The Secret Life of the Aga Khan — Ismaili Gnosis com

imam-at-workOn July 11, 1957, Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III as the hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims at the age of 20 while still a sophomore at Harvard College. The Ismailis are a branch of Shia Muslims who recognize the continuation of the spiritual authority of the Prophet Muhammad through a lineage of Imams descended from the Prophets cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. Today, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni, known publicly as His Highness Prince Aga Khan IV, is the forty-ninth hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

Historically, Ismailis are united by a common allegiance to the living hereditary Imam of the time in the progeny of Islam’s last and final Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) through his daughter Fatima and her husband, Hazrat Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and the first Shia Imam.

– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Foundation Stone Ceremony, Ottawa, June 6, 2005, NanoWisdoms)

Unlike the Augustinian and Protestant traditions of Christianity, the Ismaili Imam’s role and mandate requires him to lead the Ismaili Muslims in both the spiritual interpretation of Islam as well as the improvement of the quality of life of the Ismailis and those among whom they live. The Aga Khan describes his mission as follows:


Examples of headlines from Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and The New York Times misrepresenting the Aga Khan

Examples of headlines from Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and The New York Times misrepresenting the Aga Khan

Despite the fact that the Ismaili Imam’s daily life mostly consists of working for and serving his community, the Western press continues to provide unfair and inaccurate coverage about the Aga Khan. Several examples of this inaccurate reporting of the Ismaili Imam are related by his biographer Willi Frischauer:

As the new Aga Khan, the twenty-year-old prince and religious leader became public property, a prime target for insidious commentaries. An early report claimed to reveal a second secret Will of the Aga Khan and talked of frantic attempts to compose a violent quarrel between Prince Karim and the Begum involving millions, before it came before the courts. There was no truth in the story. With as much gusto Prince Karim’s private life was examined in an Arabian Nights aura which turned him overnight from a boyish, sports-loving Harvard man into an Eastern Romeo. Presenting him as a worthy son of the amorous Aly reports described a veritable world war in which young ladies of every nationality seemed to fight for the heart and the hand of the young Aga Khan. The frivolities which occupied the daily Press could not have been more remote from the young Aga Khan’s preoccupations on the eve of his trip to Pakistan, the first big test of his career as Imam.

“Such is the power of the popular Press,” Karim said in an address to the Royal Commonwealth Society at Oxford, a little later, “that few people know very much about the Ismailis today, except that the Aga Khan is their leader, is weighed in diamonds from time to time, owns a number of race- horses, and (so far as I am concerned at any rate) appears to be perpetually on the brink of matrimony.”

When, on one of his rare excursions to a night-club, he was seen dancing with a pretty girl, the paparazzi were convinced they had discovered a new ‘girl-friend’. The young lady was his half-sister Yasmin whom he was giving a night out in Paris.

– Willi Frischauer, (The Aga Khans, 216-217; 239, 261)

Our affair is one hardship after another, one mystery after another, one ordeal after another. No one can bear it except an angel close (to God), a Prophet sent as a messenger, or a believer whose heart God has tested with faith.

– Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib,
(Nasir al-Din Tusi, The Paradise of Submission, 128)

Overnight my whole life changed completely. I woke up with serious responsibilities toward millions of other human beings.

– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Sports Illustrated Interview, August 10, 1964,

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