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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

 46th Imam - (1817 A.D. - 1881 A.D.)

While Fateh Ali Shah lived, Persia granted Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali a friendly centre for his activities. During his lifetime Fateh Ali Shah has designated his grandson, Muhammad Shah, as his successor. But upon Fateh Ali Shah's death, two parties were formed at the Court, one supporting Fateh Ali Shah's eldest son and the other, the deceased Shah's nominee, Muhammad Shah. Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali supported the Prince whom Fateh Ali Shah had nominated, and it was mainly by the strength of Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali's army and military genius that Muhammad Shah came to the throne. In the government which Muhammad Shah formed, the Imam was given the position of Commander-in-Chief of the army.


For some years, things went well. But in approximately 1838 A.D., friction developed between the Imam and the Prime Minister Mirza Aghashi, who took every opportunity to discredit the Imam in the eyes of the king. He also deliberately insulted the Imam by asking the hand of Imam's daughter in marriage for a low-bred person. The Imam not only gave a sharp refusal to this request but, upon further inappropriate demands by the Prime Minister, raised a revolt in Kirman. A truce was made, but the Prime Minister broke his promise and had the Imam arrested. However, the Imam was released by Muhammad Shah; but as the pressure continued, the Imam renewed his rebellion. Soon after, he left for Sind, via Afghanistan. There he was enthusiastically welcomed by the Talpur Amirs of Sind, who had long been Imam's zealous supporters.


Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali, the First Aga Khan, came to India in 1840. Upon arriving in Sind, the Imam placed himself and his followers in the hands of the British. Sir Charles Napier who was the Governor General in Sind, wrote this in 1844 A.D., "The old Persian Prince (Aga Khan) is my great crony (old companion); living not under my care, but paid by me 2,000 sterling a year. He is a god, his income immense...... He is clever, a brave man. I speak truly when saying that his followers do not refuse him anything he asks...... He could kill me if he pleased. He only has to say the word and one of his people can do the job in a twinkling of an eye and go straight to heaven for the same."


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 The services rendered by Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali in Sind also proved his staunch attachment to the British cause. For these services, rendered at personal risk and danger, he was awarded the hereditary title of "His Highness" by the British.


Imam had lost huge properties in the land of his birth owing to the treachery of the Persian Prime Minister, Mirza Aghashi. At the time he was compelled to leave Persia, it was his intention to secure aid in Afghanistan or India and return to his country to demand what rightfully belonged tohim. He did make an effort to re-establish himself in Persia,but the opposition was too strong for him to do this.

 He then gave up the idea and went to live in Bombay. There again, the Persian influence was strong enough to make him move to Calcutta, from where he returned to Bombay after the death of the Persian ruler, Muhammad Shah. Except for a brief period at Bangalore, his headquarters or Darkhana remained in Bombay.


Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali spent the last years of his life in the peaceful enjoyment of his large income and hereditary honours at Poona, Bombay and Bangalore. He devoted the last 30 years of his life to the upliftment of the Ismaili community in India. One of his great passions in life was horses. He had in his stables some of the best breeds of Arabian horses. His fondness for horses made him one of the prominent supporters of the turf. There are many cups won by him on the racecourses which are still preserved in the family.


The Duke of Edinburgh and King Edward VII, who was Prince of Wales at that time, visited Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali at his residence during their visit to India. It was an honour which, with the exception of the leading ruling princes, was accorded to no other nobleman; this was an acknowledgement of Imam's princely birth and of the great and loyal services he had rendered to the British government.


Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali died in April 1881 A.D., leaving three sons -Aga Ali Shah, who succeeded him to the Imamat, Aga Jangi Shah and Aga Akbar Shah. Before Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali's death there was reconciliation between him and the ruling family in Persia. The last resting place of this great Persian nobleman, warrior, statesman, sportsman and Spiritual Leader, is at Mazagon in Bombay. This place is called Hasanabad after the Imam, where Ismailis have erected a mausoleum, visited to this day, by thousands of Ismailis.


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Among the followers of Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali, there were a handful of people who refused to acknowledge him as their Spiritual Leader. They tried to withhold from him the properties dedicated to him by his pious and devout followers. These "seceders" argued that Pir Sadruddin who was responsible for converting Hindus into Khojas, was a Muslim of Sunni persuasion and, therefore, the Khojas converted by him and the descendants of the converts, could not be considered Shia Imami Ismailis. The argument which started with religious dues and properties held in trust for the Spiritual Head of the community, Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali, had its trial in the Bombay High Court before Sir Joseph Arnould in April and June 1866 A.D. This trial is popularly known as the "Khoja Case" or "Aga Khan Case".


Sir Joseph Arnould, the Chief Judge, tried the case; the best advocates available were briefed on both sides. Neither the plaintiffs, nor the defendants spared any expense in obtaining evidence, which was valuable from the viewpoints of the historian, the research scholar, the theologian and the student of philosophy. Sir Joseph had indeed a difficult task examining the evidence. The result was a lengthy and well argued judgement, which decided, once and for all, that the Khoja community "is a sect of people whose ancestors were Hindu in origin, which was converted to, and has throughout abided in, the fait;li of the Shia Imami Ismailis, which has always been and still is bound by ties of spiritual allegiance to the hereditary Imams of Ismailis".


As a result of this judgement, the rights of Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali as the Spiritual Head of the Shia Imami Ismailis were firmly and legally established.


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47th Imam - (1881 A.D. - 1885 A.D.)

Mowlana Shah Ali Shah was in Karbala with his mother, the Persian Princess, when Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali, his father was forced to leave Persia. Born and raised in Persia, Mowlana Shah Ali Shah developed a liking for hunting. From his noble father, he had inherited a daring spirit and love for adventure.


Mowlana Shah Ali Shah was married to Marium Sultan, the daughter of an Iraqi tribal chief and had two sons by her, Badin Shah and Noor Shah. When Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali took up permanent residence in India, he sent for his son, Shah Ali Shah, and his family. After coming to India, Mowlana Shah Ali Shah lost his wife. He married the daughter of a Shirazi family and settled in Bombay. After the death of his second wife, he married Nawab A'lia Shamsul-Muluk, a grand-daughter of Fateh Ali Shah and the daughter of Nizamud-dowlah, a noted Persian scholar, philosopher, diplomat and statesman, who was Prime Minister to Fateh Ali Shah. After their marriage, they lived in Baghdad for some time and then moved to Karachi, where their son Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah was born.


Mowlana Ali Shah's two sons by his first wife died in Mowlana Shah Ali Shah's lifetime. The eldest son died at the age of 33. He was greatly loved by the Khoja community and respected by others as well. It was this Prince, Pir Shahbudin Shah Al-Husayni, who wrote the treatise, "Risala dar Haqiqati Din" (The True Meaning of Religion).


The younger son, aged 30, who was a good sportsman, fell from his horse one day and sustained serious injuries which proved fatal. These two deaths, coming one after the other, grieved Mowlana Shah Ali Shah to such an extent that he died nine months later. He died in Poona in 1885 A.D., after a brief Imamat of four years. When he died, his successor to the Imamat, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah was not even eight years of age.



 Under Mowlana Shah Hasan Ali's guidance, and the tutorship of learned and pious Mullahs, who were specially brought from Persia and Arabia, Mowlana Shah Ali Shah had received a perfect training. He was so intelligent and quick at learning, that within a short period of time, he had mastered the oriental languages.


During the lifetime of his father, Mowlana Shah Ali Shah had earned the respect as a Pir (Spiritual Man). However, his interests were not confined to religion only. He was the President of the Muhammadan National Association until his death, and rendered valuable service to the Muslim community. He was also, for some time, a member of the Bombay Council for Making Laws and Regulations.


With regards to his followers, he spared nothing to raise them socially; he freely helped the destitute Khojas and opened a school for Khoja children in Bombay.


Mowlana Shah Ali Shah was a splendid sportsman and a skilful rider. He had an adventurous spirit; when he went hunting, he never made use of shelters in trees but always shot the tigers standing on the ground, with a sure and steady aim. He had bagged no less than 40 tigers in this way.


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Lady Ali Shah, whose maiden name was Nawab A'lia Shamsul-Muluk, was the daughter of Nizamud-dowlah, the Prime Minister to Fateh Ali Shah, the greatest of Persian Monarchs of Kajjar dynasty. The mother of Lady Ali Shah, Kurshid Kulah, was the daughter of King Fateh Ali Shah by one of his queens, named Tajud-dowlah. Lady Ali Shah was thus related to the Persian Royal Family through her mother.


Nawab A'lia Shamsul-Muluk was married at Kirman to Mowlana Shah Ali Shah in 1867 A.D. She was 24 years old at that time. Later, she came to India with her husband and while living in Karachi, gave birth to His Highness Sultan Muhammad Shah at "Honeymoon Lodge", a charming residence on top of a hillock.


Eight years after this happy event, on August 17, 1885, Lady Ali Shah was stricken with grief at the death of her dear husband, Mowlana Shah Ali Shah. However, she submitted herself to the divine will and devoted her life to the

 education and upbringing of her young son, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, who had inherited vast fortune and heavy responsibilities.


When Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah was hardly 19 years old, public life claimed his attention. His inborn virtues and talents, fostered by careful training, impressed all those who came into contact with him. Before long, he became the accepted leader of a vast majority of people, and his life became one of constant travelling.


In 1896, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah went to England for the first time. After that, his association with Western Europe increased and he continued to remain away from India for longer periods of time. Lady Ali Shah, as a mother, felt the pangs of this separation and once said to her son, "Death is inevitable, but if it comes to me in your absence, it will be unendurable." Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah's reply was a remarkable one. "Do not worry", he said, "You will breathe your last with your head on my lap." The words were to prove prophetic decades after they were uttered.


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 Lady Ali Shah was a brave woman and a born leader. When her son had to remain in Europe for long periods to work for his country, his community and the world in general, Lady Ali Shah helped the leaders of the Jamat in their administrative duties by offering her advice and guidance. Many a time she was called upon to settle problems and arguments of the Jamat, and she did so to the satisfaction of all.


She was like a loving mother to the Ismailis, who sought her guidance, inspiration and help in times of difficulty. People visited her every day, seeking her advice on important domestic, business, communal and health matters. Ismailis, not only from India, but also fron distant parts of the world, came to see her. They were looked after by Lady Ali Shah at her own expense until their affairs were settled. So keenly was she interested in the welfare of the Jamat, that whenever anyone connected with the Jamat came to visit her, her first inquiry invariably was, "How is the Jamat?" Good news of the Jamat made her happy; bad news pained her.


Lady Ali Shah had a dynamic personality. She was intensely pious and spent most of her time in prayer, or in discussions of holy matters. Although belonging to the older generation and to the old school of thought, she was liberal in her views and adaptive in her ways. In 1896, when the plague broke out in Bombay, and the orthodox public opinion was opposed to the inoculation, she allowed her only son, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, to be injected with the antiplague serum, as an example to the others, thus breaking down the barriers of public antipathy towards medical reforms.


In 1932, she visited England. Large crowds of people came out to see "The Mother of a Great and Distinguished Man". She was given audience by His Late Majesty, King George V and Queen Mary in the Buckingham Palace. One of the coveted honours, the title of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, was bestowed upon her.


*** 81

 The end of 1937 found her weak and frail. Reports of her ill-health brought Prince and Princess Aly Khan and Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah hurrying to her bedside. Under expert medical treatment, she rallied, for a while, however, and left for Mesopotamia in January 1938. Before her departure, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah had gone to Aligarh to attend the convocation of the Muslim University. He received a rousing reception there; however, he ordered all the floral tributes offered to him to be taken immediately to his mother. Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, who had dedicated his book, "India in Transition" as a token of gratitude to his mother, again paid his mother the tribute of a grateful son.


Lady Ali Shah travelled to Basra by sea, while Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, after fulfilling his many engagements, flew to Basra by plane, and made arrangements for a comfortable landing for his mother, Lady Ali Shah. He then proceeded to Cairo. When Lady Ali Shah arrived in Baghdad, she sent a telegram to Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah. The Imam flew to Baghdad immediately. On his arrival, he found that his mother was getting worse. Two hours later, the Grand Old Lady breathed her last in the lap of her son. Lady Ali Shah was buried at Najaf, next to the tomb of her husband, Mowlana Shah Ali Shah.


.....Photo, Enthronement ceremony of Hazrat Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah



48th Imam - (1885 A.D. - 1957 A.D.)
Early Life:

The Third Aga Khan known as the Right Honourable Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, was born at Karachi on Friday, November 2, 1877 at Honeymoon Lodge.


He was only eight years of age when his father, Mowlana Ali Shah, died, leaving to him the responsibility of the Imamat. He owed much to the training he received from his capable mother, Lady Ali Shah. His uncle, Aga Jangi Shah, acted as his guardian, but it was his mother who helped the most to shape his character and to develop his education. It was a pleasure for Lady Ali Shah to see the son towards whose development she had contributed so much, rise in honours not just within his own community, but throughout the world.


Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah devoted his whole life to the betterment of the Ismaili community and of the Muslim community at large.


The Multi-Sided Life:

 Various biographies of Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah have described the multi-sided life he lived. They write of his statesmanship which led him upwards to the Presidency of the Assembly of the League of Nations in 1937; of his love for sport that made his name known on the Racecourses of the world; of his efforts for peace between communities and between nations; of his zeal for education and his share in the establishment of the Muslim University in Aligarh; of his interest in the Muslim League; of his service to his own community, the Ismaili Khojas; and of the honours that had been conferred upon him. We will not essay so broad an account of his achievements, but briefly record his Leadership of the Ismaili community through the 72 years that he had been the Imam.


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 Ithna Ashari Khojas:


Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah succeeded to the throne of Imamat while yet a child. It was some years before the Imam could assume the full responsibility. The Council did well to hold the community together. However, in 1901, while Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah was abroad, a group of people withdrew from the Jamat, erected their own mosque and made their separate burial ground in Bombay which they called Aram Bagh. They announced the fact of their separation in the newspapers and became known as Ithna Ashari Khojas. On the day of Imam's return to Bombay, some of his followers attacked and killed one of the trustees of the new mosque and wounded another. Representatives of the seceding group placed their case before Lord Northcote, the then Governor of Bombay. The Imam called his followers together and severely condemned their violent conduct.


Haji Bibi Case:


Haji Bibi, a widow of Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah's cousin, along with 13 other persons, filed a case against the Imam, demanding a share of his property and income. Various leaders of the community, including Mukhi and Kamadia, gave evidence in favour of the Imam. The case lasted several months and at last the wise and learned judge, Justice Russell, gave the following judgement: "Whatever offerings are made to His Highness the Aga Khan by his followers in the form of religious dues or gifts, belong to His Highness the Aga Khan. He is the sole master of such income, as well as of all the properties of the community. I have found enough proof which has convinced me to give this judgement. I declare the case in favour of the defendant, ordering the plaintiffs to pay all the expenses of the case."


The Jubilees:


The Ismailis have had three special opportunities to manifest their love for their Imam; first at his Golden Jubilee, then at his Diamond Jubilee, and lastly at his Platinum Jubilee. On the first occasion, he was weighed against gold in Bombay, and later in Nairobi. Ismailis pride themselves over the fact that although weighing a person against gold is not something new, Sultan Muhammad Shah was the first person to have been weighed twice in this way. They take more pride in the knowledge that never before had anybody been weighed against diamonds, or platinum.


....... Photos

 Jubilee celebrations of Hazrat Mowlana Sultan Mohammed Shah


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As early as in January 1943, the Aga Khan Legion had 40,000 members on its roll and had collected 20 lakh (one lakh = 100,000) rupees to purchase diamonds. On March 10, 1946, the remarkable ceremony was performed in Bombay. The Imam is said to have weighed 243.5 pounds; the value of the diamonds has been given as approximately 2 million dollars. The ceremony was repeated in Dar es Salaam in August 1946. Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah was weighed against Platinum in Karachi, Pakistan on February 17, 1954.


Sincere Devotion of the Ismailis:


While there was pomp and pageantry in these celebrations, there was much more than just that; there was evidence of the deep affection and sincere devotion of the Ismailis for their Imam. The Imam had filled a unique place in their lives; he had thought and planned for the improvement of their lot; he had used large sums of his own property for their upliftment and betterment. The delight the Ismailis felt at seeing their Spiritual Leader was incomparable. They showed extraordinary devotion and genuine affection towards their revered leader, and displayed wonderful discipline.


The Family:


In 1898, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah married his cousin Shahzadi Begum, the daughter of his uncle Aga Jangi Shah. In 1908, he married Theresa Magliano, an Italian artist, whose works of art had been exhibited in the Royal Academy of several different countries. She had two sons, one of whom, called Mahdi,died as an infant. The second was Prince Aly Khan. Princess Theresa died in 1926. In 1929, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah married Mademoiselle Andree Carron, to whom a son was born at Paris on January 17,1933, who bears the name Prince Sadrud-Din. The Begum Aga Khan took keen interest in her husband's work; she accompanied him on his tours and organized social and welfare activities for Ismaili women. This marriage was later dissolved at their mutual request. In October 1944, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad shah married Mademoiselle Yvette Labrousse of Cannes, who had previously converted to Islam and had taken the Muslim name of Umme-Habiba. The wedding took place in Switzerland.


*** 85

 Prince Aly Soloman Khan:


Prince Aly S. Khan was born at Turin in Italy on June 13, 1910. Most of his childhood was spent in Europe with his mother. Later years of his life were divided between England and the Continent. He was tutored by Mr. C.W. Waddington, once Principal of the Mayo College in India. He was accomplished in horsemanship, yachting, motoring and aviation.


In May 1936, he married the Honourable Mrs. Noel Guiness. She took keen interest in Islamic literature and in the affairs of the Ismaili community. She had two sons, Prince Karim, the present Imam, and Prince Amyn Muhammad.


Among Ismailis, Prince Aly was known as His Serene Highness Prince Aly Khan. During last years of his life, he toured among the followers of his father and won his way into the hearts of the people. His wife, Princess Tajuddowlah Aly Khan took special interest in the education and general welfare work of the community.


Prince Aly Khan was in active service during the war years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. It pleased Prince Aly Khan very much if his father's followers took an active part in the religious affairs. He once said, "A man without religious education is like a dry tree doomed to destruction."


Prince Karim:


The annual birthday celebration of Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah was a joint celebration of Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah's and Prince Aly Khan's birthdays. In 1943, Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah ordered the joint celebration to include "one grandson, Prince Karim only". Therefore, when Mowlana Sultan Muhammad Shah passed away from this world on July 11, 1957, he was succeeded to the Imamat by his grandson, Prince Karim, the present Imam.



Hazar Imam's family

 Masnadnashini, Karachi, 1958

 Graduation from Harvard,1959

1. IPS Dare-es-salaam

2. The Institute of ismaili Studies, London.

3. Jami' - ul - Hakim, Cairo.

Famous Muslim Personalities

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