Ismaili History 839 - Titles and Honour
None equals the selfless and valuable services of the Aga Khan IV in the world, which can be gauged from the face of the facts that he has been invested many titles to appreciate his illustrious services. The Queen of England has awarded him the title of His Highness on July 26, 1957. On August 12, 1957, the Sultan of Zanzibar invested the title of Brilliant Star of Zanzibar. During his visit to Iran for ten days, the king of Iran awarded him the title of His Royal Highness on October 24, 1959. He visited Goa for the first time, where the Portuguese government conferred the title of Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry on October 27, 1960. The President of Ivory Coast decorated the Aga Khan with the title of Grand Cross of the National Order on August 4, 1965. On his way to Europe, the Aga Khan alighted at Ugadaught, the capital of Upper Volta in West Africa, when the President awarded him title of National Order on August 5, 1965. He arrived in Tananarive, the capital of Malagasy, where the President awarded him the title of Grand Cross of the National Order of Malagache Republic on November 15, 1966. The President of Comore Island, Sayed Muhammad Shaikh awarded the Aga Khan the title of Grand Cross of the Green Crescent on November 20, 1966. It was his first visit to Pakistan with his wife when the President of Pakistan granted the title of Nishan-e-Imtiaz on January 15, 1970. The Prime Minister of Italy, Guilio Andreotti had personally received the Aga Khan on December 8, 1977 at the Palazzo Chigi, and awarded Italy's highest national award, namely Order of the Knight of the Grand Cross in recognition of his role in the development of Sardina's economy. The Aga Khan was also honoured the title of Gran Croce Della Republica Italiana by the government of Italy in 1978. His Majesty King Hasan II of Morocco conferred the grand cordon of Ouissam al-Arch, the highest Moroccon honour upon the Aga Khan on November 26, 1986 at Rabat at a dinner hosted to him at the royal palace. Dignitaries like His Royal Highness Prince Bender bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister of Morocco, Azeddina Laraki etc. were also present in the ceremony. On October 26, 1988, the Italy's President Francesco Cossiga invested the Imam the title of The Order of the Cavaliere del Lavoro at Rome, and he was the first Muslim to be so honoured in Italy. On November 7, 1990, the French President Francois Mitterand, awarded the Aga Khan at Paris, the highest national honour of Commander of the Legion d'Honneur, established by Nepoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
The World Monuments Fund recently honoured the Aga Khan IV with its prestigious Hadrian Award for his vigorous and fruitful efforts to preserve and revitalise historic cities in Islamic world on October 28, 1996 at New York.
The Aga Khan IV, the present 49th Hazar Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims has been responsible not only for guiding a progressive community of Shia Ismaili Muslims scattered all over the world, but he has also managed a vast complex of administrative, social, economical and cultural enterprises in the world today. In 1976, he moved his headquarters from Switzerland to Aiglemont, Gouvieux, near Paris.
The Aga Khan married Lady James Crichton-Stuart, nee Sarah Crocker-Poole; known as Begum Salima in Paris on October 28, 1969. The Aga Khan's first child, Princess Zahra was born on September 18, 1970. The second child, Prince Rahim was born on October 12, 1971 and the third son, Prince Husayn was born on April 10, 1974.
The separation of the Aga Khan with his wife, Begum Salima through a divorce took place at the end of 1994. The Aga Khan asked his lawyers in this context to start divorce proceeding against his wife on September 30, 1994. The divorce was officially pronounced on March 23, 1995 by a Swiss court.
On May 26, 1996, the Aga Khan IV was specially invited to address at Brown University, where he delivered the baccalaureate address to the Class in the Meeting Home of the First Baptist in United States, near the Brown University Campus. Hence, the Aga Khan was the first Muslim ever to give the Baccalaureate address at a Brown commencement in the school's illustrious 232-years history. In his speech, Mr. Vartan Gregorian, President of Brown University, said that the Aga Khan embodied the ecumenical spirit that links the three great monotheistic religion: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. He went on to say that as a major activist for civilized humanity and universal values, the Aga Khan's leadership has brought about flourishing systems for welfare, learning, housing and culture. Equally vital are his faith in education and his ability to tap the resources of European, Asian and American institutions of higher learning to enhance the well-being of human kind. 'To see how well these enlightened actions succeeded, you need only visit the Aga Khan University and the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, where people of different faiths, races and classes receive the same high quality education and care - for that University and that Hospital are the best in the region.'
In his Baccalaureate address, the Aga Khan sought to correct the misperceptions about Islam and its followers which exist in the collective consciousness of most Western cultures. He stressed the great need for increase mutual understanding between the Islamic World and the West. He said that such understanding is more essential today because the Muslim World is one of the only two potential geo-political forces, vis-a-vis the West, on the world stage: the other being the East Asian Tigers, and also because in the wake of the Cold War, violence and cruelty are becoming rampant around the world. The Aga Khan also said that 'violence is not a function of faith' but rather an effect of demographic economic and political problems in the Muslim World leading to civil unrest and discontent. The Aga Khan further said that 'universities in the West' can help 'build a bridge across the gulf of knowledge which separates the Islamic World from the West.' This bridge, he said could be built upon a common Abrahamic monotheistic tradition and common ethical principles, founded on shared human values. It could help to adapt proven Western method of development to the specific contexts of Islamic countries.
On May 27, 1996, Brown University of Providence, Rhode Island, USA conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws upon the Aga Khan for 'service to Islam and all human kind.
In Hunza, the northern area of Pakistan, the Baltit Fort Project, a 800-year old landmark of Islamic architecture has been brought back to its former splendid by the Historic Cities Support Programme (HCSP) of The Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The Fort is restored at a total cost of $. 2.15 million by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Getty Grant Programme and the Norwegian bilatered aid programme, NORAD, committed $. 200,000 and $. 450,000 respectively to the restoration project. The restoration work was completed in about five years. Accordingly, an inauguration ceremony of Baltit Fort took place in presence of President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari of Pakistan and the Aga Khan in presence of 350 guests and delegates from all over the world. In his speech, the Aga Khan said, 'As the prime historic landmark of Hunza, the fort is a major tourist attraction and a potential source of income for the local community. It can, therefore, be expected that the restoration project itself will act as a dynamic factor of change.'
On October 17, 1996, the Aga Khan delivered a keynote address in The Commonwealth Press Union Conference at Cape Town, South Africa. Other speakers at the Conference included South Africa's Executive Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, former President and Leader of the National Party, F.W. De Klerk, and Britain's Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair.
Being the founder and principal shareholder of Nation Printers and Publishers in Kenya, East Africa's leading publishing group, the Aga Khan said in his address that, 'The media can help prevent cultureal conflicts arising out of the communication revolution of 21st century.' He spoke of a spirit of 'creative encounter' that the media would need to engender if 'the growing demand for cultural integrity was to be reconciled with the dazzling rise of the global village.' Explaining to an audience of 300 representatives of the media from some 40 countries of the Commonwealth that the communications revolution was 'a two-edged sword, opening doors to the future, but also threatening cultures and traditional values.'
Recently, The World Monuments Fund honoured the Aga Khan IV with its prestigious Hadrian Award for his vigorous and fruitful efforts to preserve and revitalize historic cities in the Islamic world on October 28, 1996 at New York. In his keynote speech at the presentation ceremony, Cyrus Vance, a former US Secretary of State spoke of the Aga Khan's commitment to 'the preservation and renewal of societies,' noting that 'the Aga Khan has laboured through out his career....to bridge divisions between the Muslim world and other communities, reminding us that we cannot regard Islamic society as separate from the larger community of nations.' It was an endeavour which, he said 'is especially vital today, as we face conflicts between nations and cultures.' Acknowledging the honour, the Aga Khan expressed the hope that his 'efforts for cultural rehabilitation in Islamic societies through architecture will, due to the very diversity of their world address such a wide spectrum of issues, covering such a large number of peoples and places that the lessons learned will in many cases be both universal and replicable for other societies and their inherited cultures.'
It must be known that the previous recipients of the Hadrian Award include Prince Charles, David Rockefeller, Dominique de Menil, Paul Mellon, and Marella and Giovanni Agnelli. The Aga Khan is the first Muslim leader ever to receive the Hadrian Award.
'Currently' writes Sami G. Hajjar and Steven J. Brezezinski in 'The Nizari Ismaili Imam and Plato's Philosopher King' (cf. 'Islamic Studies', vol. XVI, 1977, p. 304) that, 'The sect is led by Prince Imam Karim Aga Khan IV, the 49th Imam of the sect. He is descendant of Nizar, the eldest son of the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mustansir Billah, who himself descends from al-Husayn, the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.'
The Ismailis are spread almost in every corner of the world at present under the spiritual leadership of the Aga Khan. Most of the Ismailis live in their countries with their old traditions. About four distinct traditions are prevalent in the world Ismailis. In Syria, the Fatimid tradition is practised. In Central Asia, the tradition of Nasir Khusaro is in operation. The Khoja Ismailis adhered to the tradition of the Indian pirs, and the Ismailis of Iran mostly attached to the Alamut tradition. Above all, the fundamental principle of these Ismailis is to recognize the Imam of the Age. During his first visit to Moscow, the Aga Khan said to his followers on January 29, 1995 that:- 'First, let me remind you, that for all murids of the Imam, whether they are from Central Asia, from India, from Pakistan, from the Western World, the fundamental principle is the recognition of the Imam of the Time. It is he who interprets the faith. It is he who guides the jamat in the interpretation of its faith at any time during its lifetime. It is he who supports the jamats in various parts of the world, to seek , with the jamat and others, to improve the quality of life of the murids wherever they may be.'
In sum, the fundamental principle of the Ismaili Muslims is that the Imamate must be handed down in perpetuity in direct lineal descent, which has been maintained uninterruptedly for fourteen centuries, ever since Hazrat Ali, who succeeded to the Imamate. His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is recognised as the 49th Imam in a lineal descendant of Hazrat Ali through Bibi Fatima.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan had once said, 'The future of the Ismaili faith rests in the hands of the youths of your age and mine. Are we to follow the example of those, who in Egypt, Iran and Sind raised the flag of Ismaili Imams high enough for the world to see its glory? I say, 'yes.' We should not fail where our ancestors achieved glorious success' (vide 'Ilm', London, vol. 8, nos. 2-3, Dec., 1982, p. 11).
We shall say while terminating these pages with a conclusion, that a full account of Aga Khan IV's activities, including a detailed description of his various projects for the Shia Ismaili Muslim communities of different countries, still needs to be written.