Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Journey of Sea Exploration and Discovery Began at the Age of 5: Barakah Marks His 47th Birthday With Stories of His Love, Concern and Passion for Marine Life

From the first Costeau film I saw and the fish I started keeping at the age of five, the first octopus and cuttlefish that squirted ink at me….I knew I couldn’t, wouldn’t stop exploring the sea — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

On photo of the dolphin on the front cover of his photo book Diving Into Wildlife:

This image is burned into my memory cells. Ingrained and encrusted in the corners of my mind and depths of my soul — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Prince Hussain at marine life exhibition of his photos Barakah
Prince Hussain points out an interesting detail of a marine animal depicted in one of his photographs exhibited at Nairobi’s Town Jamatkhana in March 2019. Photo: AKDN/Hussein Jiva

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

Of the birth of all four children of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, I recollect the announcement about the birth of Prince Hussain more vividly than of any of his other siblings – Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Aly Muhmmad. This is because I was present at Alexandra Palace in North London when Mawlana Hazar Imam revealed to the Jamat, in the presence of Begum Salimah, that she was expecting their 3rd child. We were overjoyed and heartily clapped on hearing the news. The auspicious birth of Prince Hussain took place a few months later on April 10, 1974 when Princess Zahra (b. September 18, 1970) and Prince Rahim (b. October 12, 1971) were three and two years old respectively.

Another vivid recollection that I have of Prince Hussain is from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee in the UK. I had travelled to London, England, from Canada to be with my parents to celebrate the last Silver Jubilee visit in July 1983. For the Darbar Mulaqat, Mawlana Hazar Imam was accompanied by Begum Salimah and Princess Zahra (12 years old), Prince Rahim (11) and Prince Hussain (9). Shortly after they took their seats on the stage, Prince Hussain noticed that a section of the stage carpet was buckled. He then got up from his chair and walked to the wrinkled section and straightened it, and also pushed his feet in the area to make sure the carpet would remain straight. It was a heart warming sight for me when I saw him doing that. The Jamats will also recall that during the Darbar, Mawlana Hazar Imam blessed Count Sir Eboo Pirbhai with the title of Diwan. It was an unforgettable visit.

A couple of years later we learnt about the incident of Prince Hussain’s gold fish that died in a fish tank when President Reagan and the First Lady stayed at Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Geneva home in November 1985. This was during the summit meeting with Russian President Gorbachev. President Reagan was saddened by the incident and left behind the following note for the family:

“Dear Friends, On Tuesday I found one of your fish dead in the bottom of the tank. I don’t know what could have happened but I added two new ones, same kind, I hope this was alright. Thanks for letting us live in your lovely home. Ronald Reagan.”

Prince Hussain was then 11 years old, and had already developed enthusiasm for wildlife. This early interest in his childhood has taken him to where he stands today creating an organization called Focused on Nature (FON) that aims to help projects related to species conservation and slow habitat loss.

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Prince Hussain plants a silver oak tree in the presence of David Boyer, Senior Director, Prince Sadruddin Fund for the Environment; Aziz Bhaloo, then AKDN Resident Representative in Kenya; Dr Wing-Kun Tam, Lions Clubs International President; Murtaza Dungarwal AKDN/Aziz Islamshah
Hussain Aga Khan, His Highness the Aga Khan and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Living Sea, Barakah
Prince Hussain presents a photograph to his father, Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan, and Portudal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at The Living Sea photo exhibition in Lisbon in September 2019. Photo: The Ismaili/Jorge Simão.
Prince Rahim Aga Khan and Prince Irfan.
Prince Rahim and his son Prince Irfan visit Prince Hussain’s Nature Photographic Exhibition in Lisbon during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in July 2018. Photo: Shireen Nazim/The Ismaili.

Of course, Prince Hussain, while heading the work of FON as its founder, continues to be engaged with the work of the Imamat through his involvement with numerous agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network where he is the Board Chair of the Aga Khan Agency of Habitat and a Board Member of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. At FON, his older brother Prince Rahim acts as one of the advisers. Mention must also be made of Nazir Sunderji, who along with his late wife Munira, contributed to the work of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and has continued supporting Prince Hussain at FON as a founding member as well as its Secretary-General.

Our special presentation for Prince Hussain’s 47th birthday is just a small segment of the enormously vast and rich material that can be found on his website. We strongly encourage you to spend time to learn more of FON’S activities and publications, as well as the exciting adventures of Prince Hussain in the oceans and seas of the world. Children will particularly love flicking through his 191 digitized brochures that contain hundreds of mesmerizing photos of his undersea adventures and meeting with sea animals including sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles that are briefly covered below.

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Prince Hussain is accompanied by Princess Fareen — then Elizabeth Hoag; they were engaged when this photo was taken in March 2019 — as he describes the elements of a particular photograph at Nairobi’s Town Jamatkhana during an exhibition of his stunning photos of marine life. Photo: AKDN/Aziz Islamshah
Prince Hussain marine life photos
Prince Hussain describes some of the distinguishing features of marine animal photos exhibited in March 2019 at the Nairobi Town Jamatkhana, as Cabinet Secretary Honourable Keriako Tobiko, and panelists David O. Obure, Doreen Robinson and Dr. Cyrille-Lazare Siewe look on with keen interest. Photo: AKDN/Aziz Islamshah

Prince Hussain is an advocate and an activist who is also concerned about climate change, the neglect to the environment and nature in all its aspects and has particularly expressed his concern about the use and spread of plastic. He said, “Before, you didn’t see plastic in the sea. Now it is everywhere. I see plastic each and every time I go on an expedition. In Egypt, in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in the Bahamas, in Sardinia…Wherever I go I always find plastic.” Both the Prince and his wife Princess Fareen have stopped using plastic in their homes.

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Prince Hussain Aga Khan and Princess Fareen were married on 29 September 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Prince Hussain and Princess Fareen were married on 29 September 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

As Prince Hussain celebrates his 47th birthday on April 10, 2021 we wish him a very happy birthday and congratulate his wife Princess Fareen and all the members of his family.

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INSIGHTS

Prince Hussain Aga Khan Focused on Nature Founder Simerg

By PRINCE HUSSAIN AGA KHAN

1. Small Turtle in Bahamas

I stayed with her for an hour; she let me closer and closer in. By the end of the dive she was eating 60 centimeters from my leg — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Prince Hussain Aga Khan, Turtle
Incredibly friendly and “chilled” Hawksbill Turtle, a bit on the small side. Highbourne Cay, Bahamas, April 2018. Photo: Prince Hussain/Focused on Nature.

You would not believe how lovely, beautiful and trusting this small turtle was.

I was about to call – quit – a very boring dive with unremarkable coral and precious few fish when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this small turtle rise to the surface for a breath. I approached and rose with it, not sure how close it would allow me.

Next thing you knew I was with this sweet thing for the whole dive – at least 45 minutes – and until I ran out of air.

[The turtle] was against a coral head for a few minutes and it seemed like she was actually playing with me – as if it were a game, with me watching her and her watching me, and she was staying just far away enough, an obstacle between us just big enough, to make shooting her harder!

I love the way she’s resting her flipper on the coral here – and how close it seems compared to her body. She had a fairly dark shell.

She very clearly trusted my buddy and me, was visibly relaxed, and even started eating just next to us. It seems very rare for animals, even the more familiar and trusting ones, to snack next to you! She got in all sorts of dining positions: upside down over her food; diagonal; on the bottom with her head held high… More Turtle Stories and Photos

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2. Humpback Whale in Tonga

Swimming with whales is unbelievably rewarding. As corny as it sounds… the whales do “change your life”. They’re simply too majestic, too enormous, too touching and too intelligent not to. Just as with humans there’s virtually no way to assess or predict an animal’s character, mood or behaviour ahead of time — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Prince Hussain Aga Khan, and humpback whale
A humpback blows bubbles during a heat run in August 2019. Vava’u, Tonga. Photo: Prince Hussain Aga Khan/Focused on Nature.

The Town of Neiffu in Vava’u, Tonga, and Photographing Whales

Neiafu is a reverie. On a less than 1-kilometer strip you have 3 Chinese-run supermarkets; the laundromat called Bubbles (!!); the stunning blue and white church with its melodic singing and full Sunday crowd (Tongans are very religious, and no one works on Sundays); two banks with much-needed ATMs that provide local money; Bellavista — the delicious Italian place; the waterfront Mango Café, which has more of a comfort food menu; a quiet and picturesque main street and pavements with the pitter patter of dozens of stray, some beautiful and some gruff, dogs. For some reason everybody in Neiafu always seems happy, everybody mingles, you never witness discord, and people learn each other’s names very fast. Everyone is interconnected, entwined, enchanted.

If you are a repeat visitor in this lovely small town (as I am), drunk on the excitement of whale swims and sightings, surrounded by whale-related shop offerings and familiar faces, it literally feels like you have a small, if extended, family and home away from home.

Photographing – and even seeing – the whales is a real challenge when they’re deep. In deep, dark water (the waters around Vava’u are generally very deep) it’s hard to identify dark bodies. Much of the time, the only way to notice the whales deep is when the white patches on their sides or their bellies are showing. Blowing bubbles is a sign of aggression/threat in humpbacks. Heat runs are when multiple males are pursuing a female to mate with her – up to 18 males or more chasing after one female!

I assume this [photo above] was a male whale trying to intimidate some of its competition. Or voicing its frustration! It’s a shame about the tail being cut off in this image; but it’s the best bubble image I have!…..More Whale Stories and Photos

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3. Spinner Dolphin in Egypt

The dolphins are unpredictable (never aggressive with us) and all have their own independent characters and behavior. Some are bold, some shy, some inquisitive and playful. Some calves are cheeky and some mothers stern. Sometimes you can observe them for a long time. Sometimes the dolphins immediately swim off when you get in… or the encounters are very short — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Spinner dolphin portrait taken as Prince Hussain was running out of breath, Sataya, Egypt, December 2014. Photo: Prince Hussain Aga Khan/Focused on Nature.

This image is burned into my memory cells. Ingrained and encrusted in the corners of my mind and depths of my soul. For this image I had gone down below the surface – photographs look so much better when taken from below – and had the joy of a spinner (dolphin) rising directly towards my legs, eventually spiralling around them. My camera refused to shoot, and then refused again and again. And again. The zoom must have been in the wrong position or light too low. Even as the dolphin rose higher, to my chest, and continued to spiral, I could not get an image of it! A shot would not go off.

And then, as I was seconds away from desperately needing air, the dolphin rose just above me — into the light. And I got this shot off. I was CONVINCED the photograph would be a terrible failure, swimming back to the boat cursing my lungs, my camera and the light. (but not the dolphin!).

For sure I thought I might have half a fin, a head split in 2 or a throat without a face! But then, reviewing the images back on the boat, it was amazing to find what became my first book cover [Diving Into Wildlife]…. More Dolphin Stories and Photos

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4. Sharks

I’ve always loved, been fascinated by, sharks. From the earliest age and at the first view of them on tv I wanted to know more about them, see them in real life and understand what they did. — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Top: Tiger Shark and Lemon Shark; Bottom: Scalloped Hammerhead Shark and Silky Shark. Photos: Prince Hussain Aga Khan/Focused on Nature.

I’m convinced that the younger you are to experience something considered dangerous, the more likely you are to be ok with it and brave. I was never really afraid of snakes because my siblings and I first handled one with an adult in Sardinia when I was about 9. With sharks… it seems lucky to me that the first one, a little reef shark, swam by me when I was 14 or 15. The whole idea that sharks will most likely attack you if they see you in the water is as much of a fallacy as the idea that if you jump into the water with a pod of wild dolphins they will want to play with you.

Humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die — Prince Hussain Aga Khan

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Great white shark, Prince Hussain Aga Khan photo, Barakah, Focused on Nature
A Great White Shark off the North Neptune Islands, Australia, in 2015. Photo: Prince Hussain Aga Khan/Focused on Nature.

If one includes species that have only been seen dead or found a small number of times (Megamouth etc.), over 350 different species of shark have been identified. And of those a huge number are sharks you would never see swimming, that live at night, very deep, under ledges or on the ocean floor. Many species of sharks, which are related to rays — also cartilaginous fishes, look nothing like what you imagine a shark looks like. Some are flattened, some guitar-shaped, some look like carpets… Some just look like normal fish with big eyes, strange heads or tails. Shark size ranges from 20 centimeters for the dwarf lantern shark to 18.8 meters for the whale shark – the biggest fish in the sea. The vast majority of shark species have never been known to attack anybody. And humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented and horrifying rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die), those entangled in nets and taken by mistake as by-catch. And yet sharks kill only 6 to 8 people a year around the world. So sharks are killing us at perhaps 0.000000029304029 to 0.00000006 the rate we kill them. It is said that overall shark numbers have declined by ninety percent over the past few decades…..More Sharks Stories and Photos

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Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Fantastic 191 Digital Publications, Photo Book “Diving Into Wildlife” and Beautiful Scarves

Some of the more than 185 digitized brochures that are available for flicking, Prince Hussain’s book on sea animals “Diving Into Wildlife” and a sample from a beautiful collection of scarves that is sold on his website to raise funds for his organization, Focused on Nature. Collage by Malik Merchant/Barakah.

Please visit the following pages:

(1) Prince Hussain’s Digital Brochures That You Can Flick Through

(2) Prince Hussain’s Exhibitions (2004-2020)

(3) Purchase Beautiful Scarves and Prince Hussain’s Photo Book Diving Into Wildlife

Date posted: April 8, 2021.

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Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat.

10 comments

  1. “Happy Birthday Prince Hussain” and Malik, thank you for sharing such a wonderful story of Prince Hussain’s passion and empathy towards Wildlife and Nature. We are very grateful to Prince Hussain for connecting us to the World of underwater creatures which we could have never imagined before. His collection of digitized photos, exhibitions and the work that FON is doing is amazing.

    Shah Abdulla

    Like

  2. Wishing our Beloved Prince Hussain a very Happy 47th Birthday.

    Allah bless our Beloved Prince Hussain and our Beloved Princess

    Fareen a very Happy, Healthy and Peaceful Long Life Ameen

    Like

  3. Happy happy Birthday Prince Hussain. Many many more to come. 🙏

    FON (Focused on Nature) – lovable, wonderful, unconditional labour of Love for all creatures and environment.

    Like

    • Happy belated Birthday to our dear Prince Hussain What an amazing collection of beautiful creatures underwater which if it was not for our Prince Hussain we would have not seen them. Shukhar. We all wish Princess Fareen and Prince Hussain a very happy healthy life full of love and Barakat. Ameen.

      Like

  4. Selected comments from the social media:

    Tazeem Jivraj: Absolutely beautiful ❤️
    Salma Lakhani: Thank you Mr. Malik and Dear Prince Hussain for sharing wonderful aquatic world to us.
    Shama Ali: Happy Birthday 🎊🎁🎉
    Salviya Abdul Jalil: Awesome 👏
    Gulssan Bangy: Shukhar Allá Hamdulilá
    Zeenat Virani: Prince Hussain precious happy birthday!!!!
    Sultan Merchant: Happy Birthday
    Rehmat Lakhani: Happy birthday to you
    Fauzia Khimji: Stunning 👏🏼. Does anyone know what the picture behind Prince Hussain is called?
    Ishrat Damji: Happy birthday Beloved Prince Hussain.
    Jamila Kanji: Happy birthday 🎈🎉
    Najma Mastano: Happy birthday 🎂🎉🎈🎂
    Shahnaz Gilani: Happy Birthday 🎉
    Shamsha Noorani: Happy birthday prince🎂❤️
    Dilshad Akbaraly: Happy birthday enjoy your day.
    Karim Nathani: Happy Birthday
    Karima Jamal: HAPPY BIRTHDAY 🎂🎁🙏🙏
    Zahir Poonja: Many happy returns of the day PRINCE HUSSAIN
    Amin Jadavji: A very Happy Birthday Prince Hussain . Best wishes and prayers 🙏
    Asma Sami Sami: Happy Birthday 🎁🎂🎉
    Parveen Hussain: Happy birthday 🎁🎊🎉🎈🎂 Prince
    Ashraf Hasnani: Happy birthday Prince Hussain Agakhan
    Naseem Anees Ali: Happy Birthday 🎂🎊🎈
    Nilufa Samji: Happy Birthday 🎉🎂🎈
    Shenaz Rashid: Happy Birthday!🎉🎂🎈 To our Most Beloved Prince Hussein Agakhan
    Nasim Moledina: Happy Birthday beloved Prince Hussein.
    Parveen Ali: Nice
    Ahmed Hemani: Happy Birthday
    Mohd Akbar Karamy: Happy birthday 🎂🎈
    Seema Jinnah: Happy birthday
    Ali Jangbari: Happy Birthday
    Ismail Baloch: Happy Birthday 🎊🎂🎁 Prince Hussain
    Зайтуна Одинабекова: Happy birthday our Prince
    Zarina Poonja: Happy birthday Prince Hussain
    Amirali Somjee: Happy Birthday 🎉🎁🎈
    Imran Walliani: Happy birthday and many more.
    Parveen Bhamani: Happy birthday
    Karim Bawa: HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRINCE.
    Ishaque Ahmed: Happy Birthday 🎈🎁🎂
    Aman Barkat Ali: Happy birthday prince hussain
    Shah Sultan: Happy birthday 🎂🎂🎂🎂🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂 to you
    Amin Jina: Happy Birthday
    Shirin Kara: Happy birthday
    Sherina Samnanil: Happy birthday prince
    Shanaz Moloo: Happy Birthday to Prince Hussain
    Gulam Mohamed Charania: Happy birthday our Prince Hussain.
    Jalal Ud Din: Happy birthday prince hussain 💕
    Amin Jadavji: A very Happy Birthday Prince Hussain . Best wishes and prayers 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful presentation and giving us the insight of Prince Hussain’s involvement with marine life.
    Happy birthday Prince Hussain 🎂

    Like

  6. This amazing and timely post by Malik Merchant with the following initial remarks is indeed breath taking:

    “Of the birth of all four children of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, I recollect the announcement about the birth of Prince Hussain more vividly than of any of his other siblings – Princess Zahra, Price Rahim and Prince Aly Muhmmad.” Malik has given various reasons for his above statement.

    As far as I am concerned, I also vividly recollect the announcement of the birth of Prince Hussain on April 10, 1974 having heard about it in the Jamatkhana then at Flemingdon Park Plaza (Lower Mall) a few days later during my visit to Toronto on an educational assignment from Tanzania. I also vividly remember a music party in celebration of Prince Hussain’s Birth held on that weekend. Alhamdulillah!

    I strongly recommend all the Barakah readers to read this amazing post and also apprise themselves of the insights about the work done by Prince Hussain for the organization called Focused on Nature (FON) created by him.

    Malik, please continue with the important endeavor to keep all informed of such significant events and matters.

    Like

    • Ya Ali Madad Malik…Beautiful information …Thank you for sharing..Be blessed. And continue your excellent work……Sister Farida Thawer. Enjoyed the post…..

      Like

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