On December 13, 2016, His Highness Prince Karim al-Hussaini Aga Khan IV, henceforth the Aga Khan, celebrated his 80th birthday. Inshallah, his Ismaili Muslim followers, henceforth the Ismailis, will be joined by the Aga Khan’s many well-wishers across the world to commemorate his Diamond Jubilee starting July 11, 2017.
The Aga Khan receiving the symbolic sword of justice followed by the signet ring during his ceremonial enthronement ceremony held on October 22, 1957 in Nairobi, Kenya. Similar public ceremonies, known as takhnashinis, were held in Dar-es-Salaam, Kampala, Karachi, Dacca and Bombay. Photo: 25 Years in Pictures, The Silver Jubilee of the Imamat of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, volume 1.
The purpose of this essay is to portray the Aga Khan as an exceptional, exemplary global leader as well as practically a head of states, as seen through the eyes of his non-Ismaili admirers and that of this writer.
Upon succeeding his illustrious grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III (1887-1957) on July 11, 1957, as the 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Ismailis, he immediately embarked on an extensive and intensive familiarization tour of the sub-Saharan and South Asian countries in which his followers lived in considerable numbers. He could not visit Afghanistan and Tajikistan or China and Russia, which also have large Ismaili communities.
During this multinational visit, the British Colonial establishment in East Africa gave him a princely welcome and also enabled him to hold the spectacular enthronement (as the Ismaili Imam) ceremonies. Interestingly, the hard-drinking District Officers were instructed to entertain the Aga Khan at the exclusive Europeans only clubs but not to serve any alcohol at their “garden” parties or sundowners!
The post-colonial African countries continued this precedent and received him with reverence and deference as a visiting religious dignitary of international standing. Subsequent visits much later culminated in the Silver and Golden Jubilee darbars (celebrations including audiences and religious ceremonies). Such official visits to African and South and Central Asian countries strengthened the Imamat’s relationships with successive governments and heads of state leading to more investments and projects to improve the livelihoods of their populations.
The AKDN has the unique honor amongst NGOs of enjoying diplomatic status almost everywhere it is active. As part of his Golden Jubilee (2007) Nazrana (gift and gratitude) from his followers, the Aga Khan asked for their TIME and KNOWLEDGE (TKN). Its purpose was to further accelerate and enhance AKDN’s global multidimensional undertakings. With thousands registering for and performing this voluntary and/or nominally-paid service, what emerged was an Ismaili domestic and foreign “Peace Corps!”
‘Blind today seeing tomorrow’ – US eye surgeon Dr. Badrudin Kurwa performed 98 surgeries in Chitral, Pakistan, on individuals blinded by cataracts as part of his Time and Knowledge nazrana service to the Aga Khan. Photo: Badrudin Kurwa Collection.
The Aga Khan’s approach to all his myriad socio-economic projects displays profound knowledge of them all, according to Bonnie Burnham, president of World Monuments Fund. Commenting on the Aga Khan’s unique cultural restoration efforts, Burnham stated: “They really are very broad based and visionary. There are not many institutions that have the capacity to do this. He is incredibly energetic. He really …has … his finger on the pulse of life in the global Islamic community embracing every sect and manifestation of culture and he’s interested in all of it.” (Apollo, Dec. 2007)
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