Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, on a World War (III) of a different kind

(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

I have been ever so reluctant to raise this matter and share something that grabbed my attention during one of my longer stays at my parent’s place over the past 20 years. During those multi-week stays, I had the opportunity of going through my late dad Jehangir Merchant’s archives of family letters, hand-written notes as well as old magazine and newspaper articles that he had preserved for many, many years. For example, I discovered letters exchanged between my mum and him from the early 1950’s. I came across a 1961 penciled letter that my dad wrote to my mum from an internment camp in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, a few days after my mum had given birth to my youngest brother. During my latest visit, I read a very descriptive letter that he had penned to my mum from both Aswan and Cairo when Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was permanently laid to rest in 1959. It was, in a sense, a kind of a serialized letter because there were “to be continued” notes throughout the letter.

Some of the material I found in my dad’s archives has been published in Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos. One such piece published in Barakah recently was Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s historical visit to Iran in 1951.

Anyway, one of my most astonishing discoveries took place several years ago, long before any of my websites were created. It was a very tiny report that appeared on the front page of either the Tanganyika Standard or the East African Standard from the 1950’s.

At first glance, I did not notice anything of significance on the page, aside from the fact that it was over 65 years old. However, I knew that my dad was detail-oriented, and kept important and historical clippings regardless of their sizes, so my curiosity was deepened.

As I examined every column on the page, I came across a very tiny, perhaps even smaller than a 1.5″ x 1.5″ column, on Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. I had never seen such as small report on the late Imam considering its importance. It concerned a question the Imam was asked – whether he believed that there would be a World War III. The Imam replied in the affirmative, but said that it would be a totally different kind of a war! There was no further elaboration in the newspaper.

From that day onwards, I have remained quite puzzled about what that “different war” might be. Today, as the COVID-19 crisis deepens, and given its status as a worldwide pandemic affecting the lives of billions of people, I’ve begun to read headlines such as ‘It’s World War III’: local health officials bracing for surge in COVID-19 cases. In a brief introduction to Morgan Housel’s article Common Enemies that appears in Collaborative Fund, Dale Roberts pens as follows in Fighting Covid is World War 3. “Who knew that World War 3 (WWIII) would be against a virus that we cannot see? That would be almost no one. But that is the case. That is the reality…..Fighting COVID-19 is World War 3.” It is worth reading Dale’s introduction as well as Housel’s insightful article in which he writes: “World War II united most of the world against a common enemy in a way that’s incredibly rare. Cooperation within, and between, countries surged….The fight against COVID-19 is nearly identical in that respect. This may be the first time since the 1940s that so much of the world is united so firmly against such a specific foe.”

Of course, the COVID-19 crisis has not been officially declared as World War III. However, we have a deepening world crisis which has seen the USA come up with a 2 trillion dollar bailout for its economy. Other countries have taken similar steps. The numbers of confirmed cases and deaths reported in worldometers keep on rising. There are more than 130 countries with COVID-19 cases ranging from 30 in Uganda to 122,246 in the USA. As of March 28, 2020, there were more than 662,800 coronavirus cases, with over 30,800 deaths around the world.

I am of course determined to locate that astonishing clipping in the coming years as I get an opportunity to review my parent’s literary archives once again after having successfully separated ‘the wheat from the chaff’ in the last two decades.

At this time, I can only assure readers that I vividly remember Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s very brief interview report. My recollection is 100% accurate. I just have to find the clipping, and when I do find it I will share its image with Barakah’s readers.

Finally, I am also reminded of a Farman following the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in which Mawlana Hazar Imam said that inshallah there won’t be any wars in the future. Let that wish always be our hope and prayer.

Date posted: March 28, 2020.


Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 200 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, his family and the Ismaili Imamat.

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  1. I see an increased sense of humanity and willingness to assist each other.This is surely gratifying. The wold, I agree , will definitely be different after this crisis.I hope that mankind has learnt lessons while going through this period.


  2. Is this not a time to stop building weapons, or nuclear items? Should not the government of the world start to build more hospitals and improve people’s health by removing poverty ? The people of the world have been paying taxes not for weapons of war so they now demand that the monies must help all humans.

    Stop humans destroying other humans but Build only weapons of Health and happiness and equality.
    Marie Carter


  3. This article makes a very interesting point on Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah’s worldly views for that time. However, to cope with in this COVID 19 crisis, if your readers want to read an inspirational example and understand his role as the Imam, who is responsible for the safety and security of his followers, and also that of the people they live amongst, one must read his Memoirs, the Memoirs of Aga Khan III. (see link below)

    In the Memoirs, in the early chapters of his recollections of his youth in Bombay, he discussed how he dealt with the Bubonic plague epidemic crisis that hit Bombay, British India, in 1897-8. As the Imam,he utilized the intellectual services of Professor, Dr Waldemar Haffekine, a Russian of Jewish heritage, and provided him with all the resources necessary to help develop a vaccine to deal with this disease that was taking the lives of thousands in Bombay. After the development of the vaccine, to alleviate the sense of fear of the vaccine amongst his followers, the Imam had himself inoculated in public. This strategy of the Imam helped save the lives of thousands of people in British India.

    A point to note: Mowlana Sultan Mohamed was only about 20 years old in this time.

    [Excerpts from the Memoirs were published in Barakah. Please click – Ed.]


  4. Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah appointed Mawlana Hazar Imam and in the will stated the need of an Imam for the atomic age. A nuclear war would be very different from the 2 great wars .


    • The two atomic bombs used in ww2 were nuclear bombs, which effectively ended the war. Today’s nuclear warheads are far more destructive as they use both fission and fusion energy to release the incredibly vast amounts of energy, compared to the atomic bomb which used fission reaction. However you may be right about a potential future warfare in which far more nuclear energy would be applied. In that sense it would be a different kind of a war too. It would be short lived and wipe out much of humanity instantly and in a catastrophic manner if multiple countries were involved. This war against Covid-19 is very scary and stressful. It is indeed a totally different kind of war, and also on a worldwide scale but it might not yet be ww3. This piece wasn’t meant to justify Covid-3 as a ww3. After all only handful of articles have so far said that fighting the Covid-19 disease is ww3 arguing that its scope and breath is massive.Let us hope that this disease doesn’t take a lot of lives, and is quickly vanquished with the help of science, medicine and responsible human behaviour.


      • In his latest message to Global Jamat, our beloved Imam said that the crisis shall pass and that we should prepare to build and build well. The point about rebuild with foresight, in my opinion, gives an indication of the depth and the destructive power of the pandemic. The cardiac arrest suffered by the world economy will have far-reaching consequences and will require rebuilding, just as the Marshall Plan after WWII was required to rebuild Europe, destroyed by war. The President of WHO gave the same message during an interview and said that humanity should rethink the type of civilization it wants to build for the future. Several leading thinkers are of the opinion that just as 911 changed our airports and travel, this Covid-19 pandemic will change our world for ever.


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