The Aga Khan believed that the root cause of Muslim backwardness in India was illiteracy, and therefore, education was the panacea for their ills. He thought that education should be a medium of service to others and a tool for modernization. He also considered the aim of education to be character building. According to Islamuddin in "The Aga Khan III" (Islamabad, 1978, p. 22), "It was he, who, translated the dream of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan into reality, by raising the status of Aligarh College into a great Muslim University." Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah states in "The Prince Aga Khan" (London, 1933, p. 65) that, "It was Sir Syed Ahmed who founded Aligarh College, but it was the Aga Khan, an ardent enthusiastic promoter of the ideal of education, who has been mainly responsible for the raising of its status to that of a University."
After the death of Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan in 1316/1898, the Aga Khan III advised Mohsin al-Mulk (1837-1907), the Secretary of Aligarh College, to tour India to procure public opinion for the cause of Muslim University. His interest in the Aligarh College dates from the time when he was called upon to preside at an Educational Conference held at Delhi at the time of Lord Curzon's proclamation Durbar in 1319/1902. He used the platform of Muslim Educational Conference to bring home to the Muslims, the importance of education, and Muslim University at Aligarh. In his Presidential address to the Muslim Educational Conference, the Aga Khan said: "If, then, we are really in earnest in deploring the fallen condition of our people, we must unite in an effort for their redemption and, first and foremost of all, an effort must now be made for the foundation of a University where Muslim youths can get, in addition to modern sciences, a knowledge of their glorious past and religion and where the whole atmosphere of the place, it being a residential University, nay, like Oxford, give more attention to character than to mere examinations. Muslims of India have legitimate interests in the intellectual development of their co-religionists in Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and the best way of helping them is by making Aligarh a Muslim Oxford .... We are sure that by founding this University we can arrest the decadence of Islam, and if we are not willing to make sacrifices for such an end, must I not conclude that we do not really care whether the faith of Islam is dead or not? .... We want Aligarh to be such a home of learning as to command the same respect of scholars as Berlin or Oxford, Leipzig or Paris. And we want those branches of Muslim learning, which are too fast passing into decay, to be added by Muslim scholars to the stock of the world's knowledge." (vide "Khutbat-i Aliyah", Aligarh, 1927, Part I, p. 206).
Addressing the annual session of Muslim Educational Conference in 1904 at Bombay, the Aga Khan III said: "The farsighted among the Muslims of India desire a University, where the standard of learning should be the highest and where with the scientific training, there shall be that moral education, that indirect but constant reminder of the eternal difference between right and wrong, which is the soul of education .... I earnestly beg of you that the cause of such a University should not be forgotten in the shouts of the market place that daily rise amongst us."
The plan for the Muslim University had by 1910 taken on the complexion and force of a national movement. The session of the All India Muslim Educational Conference at Nagpur in December, 1910 gave the signal for a concreted, nation-wide effort to raise the necessary funds for the projected University. In moving the resolution on the University, the Aga Khan III made a stirring speech. He said, "This is a unique occasion as His Majesty the King-Emperor is coming out to India. This is a great opportunity for us and such as is never to arise again during the lifetime of the present generation, and the Muslims should on no account miss it...We must make up and make serious, earnest and sincere efforts to carry into effect the one great essential movement which above all has a large claim on our enegery and resources...If we show that we are able to help ourselves and that we are earnest in our endeavours and ready to make personal sacrifices, I have no doubt whatever that our sympathetic government, which only requires proper guarantees of our earnestness, will come forward to grant us the charter. `Now or never' seems to be the inevitable situation."
To make a concerted drive for the collection of funds, a Central Foundation Committee with the Aga Khan III as Chairman with Maulana Shaukat Ali (1873- 1938) as his Secretary; and prominent Muslims from all walks of life as members was formed at Aligarh on January 10, 1911. The Aga Khan III accompanied by Maulana Shaukat Ali, who was still in government service and had taken a year's furlough, toured throughout the country to raise funds, visiting Calcutta, Allahabad, Lucknow, Cawnpore, Lahore, Bombay and other places. According to Willi Frischauer in "The Aga Khans" (London, 1970, p. 76), "His campaign for the Aligarh University required a final big heave and, as Chairman of the fund raising committee, he went on a collecting tour through India's main Muslim areas: `As a mendicant', he announced, `I am now going out to beg from house to house and from street to street for the children of Indian Muslims.' It was a triumphal tour. Wherever he went, people unharnessed the horses of his carriage and pulled it themselves for miles."
The response to the touching appeal of the Aga Khan III was spontaneous. On his arrival at Lahore, the daily "Peace" of Punjab editorially commented and called upon the Muslims "to wake up, as the greatest personality and benefactor of Islam was in their city." The paper recalled a remark of Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan prophesying the rise of a hand from the unseen world to accomplish his mission. "That persoanlity" the paper said, "was of the Aga Khan III." On that day, the "London Times" commenting upon the visit, regarded him as a great recognised leader of Muslims. The significant aspect of the Aga Khan's fund collection drive was not the enthusiastic welcome accorded to him, but the house to house collection drive. Qayyum A. Malick writes in "Prince Aga Khan" (Karachi, 1954, p. 64) that once the Aga Khan on his way to Bombay to collect funds for the university, the Aga Khan stopped his car at the office of a person, who was known to be his bitterest critic. The man stood up bewildered and asked, "Whom do you want Sir?" "I have come for your contribution to the Muslim university fund," said the Aga Khan. The man drew up a cheque for Rs. 5000/-. After pocketing the cheque, the Aga Khan took off his hat and said, "Now as a beggar, I beg from you something for the children of Islam. Put something in the bowl of this mendicant." The man wrote another cheque for Rs. 15000/- with moist eyes, and said, "Your Highness, now it is my turn to beg. I beg of you in the name of the most merciful God to forgive me for anything that I may have said against you. I never knew you were so great." The Aga Khan said, "Dont worry! It is my nature to forgive and forget in the cause of Islam and the Muslims." The drive received further great fillip from the announcement of a big donation by Her Highness Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal. The Aga Khan III was so moved by her munificence that in thanking her, he spoke the following words: Dil'e banda ra zinda kardi, dil'e Islam ra zinda kardi, dil'e qaum ra zinda kardi, Khuda'i ta'ala ba tufail'e Rasul ajarash be dahadmeans, "You put life in the heart of this servant; you put life in the heart of Islam; you put life in the heart of the nation. May God reward you for the sake of the Prophet!" In sum, the Aga Khan collected twenty-six lacs of rupees by July, 1912 in the drive and his personal contribution amounted to one lac rupees.
On October 20, 1920, the Aligarh University was granted its official Charter. In spite of several obstacles, the Aga Khan continued his ceaseless efforts for the Muslim University, and further announced his annual grant of Rs. 10,000/- for Aligarh University, which was subsequently raised. The Ismaili individuals also made their generous contributions to Aligarh University. For instance, Mr. Kassim Ali Jairajbhoy gave Rs. 1,25,000 to found chairs of Philosophy and Science in the Aligarh in memory of his father.
It must be noted on this juncture that in January, 1857, Lord Canning (1856-1862) had passed the Acts of Incorporation in India which provided for the establishment of universities in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The fourth university was then established in 1882 by a Special Act of Incorporation in Pujnab and the fifth was that of Allahabad University in 1887. Thus, by the end of 1902 there were five universities in India, and Aligarh University was the sixth one.
It will remain as a historical reminder of the fact that the Aga Khan gave continuity to the traditions of his ancestors as pioneers of education in Egypt and elsewhere - traditions associated with the foundation of Al-Azhar, the oldest existing university in the world, which to this day is crowded with students from all parts of the globe. The Aga Khan III instituted the Aga Khan Foreign Scholarship programme for the promising students. It is worth mentioning here that Dr. Ziauddin was one of the students of the Aga Khan in the sense that the Aga Khan paid for his years of study at Cambridge. Among other great Muslim scholars, who benefited from the munificent help were Dr. L.K. Hyder, the well known economist, Mr. Wali Muhammad, a great physicist, Dr. Zafarul Hasan, a learned theologian, and Dr. Zaki etc. "The Movement of establishing a Muslim University" writes Mumtaz Moin in his "The Aligarh Movement" (Karachi, 1976, p. 184), "is an important chapter of our history. Initiated by Waqar al-Mulk it soon became a live issue under the patronage of the Aga Khan." Islamuddin writes in "Aga Khan III" (Islamabad, 1978, p. 27) that, "Thus it would not be an exaggeration to say that without Aga Khan, there would have been no Aligarh University, and without Aligarh, Pakistan would have been a near impossiblity." The Aga Khan himself said in his "Memoirs" (London, 1954, p. 36) that: "We may claim with pride that Aligarh was the product of our own efforts and of no outside benevolence and surely it may also be claimed that the independent sovereign nation of Pakistan was born in the Muslim University of Aligarh."
The Aga Khan III paid another visit of Europe in 1904, and for the second time, he went to see his followers in East Africa in the following year.
In 1324/1906, the Aga Khan III liquidated the traditional jurisprudent committee, known as justi in the community. In replacement thereof, he founded the Council in Bombay, and appointed the Mukhis and Kamadias and other 20 persons as members. In 1327/1910, the Aga Khan III promulgated a legally drafted Constitution for the Shia Imami Council and ordained it under his personal seal. Ibrahim Muhammad Rawji had been appointed as its first president.
The Aga Khan III highly abhorred injustice and fought actively for both human and civil rights at a time when it was hardly a fashionable pursuit. He resigned from the exclusive St. Cloud Golf Club near Paris when some members objected to Sugar Ray Robinson, the black boxer playing on the links. In Aix-les-Bains, one day, he rubuffed the pompous head waiter of the Hotel Splendide who refused to seat a large group of Senegalese students and promptly invited them to a three-star lunch. The Aga Khan III was also deeply shocked by the ruthless and arrogant discrimination practised by whites in United States, India and China. During his brief visit to China in 1906, he remarked: "Within the foreign settlements the general attitude towards the Chinese was little short of outrageous. All the better hotels refused them entry. From European clubs they were totally excluded. We hear a great deal about the colour bar in South Africa today. In China, in the early years of this century, the colour bar was rigidly imposed - not least offensively in discrimination against officials of the very government whose guests, under international law, all foreigners, were supposed to be. Is it any wonder that the China intelligencia long retained bitter memories of this attitude?"