Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III was born on November 2, 1877 in Karachi in British India, now in Pakistan. Educated in Bombay (Mumbai) and Puna (Pune), where he studied Arabic, Persian literature, and calligraphy, he succeeded to the Imamat of the Nizari Ismailis on August 17, 1885.
K.K. Aziz states that through his intimate knowledge of Eastern as well as Western cultures, Aga Khan III “was uniquely placed to play a significant role in the international affairs of his time, and his long public career had many dimensions” (Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah p vi).
Aga Khan III’s commitment to the Islamic ideals of the brotherhood of humanity, peace among nations, and respect for human dignity inspired him to be involved as a statesman on the world scene, receiving numerous honours by several countries in recognition of his service.
He became a notable figure in British India, receiving the rank of Grand Knight Commander in 1902 when he attended the coronation of Edward VIII (r. 1901-1910). In the same year, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India appointed him to his Legislature Council at Calcutta (More on Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah at Nimirasblog).
At the age of twenty-eight, he had become a national leader of such stature that he was called upon to lead a deputation of thirty-five distinguished spokesmen from all over the subcontinent to then Viceroy of India Lord Minto at Simla on October 1, 1906.
In his Memoirs (Cassell, 1954), Imam states:
“The Viceroy, Lord Minto, had agreed to receive a deputation from us and I was to lead that deputation… we boldly asked the Viceroy to look facts in the face; we asked that the Muslims of India should not be regarded as a mere minority, but as a nation whose rights and obligations should be guaranteed by statute…
We asked for adequate and separate representation for Muslims both on local bodies and on legislative councils, we asked that this representation be secured by a separate communal franchise and electoral roll. In short, we Muslims should have the right of electing our own representatives on it…. since we had obtained separate electoral recognition, we must have the political organization to make that separate representation effective” (p 92).
In an address to Lord Minto, read by Aga Khan, he said:
“…the political importance of a community to a considerable extent gains strengths or suffers detriment according to the position that the members of that community occupy in the service of that State. If, as is unfortunately the case with the Mohammedans, they are not adequately represented in this manner, they lose in the prestige and influence which are justly their due” (A Bill of Muslim Rights, Selected Speeches p 252-253).
The Simla Deputation “started a new chapter in the constitutional life of the Indian Muslims, because they, for the first time, presented their demands to the government systematically and the same were accepted by the British authorities” (Business Recorder).
Following the success of the Simla Deputation, the All India Muslim League was established at Dacca in 1906, and Aga Khan III was chosen as its first president for a term of six years.
K.K. Aziz, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Kegan Paul, London, 1998
Barbara Metcalfe, Thomas Metcalfe, A Concise History of Modern India, Cambridge University Press, 2012
Rizwan Jamal, “Sir Aga Khan III: Remembering a great Muslim leader,” The Express Tribune
Nimira is an invited writer at Ismailimail, although she has contributed several articles in the past (view previous articles). She also has her own blog – Nimirasblog – where she writes short articles on Ismaili history and Muslim civilisations. When not researching and writing, Nimira volunteers at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and at a women’s shelter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.