December 1983

His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan: A Spiritual Leader and His Big Business

To 15 million muslims in 25 countries, he is a living God, direct descendant of Mohammed and the spokesman for almighty Allah. To the West, he is one of the world's wealthiest men, famed for his 460 thoroughbreds, his billion-dollar Sardinian resort and the excesses of his forebears. He is His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan (HH to the 250,000 employees in his innumerable enterprises). 46, who recently celebrated his silver jubilee as Imam, spiritual leader of the sect of Shia Ismaili Muslims, Karim was a 20 year old Harvard junior majoring in Islamic studies when his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, died on 1957. the Sultan's will named Karim as successor, bypassing Karim's father, the late Aly Kahn, whose public affection for cars, horses and women was legendary (Rita Hayworth was his second wife). While inheriting some of his father's sporting blood - he expanded the family racing stables and backed Italy's first ever America's Cup entry this summer-Karim is fiercely protective of his private life. He has been married for 14 years to the Begum Salimah Aga Khan (formerly English model Sally Croker Poole), and they have three children. Recently LIFE was invited to Aiglemont, the family home 45 minutes north of Paris, for a rare and intimate glimpse of Imam No. 49 and his family.

During his silver jubilee year, the Aga Khan travelled more than 250,000 miles in 14 countries to celebrate with his followers. As Imam, he is responsible for their material as well as spiritual health. His Industrial Promotion Services oversees more than 100 businesses in Asia and Africa, with interests in jute, women's tights, diamond mines, onyx, hides, newspapers, tourism and tire retreading. Profits are poured into good works via the Aga Khan Foundation, which in 1983 will divvy up more than $100 million among third world development projects. Karim recently dedicated the $300 million Aga Khan University in Karachi. "There are limits to what you can do." he admits. "There are parts of the world that I will probably never be involved in, which will always be called the third world."


The Aga Khan owns a converted 11th century monastery in Paris, a house in Geneva and a villa in Sardinia, but Aiglemont is home for his family as well as official Ismaili headquarters. On the estate's 200 wooded acres, his children take lessons in marksmanship with an air gun, swimming, gymnastics and judo, when not indulging in less structured activities. The children, who speak four languages, attend school in Geneva. "I would like to see them go on to an American university " says the prince (Harvard '58). "Later they will travel with me and become more involved in the work I'm doing."

When not on the road (he spends half his time travelling), the Aga Khan puts in long hours at the secretariat, a modern office building five minutes' walk from the main residence. "Everywhere he goes he carries documents," says an aide. "He just doesn't stop."


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