Prince Aly Salomone Khan was born at Turin in Italy on June 13, 1911. Because he was a delicate child, his father, the Aga Khan III decided against sending him to experience the rigours of an English boarding school. He was entrusted to the care of a private tutor, Mr. C.M. Waddington, the former Principal of Mayo College for the sons of Princes in India. He finished his education at Lincoln's Inn, London, though he was not called to the bar. He was fluent in a number of European and Oriental languages. He spoke English in the right Oxford accent, and talked and gave speeches in French with rich fluency.
Prince Aly Khan visited India with his mother in 1923. The Aga Khan III sent his son in Syria in 1930 and again in 1931 where he inaugurated a school at Khawabi. He also visited India on November 21, 1931, and during the year 1932 he had been deputed to India as a representative of his father and made historical visit of Bombay and Calcutta. He also had gone to Pinang, Singapore and Rangoon. Prince Aly S. Khan was granted an honour of J.P. (Justice of Peace) by British India on November 1, 1934. His first marriage took place at Paris with Joan Guinness, known as Joan Aly Khan on May 18, 1936, who gave birth of the Aga Khan IV on December 13, 1936 and Prince Amyn Muhammad on September 12, 1937. This marriage, however, did not last long. Then on May 27, 1948, he married the famous Hollywood actress Ritta Hayworth. This marriage was not fated to go well. There was a divorce in 1953. Through this marriage, Prince Aly Khan had a daughter, Yasmin, who was born in December 20, 1949.
Prince Aly Khan obtained an aeroplane pilot's license in 1937 when he was about 26 years old, and was flying regularly. He was equally enthusiastic about motor racing and skiing. He was great at taking risks. He broke his legs three times skiing and nearly broke his neck many a time while motor racing and flying. In a biography of Prince Aly Khan, entitled "Golden Prince" (London, 1955, p. 15), the British author Gordon Young says, "He has always looked like a man restlessly - searching for a happiness which for most of the time seems to have eluded him like a shadow. His life has been rich but it has never seemed incomplete."
The East Africa saw Prince Aly Khan for the first time in February, 1939 when he visited every large town and met Ismailis who were struck by his captivating youth and charm. One glaring instance is the Prince Aly Khan War Fund which he inaugurated in East Africa and which raised for the Allies a very handsome amount.
His life has been a headline parade. He was an outstanding social figure, a darling of the international set - equally at home in the West and in the East, an international sportsman, phillanthropist, soldier and an able diplomat. Unfortunately, the social gossip column writers took keen interest only in his social occupations and painted him as a playboy in florid and bombastic words. Prince Aly Khan had played a key role in the Ismaili communities and directed the different institutions from time to time. He inaugurated Aly Nursary at Bombay on February 23, 1944 and since then the opening of the nursary schools began in the community in different places.
He had rendered an outstanding military services to the Allies in the World War II (1939-1945) and joined one of the toughest fighting forces in the world - the French Foreign Legion. He saw service in the Middle East under General Waygand. In 1940, he joined the British forces in the Royal Wiltshire Yeomantry. He was promoted to Lt. Col. on October 10, 1944. Later, he was decorated for distinguished service with the U.S. Army. In an operation, aided by a British officer and two Ismaili irregulars, he captured a tank in the desert of Syria. From the French he received both the Legend of Honour and the Croix de Guerre with palms on August 15, 1944 at Paris. In 1951, he opened Kibuli Mosque at Campalla.
In November, 1957, he met President Iskander Mirza of Pakistan and was offered a service as the country's permanent spokesman in the United Nations, whose formal announcement was made on February 6, 1958. He put over Pakistan's viewpoint admirably. His Assistant at the Pakistan Mission to the U.N., Mr. Agha Shahi said: "He sometimes worked till 10 or 11 in the night. He did not smoke, and at cocktail parties, he just ordered tomato juice for himself." He was elected Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly on September 17, 1958 and was also the Chairman of the Peace Observation Committee.
The tragic death of Prince Aly S. Khan took place in a car accident near Paris on the night between May 12 and 13, 1960. Field Marshall Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan said in his tribute that: "I am deeply shocked at the sudden tragic death of Prince Aly Khan. His statesmanship, his friendliness and his personal charm will be remembered by thousands of his friends and admirers. Pakistan has lost a diplomat of the high calibre and value."
Prince Aly Khan had expressed his wish to be buried at Salamia among Syrian Ismailis he knew and loved so well. In the meantime he was to be interred in the grounds of the Chateau de l'Horizon where a grave was dug in the lawn by the side of his study. Starting on the sad journey to the South of France, chanting and praying Ismailis carried the coffin which was covered with the red and green Ismaili flag and put it on a special train. In the coach ahead were the Aga Khan IV, Prince Sadruddin and Prince Amyn Muhammad in their compartment. Regular trains taking precedence, the trip took twelve hours and it was midnight before they arrived. Next day, at the open grave, the Aga Khan IV, palms turned skywards, recited the funeral prayers. Then Prince Aly Khan was put to rest in the temporary grave.
On Monday, the 27th Jamada I, 1392/July 10, 1972 the final burial ceremony of late Prince Aly Khan took place in Salamia, Syria according to his will. It was participated by the leaders of the community from Pakistan, India, East Africa, Europe, United States and South East Asia, including 36 delegates and four guests. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Prince Amyn Muhammad were also present in the ceremony. The remains of late Prince Aly Khan was transported from Nice to Damascus by an Air France chartered Boeing on July 10, 1972 at 7.00 a.m., and it was interred in the main Jamatkhana compound with great honour. In his speech, Ahmad Nasir al-Hayek, President of H.H. The Aga Khan's Salamia Council said: "Salamia, this town which is situated at the edge of the desert, and patiently faced many natural disasters, is very proud to have within its humble existence this selected gathering on this very sad occasion. The occasion of the Prophet's sacred family; His Serene Highness Prince Aly Khan, son of late Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and the beloved father of the present Imam of the Ismailis.....The late Prince Aly Khan had loved Salamia and its inhabitants. To whom they represented the Arab tradition which are well known for their pride, integrity, bravery and hospitality. In this patch of our Arab land his imagination took him back, through our Islamic and Arabian history, to see his great ancestors travelling through the Arabs land to Africa, and Europe to spread Islamic ideas and Arab civilization. His great ancestors played a major role in the establishment and spreading of such civilization. As it is also well known that he in person had served Islam and Arab affairs internationally and particularly in United Nations. And as a symbol of his love and admiration he made his will to be buried here in Salamia which is loved by every Ismaili, because our glory started from its soil, and also in this soil rest the bodies of a number of his ancestors as it will have now his own."
Mata Salamat Umm Habiba, the Begum Aga Khan recently observed her 90th birthday at Aswan in Upper Egypt on February 15, 1996. She told in an interview to "Hello" (February 24, 1996) that, "He (Prince Aly Khan) was a very big-hearted man and not only did he not mind being displaced by his son, he was proud of him. Aly Khan was phenomenally alive."
Returning to the thread of our narrative, we will quote Malise Ruthven as writing in "Islam in the World" (New York. 1991, p. 218) that, "The Aga Khan's spiritual authority has enabled him to impose religious and legal obligations on his followers which have allowed them to adjust to modern conditions without loss of religious faith - something which Sunni Islam, with its legalistic and literalistic traditions, has found much harder to achieve. The Ismailis have become the world's most prosperous Islamic community outside the oil regions; it is a community, moreover, whose prosperity has been achieved as a result of its own efforts under a succession of astute and capable living Imams."
The Aga Khan IV continued and extended the modernization policies of his grandfather, and closely supervised the religious and temporal affairs of his followers, through their councils, and paying regular visits to them. He has shown a particular interest in improving the socio-economic and educational conditions of the Ismailis. In the field of education, he has encouraged the Ismailis to acquire specialized and technical skills, and providing numerous scholarship in western institutions for eligible students. Currently, he supports a network of some 300 educational institutions and programmes in India, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania and elsewhere.
On February 4, 1971, the foundation stone was laid for the Aga Khan Hospital with a medical college and nursing school at Karachi, and its nursing school was inaugurated in 1981, which was graded to the University. In sum, the Aga Khan University and the University Hospital were built at an estimated total commitment of 300 million dollars. The University's Faculty of Health Sciences consists of a School of Nursing which began classes in October, 1980 and a Medical College commissioned in September, 1983. The School of Nursing graduated its first class of nurses in December, 1983 and is programmed to educate 110 skilled nurses each year. The 721-bed Aga Khan University Hospital located on a Campass. The Medical Complex represents both a link to the great Islamic traditions of the past, and a bold progressive action aimed at addressing the health needs of the Third World.
The Aga Khan Health Services consist of an elaborate network of about 200 health programmes, including six general hospitals in different Asian and African countries. The Aga Khan Health and Education services are available to all people regardless of their caste and creed. Many new projects in these fields were launched during 1982-3 when the 25th anniversary of Silver Jubilee of his Imamate was celebrated.
Being keenly concerned with the administrative and economic efficiency of his programme, the Aga Khan promotes and finances many of his different projects in the field of health, education, rural development and social welfare through the Aga Khan Foundation, established in 1967. With headquarters in Geneva and branches in several countries, the Aga Khan Foundation now collaborates with more than thirty national and international organisations for the implementation of numerous programmes in the third world.
For the realization of his economic programmes, the Aga Khan set up the Industrial Promotion Services (I.P.S.) in 1963, operating in several Asian and African countries including Canada. It has launched more than one hundred projects in the field, ranging from textiles to modern enterprises in tourism, providing employment for ten thousand persons. All the Aga Khan's existing projects and institutions relating to the economic activities, are now absorbed into the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development. The Fund, established in 1984 seeks to promote economic projects in the third world.
Being a modern Muslim leader with an international outlook, the Aga Khan has shown a profound interest in promoting a better understanding of Islam and its cultural heritage. W. Montgomery Watt writes in "Islamic Philosophy and Theology" (Edinburgh, 1985, p. 154) that, "Under the leadership of recent Imam, the Ismailites have given other Muslims an example of how Islamic faith may be adapted to the modern world and may lead to effective action in it." In pursuit, he has established a number of specific institutions and programmes. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (A.K.T.C.), formed in Switzerland in 1988, promotes and focuses attention on contemporary expressions of the Islamic humanistic tradition. Its objectives are universal, perpetuating what is valuable from the past and to identify directions for the future.
The Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture, established in 1976, seeking to encourage architectural excellence for the Islamic world, declaring its prize like a noble prize on every three years from 1980. It includes five prizes to be awarded during 15 years, each prize will cover one lac dollars. Akbar S. Ahmed writes in "Living Islam" (London, 1993, p. 54) that, "In particular his (the Aga Khan IV) propagation of Islamic Architecture has allowed him to provide a lead and draw in Muslims in all over the world. The combination of tradition and modernity has generated a global feeling of Muslim pride and identity." The students from different Islamic countries also continue to benefit from the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, established in 1979 at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its mandate is to educate new generations of architects, planners, teachers and researchers. Harvard was chosen because it is a major centre of scholarship in Islamic art and architecture, and MIT because of its expertise in high technology architecture. In the long term, the Program's graduates, two thirds of whom are from the Islamic world, will serve as designers, and teachers of designers of a built environment that meets the needs of societies in transition.
In 1974, the Aga Khan IV called a meeting at Nairobi, being participated by the distinguished scholars and members of the eleven Ismailia Associations. It was followed by a Paris Conference in 1975, where an International Co-ordinating Committee was formulated under the Ismailia Association for Kenya, and also the formation of Institute of Ismaili Studies had been finalized to promote Islamic studies. Finally, the Aga Khan announced the formation of the Institute of Ismaili Studies to the world Ismaili jamats through a written message on November 25, 1977, during his birth-day celebration, which was held before three days due to the Muharram on December 10, 1977. He said: "It gives me great happiness to inform my jamat of the formal inauguration in London of the Institute of Ismaili Studies. As my spiritual children are aware, not since the Fatimid period has there been in existence a research centre for Ismaili studies, manned especially by outstanding Ismaili men and women scholars. This is therefore a significant step in making it possible for my jamat to secure the fruits of Ismaili scholarship in the history, philosophy, theology and literature of Ismailism and Islam by virtue of an academic institution created by our own efforts and resources."