Most of the Ismaili Jamat that is now settled in Canada and other western countries were still in Africa, Asia and the Middle East when Princess Zahra was born on September 18, 1970, almost a year after Mawlana Hazar Imam got married to Begum Salimah in October 1969. We received the news of her birth with immense joy and happiness. The Jamats’ first glimpses of the Princess and her brothers, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain, were probably during the Silver Jubilee visits of Mawlana Hazar Imam. I was present when Mawlana Hazar Imam and Begum Salimah brought their children to the Olympia Hall in London in July 1983.
The Arabic name Zahra means beautiful, bright, shining and brilliant. It may be noted that we refer to Bibi Fatimah (A.S.), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.), and wife of our first Imam Hazrat Ali (A.S.), as Zahra, the radiant.
The Jamat has followed Princess Zahra’s life with great interest. She is today fully engaged in the work of the Imamat through the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Jamati Institutions. Most recently we watched her deliver a virtual speech when the Aga Khan University Hospital’s Private Wing that was opened in 2019 was officially named the Princess Zahra Pavilion.
Princess Zahra’s schooling was at the Le Rosey School in Switzerland, the same school that Mawlana Hazar Imam attended after World War II. As a teenager, Princess Zahra was interested in astronomy, a fact that became known to the Jamat when Mawlana Hazar Imam and Begum Salimah were presented with technological gifts for the Princess and her two brothers during their visit to Houston in 1986.
However, Princess Zahra pursued, Development Studies at Harvard University, where she graduated in 1994 with an Honours degree. She also completed a four-month program at Massachusetts General Hospital to enhance her understanding of healthcare systems and the delivery of advanced medical care, and an Executive Finance course at the world renowned International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The two great needs for education in the developing world are quality and relevance. Lacking in either, you will never produce a culturally independent society — Princess Zahra Aga Khan, in “homecoming” interview, Harvard Gazette, May 13, 2008
Indeed, this education prepared Princess Zahra for the work that she was going to pursue for her father’s Jamati and Imamat Institutions. Princess Zahra joined the Secretariat of Mawlana Hazar Imam at Aiglemont, France, in 1994.
Today, Princess Zahra Aga Khan is a Member of the Board of Directors of the AKDN. For ten years Princess Zahra was the Director of the Social Welfare Department and of the Health, Education and Planning and Building Service Companies of the AKDN. Princess Zahra serves in various leadership roles within the Aga Khan Development Network, including as Trustee of the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Aga Khan Foundation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat. She also works with Ismaili institutions in the areas of social welfare, women’s activities and youth programs. Outside AKDN and Jamati institutions, Princess Zahra contributes as a Member of the Board of France Galop, the French racing authority, and is President of the Board of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda.
Barakah is proud to honour Princess Zahra on her 51st birthday with this post containing some beautiful photos from her life. We wish her good health, happiness, and continued success in all her endeavours. Incidentally, we might also mention that the Aga Khan Museum was opened to the public on Princess Zahra’s birthday on September 18, 2014, six days after it was inaugurated by Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prime Minister Harper on September 12, 2014, a date that coincided with Prince Amyn’s 77th birthday (please click on link for Barakah’s tribute to Prince Amyn on his 84th birthday).
1979: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN as a Young Girl
1995: princess zahra aga khan joins mawlana hazar imam’s secretariAt and visits france, kenya and tanzania
1998: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN at International Volunteers Conference
How do you mobilise volunteers? I will again turn to Ismaili tradition for an answer. Amongst Ismailis, it starts early and continues throughout an individual’s life. Young Ismaili children perform volunteer tasks at Jamatkhanas: serving water, collecting and looking after coats, and the like, tasks which require no professional knowledge, but which introduce, at an early age, the ethos of volunteerism. As she or he grows and develops academically and professionally, so do the complexity and performance of the voluntary tasks. For example, in order to protect people from the astronomical costs of litigation, we ask senior lawyers to volunteer their time on Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, in order to help people obtain professional and fair, yet completely free, judgement in commercial and domestic matters. Nowadays, this service is, in many places, used by Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. In other instances, professionals volunteer their time and skill to bring the benefits of technology to people who might otherwise never be able to afford, or have access to, it. The ethic of service to others, is thus, inculcated early, and works to broaden the individual’s experience in relating harmoniously to the society around him or her. — Princess Zahra Aga Khan, International Volunteers Conference, Edmonton, August 1998.
2003: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN Promotes Education and Entrepreneurship in Mozambique
2005: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN Accepts Alcan Prize on Behalf of Aga Khan Building and Planning Services
2006: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN ATTENDS World Habitat Day in Kazan
AKPBS is inspired by His Highness the Aga Khan’s conviction that “a proper home can provide the bridge across that terrible gulf between poverty and a better future”. AKPBS is one of nine agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network whose experience – across 35 countries and several decades — shows that the quality of life – for both urban and rural populations – can be significantly improved: if the endeavour is grounded in communities; if it integrates social, economic and cultural interventions; if it is undertaken with a long-term perspective; and if it recognises the value of pluralism — Princess Zahra Aga Khan
2008: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN With Mawlana Hazar Imam at National University of Ireland
2008: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN at the Opening of the Ismaili Centre in Dubai
2009: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN Attends Summit on Chronic Diseases in Kampala
2014: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN at Launch of Oncology Programme at Aga Khan Hospital IN Dar es Salaam
2016: Princess Zahra and Prince Rahim AGA KHAN Inaugurate Health Centre in Gilgit
When my father visited [Northern Pakistan] in the 1960s, he went in on a donkey. The state provided education for boys — and so the AKDN offered education for girls, and very successfully, in many ways. Literacy reached 100 percent. Even the schoolhouses themselves benefited the larger community: Built to a high standard of earthquake-proofing, they could serve as shelters in emergencies — Princess Zahra Aga Khan, in “homecoming” interview, Harvard Gazette, May 13, 2008
2016: Princess Zahra Aga Khan Attends Launch of Second Phase of Aga Khan Hospital Construction in Dar es Salaam
2017: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN Opens New State-of-the-Art Laboratory and Low Cost in Patient Unit at Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam
2017: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN Accompanies Mawlana Hazar Imam to Pakistan for His Diamond Jubilee Visit
2018: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN and her family attend Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee in lisbon
Princess Zahra has truly been an inspiration to the Jamat with the work she has done for Mawlana Hazar Imam, and for her devotion to the Imamat and the Jamat. She accompanied Mawlana Hazar Imam on many visits during the Golden Jubilee Year from July 2007 until December 2008, and her devotion, care, and concern for her beloved father was noted by all of us. Her presence during the Diamond Jubilee in Lisbon in July 2018 added immense joy and happiness during the historical occasion.
2019: Princess Zahra Aga Khan Receives Huffington Award
We were so humbled to honour Princess Zahra, and it was an inspiration to hear about the many projects in healthcare and education that she and the Aga Khan Development Network have spearheaded globally. Through her work, Princess Zahra is building hope and trust in a world where both are greatly needed. — Bonna Kol, President of Asia Society Texas Center.
2019: Princess Zahra AGA KHAN Visits Canada for the Pluralism Award
2021: NEW WING AT AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL IN KARACHI is named Princess Zahra Pavilion
Like all members of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family, she works silently and effectively. It was therefore with deep happiness that we, as a Jamat, learnt that a state-of-the-art wing at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi was renamed recently as the Princess Zahra Pavilion.
It is an honour for me that this building should bear my name as does the original pavilion, which was constructed over 20 years ago in Nairobi….The pavilion is an important source of revenue for the hospital, and thus it is an important contribution in our ability to serve the disadvantaged segment of the population….The entire team responsible for its design and construction deserve congratulations. And every single person responsible for its day to day operations should be proud to work here — Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Virtual address, September 6, 2021
We end with a congratulatory note to Princess Zahra and her entire family on the auspicious occasion of her birthday on September 18, 2021, and wish her good health. She serves as a great example to all of us who seek to serve Mawlana Hazar Imam, his Jamati institutions and the Imamate with hard work, devotion and loyalty.
Date posted: September 17, 2021.
Last updated: September 26, 2021 (photo added, Princess Zahra meeting Jamati institution members in France, Kenya and Tanzania in 1995) .
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Further reading related to some of the event photos published in the post above:
- AKDN: 1998 Princess Zahra on volunteerism in the New Millenium
- AKDN: 2003 Princess Zahra Aga Khan promotes rural entrepreneurship and education in Mozambique
- AKDN: 2005 Alcan Award Prize awarded to AKPBS
- Harvard Gazette: 2008 Princess Zahra outlines the work of Aga Khan Development Network
- AKDN: 2009 Aga Khan University hosts Summit on Chronic Diseases in Kampala
- AKDN: 2014 Launch of the Oncology Programme of the Aga Khan Hospital, Dar es Salaam
- Pamir Times: 2016 New Aga Khan Medical Centre Helps Strengthen Pakistan’s Health System
- AKDN: 2016 New Aga Khan Medical Centre helps strengthen Pakistan’s health system
- AKDN: 2017 Aga Khan Hospital opens new state-of-the-art laboratory and low cost inpatient unit
- Barakah: 2019 Photos and Report: Asia Society Texas Center Honors Princess Zahra Aga Khan with annual Huffington Award
- The Ismaili: 2021 Princess Zahra Pavilion offers world-class care and a welcoming oasis
Also, see links to pieces on Princess Zahra Aga Khan at AKDN by clicking HERE.