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History of the Ismaili Imams Tarikh-e Imamat

By Al-Waez Alijah Hasan Husayn Nazar Ali


Firman Mubarak
Message from The Chairman
Chapter I - Arabia and imamat 1

Chapter II - Syria and imamat 14

Chapter III - N.W. Africa and imamat 21

Chapter IV - Egypt and Imamat 26

Chapter V - Alamut and Imamat 67

Chapter VI - Persia and lmamat 67

Chapter VII - Indo-Pak and lmamat 74

Chapter VIII - Mowlana Shah Karim 86

Al-Husayni Aga Khan IV

Holy Ginan


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*** 86
 49th Imam - (1957 A.D. )

As is the Time, So is the Guidance:


The ascension to the throne of Imamat by our beloved Imam-e-Zaman, Noor Mowlana Shah Karim al-Husayni as the 49th Imam, coincided with the beginning of what is now known as the Atomic Age. The previous Imam, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah's period of 72 years of glorious Imamat was the longest of all the Imams. During this period, under his guidance, the whole world witnessed the growth, the strengthening and the development of the Ismaili community, which had never before acquired such an importance in the modern history.


July 11, 1957 is the Day when the present Imam assumed the reigns of the Imamat at the age of 21 years. Two days later, his father, Prince Aly Khan, introducing his son as the Imam of the Time, said, "I am very pleased and consider that my father's choice is a happy one for the future of the Ismaili people." When Mowlana Shah Karim met his followers for the first time as the Imam, he said, "My grandfather dedicated his life to the Imamat and Islam, both of which for him always came first, and above all other considerations."

 Repeating the passage from the Will of the previous Imam, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah: "Ever since the time of my ancestor Aly, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of some 1,300 years, it has always been the tradition that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from among sons or remoter male issue, and in these circumstances and in view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of Atomic Science, I am convinced that it is in the interest of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during the recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam." Mowlana Shah Karim


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 said, "In the last month that I have spent with -ny grandfather, and in our many other times together, I have been privileged to work with him, and his guidance and wisdom will be of great help to me. My air-n in the future will be to continue the vast work of my grandfather, to do all in -ny power for the welfare and betterment of our community and its economic and financial institutions Maternity Homes, Boys' and Girls' Schools, Hospitals, Trusts, Clubs and European and American Scholarships." He further said, "I will do everything possible for your worldly and spiritual upliftment. As you were in i-ny beloved grandfather's heart and thoughts, you will be in mine." Soon after his succession, the Queen of England conferred the title of "His Highness" upon the Imam.


Early Life:


His Highness Shah Karim Aga Khan, the eldest son of His Serene Highness Prince Aly Khan, was born on December 13, 1936 in geneva. His mother's name is Princess Tajud-dowlah. She is the daughter of Late Lord Churston and the Duchess of Leicester, the descendant of King Edward the III of England. Thus, in his veins runs the blue blood of the Arabian Prophet whose direct descendant he is, of the Egyptian and Persian Royalties who were his ancestors, and of the Italian and English Peerage, from the father's and mother's sides, respectively.


The auspicious news of his birth thrilled the entire Ismaili world. The early days of his infancy were spent in Europe under the care of his devoted parents and the personal supervision of his grandfather, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah. Even as a child, he was very fond of wearing Arab dress. During the second world war in 1941, when his revered grandfather was in Switzerland and his devoted father had offered his services to the Allies , Shah Karim and his brother Prince Amyn Muhammad accompanied their mother to Nairobi, the Capital City of Kenya where they


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they lived for four years. Mowlana Shah Karim's noble qualities of self reliance, as well as his sportsmanship, tenderness of heart, preservance, studiousness, and above all, his spontaneous love for religion were prominent even during his childhood. He was very fond of carpentry, gardening, cycling, riding, swimming and tennis. Our beloved Hazer Imam believes in "A sound mind in a sound body". Skiing has been his favourite sport ever since he was a child He started skiing when he was hardly two years old. During his school days in Switzerland, he excelled at this sport and became the Juniors Champion in Europe.


At the tender age of seven, Mowlana Shah Karim conducted the ldd-ul-Fitr prayer (Namaz) amidst a large congregation of Ismailis in the Jamat Khana at Nairobi. After the prayers were over, he shook hands with each and every Ismaili young and old for hours together with ldd Mubarak. On being asked if he was tired, he charmingly said." I am not at all tired. I am indeed very glad to greet and meet the whole Jamat and young children on this auspicious day of Idd.' Memories of this Idd Day are still cherished with pride by the Ismailis of Nairobi. During his stay in Nairobi, Shah Karim paid frequent visits to jamatkhanas and mixed freely with the members of the community.


Once when it was mentioned to Shah Karim that everyone, young and old, men, women and children were all immensely pleased to see him when he visited the Jamat, Shah Karim said, "Jamat is happy on seeing us, gives vent to Salwats and expresses pleasure by clapping, because we are the descendants of Prophet Muhammad (may peace of God be on him)".


When the Second World War ended, Shah Karim went back to Europe, where he joined the Le Rosey School in Switzerland. There he became a great friend of Duke of Kent, the Queen's cousin, whom he used to call "Eddie". Besides the prescribed education at school, he was tutored at home in Arabic, Islamic History and Urdu by Mustapha Kamil, who was specially sent for by Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah from the Muslim Aligarh University of the then India. From the very childhood, Shah Karim was the apple of his grandfather's eye. Once Shah Karim's mother had remarked, "My Karim can have his problems solved by his grandfather as easily as one can have one's own problems and mysteries of pleasures and mistakes solved through one's own equal.


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He is equally determined for the attainment of wisdom and sympathy. On account of the link of limitless friendship, he will be able to equip himself with virtues, and due to that, he will be free from the thoughtless and suppressive disciplinary remedies. It is not easy for a grandson to have the advantage of friendship and paternal love at such a close range from a grandfather. For this, magnanimity of heart and mind is essential, but it is joined with that link which is unbreakable, for, there it is surrounded by confidence, faith, love and tolerance."


At Harvard University:


After graduating from Le Rosey School, situated halfway between Geneva and Laussane, Shah Karim, with his brother Amyn, went to the Harvard University. At the university, because of his loveable personality, modesty and intelligence, he endeared himself to all the teachers as well as to his fellow students. He lived at Harvard's Leverett House, overlooking the Charles River. Richard Gill, a senior tutor at the house, said of him that Shah Karim was very nice and one of the top all-round men. Professor Richard N. Frye, who occupies the Agakhan Chair in Iranian studies, the gift of Shah Karim's grandfather, said, "The young scion is intelligent, serious and charming". During his stay at Harvard University, Shah Karim was a member of the Hasty Pudding Club and of the Islamic Association. He was on the Freshman Soccer Team and for the last two years of his stay there, played hockey with Leverett House in Intramural Competition. He often used to ski at Stowe, Vermont. On clear days, he was frequently seen rowing on the Charles River. College associates said, "He was a quiet fellow and did not own a car. In his 3 years at Harvard, he had seldom come to public attention."


In his freshman year, his room-mate was John Fell Stevenson, son of the Democratic Presidential nominee, A.E. Stevenson. Shah Karim has been a house guest at the Stevenson home in Libertyville. The New York Times, in its issue of July 13, 1957, said, "He is a "Straight All student. His name appears regularly on the Dean's list - an index of high scholastic achievement. He speaks English and French with about equal facility, although he admits to occasional difficulty with American slang. For several years, he showed interest in Russia, her language, customs and government."


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One of his associates described him as a young man of gentle dignity, whose bearing bespoke great refinement.


Mowlana Shah Karim is officially listed on the University roster as Karim Khan. Scholastically, he was in group 1. He was working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree, specializing in Middle East History. At the Harvard University, Mowlana Shah Karim had the opportunity to mix with the world renowned professors of Islamic History like Professor H.A.R. Gib. There he wrote several papers. Besides his papers on Islamic Sects and "Mysticism", his papers on "Rise of the Nizaris" and "The Beginning of Da'wa in Indo-Pakistan" were greatly appreciated by the Professors, as they contained material from original sources. He had not finished his paper on "Free Will and Pre-destination in Islam", when he had to leave the University.


Mowlana Shah Karim spent his school holidays and University vacations alternately with his mother at London, England and with his father at his (Prince Aly Khan's) Riviera Villa, Chateau de L'Horizon. Shah Karim is well known on the Riviera, particularly as a yachtsman. He and his younger brother Amyn had had a narrow escape at Saint Ropez when an accident occurred on board his yacht. He was also a frequent visitor at his grandfather's residence, Villa Yakymour, during his holidays. In 1954, in accordance with the wishes of Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, Shah Karim paid a visit to Pakistan, India and Africa. He instructed the Jamats to impart proper education to their children and to look after their health. In 1956, he visited Madagascar.


First Visit to the Followers:


Shortly after assuming the reigns of Imamat, Mowlana Shah Karim started on whirlwind tour of his Ismaili communities. Before proceeding to Karachi, the birthplace of his grandfather, in August 1957, Imam-e-Zaman visited the Ismaili centres at London and Paris. These visits were marked by memorable scenes of devotion to the Spiritual Father.


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While the Imam was on his way to Karachi, his plane made a brief stop-over at the Beirut airport in the early hours of Sunday morning, August 4, 1957. The Lebanese Government and the Ismailis of Syria and Lebanon accorded Hazer Imam a rousing reception. The Lebanese Government, who had come to know of the visit through Mr. Hasan El Fyi and the Ismailis of Syria and Lebanon, gave the Imam a Royal Welcome usually extended only to the Heads of States. Mr. Izzat Khorchid was appointed to receive Hazer Imam on behalf of the Government. Senator Abdullah Al-Haj made a speech of welcome. Over 600 Ismailis of Syria and Lebanon, including Mr. Ahmed Mirza, agent to the Imam, Mr. Hasan El Fyl, Mr. Amir Mustapha Mirza, the ex-Minister of Syria, and other prominent Ismaili leaders assembled at the airport to extend their Imam the most affectionate welcome to their country.


Later, Mr. Hasan El Fyl specially sent his son, Mr. Abdul Hamid Fyl to Bombay to request Hazer Imam to pay a longer visit to the capitals of Syria and Lebanon next time.


At Karachi, Mowlana Hazer Imam said, "You all know that my grandfather was one of the founders of Pakistan. He, his associates and his co-workers, struggled mightily for the establishment of this country. He always had the profoundest faith in the destiny of Pakistan. Those views and faith are mine. This country is in my heart, for as you know, my beloved grandfather was born here."


After a short stay at Karachi, and a brief tour of East Pakistan and Bombay, Mowlana Hazer Imam went to Africa to meet the Jamats there. At the Aden airport, in the course of an interview with the press, Hazer Imam said, "Muslims in Pakistan are progressing very well. Refugee problem is becoming colossal. Karachi, which had a population of two lakhs, has now more than 20 lakhs inhabitants. It is not easy to provide for them all." (One lakh = 100,000).


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Like his grandfather, Mowlana Hazer Imam has attached great importance to the care of children, their health and their education.


"The Mombasa Times" of East Africa in its issue of November 19, 1957, mentioned an interesting episode. It said, "At least one ear was critically cocked during the variety show given by the pupils of the Agakhan Boys', Girls', and Nursery Schools in the assembly hall off Prince Charles Street on Saturday evening. The ear belonged to the guest of honour, the Agakhan, Spiritual Leader of the Ismailis. He was listening to the greetings from the children recited in several different languages. The youthful Imam is said to speak 10 different languages including Russian. He smiled appreciatively at the school boy French, pursed his lips when it came to the Arabic, grinned at the English and laughed out loud when one toddler blasted forth with "Jambo Bwana Mkubwa".




Over the years Mowlana Hazar Imam has became a well known personality in the world of international philanthropic activates. His knowledge and judgement on investment and aid to the Third World Countries are regarded very highly by world Statesmen and such international agencies as CIDA, agencies of the United Nations etc.


In 1969, Hazer Imam married begum Salimah, the former Sarah Croker-Poole of English birth brought up in India. They have three children, Princess Zahra born on September 18, 1970, Prince Rahim born on October 12, 1971 and Prince Husayn born on April 10, 1974.


In 1982/83 Jamats throughout the world celebrated Mowlana Hazar lmam's Silver Jubilee, and were graced with his Holy visit.


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Since Hazar Imam assumed the office of Imamat in 1957, there have been fundamental political and economic changes in most of the 25 countries where Ismailis are found, mostly in the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh and the Ivory Coast have become independent while India and Pakistan have lived through two wars. It is a tribute to Mowlana Hazar Imam's diplomacy that He retains friendly relations with succeeding heads of state.


Although, now only 46, Mowlana Hazar Imam can look back at some major achievements as Imam of the time. He has adapted the complex system of administering the various Ismaili communities pioneered by His grandfather under the old colonial empires to a world of nation states. To make the most of scarce resources, Hazar Imam has introduced modern management techniques into the organization of health, education and the housing programmes as well as economic development activities.


The Aga Khan Foundation owns for example three hospitals in Kenya, has 72 health care centres in Pakistan, is building a 721-bed teaching hospital in Karachi and has funded low cost housing projects and a series of village schools in India. Of all the social institutions, the Foundation is taking up dimensions of extraordinary size as it has now become a collaborating agency of the United Nations with a delivery system that has already been proven in several countries including Kenya, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, U.K. and Canada.


The Foundation Head office in Geneva was established in 1967 as Charitable Trust for the Noorani Family with the primary objective of promoting development and social welfare through philanthropic activities in the developing world to improve the livelihood of all people,


In Canada, the Foundation was established in July 1980 and is recognized by Revenue Canada as well as CIDA and given the 'Charitable Status' and can therefore, officially collect funds and offer donations.

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Within a year of its operation in Canada, it has given the permission to collect 5 million dollars most of which will be channelled towards the building of Burnaby Jamat Khana, the Hospital in Karachi and the Institute of Ismaili studies in London.


In addition, it provides each year a growing number of scholarships to students in developing countries to continue their education in Europe and North America. Foundation programmes are open not only to Ismailis but to all races and religions. For the academic year 1982, Aga Khan Foundation Canada has approved scholarships to 19 students in far ranging subjects and universities apart from some 50 other studying under the Geneva Scholarship program.


What are its aspirations? To be known world-over as a charitable foundation most committed to the upliftment of primary health care and betterment of standard of living in poor countries. There is no question that the way things are going, our community will some day be considered a community notable not just for its successful commercial base, prospering industrial and tourism ventures but also for its Primary Health Care Activities, and this is where the Imam is counting on us.


The Industrial Promotion Services group of companies was set up in 1962 and now operates in Kenya, Tanzania, the Ivory Coast, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Its aim is to create economic development and consequently employment by putting modern management and technology together with local know-how into a suitable investment package. It includes IBIC - Ismailia Business Information Centre and the now successful program over 6 years the Small Business Assistance Program. Basically, controlled from Aiglemont by a Committee under Hazer Imam's guidance, the I.P.S. concept combines private investors both foreign and local with government and international bodies. Over one hundred enterprises have been launched in this way and range from building materials and textiles to mining and tourism.


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The Tourist Promotion Services operates basically in Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan harnessing international funding - world bank, corporations such as Lufthansa, Pan Am etc. and local governments. The I.P.S. is now looking into Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey - Hunza, Gilgit and Chitral may become vast areas of tourist activities. Sardinia, which is now world famous has earned Mowlana Hazar Imam the title of the KNIGHT of GRAND CROSS from the government of Italy. Prince Amyn Muhammad is in charge of the T.P.S. and its activities are also directed from the Head Office in Aiglemont.


The Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust (D.J.I.T.) successfully operates mortgage and term financing through savings deposits as well as ownership of commercial real estate in Kenya and Tanzania. It reports to a local Board of Directors who then report to Mowlana Hazar Imam.


The Jubilee Insurance Co. which has been set up since the time of Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah's Golden Jubilee in 1939, is the oldest insurance company in East Africa and has recently felt a renewed resurgence of activities. Like D.J.I.T., it reports to Hazar Imam through a Board of Directors and it also operates in Pakistan.


It is through Hazar Imam's continuous emphasis on the importance of systematic planning, systematic implementation and systematic review that the Jamat has been able to move forward. Hazar Imam's other projections include the Ismaili Centre in London, Nation Newspapers, Alisarda Airlines, Cerasarda- a ceramic factory in Sardinia etc. Hazar Imam's future projections may include a credit union, possibly an Ismaili Bank, Manpower Data Bank and central computer to coordinate forecast plans of all Business as well as Social institutions.

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In recognition of the objectives and high standards of the Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College, presently under construction in Karachi, the Government of Pakistan granted the Medical College and the School of Nursing a "University Status" in 1981. It is now known as the Aga Khan University. The only private university in the subcontinent, its primary objective is to respond effectively to the perceived need for medical manpower in Pakistan, and aims to set a standard of excellence worthy of emulation in the region.


Initially, the University will consist of a Medical College which will graduate 100 doctors each year beginning 1983, and a School of Nursing which began classes in October 1980 and will train 110 nurses annually. Attached to it will be a 721-bed teaching Hospital which will begin admitting patients in 1984. Departing from traditional concepts of medical education, the curriculum is specifically designed to prepare future health professionals to work effectively with other health workers at the community level.


The Aga Khan University will be the first international university in a Third World country. Besides having a faculty of health sciences in Karachi, it will have additional faculties in other countries of the developing world as well as in the West. New faculties will be added later relating primarily to the development of human resources in the Third World countries, with an emphasis on rural development and the management of social welfare institutions.


To assist in its development goals, the Aga Khan University is collaborating with distinguished universities such as Harvard in the United States, and McGill and McMaster in Canada, as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Pakistan.


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Aga Khan University has taken the magnitude of the largest projects undertaken by Imamat since the time of the Fatimid Caliphate. A Quote from Mowlana Hazer lmam's telex depicts this appropriately:


"The granting of University status to the Aga Khan Medical College is an event of international importance for the Jamat and for generations and generations to come. In fact, I can think of no single event in our recent history which holds so much potential for so many members of the Jamat".


According to a recent interview of Mowlana Hazer Imam with the Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE) "There is an important development programme being worked out for the Aga Khan University to establish more faculties in Pakistan and other parts of the world in due course so that Pakistan has a major international University working for the good of the Country, the good of the Islamic World and the good of the Third World in general."


The Aga Khan Award for Architecture established in 1978 will give five prizes of $100,000 every three years for outstanding architectural achievements in the Muslim world. Architecture was the greatest of Islamic art forms, but today, it is strongly subject to foreign influence. The object of award in Hazar lmam's words is "to provide an environment which future generations of Muslims will recognize as their own".


Mowlana Hazer Imam made His first visit to China during October 1980 to attend the four-day Aga Khan Architectural Award Seminar held in Beijing in Peking. After the completion of the four day's proceedings, Mowlana Hazer Imam and participants travelled to Western China for a seven-day tour of Xian, Urumga, Turfan and Kashgar. The Beijing seminar is the sixth sponsored by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the past four years. Other seminars were held in Istanbul, Fez. Jakarta, Paris and Amman. Each were concerned with the challenges facing urban and rural environments in the developing world.


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Mowlana Hazar Imam's personal position is unique in the world today. He is the spiritual and religious leader of a community which, while concentrated in the developing countries, is now present in the West. He is also concerned with the Islamic tradition, to guide the material well-being of His spiritual children and in this sense, directs an increasing number of philanthrophic and development organizations. it is however, Mowlana Hazer Imam's declared policy and love for His people that these activities should specifically contribute to the progress of many nations where the Ismailis live.


In His message Mowlana Hazar Imam called for greater effort to be directed towards improving the quality of life in the developing areas of the world:


"On this occasion of my Silver Jubilee, I would be deeply happy if the members of my Jamat, wherever they are and whatever their age, would reaffirm in a visible and united manner their commitment to the principles of Islam which bind all Muslims together, and which are an unique example to all mankind: Belief in Allah, the fulfilment of His Message to Man, respect and support for His greatest creation, Man himself. In this way let us establish even sounder foundations for a good and proper life and let us extend our support to those living in the developing areas of the world.


It is my hope that in the coming year members of my Jamat will substantially contribute to replacing walls with bridges and to a more peaceful and better life for mankind."


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Throughout the Fatimid Period and in Alamut, the Ismaili Imams had been the rulers of a state as well as the head of a religious community. After the fall of Alamut, the situation was confused, but again, in the first half of the l8th Century, we find Mowlana Abul Hasan Ali as Governor, ruling Kirman for the Zend kings. The First Aga Khan, Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali, married the daughter of the Persian Shah. His son, the 47th Imam, Shah Aly Shah and his grandson, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah and his great grandson, the present Imam not only have royal ' blood from that union, but through their lineage, claim Royal descent from the Fatimid Caliphs, and as Imams the same lineage traces back to Hazrat Ali, son in-law of Holy Prophet Muhammad.


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1. IPS Dare-es-salaam

 2. The Institute of ismaili Studies, London.

 3. Jami' - ul - Hakim, Cairo.

1. IPS Dare-es-salaam

2. The Institute of ismaili Studies, London.

3. Jami' - ul - Hakim, Cairo.

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