ARTICLE (November 02, 2010) : Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III (1877-1957) was a great Muslim leader who played a prominent role in Pakistan’s Freedom Movement. Through his intimate knowledge of diverse cultural traditions, he was uniquely placed to play a significant role in the international affairs of his time, and his long public career had many dimensions.
He was born in Karachi, Pakistan (then British India) to Aga Khan II and his wife, Nawab A’lia Shamsul-Muluk, who was a granddaughter of Fath Ali Shah of Persia. At a young age of 7 years and 8 months, Sir Aga Khan III became the 48th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. Under the care of his mother, Sir Aga Khan III was not only given the religious and oriental education which his position as the religious leader of the Ismailis made indispensable, but a sound European training, a boon denied to his father and paternal grandfather. This blend of both the worlds of education gave birth to a Muslim leader fit both for the sacerdotal functions which pertained to his spiritual position, and for those social duties required of a great and enlightened leader which he was called upon to discharge by virtue of his position. Sir Aga Khan also attended Eton and Cambridge Universities.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was a social reformer whose concerns included the alleviation of rural poverty and the upliftment of women in society. An advocate of modern education, he became an ardent supporter of male and female educational advancement in India and East Africa. A keen connoisseur of culture, he advocated a truly multicultural education blending the best and highest of Western and Eastern literary classics. He was a champion of amity between nations and peoples.
He became so strong a spokesperson in favour of female education that he insisted that if parents had two children and if they could afford to educate only one child, they should educate the girl as she would be responsible for the upbringing of future generations.
He was worried about the future of women’s role in society and warned in early 20th century that, “if Pakistan does not rise to the modern idea of the equal position of women, you will find not only Europe but all the other countries of Asia going ahead of you. I am heartbroken when I see how little so many of our men realize what it is, and how little the women contribute as compared to what they could contribute to the moral and material happiness and prosperity of the country.”
No progressive thinker of today, he argued, will challenge the claim that the social advancement and general well-being of communities are greatest where women are least debarred, by artificial barriers and narrow prejudice, from taking their full position as citizens. The progressive modernisation, which depends on co-operation and understanding, will be impossible unless women are permitted to play their legitimate part in the great work of national regeneration on a basis of political equality.
In 1902, at the age of 25, he was appointed a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, thus becoming the youngest member of the council. Aga Khan, like many other great Muslim leaders, realized that the main cause of Muslim backwardness was their negligence towards education. He worked towards increasing Muslim education by not only increasing his grant to the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College, but also by generating funds for the Aligarh University.
As Chairman of the collection fund, it was quiet inspiring for the leaders of the Pakistan movement to see him work selflessly for collecting funds and candidly saying, “As a mendicant, I am now going out to beg from house-to-house and from street-to-street for the children of Muslim India”. By his efforts 3 million rupees were collected, which helped in laying a solid foundation of Aligarh University. Many believed that without his efforts and dedication, establishment of the Aligarh University would have remained a dream.
Sir Aga Khan also greatly contributed towards the political cause of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. He led the Muslim delegation to Simla in 1906 where the Muslims, for the first time, put forward their demand for a separate electorate. He was elected the first president of the All India Muslim League in 1906, an office that he held till 1912. Aga Khan was a man of vision and was of the opinion that the reform scheme introduced by the British would be beneficial to the Muslims. He wrote a book on the need of reforms for the Muslims, known as “India in Transition”, which was published in 1918.
The main cause for the formation of the Muslim League was to safeguard and advance the rights and the welfare of the Muslim community and to convey their needs and problems to the government. The Muslims had realized that it was important for them to have a platform to voice their demands; their meeting with the Viceroy at Simla had already proved productive and fruitful. Another reason for the formation of the Muslim League was to prevent the rise of any kind of hostility among the Muslims towards other communities. Sir Aga Khan was appointed the first honorary president of the Muslim League.
Sir Aga Khan was also the president of the All Parties Muslim Conference held in 1928-29. In 1930-33, he went as chairman and spokesperson of the Muslim delegation to the round table conferences. He was nominated to represent India at the League of Nations in 1932, where he continued to work until the outbreak of the World War II. He was an excellent statesman and was elected President of the League of Nations (now known as the United Nations Organisation) in July 1937. He was the only Asian to have been appointed to this high office.
Pakistan’s creation owes a great deal to the hard work of the Aga Khan. Sir Aga Khan fell ill in 1954 during his visit to Dhaka and from then on struggling with ill health, passed away on 11 July 1957, in Switzerland and is buried in Aswan, Egypt. On the occasion of his birth anniversary on 02 November, we pay tribute to a great Muslim leader by renewing our pledge to make Pakistan a prosperous and advanced country.