastic embrace by increasing numbers of influential individuals and institutions throughout the globe. It recalls the glowing tributes to the “grand old man,” Aga Khan III, and his young, promising grandson, Aga Khan IV, by Professor K.K. Aziz, an eminent Pakistani scholar. Lastly, it reflects on some of the episodes of the year-long Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.

Prof Aziz could be considered a scholarly biographer of Aga Khan III (1877-1957), and an astute observer of Aga Khan IV’s Imamat (1957-present) until the mid-nineties. He concluded that though  Aga Khan III’s monumental mission, in the service of Islam and mankind, was not fully realized during his glorious Imamat of 72 years, “he has passed on to his progeny his intellectual interests, social conscience, and love of Islam. The Aga Khan IV is following in the footsteps of his grandfather to a degree exceptional in hereditary succession. He is the greatest legacy left to his people and to the world.” [1]

Queen hosts Aga Khan at Windsor Castle for his Diamond Jubilee 06

Her Majesty the Queen hosted a dinner at Windsor Castle to mark the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

Thus, as the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismailis, Shah Karim al Hussani inherited the honorific and noble Persian title of Aga Khan. Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain ennobled him with the title of “His Highness.” His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, henceforth, will be referred simply as the Aga Khan. Also in 1957, he was made a “Brilliant Star of Zanzibar” by the Sultan of Zanzibar. This garland of high honors has been enriched by frequent awards, honorary citizenships and honorary doctorates, keys to cities, medals, prizes, proclamations and tributes. He could possibly be one of the most decorated spiritual or temporal leaders in modern history.

Aga Khan speaking at Seerat Conference for front page

The Aga Khan addressing the Sirat conference in Pakistan in 1976.

Prof Aziz studied eighteen speeches of the Aga Khan, provided by his Secretariat, in Gouvieux, France. Of these masterly addresses to diverse audiences, he was particularly captivated by one: “The Aga Khan’s fullest and finest exposition of his understanding of Islam and its relevance to the contemporary world, was made in a speech at the International Sirat Conference in Karachi, in 1976.” [2] Clearly enthralled by the young Ismaili Imam’s erudition and elucidation, he concluded: “the virtues of a grandson have erected the noblest mausoleum in memory of his grandfather’s life-long dedication to nurturing respect for human dignity.” [3]

He lamented that the 49th Imam’s eighteen speeches had not been published for the general reading public, as a book. [4] There was some rectification, soon after the Golden Jubilee, with the publication of his thirteen speeches and one interview as a book titled Where Hope Takes Root: Democracy and Pluralism in an Interdependent World (2008).

M. Ali Lakhani’s just-published, Faith and Ethics: The Vision of the Ismaili Imamat (2018), comes closest to such an academic enterprise. Lakhani has selectively excerpted from the Aga Khan’s thematic addresses about the paramount ethics of Islam and has brilliantly annotated them. Since he has drawn these speeches from AKDN’s and Nanowisdoms’ websites, there is a collaborative opportunity for another multi-volume “coffee-table” edition of the 49th Imam’s speeches, for non-digital readers.

With the turn of the 21st century, sadly a shocking dark turn confronted the already much maligned religion of Islam: the appalling terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001. The Aga Khan joined other prominent and credible Muslim religious leaders to publicly condemn the nine-eleven atrocity and expound on the peaceful nature of Islam.

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His Highness the Aga Khan delivering a speech on June 23, 2002 at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Houston, Texas. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

On June 23, 2002, at the inauguration of Houston’s Ismaili Center and Jamatkhana, in the presence of then Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, the Aga Khan stated: “Nine-eleven has scarred America but not just America. It also scarred the Islamic world, and hundreds of millions of devout and practicing Muslims for whom the word of the Qur’an affirms that to save a life is, as if, to save humankind altogether.” He further emphasized “Nine-eleven and all that is behind them are repugnant to the very spirit of Islam….In the words of the Qur’an it is as if the entirety of humankind has suffered a death, with every life that was so brutally ended.” Also he warned, “What we are witnessing is a Clash of Ignorance; an ignorance that is mutual, longstanding, and to which the West and the Islamic world have been blind for decades at their great peril.”

He went on to emphasize peaceful Islamic value by describing the Houston Ismaili Center, like other such centers in Canada, Britain, and Europe, as “more than places of congregational prayers. They are places of peace, humility, reflection, and prayer, of search and enlightenment, not of anger and obscurantism.”

Subsequently a host of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, commentators, religious leaders, and concerned citizens, have taken the message of true Islam to the reading, listening, and viewing public. Evidently, no concrete, lasting steps appear to have been taken by them to remind non-Muslims and Muslims alike, about the essentially peaceful nature of Islam. It is these differences arising from rudimentary or incorrect knowledge of each others’ faiths that have continued to escalate the Clash of Ignorance, for which one of the antidotes is appropriate education at all levels of schooling, especially for those in the media and those with secular and sacred leadership roles on both sides of the religious divide.

In this and other regards, Prof Aziz has summarized Islam at work and Islam at its best as expounded by the 48th and 49th Ismaili Imams, over the past hundred or more years. The Aga Khan III’s Imamat (1885-1957) had laid the foundation of a multifaceted, farsighted organization, which included the subject of affordable housing and early education of girls and women up to university level. The Aga Khan IV (1957-present) has steadily and smartly adapted, modernized, and expanded that into the “planet’s most important” and “staggeringly efficient’’ multinational, multi-pronged network bearing his name: Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

Among the other bridge-building activities of AKDN are the actual Walks, Parks, and Museums. Since the mid-1990’s, the Aga Khan Foundation/Partnership Walks have been held in dozens of cities in as many countries. They are intended to form partnerships with like-minded institutions and individuals to increase awareness of, and raise funds for, his incredibly effective supranational network. These walks come with a generous “Aga Khan twist” — he underwrites the entire cost of these annual events, enabling 100% of the collected funds to be used for the alleviation of poverty.

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Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, addresses the gathering as His Highness the Aga Khan and Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Shri Anil Baijal look on during the dedication ceremony of the Sunder Nursery. Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji.

As is evident, the Aga Khan has an amazingly vast range of interests. The completion of the Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt, in 2005, sparked a burning desire in many “AKDN countries” to have their own green spaces with their proven, considerable, socio- economic benefits. During the Diamond Jubilee tour of India, he dedicated the Sunder Nursery, a splendid botanical garden and mega-park, adjoining the magnificent Humayun’s Tomb, both in New Delhi, and both restored by Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Under a treaty between the Ismaili Imamat and the Government of Alberta, Canada, the Aga Khan gifted millions of dollars for what can be called “seed money” and start-up costs for The Aga Khan Garden in Alberta, which is expected to open in the near future. During his April 2018 state visit to Kenya, he signed an agreement with President Uhuru Kenyatta to revitalize the Nairobi City Park.

Museums are yet another interest of this global Muslim leader. The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is dedicated to Islamic Art in its broadest sense; The Museum of the Horse in Chantilly, France, which had fallen on hard times, was superbly and generously restored by the Aga Khan.

A close look at the AKDN chart of his multifarious involvements and institutions would suggest that the Aga Khan is one of contemporary history’s most prolific and visionary builder and patron. He has consistently been called a “bridge-builder” and, significantly, AKDN has actually constructed two physical bridges: one to connect Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and the other to re-connect the city of Mostar, in Bosnia, by restoring the war-damaged historic bridge.

Following the precedent of his grandfather, the Aga Khan commemorates all his Jubilees by launching multi-dimensional projects to alleviate poverty and improve the living conditions of not only his own followers but also of what he has called the “frontierless brotherhood of mankind,” as he sees this as a mandate of his Imamat. This should become abundantly clear as we partake of a miniscule portion of the extensive Diamond Jubilee Celebrations (DJC).

The Unforgettable Diamond Jubilee Celebrations

Aga Khan and family Diamond Jubilee Homage Ceremony

His Highness the Aga Khan and members of his family at the homage ceremony inaugurating his Diamond Jubilee on July 11, 2017. Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji

The majestic Homage Ceremony on July 11, 2107, at the Aga Khan’s estate in Gouvieux, France, marked the official start of the year-long DJC, scheduled to end on July 11, 2018, in Lisbon, Portugal.

The 49th Ismaili Imam graciously agreed to celebrate sixty years of his Imamat with his global jamat. Some of these visits would be Mulaqats (meetings including religious ceremonies) and others would be Darbars (audience and homage, usually without religious ceremonies).

Thus began his marathon tour of almost a dozen countries and many more cities on four continents. All of these would be state visits at the invitations of the host governments.

Uganda was the first stage of the DJC in October 2017. The Aga Khan was the Chief Guest of the Ugandan President Museveni, for the 55th Independence Anniversary of that country. At a special elaborate ceremony, Uganda’s highest civil honor – “The Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa, The Grand Master Medal” – was conferred upon him.

2017 Aga Khan Medal Uganda zr2_edt_8417_copy

His Highness the Aga Khan is conferred with the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa by His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni, as part of Uganda’s 55th Independence Day celebration on October 9, 2017.

This intrigued a leading East African scholar, Professor Bukenya, to investigate the Award and the Awardee, as he knew little about either. To his astonishment, this very rare honor, reserved for Heads of State or Government, was given to an individual who was neither! It was in the Aga Khan’s landmark speech, “The Cosmopolitan Ethic in a Fragmented World,” delivered at Harvard in November 2015, that Professor Bukenya found his answer to “why the Aga Khan?” In his piece originally written for the Daily Nation, Prof Bukenya applauded the Aga Khan’s “approach to faith and life, especially in these dark days of fanatical and violent extremism that is giving faiths like Islam a sadly bad press.”

After enumerating the multitudinous ways in which AKDN is benefiting his and other countries, he declared: “Though he may not be a Head of State or government, he is certainly an allegial one, commanding allegiance among millions of his spiritual followers and all the societies and countries empowered by his beneficial interpretation of faith and practicality.” [5] Remarkably, the Aga Khan had already felt the “Winds of Change” that British Premier Harold McMillan, a year later, stated were sweeping Africa with demand for independence. The Daily Nation was founded by the Aga Khan in 1959-1960 to enable independent news and opinions to be expressed in colonial East Africa. It steadily mushroomed into the mammoth Nations Media Group, including The Graduate School of Media and Communications of the Aga Khan University in East Africa (2015).

Aga Khan and PM Modi

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi welcomes His Highness the Aga Khan to the Prime Minister’s House in New Delhi. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

Aga Khan at Rideau Hall with Prime Ministers and Governor Generals

Her Excellency the Honourable Governor General Julie Payette hosts His Highness the Aga Khan,  at Rideau Hall to mark his Diamond Jubilee. Guests in attendance included the Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, past Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Joe Clark, former Governors General David Johnston and Adrienne Clarkson and their spouses and other notable Canadians. Her Excellency applauded the Aga Khan’s contributions to humanity over the last six decades of his leadership, recognising him as a “beacon of light”. Photo: AKDN/ Lisa Sakulensky

ah_28036-edit_akbar_hakim_Aga Khan UAE Visit Abu Dhabi

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan bids farewell to His Highness the Aga Khan after their meeting in Abu Dhabi. Photo: AKDN/Akbar Hakim

Each subsequent stage of the DJC is well-documented in the Ismaili media. Therefore, here, it will suffice to briefly mention the stately receptions, with some or more variations, that the Aga Khan received: airport honor guards and Imamat’s and host countries’ national anthems; red carpet and red and green colors of the Imamat flag; motorcades and police motorcycle escorts; banquets and meetings with: monarchs (Queen of England and the Sheikh of Dubai); presidents, prime ministers, governors, governors-general (Canada), mayors, civil society leaders, and many others.

Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Texas visit

His Highness the Aga Khan is given a sabre salute by the Texas A&M Ross Volunteers, the State of Texas’ official honor guard as he arrives to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee in Texas in March 2018. Photo: The Ismaili/Akbar Hakim.

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Abbasi presents a commemorative First Day Cover to His Highness the Aga Khan on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee. Photo: The Ismaili/Akbar Hakim.

Commemorative stamps were issued to celebrate his visit (Tanzania and Pakistan); tributes in the media and proclamations in the legislatures of Canada, the U.K. Parliament, and U.S. Congress, wishing the Aga Khan “Diamond Jubilee Mubarak”.

Many other tributes, in recognition of the Aga Khan’s service to humanity, have appeared, during his “world tour”, from the western-most frontier of Islam, (e.g., Jagdeesh Mann, Straight, 5/3/18, Vancouver, Canada), to the farthest eastern frontier (e.g., Malaysia-today.net, Sauris interview, 2/28/18), and also in India, Pakistan, Western Europe, North America, and East Africa.

Not only has there been an awakening in some parts of the Muslim Umma (community), but there also have been bold suggestions that the Ismaili Muslim Imam’s interpretation and implementation of Islam merit study and emulation. Interestingly, AKDN, particularly the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, is so highly regarded in Pakistan, that survivors of sectarian and other extremist violence have requested that they be taken there for treatment. [6]

The creators and volunteers of two exquisite ambassadorial traveling exhibitions – “Ethics in Action” and “Rays of Light”, complemented by the Aga Khan Music Initiative Ensemble, have served to  further increase this awareness of the Aga Khan’s global mission and cultural diplomacy.

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Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran, and His Highness the Aga Khan greet each other prior to the Asia Game Changer Awards on November 1, 2017. Photo: Jamie Watts/Asia Society)

In 2017, four U.S.-based organizations made the DJC even more memorable with their highest honors: the Foreign Policy Association Medal (May 3, 2017); the Architectural League of New York’s Presidential Medal (May 18, 2017); “Champion for Global Change” – U.N. Foundations highest honor (October 18, 2017); and Asia Society’s highest honor – its Lifetime Achievement Award (November 1, 2017). The former U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, confessed that his ten-year term was “challenging” and congratulated the Aga Khan for his sixty-year leadership of his spiritual followers and as a global leader. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and a major philanthropist, indicated at the Asia Society’s award ceremony, that the far-flung and remarkably innovative AKDN was worthy of emulation. Interestingly, entertainment was provided by the artists of the Aga Khan Music Initiative Ensemble.

Soon, on November 15, 2017, the Aga Khan’s role reversed dramatically as he was the one presenting the Global Centre for Pluralism’s (GPC) inaugural biennial awards to three laureates and seven finalists, from ten countries on six continents. The Aga Khan has co-founded GPC, based in Ottawa, in partnership with the Government of Canada to promote peace and progress. The three awardees each received CAD $50,000 to support their efforts to advance pluralism.

Aga Khan and California MOU

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and His Highness the Aga Khan on November 2, 2009 signed an agreement of cooperation reaffirming their shared commitment to dedicate human and material resources to confront poverty. Photo: AKDN.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, representing Texas, already deeply involved with the volunteers of the Ismaili community and their diverse contribution to Houston, and aware of AKDN’s FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance’s voluntary relief and rehabilitation efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, introduced a Congressional resolution saluting this enlightened and enlightening global Muslim humanitarian and his followers on March 19, 2018. In 2011, the Aga Khan, in partnership with the City of Houston, had funded the Tolerance Towers sculpture. The State of Texas and AKDN have a formal Agreement of Cooperation and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Similar agreements and MoUs have been signed with California and Illinois.

900-Ismaili Centre Dubai

Ismaili Centre, Dubai, one of the six sublime Ismaili centres built by His Highness the Aga Khan.

While still in Houston, he announced yet another commitment to promoting a better understanding of Islam: The Aga Khan Music Initiative Prize valued at U.S. $500,000. Capping that, he announced the establishment of a new ambassadorial Ismaili Center and Jamathkana in Houston – the first in the United States. Other such ambassadorial, architecturally sublime Ismaili Centers have been established in Burnaby and Toronto (Canada), Dubai (UAE), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Lisbon (Portugal), and London (England).

During the DJC, the Time and Knowledge Nazrana (TKN), the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee initiative, has been re-emphasized to reinvigorate the paramount themes of the Golden Jubilee: poverty-alleviation and quality of life improvement; education from the cradle to the grave with particular attention to the foundational early childhood education; continuing search for the best knowledge and skills and to share these with others who lack such opportunities; to project admirable Islamic values – which are universal values – like generosity, compassion, forgiveness, integrity, pluralism, and promoting mutual understanding and harmony. In short, the Aga Khan invokes all inhabitants of this shared planet to be its responsible trustees. Not surprisingly such guidance and his unrelenting efforts to implement these values have endeared him to so many across frontiers and attracted new partners for AKDN.

Mawlana Hazar Imam and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete sign a landmark agreement on June 3, 2015, establishing a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. TheIsmaili/Gary Otte

His Highness the Aga Khan and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete sign a landmark agreement on June 3, 2015, establishing a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Photo: TheIsmaili/Gary Otte.

There were no DJC visits during the month of Ramadan. However, there will be more DJC mulaqats, in Paris and in London towards the end of June. Coinciding with the London mulaqat will be the relocation of the Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, as well as the Aga Khan Foundation UK office, to the Aga Khan Centre at the Knowledge Quarter at King’s Cross.

The culmination of the Diamond Jubilee Celebration on July 11, 2018 will be the grand darbar for the global jamat in Lisbon, Portugal. The crowning moment will occur with the official inauguration of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamt, established by an epochal treaty with the Government of Portugal.

Date posted: June 22, 2018.

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Notes

[1] K.K. Aziz, ed., Aga Khan III, vol. 1, p. 180.
[2] Ibid, p. 196.
[3] Ibid, p. 198.
[4] Ibid, p. 181.
[5] The Daily Nation, October 14, 2017.
[6] Andreas Rieck, The Shias of Pakistan, 2015, p. 321.

nizar-a-motaniAbout the Author:  Dr. Nizar A. Motani, Ph. D, was privileged to attend Aga Khan primary and secondary schools in Kampala, Uganda. He went on to the then University of East Africa, Nairobi Campus, for his bachelor’s degree and on to the University of London (SOAS) for his doctorate in African History, with specialization in British Colonial rule in East Africa.

He then became a Visiting Lecturer in African history at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine (1972-1978), followed by two years as an Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

From 1980 to 1982, he served at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, UK, as its first Publications Officer. Upon returning to America he made a complete career switch, first living in Albany, Georgia (1982-1989) and then in Atlanta, Georgia, as a consultant in the financial sector. Among Dr. Motani’s publication is a monograph summarizing the central argument of his doctoral dissertation and several articles and chapters in books and scholarly journals, on the Ismailis, East African Asians, the Ugandan Civil Service, and the Makerere College. He has been an occasional book reviewer for the Journal of Third World Studies on African and Middle Eastern subjects.

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