( آقا خان
) is the hereditary title
of the Imam
of the Nizārī Muslims
, the largest branch of the Ismā'īlī
followers (الطائفة الإسماعيلية
) of the Shī‘a
faith. The Ismaili branch of Shia Islam affirms the Imamat
of the descendents of Ismail ibn Jafar, eldest son of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq
, while the mainstream Twelver
branch of Shi`ism follows Ismail's younger brother and designated Imam, Musa al-Kazim and his descendents.
In the 1830s the honorific title of Aga Khan was bestowed upon Aga Hasan Ali Shah
, the 46th Imam
of the Ismailis
, by Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar
, the Shah
. Etymologically the title combines the Turkish military title Agha
, meaning a "noble" or "lord
", with the Altaic
polyvalent title Khan
for a local ruler, so the combination means roughly "Commanding Chief". In Persia's Qajar
court protocol, Khan (and Amir) was commonly part of commanders of armed forces and provincial tribal leaders which ranked fourth in precedence amongst the eight title classes for non-members of the dynasty. In 1877, the colonial rulers of India, the British Raj
, gave the Aga Khan rank and nobility in recognition of the help in suppressing a regional rebellion against the British
, thus the Aga Khan became the only religious or community leader in British India
granted a personal gun salute; all other salute dynasties
were either rulers of Princely States
, or Political Pensioners
holding ancestral princely titles in states abolished by the Raj.
Prince Karīm al-Hussainī became the present Aga Khan IV
upon assuming the Imamat
of the Nizari Ismailis
on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan (Aga Khan III
). In his will, his grandfather stated the conditions that led him to select his grandson as successor to the Ismaili Imamat:
"In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes that have taken place, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on life to his office.
Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the 49th Ismaili Imam, tracing their lineage to Ali, cousin of Muhammad, and his wife Fatima, Muhammad's daughter. The title His Highness was granted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1957, and His Royal Highness by the Shah of Iran in 1959. On July 11, 2007, Aga Khan was the Imam of Ismaili Muslims for 50 years.
The Aga Khan, heir to the family fortune and a society figure, is founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world. AKDN continues to work with a variety of African and Asian countries to improve living conditions and promote education. For instance, in Afghanistan the AKDN has mobilised over $700 million in development projects.
The annual Aga Khan tournament for field hockey
in India began in the late 1800s. Matches of the Aga Khan tournament are held on the grounds of Bombay Gymkhana
In 1926, the Aga Khan III gave a cup (the Aga Khan Trophy) to be awarded to the winner of an international show jumping competition held at the annual horse show of the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland every first week in August. It attracts competitors from all of the main show jumping nations and is carried live on Irish national television.
List of those who have held the title of Aga Khan
- Aga Khan I = Hasan Ali Shah Mehalatee Aga Khan I (1800–1881), 46th Imam (1817–1881)
- Aga Khan II = Ali Shah Aga Khan II (about 1830–1885), 47th Imam (12 April 1881–1885)
- Aga Khan III = Prince Sultan Mohammed, (1877–1957), 48th Imam (17 August 1885–1957)
- Aga Khan IV = Prince Karim Al Husseini (b. 1936), 49th Imam of the Ismailis (from 11 July 1957)