Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III – first president of Muslim League - 2010-11-02
His Royal Highness Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III was one of those Muslim stalwarts who believed in Islam as a global religion and who worked ceaselessly for its triumph and glory throughout their lives. He had always been passionately interested in promoting unity and understanding among Muslims all over the world and contributed immensely to the social, cultural, political, economic and educational development of the ummah. In studying his services to Islam and the Muslims in general and that of the Indo-Pak subcontinent in particular, one would find that the most remarkable and distinguished aspect of his work is his untiring efforts to unite the Muslim community, irrespective of their geographical, political, sectarian or denominational differences and affiliations.
HRH Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III (1877-1957) was born in Karachi on November 2, 1877 and became the 48th Imam and spiritual leader of the Ismaili community at the young age of eight years (in 1885), after the sad demise of his father Aga Ali Shah. The title of His Highness had been bestowed upon him at the age of nine years. It was a clear pointer to the fact that he was held in high esteem by both the government and the people of the country.
Under the guidance of his wise mother, His Highness Aga Khan received careful educational training and within a few years he was able to read and write with perfect ease in the languages he was learning. He made remarkable progress in both Eastern and Western literature and in the knowledge of ancient and modern history. The languages specially studied by him included Persian, Arabic, English and French. He also acquired proficiency on philosophy and theology.
In 1898, at the age of 21, Prince Aga Khan made his first trip to the West. He was received in London with great honour by the prime minister, the secretary of state and other elite leaders in the British Kingdom. Queen Victoria invited him to dine with her and stay at the Windsor Castle. During her coronation ceremony, she made Prince Aga Khan to sit to her right, on the seat reserved for the highest religious personality in the British Kingdom.
After the demise of Sir Syed Ahmed and Nawab Mohsinul Mulk, the mantle of leadership of the Muslims of India fell upon the shoulders of Prince Aga Khan and it was his selfless service, which built upon the unorganised Muslim community in the sub-continent into a powerful force in the political life of the country. His great influence and prestige among the British proved a very helpful asset in the cause of Muslim standpoint being understood and appreciated by the foreign rulers.
Prince Aga Khan laid the foundation of separate nationhood of the Indian Muslims as early as 1906. It was mainly due to his efforts that the All-India Muslim League came into existence in 1906. He was voted permanent president of the Muslim League and occupied this post for seven years from 1906 to 1913.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III played a pivotal role in making the Pakistan Movement a success by inculcating political awareness among the Muslims of the sub-continent. He strived hard for cultural renaissance, social regeneration and political rehabilitation of the Muslims. He rendered invaluable services and worked in league with other Muslim leaders to further the cause of Muslim identity by constitutional means.
Aga Khan soon realised that the main cause of the political backwardness of the Muslims was due to lack of education, and to spread education among Muslims became the most important part of his life’s mission. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had started the great Aligarh Movement, and in it, Aga Khan believed, laid the salvation of the future of Muslims. In 1902, because of devoted services to the cause of Muslim education, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah became a member of the Imperial Legislative Council and he was asked to preside over the Mohammadan Education Conference held in Delhi.
In 1911, the Aga Khan took upon himself the task of collecting funds to start the Aligarh University. A year earlier in reply to an address of welcome by the trustee of the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College (MAO), he said he would undertake the responsibility to “build a mighty university worthy of Islam in India”. He increased the annual grant that he had been giving to the college for the last many years, and promised to contribute a substantial amount to the university funds. He donated money in cash for scholarships to the most deserving students for foreign studies, which the trustees named “Aga Khan Foreign Scholarship”.
At the Round Table Conference, the Muslim leadership was entrusted to His Highness, the Aga Khan. He performed his duty remarkably well, and with his suavity of manners and tact, and general attitude of helpfulness kept the Muslim team solidly together – which was an invisible contrast to the many and discordant voices, which spoke from the other camp. (Makers of Pakistan: Al Biruni p207)
The congress sent MK Gandhi as their sole representative to the Second Round Table Conference. During all these protracted deliberations, the Aga Khan rose to great heights as a political leader of consummate skill, a patient and skillful negotiator, a gifted and foresighted statesman. Commenting on his works as the leader of the Muslims at the Round Table Conference, Dr Shafat Ahmed Khan wrote in 1932, “The Aga Khan is the greatest Muslim leader in Asia.”
On December 15, 1932, the National League held a meeting in London in Committee Room No 10 of the Parliament building. In this meeting Allama Iqbal, speaking on the Aga Khan at the Round Table Conference, said, “We have placed these demands before the conference under the guidance of His Highness the Aga Khan, that worthy of statesman whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love for the blood that runs through his veins.” (Letters and writings of Iqbal: BA Dar, Iqbal Academy, Karachi 1967, p72)
In short, the Aga Khan had championed the cause of Muslims of the world throughout his life. He was totally dedicated to Islam – in mind, body and soul. This extraordinary personality of the Muslim world passed his last days in his Villa Barkat, at the Varsoix on the lake of Geneva and breathed his last on July 11, 1957 and was laid to eternal rest at Aswan in Egypt. We can pay real tribute to the memory of this great leader of the Muslim world by making Pakistan stronger and prosperous. In one of his messages he had identified Pakistan as “the rising star of Islam” and wished the future of the country as bright. He had invoked the young nation to forge closer unity and eschew internal violence. Let us live up to his ideals and convert Pakistan into a fortress of Islam. This we can ensure only by defending the ideological frontiers of this country and evolving as a truly Islamic welfare state free from hunger, poverty and disease.