Introduced and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Barakah, Simerg and Simergphotos)
The text and photos in this post are compiled and adapted from a special souvenir which was published in 1953 by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan to commemorate the historic visit made to Iran in 1951 by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957). I discovered the rare and well-preserved original copy of this precious souvenir in the archives of my late father, Alwaez Jehangir A. Merchant (1928-2018). The material for the glossy 68 page book was written in Persian by the famous Iranian writer and journalist of the time, Mohsin Saee, and compiled and translated into English by Professor Abbas Sabzwari. Readers should note that the highlights of the visit which are presented here have been substantially condensed.
His Highness the Aga Khan in Iran
All the material that follows has been compiled and adapted from a special 1953 Ismailia Association for Pakistan Souvenir authored by MOHSIN SAEE and translated by ABBAS SABZWARI
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
In 1950, Prince Aga Khan, (1877-1957), was declared an Iranian citizen and was awarded the distinguished title of Hazratwala, or His Royal Highness, by the Shah of Iran, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. This was ahead of the Shah’s second marriage in 1951 that Prince Aga Khan and Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan attended.
The dignified descendant of Hazrat Ali was elected in 1937 the President of the League of Nations. He is a man of letters. The poems of Hafiz, Shirazi, and verses of Sa’di, Qaani, Khaqani and others are stored up in his extensive memory. He has mastered the peculiarities of these poets and gained an insight into the mysteries of life.
Prince Aga Khan is simple and unostentatious, noble and courteous, sweet and good natured. It is with these attributes that this great man gives a lead to the Ismailis of the world, who are devoted to him with greater faith and loyalty than is enjoyed even by kings.
Four years after the death of Aga Hasan Ali Shah [Aga Khan I, the 46th Ismaili Imam], his illustrious son, Aga Ali Shah [Aga Khan II] also died. At that time Sultan Muhammad Shah was only eight years old. His wise prudent mother, Bibi Shamsul Muluk Khanum [Lady Aly Shah] became responsible for the training and education of her son in the best possible way. Prince Aga Khan Sultan Muhammad Shah has two sons. One of them is Prince Aly Khan [d. 1960] and the other Prince Sadruddin [d. 2003]. Prince Aly Khan has two sons named Prince Karim Aga Khan [b. 1936] and Prince Amyn Mohammad [b. 1937]. The real home of the forefathers of Prince Aga Khan is Mahallat, a few miles from Tehran. His forefathers owned several forts in Mahallat.
On the day of my visit to the fort, about 3,000 followers of Prince Aga Khan had assembled there from various parts of Iran. The fort was built more than 400 years ago. Thousands of families can easily pass a whole lifetime inside this fort. In almost all the rooms of the fort, there are fountains of sweet water.
PRINCE AGA KHAN IN TEHRAN
At the airport, a large number of his followers, from males and females of 80 years of age to blooming youths, were all eagerly waiting for the arrival of His Royal Highness. When Prince Aga Khan and his Begum [Om Habibeh, Mata Salamat] alighted from the aeroplane, loud cheers of joy and continued clapping of hands filled the air with deafening noise. Hakim-ul-Mulk, the Minister of the Royal Court, was the first to greet the distinguished guest. One of the relatives of Prince Aga Khan presented the Holy Qur’an and a bunch of flowers. When all the ceremonies of introduction were finished, the distinguished visitor looked to the sky and the scene around him and said with a smile, which only comes out of deep joy: “What a lovely and beautiful country I have! I had been cherishing for years the desire to visit my beloved native land.”
PRINCE AGA KHAN IN ISFAHAN
His Royal Highness and the Begum’s arrival in Isfahan was delayed by a day due to the bitter cold and bitter winds in Tehran and Isfahan. He arrived by plane while the Begum was driven from Tehran in a car. In the afternoon he and the Begum visited the Royal Mosque, the matchless forty-pillar mansion and the bridges across the river. His Royal Highness was charmed by the beauty and artistic design of the 40-pillar building. He remarked several times that the building had no parallel in the world. The Begum who was equally charmed by the masterpieces of Iranian art said, “This construction shows an artistic taste of a rich and high order such as cannot be found even in the palaces of Cairo and in the Taj Mahal.” The Begum took many pictures of this building, and both of them stood there for several minutes admiring its structure. The Prince told the Begum about the Persian King Thmasp and his guest, King Humayun of India. [The restoration of the Mughal Emperor Humayun’s 16th century garden tomb, the jewel of Mughal architecture that predates the Taj Mahal, was completed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, under the leadership of the present Ismaili Imam Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan – ed.]
Prince Aga Khan was so much charmed and enchanted by the masterly art of Iran that he directed his host to award prizes to those who had worked there. Prince Aga Khan and the Begum put their signatures in the visitors’ book, with the folllowing note in Persian from His Royal Highness:
“The soul of this slave of the House of the Prophet of God was enlivened by the sight of this old monument of the glorious period of the Safwi Kings.”
One of the most pleasant things which happened during the historic visit of Prince Aga Khan and the Begum to Isfahan was the Begum’s participation in the prayers with the congregation on Friday. The Juma mosque of Isfahan is the oldest and most splendid historic mosque of Isfahan. The Begum during her stay in Isfahan for a few days usually went to this mosque to join the congregational prayers. I hear from her companions that she recited the verses of the Holy Qur’an very well and always kept one beautiful rosary with her.
PRINCE AGA KHAN MEETS WITH ISMAILIS OF IRAN IN MAHALLAT
At the entrance of the city, by the side of a splendid and dignified Victory Gate, Aga Ataullah Aga Khani, one of the cousins of Prince Aga Khan, and men of letters were waiting for the arrival of His Royal Highness to Mahallat. Aga Ataullah presented to the distinguished visitor as a token of welcome one beautiful golden key kept in a silver box. Prince Aga Khan took the key with great pleasure and handed it to the Begum. The sentiments of the people of Mahallat as expressed in their sincere welcome brought tears to the eyes of Prince Aga Khan. The whole city was one beautiful mass of decorations. The doors and walls were adorned with tri-colour flags and beautiful carpets. There were many welcome posters everywhere.
Aga Ataullah Khan presented an address of welcome which read as follows:
“Welcome! Welcome! The pupil of my eye is your abode.
“May it please Your Highness,
“The people of Mahallat who are so much carried away by their joy at your arrival that they can hardly distinguish between their heads and feet had for long been waiting for your blessed visit very eagerly. They had hoped that your auspicious visit would synchronise with the season of spring when everyone would be in high spirits and would welcome you with heaps of flowers together with their sincere and unalloyed sentiments towards your Highness and would lay those flowers at your holy feet. But now when Providence has destined that the auspicious day of your arrival should fall during the winter season, I take the liberty to submit that by the grace of your holy feet a spiritual spring has permeated the atmosphere of this place and there is a spirit of joy in the hearts of the people.”
Mahallat is pride of the gardens of Paradise
It is verily the gardens of the whole universe.
A pretty city full of mirth and joy,
Such is Mahallat in spring or autumn.
Its soil from abundance of tulip and rose
Has turned crimson-coloured through and through.
The water that flows from its streams
Is like the water of ‘Kausar’, the river of Paradise
It is the mother country of Prince Aga Khan
The well-known celebrity of international fame.
His own person is like a lustrous pearl,
And Mahallat is doubtless its shell and cover.
The devoted followers of His Royal Highness had arrived in Mahallat from various corners of Iran. People of different areas wore their distinctive costumes.
In the compound of the gardens, thousands of males and females, old and young, took their seats in an orderly way and waited for the arrival of Prince Aga Khan. He passed in front of them in a special vehicle, and then took his seat facing towards them. The Begum also took her seat beside him and both of them had a brown canopy stretched over their heads.
His Royal Highness asked the gathering: “Those who have come from Khorasan should raise their hands.” He then asked the people of Kirman to do the same, and so on till he came to know from what different parts of the country they had come.
Prince Aga Khan then made a short speech and said: “I would ask you to pay more attention towards the education and training of your children. You should bring them up in the best possible way.” He directed Aga Majid Khan to distribute one million riyal equally among the Ismaili children.
The followers then got up to present their offerings to him and to avoid overcrowding they arranged themselves in a line and came up one by one to the stage. He blessed them and caressed their children. The Begum also fondled the children with great care.
An incessant request made to Prince Aga Khan by his followers was that he may name their newly born children. They brought their children to him and asked for names. He mostly gave the names of Mohammad and Ali to the sons; to the daughters he gave the names Zuhra, Fatimah, Sakina and Zainab. A pregnant woman asked for a name for her prospective issue and Prince Aga Khan replied, “Call him Mohammad if it is a son and Fatimah if a daughter.”
A number of brides and bridegrooms who had recently been married at Mahallat also presented themselves before His Royal Highness for his blessings. Carried away by their sentiments of love for their spiritual leader, they shed tears of delight.
Among those who had come to see His Royal Highness, there was a group of person wearing medals on their chests. They were people who had been to India or Africa and had been blessed by their Imam there. The medals they wore had the image of Prince Aga Khan on them, and great was the joy and pride they displayed as being in possession of those coveted medals of distinction.
The walls and doors of the historic fort of the city known as ‘The Aga Khan Fort’ were adorned and decorated in elegant manner by the followers of Prince Aga Khan. When he passed by the fort, the devotees wanted to sacrifice a big camel adorned with carpets and mirrors, but Prince Aga Khan prohibited it.
In front of the fort, some Ismaili girls stood ready with their musical instruments for a dance. They clapped their hands and beat their feet rythmically on the ground. The Begum was hugely delighted and asked the cameraman, Aga Gul Surkhi, to take photographs of all these beautiful and exciting scenes.
He then passed through the city in the midst of loud cheers of joy from the residents of Mahallat. His Royal Highness was much gratified with the reception accorded to him and asked the people of Mahallat to send him their proposals for the improvement of the city.
PRINCE AGA KHAN MEETS WITH EDITORS AND JOURNALISTS
PRINCE AGA KHAN ON HIS REASON TO VISIT IRAN
(in interview with Mohseen Saee, Ed. Daily Naseem Shimal)
In elegant Persian, His Royal Highness the Aga Khan said:
“A certain Irani whose forefathers belonged to Iran comes to his native land. There can be no reason for his visit except his attachment and love for the soil where his forefathers were born and brought up. I had been waiting for years to find a suitable time to visit Iran and the wedding ceremony provided the best possible opportunity to brighten my eyes with the sight of my motherland.”
PRINCE AGA KHAN ON PAST STRUGGLES FOR FREEDOM AND WAY FORWARD WITH NEW MOTTO ‘SECURITY AND PROSPERITY’
(Tehran press conference, February 15, 1951, in presence of 50 editors and press correspondents)
One fascinating discussion was on the past struggles for freedom. His Royal Highness observed:
“Fifty years ago, when we were young and we struggled for freedom and staged our demonstrations, our motto was: ‘Do or Die’, ‘Death or Independence’; but now our motto should be: ‘Security and Prosperity’. We should do such things as may save people from dying untimely and prematurely of numerous ailments, and we should adopt such means as should help ameliorate the condition of the people and improve the lot of the young. None should die, except when it is inevitable and willed by God. When we have got relief from epidemics, we should try to enhance the prosperity of the State.”
Aqai Moqqar, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Iran, reflecting on Prince Aga Khan’s visit to Iran in the National Legislative Assembly stated as follows on February 18, 1951:
“His Highness has brought for us a very nice present. This gift is in the shape of the slogan ‘Security and Prosperity’ as against the former slogan of ‘Death or Independence’, which was the motto of the freedom-lovers of the period of tyranny. His advice to us is to make every effort in our power for the advancement and prosperity of our country.”
PRINCE AGA KHAN ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD
(in interview with a correspondent of the daily Ittilaat)
“The world today is passing through a dangerous phase indeed, and there can be no doubt about it. But there is a source of satisfaction and hopelessness in the thought that the Governments of the world know fully well that another world war will cause such destruction and havoc as is beyond our mental calculation. I therefore think that another world conflagration will not come. There is no fear of a war taking place out of an accident this time; but if war does come accidentally, the reason will be that ‘practical peace’ has become rare and difficult under the circumstances. The number and quality of destructive weapons, the armed forces and unnecessary ammunitions of war have been increased to such an extent that one day either this side or that side will go to war because they will think that war is better than ‘forced peace’. If, God forbid, a day is reached when mental conflict increases and becomes intolerable, that day world war will become inevitable and will overtake the world.”
PRINCE AGA KHAN ON THE MOST EXCITING EVENTS IN LIFE
(in interview with a correspondent of the daily Ittilaat)
“The incidents which have occurred during the 70 years of my life are numerous, but the events which came into existence during the last three years are very important in my opinion. These events are the migration of the English people from the seat of their old empire and the creation of two powerful states – India and Pakistan. These events are to be regarded as occurrences of a revolutionary nature. They have changed not only the face of Asia but also of the whole world. I may also say that the emergence of the New China, the powerful China of today, is also a major phenomenon in the history of the world.
PRINCE AGA KHAN ON ISLAM
(at Press Conference in Isfahan)
“I wish you to convey my message to the learned men of the Shia sect and ask them to march ahead with the times. I wish to impress this point on them that the present practical world is different from the old world of a hundred years ago. Today, there is a danger facing Islam and the only way to meet this danger and overcome it is to remove disruption in our midst and to pay special attention to the acquisition of a knowledge of modern sciences.
“If we want to free ourselves, we must establish in our state such big educational institutions as have a blend of the old teachings and modern sciences. And we should give the best possible education to our students and religious leaders so that they may be able to steer clear of the shoals of narrow-mindedness, bigotry and irrational conservatism and may be able to face the hard realities of the practical world in a successful way.”
PRINCE AGA KHAN DEPARTS FOR SYRIA
His Royal Highness left for Damascus in an Air France plane. He was scheduled to stay there for ten days to meet his followers and then proceed to Cairo to attend the marriage of King Farouk of Egypt. At the airport of Damascus, Prince Aga Khan was received by a large number of his followers. On his arrival at Damascus, His Royal Highness expressed himself as follows about the people of Iran:
“My Irani brethern showed such intense affection and regard for us as is beyond my power to explain.”
From Damascus, he sent a telegram to the Shah of Iran expressing his appreciation and gratefulness for the cordial reception accorded to him by His Majesty and other members of the royal family.
Date posted: December 28, 2019.
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Brilliant and thank you for sharing.
This article is a testimony of the dedication and brilliant effort made by Barakah. com to preserve our unique history. We are forever grateful to the authors for this. May you be inspired and motivated to continue the excellent work you have been doing in making the knowledge and information available to hundreds and thousands of individuals.
A remarkable memory and historical moments of Mowlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Our children are blessed.
Never knew this part of the history; thank you for sharing it.
This is something immense – just that a record of that visit was kept in Persian and rendered into English and shows our Imams’ attachment to that land. Our archivist Malik Merchant is lucky he is the inheritor of this and many other materials from his late father which he is bringing forth here. We read that at the airport itself the 48th Lord looked up at the sky and said how he a slave from the House of Allah had cherished for years to come to his beloved native land. He spoke in Persian as we see the same sentiment he expressed when he came for the Shahenshah’s second wedding: “In elegant Persian, His Royal Highness the Aga Khan said: ‘A certain Irani whose forefathers belonged to Iran comes to his native land. There can be no reason for his visit except his attachment and love for the soil where his forefathers were born and brought up.’”
He goes to Mahlatt from where grandfather 46th Imam Hassan Alishah had exiled to India, hence called Aga Khan Mahlatti. Sir Sultan had come home. The Begum Om Habibah went to the Jumah mosque often and the entourage remarked she recited the Qura’n perfectly. We see the murids at the didar, so devotional, the women at the front and men at the back. Men wear traditional dress. The ones receiving at the gate are all suited-booted, after all we are in the times of the modernizer Shah Reza Pehlavi. The courtiers are so stern and westernized! We notice one young one in 1-2 photos.
How far we have come! Hazar Imam himself kept very close royalty relationship with the Shah, being granted the title of HRH – His Royal Highness. We know he had an Iranian passport and skied for Iran at the Olympics, early 1960s. Ismailis are still there in Iran, well protected by the Islamic State. At this time we think of them and all Iranians for the struggles they are going through under the Covid19 pandemic under sanctions by USA. May Allah protect them.
In the end, the article speaks of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah going to Damascus. Hassan bin Sabah had established a parallel state in Syria at Salamiya. At this time we pray for peace over Syria. We can be sure Prince Aly Khan would be grieved at the devastation inflicted on beloved Syria. To him Salamiya was special (he was “Salamiya ke pyare”, as we used to sing in the song). He chose to be buried there. We pray for peace over Syria.
Thank you for sharing history with us! I was wondering if there are any written or verbal renditions from the followers or fellow travellers headed towards Mahallat for didar? What hardship did they face and from how far did they travel to get there?
That’s a very interesting thought on your part. I will try and contact members of the Iranian Jamat and see if there are written accounts by members of the Jamat about the historic visit. There may be elders who are still alive who might wish to share their stories through interviews. This is challenging under the present circumstances. Thank you for writing.
Amazing. Thanks for sharing.
What a historical account of the subject matter. I do not know how but it seems that I missed to go through this wonderful post by Barakah at the end of 2019. I am glad I did so today.
For your and your readers information, I had the opportunity to visit Iran as far back as in 1973 and 1974 and traveled to every nook and corner of the beautiful country. During early 1970’s to mid-1970’s there were 50 Tanzanian students studying for medical degree of M.D. at the Pahlavi University in Shiraz, Iran.
Barakah – keep up the great job of posting such wonderful information about wide variety of subjects.
Is the full text of the interviews in Iran available?
Yes, I provided only excerpts.
Wishing you a very happy and prosperous New Year. Thank you for such beautiful article. Indeed the photos that you have shared are so mesmerizing, magical and spellbound. I am so grateful to you for this sweet memory. With warm regards, Shams.
Thank you so much. Wish there is a record of visit to Syria as well. When I was in Johannesburg I came across a copy of Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah’s visit to South Africa in 1947 or so. The book was published by the Keshavjee family. This book would make a valuable memorabilia for the South African and Mozambique Jamats and the rest of us.
Thank you for your feedback. Re: Special South African souvenir issue, please see a compilation of excerpts/photos from the souvenir by clicking https://simerg.com/literary-readings/literary-reading-sir-sultan-muhammad-shah-aga-khan-iii-imams-message-in-south-africa-addressed-artificial-barriers-unity-education-for-all-and-damaging-social-habits-2/.
Many many thanks for sharing these memorable photos.
This post was most interesting and educational…….loved reading it and enjoyed the rare photographs.
Thank you Malik for sharing our history.
Via Facebook: I need to further talk to you about this and see if there is a Persian text as well?
There may have possibly been a Persian edition of this text as well as one in Urdu. The introduction by Mohamed Hoodbhoy, the President of the Ismailia Association for Pakistan, says, “The account of this visit is given in this book which was first written in Persian by the famous Iranian journalist and writer, Aqai Mohsin Saee…” Surely there must be a Persian text somewhere even if a book was not published. Hoodbhoy does not make any references to any other edition. The best collection of old Ismaili magazines was probably at the Sherali Allidina Memorial Library in Pakistan, which was gifted to the IIS IN 1998. Please see if you can write to ITREB Pakistan. BTW I’m still going thru my dad’s archives and should I come across a Persian edition I will let you know.
Via Facebook: Thank you for posting this. I had heard many oral stories about this visit but nothing official. I have seen the British patho clips of the Imam at the Shah’s wedding. I have heard that the Imam also met many of his kinsmen in the villages such as mahallat. I have a picture of Hazer Imam giving deedar in Tehran in 1967. If you have more info about that visit please share as well.
Thank you so much for this remarkable history. I really appreciate it.
What a blessing. Thank you.
Wow, terrific pictures, so rare to come across this wonderful post of our 48th Imam.