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Aga Khan III (1877-1957)
Aga Sultan Mohammad Shah was born in Karachi on 2 November 1877. He was the son of Ali Shah, the forty-seventh Imam of the Ismailis. Is grandfather Mohammad Hasan, a Persian by birth (forty-sixth Imam of the Ismailis), was given the title of “Aga Khan” by the Shah of Persia. After the death of the Shah he had to leave his hearth and home and to settle in Sind. Later on he shifted to Bombay.

He was on best of terms with the British and helped them in consolidating their power in Sind. He died in 1881 and was succeeded by his son Ali Shah who ruled only for four years as Imam. His heir the Aga Khan III was only eight years old when he succeeded to the Imamate. The Agha Khan married four times. Two of his wives were French and one an Italian. He married after the death or the divorce of the earlier wife. The Aga Khan had two sons, Ali Khan and Sadruddin Khan (Aga Khan IV).

He was greatly influenced by his mother as far as his early religious training was concerned. He received western education at home from English tutors. He achieved proficiency in many languages such as Persian, Arabic, English and French. While still in his teens, he visited England and received the hospitality of Queen Victoria whom he impressed by his understanding of the political and other problems obtaining in India. He was very much charmed by the life and society in England.

From London he went to Paris and was equality enthralled by the gaiety of that brilliant city. He went to Berlin to meet the Kaiser for pleading a better deal for his followers in German East Africa. He also found time to meet Sultan Abdul Hamie of Turkey and emphasised the need for greater amity among the Islamic people. The main plank of his policy and programme as discerned from his European tour was good relations with Britain, the welfare of his followers and the interest of the Islamic people.

He discharged his duty as the religious head of his people with great devotion and fact. Thus early in life he became popular among his people. However, by temperament and training he was not a person to be satisfied with merely religious matters. He started taking keen interest in the political problems facing the country as well as in the problems facing the Muslims. He was closely associated with the All-India. Muslim Education Conference (Chairman, Reception Committee, 1903). He took personal interest in the M. A. O. College founded by Sir Seed Ahmad Khan and played a leading role in making it develop into the Aligarh Muslim University.

He served as Pro-Chancellor from 1920 to 1930 and then again for some time from 1935. He also took keen interest in the deliberations of the Muslim League of which he was founder-member and President from 1907 to 1914. In 1906 he led a deputation of the Muslim which waited upon the Viceroy, Lord Minto, for the incorporation of the principle of separate electorate for the Muslims in the proposed constitutional reforms (Morley-Minto Reforms, 1909).
In 1918 he published a book under the title ‘India in Transition’, in which he made an assessment of the political situation in the country and expressed his views the future political setup of the country which, according to him, was dominion Status. His ideas greatly impressed the British rules. By this time the British fully realised the potentialities and powers of the Aga Khan as a politician, diplomat and leader of the Muslim. It was, therefore, not surprising that he was sent as an emissary to various Islamic countries to remove misunderstandings between them and the British.

He performed the task with great tact and diplomacy. In 1931-32 he was appointed a leading delegate to the Round Table Conference. Here he put forward a scheme for the safeguard of the interest of the Muslims and other minorities. He was then appointed leader of the official British Indian Delegation to the League of Nation (1932, 1934, 1935 and 1936). In 1937 he was appointed the first Indian President of the League of Nations.

Earlier he represented India at the World Disarmament Conference in 1934 and was appointed Privy Councillor in 1937. He was honoured by the British Crown with the titles of K. C. I. E. (1898), G. C.I. E. (1902), and G. C. S. I. (1911). In 1916 King George V granted him the salute of 11 guns and the rank of a first class ruling prince of Bombay Presidency.

All this was only one part of his rich variegated life, though not an insignificant part. He participated in the western social life to the utmost extent while in England or on the Continent. It was here that he developed interest in horse racing in which pastime he spent a lot of money and time and won laurels. It was also here that he began to take interest in western games and started playing golf and made his make. Not only this, he was a pioneer in promoting cricket and hockey in India. The Aga Khan Hockey Tournament is a reminder of his interest in the game.

The Aga Khan III combined in himself the rare qualities of a religious leader, a diplomat and a sportsman. He was catholic in religious outlook and practice and was on extremely good terms with people belonging to different religions. In the political field he always preached the policy of toleration and moderation. His philosophy of compromise made him an ideal peace-maker and a diplomat. The Aga Khan’s fame as an international figure far exceeded his fame as a politician at home. This was because of his unbounded love for the British Empire and the Royal Family which created misgiving in the minds of a large section of people in India, both Hindus and Muslims.

In making a final assessment of his personality one is confronted with a paradox. On the one hand he was a worshipper of the Muslims all over the world, most of them groaning under British yoke; he was steeped in the aristocratic and materialistic western civilization and yet was the spiritual head of an orthodox people, the Ismailis; he was a politician of the first rank but believed in a policy of status quo and could not adapt himself to changes in political tempo.
Author : S.M.Ziauddin Alavi