Victoria Day is a federal Canadian public holiday celebrated on the last Monday before May 25, in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819. Following the death of three uncles and her father, she became Queen of the United Kingdom on June 20, 1837 and reigned for 63 years until her death on January 22, 1901. In 2021, Victoria Day falls on Monday, May 24.
The Ismaili Imamat’s deeply rooted historical partnership with the British Monarchy and the United Kingdom
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877 – 1957), 48th Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, who was born in Karachi on November 2, 1877, set out from Bombay in 1898 to see the world. His journeys took him to France, England, Germany, Russia, East Africa, Egypt and Japan, not necessaritly in that order. In England he was received by Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, popularly known as Lord Salisbury, the Secretary of State for India, Lord George Hamilton, and other prominent men in high places.
On a royal invitation he stayed with Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) at Windsor Castle, when she decorated him with his first British Title, the Order of the Knight Cross of the British Empire (K.C.I.E). Queen Victoria also bestowed him with the title His Highness.
Queen Victoria expired on January 22, 1901, and Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah attended her funeral in London on February 2, 1901. He was the personal guest of emperor Edward VII at his coronation in August 2, 1902 and he was promoted from the rank of Knight to that of Grand Commander of the Order of Indian Empire (G.C.I.E.). He returned to India in November, 1902. The viceroy of India, Lord Curzon appointed him to a seat of his Legislative Council of India.
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah was succeeded by Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al-Hussaini on July 11, 1957 after a reign of 72 years, the longest in Ismaili history.
Queen Elizabeth II conferred the style of “His Highness” on him on July 26th, 1957, two weeks after he became the 49th Imam. According to a letter from the secretary of state for the colonies, it was granted “in view of his succession to the Imamat and his position as spiritual Head of the Ismailis.”
In his 1954 autobiography, “Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time,” Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah described how he was received by Queen Victoria, forged a friendship with Winston Churchill, befriended King Edward VII and lived through the apex of British imperial might and decline in colonial India.
We produce below Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s quotes but begin with excerpts from a speech made by Mawlana Shah Karim during his Golden Jubilee in 2008 in which he alludes to his family’s and community’s close partnership with the United Kingdom.
By HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN, MAWLANA SHAH KARIM AL HUSSAINI
(Golden Jubilee Banquet in London, UK, July 3, 2008)
Over a century ago, my grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, worked closely with Her Majesty Queen Victoria and her governments in the pursuit of common ideals. These ties were further strengthened by the strong presence of the Ismaili community – initially in places which later became Commonwealth countries, and later, here in the United Kingdom.
It is striking to me that in 1957, there were only about 100 Ismaili residents in this country, and most of them were students. Today, there are fourteen thousand Ismailis permanently living here and of all ages and walks of life.
In 1957, there was only one Ismaili space here for congregational prayer — and that was on leased premises! Creating places of prayer as centres for community life was fundamental to ensuring the cohesion of the community, and there are now over 40 such places. Among them, of course, a central focal point is The Ismaili Centre, located in South Kensington.
All of these comments, then, speak to the context in which we gather tonight — a rich history of partnership reaching deeply into the past — and extending, we hope and trust, into an even more productive future.
His Highness the Aga Khan III
The Aga Khan’s Deep Impressions of Queen Victoria
1. Excerpts from Life Magazine, May 16, 1949
The first deep impression of my life was undoubtedly when I had dinner with Queen Victoria. I was in my 20th year and that was my first visit to London. The queen was fond of Indian potentates and she kindly invited out to Windsor to dine and spend the night. She placed me next to her at the table. The queen was most gracious. She arranged that the food was served by Indians, and she spoke to me about the problems of India, the plague and all that. She was especially interested in the plague. I was young and I was particularly interested by her human element.
She was then 79, you know, and the dinner was very long, with three sweet courses at the end, but she ate everything. She was dressed in black, with a white-collar. She wore a huge bracelet having a medallion of her husband, Prince Albert, on it, and one large diamond ring and several smaller diamonds. She did not wear glasses but she saw clearly and she had beautiful hearing — she could hear a whisper. She was a remarkable woman — yes, undoubtedly, I must be one of the few left alive who have dined with her.
2. Excerpts from The Memoirs of Aga Khan, 1954
My life in many ways has been a bridge across vastly differing epochs. Looking at it for the moment simply from the Western point of view — I had a full life in the Victorian era, and I am leading now an equally full life in this new Elizabethan era. When I was a young man I sat next to Queen Victoria at a dinner party and talked to her throughout it; the other day I sat next to Queen Elizabeth II at a tea party and talked to her throughout it.
In my youth the internal combustion engine was in its early, experimental phase, and the first motor cars were objects of ridicule; now we all take supersonic jet propulsion for granted, and interplanetary travel is far more seriously discussed today than was even the smallest flying venture at a time when I was quite grown up and had already lived a full and active life….
Queen Victoria herself was of course sharply conscious of the responsibilities, not only political but personal and social, which she had assumed with the splendid title of Empress of India. She insisted that Indian Princes and Indian gentlefolk should receive the respect and the dignified status accorded in those days to European princes and gentlefolk. The Duke of Connaught faithfully practiced her principles during his time in India. The Viceroy and Vicereine, Lord and Lady Dufferin, were, like Lord and Lady Reay, people of kind and gentle sensibility, warm hearts and graceful manners. A tone thus set could not be ignored, and Indo-British relationships in general were in this pattern.
There is an outstanding example that I recall: Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, a notable figure in the Parsee community in Bombay, gave a reception for the Viceroy and Vicereine, Lord and Lady Dufferin, for the Governor of Bombay and his wife, Lord and Lady Reay, and for the Duke and Duchess of Connaught. Sir Jeejeebhoy, as host, offered his arm to Lady Dufferin and went into the supper room, and the Viceroy followed with his hostess, Lady Jeejeebhoy, and everyone else went after in turn. A few years later — and thereafter, until the end of the Indian Empire — it would have been inconceivable that the Viceroy, a Prince of the British Royal House and the Governor of the great province of British India, would have gone to a reception at the house of a Parsee gentleman, however distinguished, and allowed him to lead the Vicereine in first and then have followed with his hostess.
At Ascot I have had a Royal Household badge for well over fifty years; I was first given my badge by Queen Victoria, and it has successively been re-bestowed on me by King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.
[Egypt’s] Prince Mohammed Ali and I have been friends for fifty-five years. When I first went to London in 1898, he and I stayed at the same hotel, the old Albemarle in Piccadilly. He dined at Windsor Castle as Queen Victoria’s guest either shortly before or after I had the same honor. By a curious and delightful coincidence, fifty-five years later, in Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Year, he and I, who had been Queen Victoria’s guests at dinner, in the same summer were her young great-great-granddaughter’s guests at tea. Across this great stretch of time Prince Mohammed Ali and I have been firm and fast friends.
The Aga Khan’s Gifts to Queen Victoria
By ELIA KAY
(writing in her blog Tiara a Day)
In 1896, a year before her Diamond Jubilee, an inventory of Queen Victoria’s jewels was made by Garrard, the crown jeweler There weren’t many tiaras on the list — only five. But one of the five on the list was this one: the tiara given to her by the Aga Khan.
The inventory describes the tiara as “A pearl and diamond tiara with 12 Bouton and 12 pear-shaped pearls with a diamond chain to form a necklace, presented by Aga Khan.”
To my knowledge, there are no images, painted or photographed, of Victoria in this tiara. However, we do know that Victoria bequeathed the tiara to one of her daughters-in-law: Princess Louise of Prussia, the wife of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.
His Highness the Aga Khan IV
The Aga Khan attends spectacular equestrian event “All the Queen’s Horses” celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee
On May 19, 2002, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, joined with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, members of the Royal Family and Ambassadors of participating foreign and Commonwealth countriesto for a major equestrian spectacular featuring 1,000 horses and 2,000 participants. Entitled “All the Queen’s Horse” the event was staged in Windsor Great Park where mounted officers from Canada, India, Kenya and Pakistan joined contingents from other countries in a tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as Head of the Commonwealth, on the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
The presence of the contingents from the four Commonwealth countries was made possible with the support of Mawlana Hazar Imam who noted that the “event serves to acknowledge the Commonwealth’s importance in maintaining relations among countries through both good and less good times in their shared history. The event honours the personal attention that Her Majesty the Queen has accorded to that history and the admirable manner in which she has exercised, and continues to exercise, the challenging role of Head of the Commonwealth.”
It may be noted that Queen Elizabeth received her first racehorse called Astakhan as a wedding present from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in 1947. Astakhan went on to win a maiden at Hurst Park as a three-year-old in 1950. However, the Queen’s passion for flat racing developed after her accession to the throne in 1952.
The Aga Khan accompanies Prince Charles to view AKDN projects in Northern Pakistan
Gifts abounded for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall as they ended their tour of Pakistan against possibly the world’s most spectacular mountain backdrop. In the Hunza Valley, in the small village of Altit, the prince was given a yak; the gift of a yak is the highest honour that can be bestowed on a VIP, in a tradition that dates back many centuries…The couple were accompanied during the day by the Aga Khan…Villagers had risked their lives climbing hundreds of feet up sheer rock face to spell out welcome messages in white stones which read: “Welcome the royal couple” and for the Aga Khan: “Welcome our H Imam and royal guests.” — compiled from The Daily Telegraph.
The Aga Khan welcomes Prince Charles to Cairo’s Al-Azhar Park
Queen Elizabeth hosts the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace for his Golden Jubilee
Queen Elizabeth hosts the Aga Khan at Windsor Castle for his Diamond Jubilee
8th March, 2018
The Queen gave a Dinner Party for The Aga Khan at Windsor Castle this evening to mark His Highness’s Diamond Jubilee at which The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke of York, The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, and Members of The Aga Khan’s Family were present.
The Duke of Edinburgh this morning received Mr Martin Palmer (Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation).
The Prince of Wales, on behalf of The Queen, held an Investiture at Buckingham Palace this morning.
Note: The Court Circular is the official record of royal engagements and appears daily in the London Times.
Prince Charles and the Aga Khan inaugurate the Aga Khan Centre in London’s King Cross
Your Highness, the extraordinary work that you have done throughout your lifetime, in the service of humanity and in the name of Islam, is as remarkable as it is invaluable. For that, you are owed the greatest debt of gratitude and I did just want to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of us all, if I may…..It is clear to me that in holding dear the values of humility, honour, magnanimity and hospitality, the Ismaili Community takes its inspiration from you, Your Highness, and from your extraordinary “Greatness of Soul.” — Prince Charles, Aga Khan Centre Opening, June 26, 2018.
In similarly inspiring this Centre, you have set it on a path to serve the world with great distinction, just as Your Highness has yourself done throughout your remarkable life. My wife and I have been fortunate enough to see just what an inspiration you are to your community when we accompanied you to Altit years ago. Never will we forget that occasion nor, for that matter, the magnificently shampoo-ed bull yak with which I was presented and which, very sadly, I was unable to transport back to Highgrove to graze in my Islamic Garden! — Prince Charles, Aga Khan Centre Opening, June 26, 2018.
Prince Charles names the Aga Khan as Global Founding Patron of The Prince’s Trust’s work
We are immeasurably grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan for his contribution to our work and are delighted to welcome him as Global Founding Patron. — Dame Martina Milburn
Date posted: May 19, 2019
Last updated: April 9, 2021.
Before departing this website, please click Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 270 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family.
The following sources were used to compile the post:
- The Memoirs of Aga Khan, 1954, Cassell and Company
- Aga Khan III Selected Speeches and Writings, Ed. K.K. Aziz, 2 volumes, 1997, Kegan Paul International
- Blog Tiara a Day by Elia Kay; hyperlink not currrently available
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