Legacy of Jubilees of Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah

Imam Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III succeeded as Imam on August 17, 1885 at the age of 8 years and reigned for 72 years. Under his leadership, ‘the first half of the twentieth century was a period of significant development for the Ismaili community. Numerous institutions for social and economic development were established on the Indian sub-continent and in East Africa.’1

Imam’s commitment to the Islamic ideals of brotherhood of humanity, peace among nations, and respect for human dignity prompted his role as a statesman on the world scene.2 He was a delegate to the Round Table Conference in the 1930s, President of the League of Nations from 1937 to 1939, was decorated as Knight Grand Commander of the Star of India by George V, and was bestowed numerous honours by many countries.

Aga Khan III, President of the League of Nations
Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah was elected President of the League of Nations for its 18th Assembly. Photo: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History

Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah also devoted much of his time and resources to consolidating and organising the Nizari Ismaili community in the Indian subcontinent and East Africa. He was particularly concerned with introducing reforms that would transform the Ismaili community into a modern self-sufficient one, with high standards of education and welfare. To meet the needs of the community in South Asia and East Africa, he established networks of schools, health clinics, hospitals, and jamatkhanas.

The foundations of the present education system were laid by Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah, who established over 200 schools during the twentieth century including:

[These schools are now part of Aga Khan Education Services.]

In 1905, Imam issued a written set of ‘Rules and Regulations’ for the Ismailis of East Africa, which served as the constitution, with a revised version issued in 1954. Similar rules were also issued for the Ismailis in British India. The ‘Rules and Regulations’ described the organisational structure of the community with a hierarchy of councils and office-bearers, their administrative procedures, as well as local and regional constituencies. The constitution also re-affirmed the centrality of the Imam’s absolute authority over the affairs of the community.

During his Imamat, the community celebrated his Golden (1937), Diamond (1946,) and Platinum (1954) Jubilees. To show their appreciation and affection, Imam was weighed in gold, diamonds and, symbolically, in platinum, respectively, the proceeds of which were used to further develop major social welfare and development institutions in Asia and Africa.

Aga Khan III Aug 1946
Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah addressing gathering at Diamond Jubilee celebration in Dar-es Salaam, Aug 15, 1946.

As 1935 drew to its close I went to Bombay to celebrate my Golden Jubilee as hereditary Imam of the Ismailis…The climax of of the celebration was the ancient ritual of weighing me against gold…The actual weighing ceremony was both stately and heart stirring, evoking as it did strong currents of reciprocal affection between my followers and myself. Our rejoicings, however, were cut short by the grievous news of the passing of my old, staunch, and good friend, the King-Emperor, George V, who died at Sandringham in January 1936….We immediately abandoned all further festivities out of respect to his memory…”

I am convinced that our social conditions – education for both boys and girls…are far ahead. We were pioneers in the introduction of midwifery, and…we had trained nurses for childbirth…”

“In Africa,…we have put the finances of individuals and of the various communities on a thoroughly safe basis. We established an insurance company – the Jubilee Insurance – whose shares have greatly increased in value. We also set up what we called an investment trust, which is really a vast  association for receiving money and then putting it out on loan, at a low rate of interest, to Ismaili traders and to people who want to buy or build their own houses.”

An amount equal to the value of the diamonds – more than half a million pounds – had been collected and was offered to me as an unconditional gift. I wanted this enormous amount to be used for the welfare of the Ismaili community throughout what was then undivided India. The specific scheme which I had in mind was a trust, along the lines which Ismailis have built up in Africa… Co-operation in banking and commerce, in the raising and lending of money, in building and in farming, is – I sincerely believe – their path towards economic, social, and cultural upliftment, towards that better life for themselves and for their children…”
Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah
Extracts from The Memoirs of Aga Khan

Legacy of the Jubilees:

1Ismaili Community, Aga Khan Development Network
2The Ismaili Imamat: Contemporary Period, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Aga Khan Education Services

Compiled by Nimira Dewji


Countdown to Diamond Jubilee Series



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