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Definition: Aga Khan from Philip's Encyclopedia

Since 1818, title of the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shi'ite Muslims. Aga Khan III (1877-1957) was the best known. He headed the All-India Muslim League in support of British rule in 1906. He moved to Europe and was known for his enormous wealth and love of horse racing. His grandson, Karim, became Aga Khan IV in 1957.


Summary Article: Aga Khan
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(ä'gä khän), the title of the religious leader and imam of the Ismaili Nizari sect of Islam, originally bestowed by the Persian shah Fath Ali on Hasan Ali Shah, 1800–1881, the 46th Ismaili imam, in 1818. The first Aga Khan was also appointed as the governor of the province of Kirman, a position he lost as a result of political intrigues following Fath Ali's death. In 1839, he moved to India, where he aided the British during the first Anglo-Afghan war (1839–42) and in the conquest of Sind (1842–43). He was succeeded by his eldest son Ali Shah, Aga Khan II, who died in 1885. In turn, his son, Sultan Muhammad, 1877–1957, assumed the title of Aga Khan III, and played an instrumental role in attempting to secure Muslim support for the British rule of India. A founder of the All-India Muslim League (later the Muslim League), he served as its president in 1909–14. His international visibility increased when he served as the chairman of the British Indian delegation to the imperial conference in London in 1930–31. He also represented India at the Geneva disarmament conference (1932) and in the League of Nations (1932, 1934–37), where he was president of the General Assembly (1937). Later he played a significant role in the movement to establish the Muslim state of Pakistan. He was succeeded by his grandson, Prince Karim al-Hussayni, 1937–, who as Aga Khan IV has devoted substantial Ismaili wealth to development projects in countries with a significant Ismaili population. He also has instituted (1977) a noted series of awards for Islamic architecture. His uncle, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, 1933–2003, was UN High Commissioner for Refugees (1965–77) and was active in other international humanitarian causes.

  • See The Collected Works of Aga Khan III (1991).
  • Frischauer, W., The Aga Khans (1970).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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