Ismailis and the Aga Khan

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Ismaili Islam is a sect within the minority Shia Sect of Islam that broke from Sunni majority in the A.D. 9th century. Most Ismaili's live in the Indian subcontinent and East Africa. The Ismailis are a Shia sect also named the "Seveners" There are around 16 million Ismailis worldwide, mostly in pockets in 25 countries in East Africa, Western and Central Asia, North America, Western Europe, and the Middle East. Most regard the Aga Khan as their leader. The present Aga Khan is regarded as the 49th iman.

The Ismaili sect began in the 9th century as a secret society in east Iraq and west Iran. Its followers believed that Ismail, the eldest son of Jafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shia imam, was the seventh imam and that his son Muhammad became an imam after him and would one day return as a messiah-like prophet.

Ismailism rose at one point to become the largest branch of Shī‘ism, climaxing as a political power with the Fatimid Caliphate in the tenth through twelfth centuries. Ismailis believe in the oneness of God, as well as the closing of divine revelation with Muhammad, whom they see as "the final Prophet and Messenger of God to all humanity". The Ismāʿīlī and the Twelvers both accept the same initial Imams. After the death of Muhammad ibn Isma'il in the 8th century CE, the teachings of Ismailism further transformed into the belief system as it is known today, with an explicit concentration on the deeper, esoteric meaning (batin) of the Islamic religion. [Source: Wikipedia]

See Separate Articles on the Fatimids, Assassins and Druze.

Websites on Shia Muslims (Shiites) The Heritage Web Site is the first Ismaili electronic library and database and the first website dedicated to H.H. The Aga Khan and Ismailism; Divisions in Islam ; Shi’a History and Identity ; What is Shi'a Islam? ; History of Shi'ism: From the Advent of Islam up to the End of Minor Occultation ; Shafaqna: International Shia News Agency ;, a Shia Website ; The Shiapedia, an online Shia encyclopedia ; Imam Al-Khoei Foundation (Twelver) ; Official Website of Nizari Ismaili (Ismaili) ; Official Website of Alavi Bohra (Ismaili) ; The Institute of Ismaili Studies (Ismaili) ; Four Sunni Schools of Thought

History of the Ismailis

Jaafar as Sadiq in calligraphy

Like Sunni Islam, Shia Islam has developed several sects. The most important of these is the Twelver, or Ithna-Ashari, sect, which predominates in the Shia world generally. Not all Shia became Twelvers, however. In the eighth century, a dispute arose over who should lead the Shia community after the death of the Sixth Imam, Jaafar ibn Muhammad (also known as Jaafar as Sadiq). [Source: Library of Congress *]

The group that eventually became the Twelvers followed the teaching of Musa al Kazim; another group followed the teachings of Musa's brother, Ismail, and were called Ismailis. Ismailis are also referred to as Seveners because they broke off from the Shia community over a disagreement concerning the Seventh Imam. Ismailis do not believe that any of their Imams have disappeared from the world in order to return later. Rather, they have followed a continuous line of leaders represented in early 1993 by Karim al Husayni Agha Khan IV, an active figure in international humanitarian efforts. The Twelver Shia and the Ismailis also have their own legal schools.*

The Ismailis split into Egyptian, Syrian and Persian branches. The original Assassins, the brilliant Fatimids (who ruled in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries in Egypt), the Druze and followers of Aga Khan have all been Ismailis.

Ismaili Beliefs and Practices

The Ismailis took the Gnostic theory of emanations and sparks and combined it with esoteric interpretations of the Qur’an to bring Imam in direct combination with the Active Intellect. Followers traditionally contribute a portion of the income to the treasury. The money is invested and allocated to health, education, and cultural projects world wide." In parts of Pakistan they practice their religion in special buildings called “Jatmattkhans”, which are most noticeable in the cities of the Sind.

Aga Khan I

The Ismailis recognize seven imams. They recognize the same first six as imam as Shia Muslims. Their seventh Iman, is Ismail, the eldest son of the sixth Shia imam Jafar as-Sadiq. Shia believe that Jafar as-Sadiq second son Musa al-Kazim, is the seventh imam. They believe the iman lines continues to this day.

Ismailis have no mosques, clerics or holy days and regard prayer as a personal matter, with no fixed times or prostrations. Instead of mosques, Ismailis use community centers with a prayer room. Women are less excluded than in other Muslim sects. Ismailis have traditionally taken a cyclical view of history and incorporated mathematics and philosophy into their theological views.

Aga Khan

The Aga Khan ("Great Chief") is the title of the spiritual leader, or imam, of the 15 million members of the Nizari Ismaili sect of Shia Muslims in 25 countries. Regarded as a saint and prince, he is believed to be a direct descendant of Muhammad.

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “ The title Aga Khan—meaning, in a combination of Turkish and Persian, commanding chief—was granted in the 1830s by the Emperor of Persia to Karim’s great-great-grandfather when he married the emperor’s daughter. But Aga Khan I was also the 46th hereditary imam of the Ismaili Muslims of the world, in a line that descends directly from the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

Aga Khan II

Aga Khan I (Hasan Alis Dhah, 1800-1881) was an imam and governor of the Persian province of Kerman. The Persian shah gave him the tile “Aga Khan,” which means "chief commander." In 1839, Aga Khan I helped the British in the first Singlo-Afghan War; in 1848, he established the headquarters of his sect in Bombay, India.

On the Agha Khan in 1875, Sir Bartle Frere wrote: "Like his ancestor, the Old One of Marco Polo's time, he keeps his court in grand and noble style. His sons, popularly known as 'The Persian Princes,' are active sportsmen, and age has not dulled the Agha's enjoyment of horse-racing. Some of the best blood of Arabia is always to be found in his stables. He spares no expense on his racers, and no prejudice of religion or race prevents his availing himself of the science and skill of an English trainer or jockey when the races come round. If tidings of war or threatened disturbance should arise from Central Asia or Persia, the Agha is always one of the first to hear of it, and seldom fails to pay a visit to the Governor or to some old friend high in office to hear the news and offer the services of a tried sword and an experienced leader to the Government which has so long secured him a quiet refuge for his old age." Agha Khan died in April, 1881, at the age of 81. He was succeeded by his son Agha Ali Shah, one of the members of the Legislative Council. (See The Homeward Mail, Overland Times of India, of 14th April, 1881.)]


Aga Khan III

Aga Khan III (Sultan Sir Muhammad Shah) was the grandson of the first Aga Khan. Born in Karachi in 1877, he succeeded his father when he was only eight. He played a role in Indian constitutional reform, was named president of the League of Nations's General Assembly in 1937, opened schools, hospitals and welfare agencies in India and raced and breed racehorses.

To celebrate the Aga Khan III's golden jubilee, his followers gave him his weigh in gold and diamonds, worth $23 million. Aga Khan III died on Verscoix, Switzerland in 1957. He surprised the world when he announced in his last will and testament that he was skipping over his two sons—Prince Aly and Prince Sadruddun Khan—to name Prince Karim Khan as Aga Khan IV.

Aga Khan III in Chicago

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: ““In 1885, Prince Karim’s grandfather (who was born in India) was seven years old when he assumed the imamate upon his father’s death. The following year, he received his “His Highness” from Queen Victoria. In the early 1900s he moved to Europe, in part to pursue his passion for horse breeding and racing, in which he would become a celebrated figure. All the while, he looked after his flock remarkably well, building a huge network of hospitals, schools, banks, and mosques for them. “My duties are wider than those of the Pope,” he once explained. “The Pope is only concerned with the spiritual welfare of his flock. He was an extraordinary personality, a very powerful intellect,” recalls his grandson. “When he left India and established himself in Europe, he became very fascinated with the philosophy of the Western world. He brought that knowledge to his community. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

“And they showed their appreciation. On his Golden Jubilee, in 1936, his followers famously gave him his weight in gold, a spectacle some 30,000 onlookers jammed a square in Bombay to witness. Upon his Diamond and Platinum Jubilees, he received similar tributes in the appropriate stones and metal. The sizable funds from those tributes pale, however, compared with the zakat money traditionally paid by members of the Ismaili community, some of whom believe their imam is semi-divine. (Prince Karim categorically denies any suggestion that he is divine.) Though exact figures are not known, it is thought members who can afford to do so provide a tithe of around 10 to 12 percent of their annual income. According to some estimates, that may amount to hundreds of millions a year. While the Aga Khan has complete control over these funds, they are not meant for his personal use. It has always been difficult to calculate his own wealth versus that which belongs to the imamate, and estimates vary widely, but a recent tally put Aga Khan IV’s fortune at $13.3 billion.

Prince Aly Khan

Prince Aly Khan, the son of Aga Khan III, was not permitted to succeed his father because of his reputation as a playboy. Aly Khan married Rita Hayworth and was linked with a host of other women. Aly's son Karim became the Aga Khan IV. Aly died in a car crash with a beautiful model at his side while returning to Paris from the races in Longachamps.

Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan at their wedding reception

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “Prince Aly Khan, was born in Turin in 1911 to the second of Aga Khan III’s four wives, Theresa Magliano, an Italian ballerina. Aly, one of the most handsome and dashing men of his generation, met his first wife in 1933, though the lady had a husband. But by the first course at a dinner party in Deauville, he whispered “Darling, will you marry me?” to the then Mrs. Loel Guinness, née Joan Yarde-Buller, an aristocratic English beauty. They married in Paris in May 1936, and Karim was born to the couple on December 13, 1936; his brother, Prince Amyn, arrived the following year. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

“Though Aly had a well-known affair with Pamela Harriman, he will always be best remembered for his romance with Rita Hayworth, whom he met on the Riviera in 1948 shortly after she had divorced Orson Welles. Aly soon obtained his divorce and the two married in Paris on May 27, 1949. Their daughter, Princess Yasmin, was born on December 28, 1949. The marriage soon proved unhappy, and the pair separated in 1953.

On the death of his father, who died in a car accident outside Paris in 1960, the Aga Khan IV. he said, “When Daddy was killed, the three of us found ourselves with this family tradition none of us knew the first thing about,” he says, referring to how he and Amyn and Yasmin grappled with taking on the Aga Khan Stud—a massive operation with nine farms in Ireland and France.” /

Aga Khan IV

The current Aga Khan—Aga Khan IV (His Highness Prince Karim Khan)—is the fourth Aga Khan and and the 49th imam of the Ismailis. In appointing him as Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan IV wrote in his will, "I am convinced...that I should be succeeded by a young man...brought up and the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on his life to his office." Aga Khan III appointed his wife, Aga Khan IV's mother, to advise her son for seven years

Aga Khan IV in 2014

Multi-billionaire son of a notorious playboy, Aga Khan IV is known more for his wealth, lavish lifestyle, his jet set friends, yachts and Thoroughbreds than his religious duties. One of the world's richest men, he is a newspaper proprietor, developer and financier. "His imanate is regarded as perhaps the most successful ever." The Aga Khan owns a number of racehorses and has had investments in Ciga SpA, a chain of luxury Italian hotels, and the Italian island resort of Costa Smeralda. Money for his business and philanthropy projects come from his personal fortune and donations made by Ismailis.

Since the age of 20, the current Aga Khan has also been the spiritual leader of 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims, building a hugely effective global development network. James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: The Aga Khan “remains a paradox to many people. The Pope of his flock, he also possesses fabled wealth and inhabits a world of marvelous châteaux, yachts, jets, and Thoroughbred horses. To be sure, few persons bridge so many divides—between the spiritual and the material; East and West; Muslim and Christian—as gracefully as he does.” [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

Aga Khan’s Life

Aga Khan IV was born in Geneva and raised in Switzerland and Kenya. He was educated at Roset and received a B.A. degree in Islamic history from Harvard in 1959. He carries a British passport and became the Ismaili imam at the of age 20 upon his grandfather's death in 1957. The title bypassed his father, Aly Khan, the third husband of the actress Rita Hayworth.

Aga Khan IV competing in the Giant Slalom at the 1964 Olympics

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: the Aga Khan “spends a great deal of his time aloft in his private aircraft, but his base is Aiglemont, a vast estate near Chantilly, 25 miles north of Paris. On-site, in addition to a château and an elaborate training center for about a hundred of his Thoroughbreds, is the Secretariat, a modern office block that houses the nerve center of what might be described as his own U.N., the Aga Khan Development Network.” [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

After he became the Aga Khan at age 20 “he embarked on a worldwide tour of his community,” but “resisted the wishes of the community elders to begin his duties immediately. He returned instead to Harvard to finish his B.A. in Islamic history. “There was knowledge there that I needed,” he says. But once back on campus he was not like the other boys in so many ways: “I was an undergraduate who knew what his work for the rest of his life was going to be,” he says, rather quietly.

On the death of his father, who died in a car accident outside Paris in 1960, he said, “When Daddy was killed, the three of us found ourselves with this family tradition none of us knew the first thing about,” he says, referring to how he and Amyn and Yasmin grappled with taking on the Aga Khan Stud—a massive operation with nine farms in Ireland and France.” /

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Aga Khan IV's Private Life

Aga Khan IV lives is Aiglemont, a vast estate near Chantilly, 25 miles north of Paris, where he runs a family horse breeding empire and overseas charitable organizations. He has two sons and a daughter. He usually travels in a private jet and speaks English, French, Italian, Hindi-Urdu and Arabic. A devout Muslim, he neither drinks or smokes.

Begum Aga Khan, second wife of Aga Khan IV

In October 1994, at the age of 57, the Aga Khan divorced his wife, Princess Salima Aga Khan, an English-born former model, after 25 years of marriage. The princess sold some of the Aga Khan fabulous jewels, including a necklace with a 13.78 carat blue diamond, for $27.8 million.

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “And though he clearly seems to appreciate female beauty, the friend scoffs at the thought of Karim’s being labeled a playboy, like his dad: “Absolutely not. Karim is maniacal about work. He never drinks or smokes. He is extremely precise, serious, and hardworking. Still, he has led a full life. In 1968 while in Gstaad, he fell in love with Sally Crichton-Stuart, a tall blonde model. They married the following year and produced three children. Today, all work within the imamate. Princess Zahra, 42, a Harvard graduate, heads the Social Welfare Department; Prince Rahim, 41, a Brown graduate, is executive director of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development; Prince Hussain, 38, educated at Williams College, works in the environmental sector. Three years after his divorce from Sally, in 1995, H.H. married the German-born Princess Gabriele zu Leiningen. After a brief career as a pop singer in Europe, she was working as a consultant to unesco. In 2000 they had a son, Prince Aly Muhammad, but they separated a few years later, and are currently negotiating a divorce. For some time now, his companion has been the Danish-born Beatrice von der Schulenburg, 44, who was previously married to a business executive in London.” [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

Aga Khan IV's Lifestyle

On having tea with the Aga Khan at his house,James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “‘His Highness will see you now,” an assistant informs me in the cool white marble lobby of the Secretariat, then ushers me down a long corridor and through what appears to be a heavily fortified door. (Though his closest friends call him “K,” the Aga Khan, 76, is referred to by most of his associates as “His Highness,” “H.H.” for short.) [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

Aga Khan's Palace in Pune, India

“The Aga Khan’s private office is a large room of minimalist-modern design, with one unexpected feature. Colorful, highly polished spheres—geological specimens from around the world—appear to be floating on the walls, wizard-like. “It’s a little bit of what’s beautiful under the earth,” His Highness explains as he sits down for a rare interview. “This one is from Madagascar, that’s from Brazil,” he elaborates. On a Saturday morning, he is wearing an impeccably tailored suit with a tie. He has a courtly charm and speaks in a captivating low voice.” /

“According to one person who has worked with the Aga Khan, it is his impeccable manners—combined with his regal bearing and confidence—that help him to prevail: “He imposes his will with the utmost grace. In meetings, for example, he will ask—so politely—‘I wonder whether it would be a good idea if we do such and such … ’ That means, We’re doing it. No one would dream of challenging him.” “Karim has a great deal of charm,” says an old friend, “but underneath he’s made of steel. He does exactly what he wants, when he wants.”/

“A highly concise description of the Aga Khan comes from Betty Lagardère, the widow of French tycoon Jean-Luc Lagardère and a longtime friend. “He’s a god,” she declares straightaway (disregarding Prince Karim’s demurral of any immortality). His “divine” stature, she says, extends from his work to his personal style. “He is so elegant, so refined.” Notwithstanding his social skills, Aga Khan IV has never been “social,” however. “Parties are not his thing,” says a childhood friend. “He was never gregarious or outgoing, the way his father was.” “At this point, he is very reclusive,” says another friend. “He’s becoming a bit of a Howard Hughes. He sees few people.”“ /

Becoming the Aga Khan

When Aga Khan III died on Verscoix, Switzerland in 1957 surprised the world when he announced in his last will and testament that he was skipping over his two sons—Prince Aly and Prince Sadruddun Khan—to name Prince Aly’s son, Prince Karim Khan, as Aga Khan IV.

Aga Khan IV receiving a gift in 1959 at Los Alamos Laboratory

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “In the spring of 1957 the old Aga Khan clearly had his reasons for summoning his elder grandson. The young man remained with his grandfather until his death, in the early-morning hours of July 11, at his residence near Lake Geneva. Later that day, the family gathered in the drawing room to hear the reading of the will, which had been brought in a locked case from Lloyds Bank in London. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

“It was an inheritance no one—himself included—expected him to receive when the news was announced on July 11, 1957, during a reading of the will of his grandfather His Highness Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III. It was the first time in the family’s 1,300-year history that a generation—Karim’s father—had been skipped over. Though historians have written about the events of that day, Prince Karim has rarely publicly commented on his own feelings. /

““It has always been the tradition of our family that each imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or other male issue,” read the old Aga Khan’s solicitor. “In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world … including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interest of the Shia Muslim Ismaili Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed … in the midst of the new age. For these reasons … I appoint my grandson Karim, son of my son.”/

Prince Karim, now Aga Khan IV as well as the 49th imam, announced solemnly, “My religious responsibilities begin as of today.” Half a century later, he hints he might not have been as confident as he appeared to be. “My grandfather had been imam for 72 years,” he says. “I was 20 years old.”“ /

Aga Khan as Spiritual Leader of the Ismailis


James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “While the apparent contradiction between the Aga Khan’s lifestyle and his role as a spiritual leader continues to puzzle some, it is more interesting to try to square his activities as a highly astute venture capitalist with his religious duties. But that, the Aga Khan says, is elementary. “It comes from a basic understanding of what an imam is required to do,” he says. “An imam is not expected to withdraw from everyday life. On the contrary, he’s expected to protect his community and contribute to their quality of life. Therefore, the notion of the divide between faith and world is foreign to Islam. The imamate does not divide world and faith. That’s very little understood outside Islam. In the West, your financial systems are all built around that divide.” [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

“For a moment, he speaks as though Muslims and Republicans actually might have more in common than either side would dream: “We have no notion of the accumulation of wealth being evil,” he says. But clearly he’s not going to be any poster boy for the R.N.C.: “It’s how you use it,” he continues, speaking about wealth. “The Islamic ethic is that if God has given you the capacity or good fortune to be a privileged individual in society, you have a moral responsibility to society.” /

“Say what you will about the Aga Khan’s lifestyle, he has done an extraordinarily good job performing the duties of his imamate, while maintaining a rare charm. “He is many things to many people,” says James Wolfensohn. “But, for a god, he’s a fantastically good friend!”“ /

Aga Khan IV's Charities and Businesses

Despite his reputation as a jetsetter and socialite, the Aga Khan spends a great amount of energy forwarding humanitarian causes. Most of his charities are small-scale, locally-based agencies. Most are aimed at Ismailis but some help non-Ismailis. Most of the projects have been in Africa and the Middle East in places where Ismailis but more and more money has been directed into Central Asia, which includes Pakistan.

Projects have included sponsoring a world concert tour by cellist Yo Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble. He has supported United Nations-backed programs to combat drug use and helping news businesses get started. A bid by Aga Khan to purchase an 1.8 acre plot of land in London — which he planned to use for an Islamic medical center, museum and art centers — for $37 million was turned down even though it was the highest bid. He decided to set up the facility in Toronto which was much more welcoming to his proposal.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, a for-profit arm of the philanthropic Aga Khan Development Network, is involved in a number of projects in Central Asia and Afghanistan. As of 2003, it had invested in more than 90 companies with assest of more than $1 billion and 15,000 employees in 15 countries.

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: The Aga Khan Development Network is a “staggeringly large and effective organization, it employs 80,000 people in 30 countries. Although it is generally known for the nonprofit work it does in poor and war-torn parts of the globe, the A.K.D.N. also includes an enormous portfolio of for-profit businesses in sectors ranging from energy and aviation to pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and luxury hotels. In 2010 these generated $2.3 billion in revenue. The extent of these endeavors might not be so well known to the general public, since the Aga Khan usually shuns the press and stays out of the public eye. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

Aga Khan Foundation members meet with Indian PM Modi

“Though he has no political territory, the Aga Khan is virtually a one-man state and is often received like a head of state when he travels. As imam he is responsible for looking after the material as well as spiritual needs of his followers, who are scattered in more than 25 countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. His projects, however, benefit people of all faiths. /

“Aga Khan IV is thus both philanthropist and venture capitalist. But the high level of synergy he maintains between his nonprofit and commercial activities is probably unique in the world. All of the surpluses from his profitmaking companies are re-invested in his development work. “He has a very fine mind for investing—and he does a bloody good job balancing the task of increasing his capital with that of advancing the needs of his followers,” says former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, a good friend. “At the end of the day, he is looking for human profits.” /

Aga Khan IV's Charities in Central Asia and Africa

Aga Khan charities are active where Ismaili Muslims are concentrated. The Aga Khan Development Network, endowed mostly with money donated by Ismaili Muslims, has spent millions on teaching farmers new skills, helping the poor start new businesses, educating girls and bringing water and electricity to remote areas and setting up micro credit schemes. The program by most measures has been a success and has succeeded because of grassroots participation in setting development goals, recognizing impacts on the development of a social society and through the mobilization of community savings. Aga Khan charities have helped build many schools in places where there were no schools. Some even have chemistry labs and computers.

Aga Khan Foundation member with Syrian refugees

There are also large numbers of Ismailis in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan. Aga-Khan-funded clinics there have greatly reduced the number of dysentery and TB cases. Sponsored organizations have taught everything from animal husbandry to accounting and provided loans to help beekeepers get started, provided electricity to remote villages, built schools for girls, constructed bridges, irrigation canals, and mini hydroelectric plants, introduced new seeds and breeds of livestock, and set up cottage industries to produce textiles. In the Aga Khan school students learn English, computer skills, have open discussions about the meaning of jihad and women’s rights. About 70 percent of Hunzakuts are literate, much higher than the national average.

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “His Highness recently restored the mud walls of the 14th-century Djingereyber Mosque, the oldest earthen building in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the last decade, he’s also made vital improvements in Mali’s educational system and in nearly every sector of its infrastructure, including water, electricity, aviation, agriculture, health, and education. He prefers to take this “area-based approach” to development, as he calls it. “We try to avoid the single-building syndrome. You have to look at the big picture. If you try to put social and cultural development ahead of economic development, it doesn’t work. You have to do it all together.” In Kabul, that has meant restoring key architectural components of the Old City while also building a five-star hotel and a new mobile-telephone network. In Uganda, he owns the country’s largest pharmaceutical company, a bank, a tannery, and a fishnet factory. Most impressively, he built—with the Blackstone Group as a partner—a $750 million hydroelectric system. Said to be the most innovative electrification program in Africa, it has brought 18 hours of electricity a day to the poor West Nile area, where there had been 4 hours every other day. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

Aga Khan and Horses

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “One of the rare opportunities to catch a glimpse of him occurs on a certain Sunday in June, in Chantilly, at the annual Prix de Diane, which for more than a century has been the most prestigious horse race in France. It takes place pretty much in his backyard, at the historic Hippodrome de Chantilly, just a few kilometers from Aiglemont. Dating from 1843, the Prix de Diane is the high point of the Continental horse-racing calendar, on the turf and off. Members of France’s top horse-owner clans, such as the Wildensteins and the Wertheimers, typically appear, along with sheikhs from Qatar and Dubai, and glamorous women in heavily feathered headgear. [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

horses at Aga Khan Studs

“Had it not been for the Aga Khan, however, this storied racetrack would probably not exist today, and its surroundings might be heading to ruin. In a highly unusual arrangement, the Aga Khan adopted, you might say, the entire 20,000-acre Domaine de Chantilly, which also contains one of France’s foremost but relatively unknown cultural treasures, the Château de Chantilly. Somewhat ironically, he is using expertise gained in his development projects from Kabul to—literally—Timbuktu to rescue this lush swath of France.

Aga Khan Studs is a “massive operation with nine farms in Ireland and France. After Aga Khan III died, Prince Aly took control of the business and managed it until his death, when his children inherited it. During those three years, Aly was highly successful. Horses were a world with which Prince Karim was then wholly unfamiliar. “I never had any interest in it. Harvard is a great institution, but it doesn’t teach about Thoroughbred breeding. So it was a total surprise. /

““It was a very difficult decision to keep it going,” he continues. “Having three generations’ activity that is so successful—if the fourth generation makes a mess of it … that was my risk. And it was not part of the imamate, was not an activity that was particularly well regarded in certain countries.”

“Still, he decided to buy out his siblings’ shares and try to make a go of it. His many wins have long since put him in the very top echelon of the bloodstock world. (At last year’s Prix de Diane, on June 17, the Aga Khan shattered a century-old record in French racing when his filly, Valyra, crossed the finish line first, giving H.H. his seventh Diane. Since 2010 he had held a tie with renowned owner Auguste Lupin, who notched his sixth Diane in 1886.) “I’ve come to love it,” he says of the sport. “It’s so exciting, a constant challenge. Every time you sit down and breed you are playing a game of chess with nature.”

Aga Khan on the Islamic World

James Reginato wrote in Vanity Fair: “ Although the Aga Khan has agreed to this interview to discuss the restoration of Chantilly, he readily chats about contemporary politics. The West fails to recognize the pluralistic nature of the Islamic world, he believes: “None of these situations are identical. You cannot take one set of issues from one country and apply it to another. They are all different, in terms of history, and the religious compositions of the populations involved.” [Source: James Reginato, Vanity Fair, January 14, 2013 /]

“The problems in the Middle East are not caused primarily by religion, he adds. “Relations between various communities within Islam are obviously impacted by theocratic forces, but I don’t think theocratic forces are the cause of the situations. They are politically driven. But the faith dimension comes on top of that, and that makes things more complicated.” /

“In Afghanistan, one should analyze and approach the country regionally, he says. “It’s going to be a question of province by province. The whole country cannot reconstruct itself at the same speed. So you have to think in terms of how improved provinces can become sustainable in their own right and become patterns of change. In some provinces, it’s happening. Not everything is lost. I don’t believe that.”“ /

The great Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun said: “Non-Muslims often mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam. Sufism is more accurately described as an aspect or dimension of Islam. Sufi orders (Tariqas) can be found in Sunni, Shia and other Islamic groups. Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian, described Sufism as "dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone." [Source: Ibn Khaldun, quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islam,, 1995 [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

Where Ismailism stands in a chart of Shia imams

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except Aga Khan I from

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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