A pioneer of the Pakistan Movement, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III was born on November 2, 1877. During the freedom struggle, Sir Aga Khan III served as an effective mediator between the western world and the Muslim leaders of the sub-continent. Being a world-renowned personality, he was involved in matters related to political rehabilitation, health, education and social development of Muslims world over. Sir Aga Khan III was the 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and the grandfather of the present Imam Prince Karim Aga Khan.
With his strong belief about education being the ultimate tool to empower the Muslims of the sub-continent, he built educational institutions for the intellectual, social and economic development of the Muslims. In the year 1902, at the young age of 25 years, he was nominated a member of the Imperial Legislative Council by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy. A strong advocate of female education, he established more than 200 schools in Asia and Africa during the 20th century. Today, the Aga Khan Education Service runs 182 schools across Pakistan catering to more than 38,000 students.
During his presidential address at the Mohammadan Educational Conference in Delhi in 1902, Sir Aga Khan III emphasised the need for a Muslim university in order to combat the crumbling Muslim political power in India.
“We want to create for our people an intellectual capital – a city that shall be a home of elevated ideals, a centre from which light and guidance shall be diffused amongst the Muslims of India and out of India too, and [that] shall hold up to the world model standard of justice and virtue and purity of our faith,” he said.
To this end, Sir Aga Khan III helped establish the Aligarh University. With his untiring efforts, he was able to collect three million rupees for the university, and personally donated one hundred thousand rupees for the cause. Paying his homage to the work of Sir Aga Khan III, the renowned writer of “Seerat-Un-Nabi” Allama Shibli Nomani once wrote, “That which could not be achieved by 60 million Muslims was accomplished by Prince Aga Khan”.
Sir Aga Khan III played a pivotal role in the Pakistan Movement. On October 1, 1906, he led a distinguished delegation of 35 Muslim leaders to Simla and presented a memorandum on behalf of the Muslims of the Sub-Continent. He raised concerns relating to the treatment of Muslims under the British rule, and the domination of Congress majority. He urged the British viceroy that the Muslims must be accepted and respected as a separate nation and should be given sufficient rights of representation. After the success of the Simla Deputation, the All India Muslim League was established in 1906, and Sir Aga Khan III was chosen as its first president for a term of 6 years.
Sir Aga Khan III was also nominated as the leader of the Muslims at the Round Table Conference in London. Commenting on Sir Aga Khan III’s services, Allama Iqbal said, “We have placed these demands before the Conference under the guidance of His Highness the Aga Khan; that worthy of statesman whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love for the blood that runs through the veins.”
Sir Aga Khan III was also the representative for India in the Disarmament Conference. He was unanimously elected as chairman of the League of Nations, a precursor to the modern United Nations. His efforts allowed for the inclusion of countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt in the League of Nations.
Sir Aga Khan III always viewed Islam as a global religion and worked towards promoting unity and understanding among Muslims globally.
Today, on his 140th birth anniversary, we pay tribute to this great Muslim leader and hope the people of Pakistan will follow his example in working towards an educated and prosperous country.