By Mohib Ebrahim and Azeem Maherali
In his 2005 Jeune Afrique interview the Aga Khan made, what is perhaps, one of his most significant statements. He said, “the ethics of Islam guide all my activity.” The depth of these few words are the foundation upon which all the awards have been accorded. In essence, the awards represent the world’s enthusiastic endorsement of the ethics and principles of Islam as interpreted and practiced without compromise by the Aga Khan. One of these principles, the Aga Khan has explained, is the Qur’an’s “affirmation of the primacy of the intellect” and when viewed from an intellectual dimension this global endorsement is even more profound.
In December 2009 and January 2010 the authors independently published, on simerg.com, two extensive compilations of His Highness the Aga Khan’s awards and honours. Since that time the Aga Khan has been accorded many more honours and we are pleased to now publish a single, updated compilation, the result of a collaboration using Azeem’s meticulous research and our graphic, timeline format.
Although these compilations, both ours and others, can never do justice to the significance of the honours the Aga Khan has received for his life’s work, we hope this eight foot mural will help with that impossible objective.
A reduced size image of the graphic timeline of awards and honours conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan. To download a full sized version, suitable for printing or viewing on screen, click the download icons at bottom of this page.
The visual format not only allows us to review the awards chronologically and by type, but it also lets one appreciate, at a glance, the life time of honours as they unfolded, their sheer quantity and the increasing pace at which the Aga Khan is honoured. However, the real value of the timeline lies in helping us understand what these honours represent and their significance.
In his 2005 Jeune Afrique interview the Aga Khan, made what is perhaps, one of his most significant statements. He said, “the ethics of Islam guide all my activity.” The depth of these few words are the foundation upon which all the awards have been accorded. In essence, the awards represent the world’s enthusiastic endorsement of the ethics and principles of Islam as interpreted and practiced without compromise by the Aga Khan. One of these principles, the Aga Khan has explained, is the Qur’an’s “affirmation of the primacy of the intellect” and when viewed from an intellectual dimension this global endorsement is even more profound.
The awards’ encompassing breadth — from the political to the theological, from the technical to the cultural and artistic, from social programmes to commercial enterprises, from patron of the destitute to patron of “the sport of kings” — is testament to the breadth of knowledge and depth of intellectual subtlety and elegance the Aga Khan and the Imamat exhibit in every sphere of human endeavour. That this intellectual tour de force is inspired and driven by the ethics of Islam tangibly demonstrates one reason why the Aga Khan characterises Islam’s very strong links between faith and knowledge as “an extraordinary message for humanity” (2007 L’Express interview).
A section of the timeline from 1998 to 2010.
Besides helping us understand these facets, our collaboration was also an attempt to create the definitive compilation of all the honours accorded to the Aga Khan. This effort was complicated by the fact that all existing compilations have errors and omissions, some subtle, others not so. For example, the Aga Khan’s 1957 decoration, Brilliant Star of Zanzibar from His Majesty the Sultan of Zanzibar, is sometimes missing. Thus, despite every effort to go back to original reports where possible, and despite a painstaking attempt to also identify every honour, no doubt some errors or omissions may still remain and we welcome feedback.
Note that some honours, though not usually cited as such, have also been included. For example, in the centuries long histories of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University, the Aga Khan was the first Muslim invited to deliver the commencement addresses at both these prestigious institutions. Similarly, the Aga Khan has been invited to address many national legislatures — a privilege normally reserved for heads of state, however, as Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada, said of the Aga Khan in 2013, that he is “a man who is perhaps the only person in the world to whom everyone listens.” Note also that awards to AKDN institutions, such as the 2006 Royal Toledo Foundation Award to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, have been omitted; a compilation of all institutional awards would itself be a worthwhile project.
A section of the timeline from 1979 to 1992.
Timelines are visually compelling and portray knowledge as art, letting us engage in history both intellectually and aesthetically. The awards timeline allows us to view the Aga Khan’s awards chronologically and by type, view at a glance the life time of honours as they unfolded, and view the sheer quantity and increasing pace at which the Aga Khan is honoured. If a picture is worth a thousand words then perhaps a picture with a thousand words is twice as valuable and this small effort will encourage us to reflect upon, and better appreciate, the Aga Khan’s life’s work from new perspectives as we witness the re-emergence of the Ismailis on the world stage under his guidance. Insh’allah, in the future it will be said, “During the period of the Aga Khans, the Ismailis once again enlightened humanity for centuries and vigorously moved it forward with knowledge and wisdom, compassion and kindness.”
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