Glimpses from past and present: The Aga Khans and Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II

Compiled and prepared by ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

Victoria Day

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.

Queen Victoria and family. Copyrighted by Boussod Valadon & Co. Painting by John Philip. Date created/published c.1897. Credit: USA Library of Congress Collection

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. 

1573_Queen Hosts Aga Khan at Buc kingham Palace for his Golden Jubilee
His Highness the Aga Khan with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during a dinner hosted by Her Majesty in honour of  the 49th Ismaili Imam at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee in July 2008. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

(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

His Highness the Aga Khan III in full regalia
His Highness the Aga Khan III in full regalia. Photo: Fidai Magazine.

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

Memoirs of Aga Khan Jacket Medium

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 

Aga Khan_tiara gift_ to_Queen Victoria
Photos: Princess Louise, Duchess of Connaught and Strathearn

(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

Aga Khan at All the Queen's Horses event in Windsor for Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee
His Highness the Aga Khan’s support enabled contingents from four Commonwealth countries to participate in a spectacular equestrian event honouring the Queen on her Golden Jubilee. Photo:

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.

479_Aga Khan_Prince Charles in Hunza 2006
On November 3, 2006, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were hosted by His Highness the Aga Khan on a tour of development projects in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The Prince of Wales viewed restoration work undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in the traditional settlement of Altit, in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan. Their Royal Highnesses also visited the “organic village” of Nansoq, where a programme supported by the Aga Khan Foundation is designed to demonstrate the viability of organic agricultural production. Photo: AKDN.ORG


The Aga Khan welcomes Prince Charles to Cairo’s Al-Azhar Park

egypt_2006march_2m.Aga Khan welcomes Prince Charles to Al Azhar Park
His Highness the Aga Khan welcomes HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to Al-Azhar Park on March 20, 2006. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.


Queen Elizabeth hosts the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace for his Golden Jubilee

aga-khan-iv-at-buckinghma-palace_with Queen and Prrince Philip_Golden Jubilee
His Highness the Aga Khan together with Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at a dinner hosted in July 2008 in the Aga Khan’s honour at Buckingham Palace to commemorate his Golden Jubilee. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.
aga-khan-iv-at-buckinghma-palace_with Queen and Prrince Philip_Golden Jubilee 3
His Highness the Aga Khan presents his second son, Prince Hussain, to Her Majesty the Queen. His brother, Prince Amyn, and his oldest son Prince Rahim prepare to be greeted by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and the Duchess of Cornwall, as Princess Yasmin, the Aga Khan’s sister, looks on. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.


Queen Elizabeth hosts the Aga Khan at Windsor Castle for his Diamond Jubilee

6mhi_Aga Khan with Queen Elizabeth at his Diamond Jubilee celebration at Windsor Castle
Her Majesty the Queen in conversation with His Highness the Aga Khan at a dinner hosted on March 8, 2018 by Her Majesty at Windsor Castle. The Aga Khan was accompanied by members of his family — his brother Prince Amyn Aga Khan, his daughter Princess Zahra Aga Khan, his eldest son Prince Rahim Aga Khan, Prince Rahim’s wife Princess Salwa, and the Aga Khan’s younger sons, Prince Hussain Aga Khan and Prince Aly Muhammad Aga Khan. The event acknowledged historic linkages between the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy and longstanding connections between the Ismaili Community, the institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network and the United Kingdom. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

Court Circular

March 8

Buckingham Palace

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. 

Aga Khan introduces Prince Aly Muhammad to Queen Elizabeth
His Highness the Aga Khan introduces Her Majesty the Queen to members of his family including Prince Rahim, Princess Salwa, Prince Hussain and Prince Aly Muhammad. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.


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.

dsc_4132_Aga Khan and Prince Charles inaugurate Aga Khan Centre
On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, HRH The Prince of Wales opened The Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Situated at the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter, the Aga Khan Centre, designed by Maki and Associates, led by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary architects, provides a new home for a number of UK based organisations founded by His Highness the Aga Khan: The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK).

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

Prince's Trust International Dinner
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales named His Highness the Aga Khan as Global Founding Patron of The Prince’s Trust’s work. The Aga Khan met with The Prince of Wales at a dinner at Buckingham Palace, where he was thanked for his support. As Global Founding Patron, His Highness will support the delivery of The Trust’s work in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and through local partners in India, Jordan, Pakistan, Malta, Barbados and Greece.

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:


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  1. Thank you Malik to bring the history of Mawlana Hazer Imam and The Royal family, of many years of acquaintance. “GOD” Bless you.


  2. Thank you for your sharing! This information is priceless! So many wonderful memories with our Mowla and the Queen! Shukar Mowla! We will cherish this for a long long time!🙏🙏🙏🙏❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️


  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article full of knowledge from our 48th Imam to our 49th Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan. Just seeing his face in any picture brings a huge smile to my face, especially seeing the immense kindness on his face.


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