Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s holistic view of the world and his words of wisdom to Ismailis

In our first installment, In memory of Prince Aly Khan and Prince Sadruddin: Two brothers who passed away on same day 43 years apart, we carried excerpts of a speech on Islam made by Prince Aly Khan, father of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

In this second and final installment, we produce a tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s late uncle, Prince Sadruddin (January 17, 1933 – May 12, 2003), by William M. Johnson, editor of the on-line journal The Monachus Guardian, who accompanied the Prince on several of his visits to Greece in order to secure the survival of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal and their threatened habitats. Mr. Johnson’s superb piece, reproduced originally on Simerg with his permission, is followed by Prince Sadruddin’s remarks made to Canadian Ismailis about their responsibilities as Canadian Citizens as well as their role as ambassadors of the community. 


1. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s Holistic View of the World

“Sadruddin Aga Khan was a source of inspiration to conservation, human rights and animal welfare – just some of the key areas that composed his holistic view of the world”  – William M. Johnson

“He was vocal on numerous subjects, ranging from the plight of monk seals on the Sporadean island of Alonissos to nuclear disarmament, and from the spectacle of a wretched panda trained to play a trumpet in a circus to the detrimental impact on the planet of mass deforestation.” – The Times, 16 May 2003

Prince Sadruddin with orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia
The late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933 – 2003) with the orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia on Alonissos. Photo: Copyright © Matthias Shnellmann/The Monachus Guardian.


Prince Sadruddin served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees between 1965-1977, and would almost certainly have been appointed UN Secretary General in 1981 had it not been for a Soviet veto. He was appointed coordinator of UN humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan in 1988 and assumed similar responsibilities for Iraq and Kuwait after the Gulf War in 1990. From 1992 until his death [in 2003] he acted as chargé de mission to Kofi Annan.

Outside the UN, the Prince was equally at home campaigning for nuclear disarmament as he was fighting against the exploitation of dolphins in captivity, deforestation, or the cruelties of the fur trade. In 1977, he founded the Geneva-based Bellerive Foundation, which came to reflect his own passionately-held holistic philosophy.

In 1990, Bellerive became alarmed by reports that a marine circus in the south of France, Antibes Marineland, was about to capture monk seals off the coast of Mauritania. There followed an intense international campaign to thwart the capture plan and, throughout it all, the Prince maintained an avid personal interest in unfolding events, frequently calling from his UN office to check on developments and to offer advice.

In March 1992, Prince Sadruddin made his first face-to-face acquaintance with the Mediterranean monk seal, attending the release of orphaned pup Efstratia on the Aegean island of Alonissos in the Northern Sporades Marine Park. Accompanied by his wife, Princess Catherine, the Greek Environment Minister and a throng of journalists, the visit helped draw worldwide attention to the plight of the species.

The Prince was visibly touched, both by the bewildered monk seal pup snuffling at his fingers in the Steni Vala rescue station, as by the genuine warmth and hospitality shown to him by the local people of Alonissos.

“The question is, Can anything be done? Over the years, I have discussed monk seal conservation with numerous people, from government ministers to businessmen and scientists, from conservation activists to school children. Ironically, it is often the young who have the clearest idea of what needs to be done. It is the young who are impatient for answers, intolerant of delay. Where others find themselves wallowing in bureaucratic quicksand, the young often see common sense solutions and cannot understand why establishment figures are reluctant to seize the initiative. Some might call this naïveté, but one wonders whether this is just the cynic’s way of justifying inaction.” – Excerpt from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s guest editorial for The Monachus Guardian

Of the shy, once trusting seal of the Mediterranean, he remarked that, in many ways it is “a totemic like symbol for the good side of the human species.”

Later on in Athens, the Prince brought his diplomatic skills to bear, championing the monk seal cause in meetings with ministers, the prime minister, and even the president of the republic.

In June the same year, he returned to Alonissos, where he was awarded Honorary Citizenship in a ceremony attended by the wife of the then Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis.

For the next few days, Prince Sadruddin held “town hall” meetings with local stakeholders, hiked over the archipelago’s uninhabited islands and made the personal acquaintance of that other famous ambassador of the monk seal species, Theodoros, the orphaned seal that had so endeared himself to the local community. 

Later the same year, he donated a new 42-seat community bus to Alonissos in an effort to encourage the island to stake its future on the Marine Park rather than the mass tourism route so common to the Aegean.

At the same time, he spearheaded efforts to establish an Athens-based foundation for the monk seal, encouraging wealthy ship-owners and other industrialists to commit themselves to saving Europe’s most endangered marine mammal. Although it proved an uphill battle, before winding up its activities the foundation had donated some quarter of a million dollars to monk seal conservation efforts in the Aegean.

In 1994, he had Bellerive join forces with the International Marine Mammal Association to defeat yet another attempt by Antibes Marineland to capture monk seals in Mauritania.

Prince Sadruddin Release of Orphaned Monk Seal
Prince Sadruddin and Princess Catherine (second and third from left) attending the release of orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia. Photo: Copyright © Matthias Schnellmann/The Monachus Guardian.

[In 2002] Prince Sadruddin stepped in to save The Monachus Guardian from closure, personally urging other organisations to match his funding commitment. Within weeks, WWF International had reacted positively to his appeal, allowing the Guardian to continue publishing for another year.

“For those who have always felt an instinctive revulsion for the travelling menagerie, it might not seem altogether surprising that cruelty and deprivation lurks behind all the razzmatazz and glitter of the circus world. But I’m pleased to say that this book is not merely content with recounting in abstract the suffering that these animals must endure in order to provide their human audience with a short-lived thrill. Here, we also see the animals as individuals, and in graphic detail, the shadowy enterprises, dealers and showmen who profit from their exploitation.” –  Excerpt from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s preface in The Rose-Tinted Menagerie. 

“A pair of baby elephants straining feverishly at the heavy chains which shackle them to the ground in a circus tent; ice-skating polar bears that must live most of their lives confined to boxes no more than a metre square; a giant panda – that most famous endangered species of all – trained to blow a trumpet and ride a motorbike. Haunting images such as these abound in William Johnson’s book, The Rose-Tinted Menagerie.” – Excerpt from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s preface in The Rose-Tinted Menagerie. 

A pair of baby elephants straining feverishly at the heavy chains which shackle them to the ground in a circus tent; ice-skating polar bears that must live most of their lives confined to boxes no more than a metre square; a giant panda – that most famous endangered species of all – trained to blow a trumpet and ride a motorbike. Haunting images such as these abound in William Johnson’s book, The Rose-Tinted Menagerie

Over time, Prince Sadruddin became increasingly frustrated by the glacial pace of government bureaucracies in tackling ecological and animal welfare abuse, and by the seemingly infinite capacity of officials to evade even the most compelling facts of a logical argument.

He could be equally incensed by conflicts between organisations that supposedly shared the same worthy goals – a conviction that originally inspired Bellerive’s faith, and nurtured its talents, in assembling broad coalitions to tackle pressing issues.

“On a journey through history, we see the evolution of that fearful anthropocentrism which afflicts the human race in our species’ futile quest for supremacy over the Earth. As William Johnson suggests, it is perhaps inevitable that the fragmentation so evident in human society today is the direct legacy of our separation from Mother Nature. Indeed, it may well be surmised that speciesism, coupled with humanity’s unwillingness to perceive the vital inter-relationships which compose a global ecology, has done more damage to the environment than any other single factor. By the same token, encouraging a holistic or all-embracing perception of the living Earth must be at the heart of humanity’s awakening ecological awareness. In many respects, we must sweep away the outmoded ideas and institutions that still bind us to an environmentally-damaging past. That endangered species should still inhabit the beast wagons of travelling shows, that dolphins and whales should still be captured and carted around the world for exhibition is not only unconscionable in itself, but also serves to perpetuate an insidious utilitarian view of creation.” Excerpt from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s preface in The Rose-Tinted Menagerie.

At the same time, the Prince often voiced concern that, in striving to meet the challenges of operating within a new world economic order, NGOs could themselves become corporate entities alienated from the very people they needed to reach and to convince.

Sadruddin Aga Khan will be a sorely missed source of inspiration to conservation, human rights and animal welfare – just some of the key areas that composed his holistic view of the world.


2. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s Words of Wisdom to Ismailis of Canada

prince-sadruddin-aga-khan UN portrait
A portrait of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. Photo: Copyright © UNHCR. 

(Vancouver, Canada, April 22, 1975)

a. Prince Sadruddin on his beloved father, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah

As we meet here tonight, a deeply moving occasion for me, my thoughts turned first of all to my late Beloved Father [His Highness the Aga Khan III, the 48th Ismaili Imam] who would have been so encouraged to see such a large gathering of Ismailis concentrated in a new land where they have never been before and as I think of my Late Father, I am greatly encouraged by the strength, the resilience, the tremendous ability to adapt, that all of you here have shown in settling in this great, this wonderful country.

b. Prince Sadruddin on our small world

This, indeed is a very small world and one realises it every day, and my remarks this evening are made not in the spirit of the community as regards questions of jamati interests, religious interests, but mainly as High Commissioner for Refugees – someone who is deeply concerned with the welfare of the jamat and who at the same time has taken a personal interest in facilitating the immigration of the great many of the new Canadians who live in this country.

The world is very small, and proof of that is that we flew over here in just a few hours from another continent and yet despite the fact [that] the world is small, people still don’t have very much understanding of each other’s problems and seem to be unaware sometimes of the realties of the situations in other parts of the world.

Now, who for instance, amongst all of you here who really knew about Canada before arriving? Before being landed immigrants? Before becoming Canadian Citizens?

And very few people in this great country know a great deal about India or about Pakistan or about East Africa, and this is something which happens in such a small world. The world which you can really visit in just a few hours by jet plane. You can go round the world today if you happen to be an astronaut in a space ship in just a few minutes and yet people find it difficult to understand each other.

c. Prince Sadruddin asks Ismailis to learn about Canada and become true ambassadors of the Ismaili community

I feel very strongly that now that history has brought you together with Canadians from different parts of the world, who originally came also from overseas, from Europe, and other parts of the world, that you have to learn this – from this accident of history to get to know the country in which you live, to get to know it really well and to get the people here to understand where you come from, who you are, and what your thoughts and beliefs are.

I would like to see every Ismaili and particularly every young Ismaili become an Ambassador, a real ambassador of the community. And I mean active ambassadors, Ambassadors who really work hard. I want you to be active ambassadors. I want you to explain to your Canadian friends, to your neighbors, to the people that you work with, that you live with, the people that entertain you, or that you will be entertaining, what you are, where you come from, about your traditions, about your culture, about your religion, about the way in which the community functions.

This is something which is extremely important and which all of you should remember. What we have to seek, I think, is not only the physical integration in the economy and the social structure of the country but we have to seek a kind of integration of ideas in the small world that we live in. This is what we have to aim for. An integration of ideas.

If you know this country well, you will find it much easier to settle here and I urge you to study Canada’s history.

Not only the history of the Nation as a whole, but the history of your Province. To have interest in the history of this country and its background. To understand how it functions.

d. Prince Sadruddin on articulating Ismaili principles to Canadians

In exchange, you should explain to your Canadian friends what the Ismaili Community is all about.

Explain the role of the Imam, not only his religious functions but also the economic and social advice that you receive from the Imam and what has happened to the community as a result of its unity in other parts of the world without forgetting that the community always owes allegiance, above all, to the country in which it lives, which is something also that the Canadians should understand – that you are going to be good Canadians, and that your allegiance will be first and foremost to the country which has opened doors to you.

For this reason, you must be law-abiding, for this reason, you must be good citizens. To become a Canadian is a privilege, and a privilege that you should be proud of. You have to have a civic sense. You should abide the laws of the country and this is particularly important to remember at a time when so many people are still trying to come to Canada.

e. Prince Sadruddin urges the Jamat to live within means and not try and outdo others

In the field of economy, I would advise you very strongly to understand the opportunities which are given to you, whilst at the same time being conservative and reasonable about expenses. There are many institutions in the Western world – many institutions in Canada – many institutions in the United States which give extended credit facilities and which make it very easy for people to buy without paying immediately, giving them the impression that consumer goods are available, and that they can always do everything on credit, and you must remember that this is very dangerous at times and that you must always live within your means, because as my father used to say, “a man who spends one cent more – one cent more than his income, finishes a pauper.” Therefore, with these extended credit facilities and all the various opportunities given to you by financial establishments, banks, etc. you have to be very careful always to live within your means and to live simply.

You should not be concerned about keeping up with your neighbours, keeping up by always trying to do better, having a bigger house, having a bigger car, and generally leading a more affluent existence. I think you should try to remember that today, in the world that we live in, there is a need for simplicity, to live within one’s means and not to fall a victim of these tastes for consumer goods and excessive affluence.. You should think not only of material goods – you should think also of other things.

You should think very much of your minds. You should think of your souls. You should think of so many other interests.

I don’t want the Ismailis to be known in their new countries only because of their business qualifications, only because they are clever businessmen, only because they are good at getting along on business.

I want Ismailis, especially the young people, to be known for their culture, for their extra curricular interests, for their sporting activities, for their culture, their religion, for their intellect – and young people have so many opportunities here.

f. Prince Sadruddin on Canada’s natural beauty and its conservation

You have a wonderful country – a big country, you can spread out. You can look for opportunities elsewhere. Not just remain always together, always in groups. I flew over parts of this country and I saw how nature is beautiful, how the Canadians love their country, and you must love it too and go out and camp and go visit the lakes and the forests. Go out and find out what nature has to offer you also. The young people should get interested and involved in conservation, in ecology, in all the things that the Canadians attach such an importance to, and which are so important in a highly industrialized world. Don’t think only all the time about business, about your own family interests, or your own community interests. Try to raise your sights, try and look beyond and, especially the young, try to be ambitious not only in the field of business but all the other callings which are available here in the country.

g. Prince Sadruddin on the importance of bilingualism

I would advise the young people here also to learn other languages. This is a bilingual country, and I was very happy earlier today when I met students separately in a separate group to see many of them, especially those who came from Zaire, are keeping up with their French.

I think it is very important in Canada to be able to speak French. I would like to be able to come back here – although I know that British Columbia is largely British and therefore English-speaking and unlike Quebec, Montreal. But I would like to come back here and speak to you in French and to have everybody understand.

When I come here, I will speak in French, and when I go to Montreal or Quebec, I will speak in English. Canada is a bilingual country and it is absolutely essential for the new generations who want to travel in this country and explore the immense possibilities which it offers you to speak French as well as English even if they speak it with a Canadian accent.

So, in conclusion, I would like you very much to bring the qualities of your culture to this new land and at the same time to recover the qualities, the advantages, the assets which Canada offered you so generously.

Please try and learn from the mistakes of the past. Please remember that sometimes in the past, we like other people, tended to be parochial, isolated, living too much in our own closed units. Instead of looking outwards, we tended to look inward.

h. Prince Sadruddin on participating in Canada’s democracy

Now that you are in a great country with boundless horizons, I want you to look outward and to think about all the opportunities which you have here and especially the young people find out what democracy is all about; very few of you really had the opportunity, if you think closely about it, to live in a true democracy before. Very few of you. Some of you may have come from the United Kingdom. You have a certain experience in democracy. But, those of you who either came from India or even Pakistan or Bangladesh and certainly those of you who came from East Africa, you only have had a very short experience of true democracy, and in some East African countries this has not lasted, as we know, unfortunately.

Now that you are in a country which is truly democratic and which truly practices democracy, you have to learn about democracy and young people must know what these responsibilities entail. What it means to vote, what it means to participate in the life of the country. You have to learn the good things of democracy. Not the futile and superficial things, but the good things of democracy – participation in the life of the country. This is what I mean when I say that you have to be grateful for the right to be a Canadian citizen. It allows you to participate fully in the democratic process in this country.

i. Prince Sadruddin on encouraging and stimulating children

As you go ahead, think of your minds, think of your children, think of their minds, how can they develop their minds, how can they develop their education and don’t stand in the way of your children’s education and their progress. Don’t be selfish about your children. Give them a chance to develop in the way they like and to follow the right path of education, vocational training so they can really integrate in their new country.

My wife joins me again in thanking you for your welcome. We wish you all happiness, prosperity, a very happy life in Canada and remember that it is by becoming a better individual, by trying to improve as a single human being, that you can do more for your community and your country in general.

Thank You.

Date posted: May 15, 2019.

Before departing this website, please click Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 150 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family.


Caption for featured image at top of this post:

First column: (top) Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah with Begum Om Habiba, Mata Salalmat, and Prince Sadruddin at a Mulaqat with the Karimabad Jamat during his Diamond Jubilee visit to Bombay. Photo: Ilm magazine; (bottom) Prince Sadruddin addressing a plenary session of the International Conference on Human Rights held in Tehran in 1968. Photo: Copyright © United Nations.

Second column: (top) A portrait of Prince Sadruddin Photo: Copyright © UNESCO Courier; (centre) a view of the Bellerive Room at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto containing Prince Sadruddin’s ceramic art collection; (bottom) Prince Sadruddin being greeted by President Shamshu Tejpar of the Ismailia Association for Tanzania during a visit to Dar es Salaam in the 1960’s. Photo: Copyright © Abdul M. Ismaily.

Third column: (top) UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Prince Sadruddin, and Abel Alier, President of the Provisional High Executive council of the South Sudan visit the village of Kajo Kaji, South Sudan. Photo: United Nations/1972; (centre) Prince Sadruddin with Secretary-General U Thant at his home on 23 June 1971. Photo: Copyright © Teddy Chan/United Nations; (bottom) Prince Sadruddin, left, and alongside him, his wife Princess Catherine, attending the release of orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia. Photo: Copyright © Matthias Shnellmann/The Monachus Guardian.

Further reading and references:

  1. Matthias Schnellmann’s photos of seals can be seen on his portfolio at
  2. for access to the full unabridged on-line version of The Rose-Tinted Menagerie – A History of Animals in Entertainment, from Ancient Rome to the 20th century.
  3. The Web site, edited by The Rose-Tinted Menagerie’s author William Johnson is dedicated to monk seals and their threatened habitats.


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This website, Barakah, is a special project by and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan.

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