ĀQĀ KHAN, title of the imams of the Nezārī Ismaʿilis since early 19th century.

i. Āqā Khan I Maḥallātī.

ii. Āqā Khan II.

iii. Āqā Khan III.

i. Āqā Khan I Maḥallātī

Sayyed Ḥasan-ʿAlī Šāh Āqā Khan Maḥallātī (1219-1300/1804-81) was the last imam of the Nezārī Ismaʿilis to reside in Iran and the first to bear the title of Āqā Khan. He was born in the village of Kahak near Maḥallāt in central Iran, where his father, Shah Ḵalīlallāh, had transferred the seat of the imamate from Kermān in 1194/1780. Later, however, Shah Ḵalīlallāh moved to Yazd, in order to be closer to the main body of his followers in India, leaving his wife and son to live on the proceeds of the family holdings. Disputes among the local Ismaʿilis left them unprovided for, and they moved to Qom, where their situation turned out to be still more precarious. In 1233/1817, Shah Ḵalīlallāh was murdered in his residence at Yazd, as the result of an altercation in the bazaar between some Ismaʿilis and the townsfolk. His widow left Qom for the court in Tehran, where she successfully pleaded for justice. Not only were those responsible for the killing of Shah Ḵalīlallāh punished and family lands in the Maḥallāt region extended, but Ḥasan-ʿAlī Shah was given a daughter of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (r. 1212-50/1797-1834), Sarv-e Jahān Ḵānom in marriage, and appointed governor of Qom. (According to Aḥmad Mīrzā ʿAżod-al-dawla [Tārīḵ-e ʿAżodī, ed. ʿA. Navāʾī, Tehran, 2535 = 1355 Š./1977, pp. 21-22] the main reason was services of his father in the establishment of the Qajar dynasty.) It was as a result of this appointment that he acquired the title of Āqā Khan, subsequently the hereditary title of the Nezārī Ismaʿili imams. Ḥasan-ʿAlī Shah, the first Āqā Khan, apparently led a tranquil existence until the death of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah in 1250/1834, and even acquired a personal military force, which participated in quelling disturbances during the brief interregnum between Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah and his successor, Moḥammad Shah (r. 1250-64/1834-48).

The Āqā Khan traveled to Tehran to congratulate Moḥammad Shah on his accession, and was appointed by him governor of Kermān, a province containing many Ismaʿilis that had once been governed by his grandfather, Abu’l-Ḥasan Shah, on behalf of Karīm Khan Zand (r. 1163-93/1750-79). It was now infested with rebels, whom the Āqā Khan undertook to suppress without any advance payment, on the understanding that he should later recover his expenses from the revenue of the province. The task was completed within a year, but the Āqā Khan’s tenure of his governorship was shortlived. In 1252/1836 an army advanced on Kermān in order to replace him with Fīrūz Mīrzā, a Qajar prince.

His dismissal was probably occasioned by Sufi rivalries that had become interwoven with political intrigue. It appears that the Āqā Khan—like several of his ancestors and relatives—was an initiate of the Neʿmatallāhī order, owing his loyalty to Zayn-al-ʿābedīn Šīrvānī (Mast-ʿAlī Shah), whom he had once sheltered from persecution in an Ismaʿili village near Maḥallāt. When another Neʿmatallāhī initiate, Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Āqāšī, the grand vizier (ṣadr-e aʿẓam) of Moḥammad Shah, sought to displace Zayn-al-ʿābedīn from his position of supremacy within the order, the Āqā Khan remained faithful to the claims of Zayn-al-ʿābedīn; Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Āqāšī therefore avenged himself dismissing the Āqā Khan from the governorship of Kermān (see Masʿūd Mīrzā Ẓell-al-solṭān, Tārīḵ-e Sargoḏašt-e Masʿūdī, Tehran, 1325/1907, pp. 197-98). A supplementary reason may have been the Āqā Khan’s refusal to give his daughter in marriage to the son of lowborn protégé of Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Āqāšī, who had originally worked on the family lands at Maḥallāt (see Moḥammad b. Zayn-al-ʿābedīn Ḵorāsānī Fedāʾī, Tārīḵ-e Esmāʿīlīya, ed. A. A. Semyonov, Moscow, 1959, repr. Tehran, 1362 Š./1983, p. 151). Finally, it is possible that the links between the Āqā Khan and the British, which became so obvious at a later date, existed already at this time, and the Iranian government may have felt it desirable to remove him from Kermān, a province dangerously close to India.

In any event, the Āqā Khan forcefully resisted his dismissal, as seems to have been anticipated. He withdrew with his forces to the citadel at Bam, but was obliged to surrender after a siege lasting fourteen months. There followed eight months of captivity in Kermān and a period of retreat at the shrine of Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm before he was given an audience at court to plead for mercy. Moḥammad Shah pardoned him on condition that he retire to the family lands at Maḥallāt. The Āqā Khan stayed in Maḥallāt for about two years gathering an army comprising both Ismaʿilis and non-Ismaʿili mercenaries with a view to resuming his rebellion. In order to conceal his intentions, he sought permission to leave Iran and visit Mecca (an act which would have been highly atypical for an Ismaʿili imam). Permission was granted, and the Āqā Khan left Maḥallāt in Raǰab, 1256/September, 1840. Instead of proceeding to Bandar ʿAbbās to embark for the Ḥeǰāz, he made for Yazd, showing Bahman Mīrzā, the governor of that city, forged documents reinstating him in the governorship of Kermān (A. ʿA. Wazīrī, Tārīḵ-e Kermān, ed. M. E. Bāstānī Pārīsī, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961, p. 388). Bahman Mīrzā soon realized the papers were false, and a clash took place between his forces and those of the Āqā Khan in which the latter were victorious. After a few months at the village of Rūmanī near Šahr-e Bābak, the Āqā Khan moved westwards in the direction of Fārs, where he stayed until the spring of 1258/1842 (ʿEbrat-afzā, ed. Kūhī Kermānī, pp. 32-35). Then he set out once more in the direction of Kermān. He enjoyed a number of initial successes in fighting against government troops on the outskirts of the city, primarily because of the advantage given him by two cannons of British provenance (see letter of Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Āqāšī to the British Embassy in Ādamīyat, Amīr-e kabīr, p. 259). Ultimately, however, he was driven back from Kermān by a force of 24,000 men under the command of Fażl-ʿAlī Khan Qarabāḡī, and he decided to flee to India, possibly by previous arrangement with the British authorities (see ʿEbrat-afzā, pp. 48-54). The way to the coast was blocked, so he traversed the Dašt-e Lūṭ to Qāʾen and thence crossed into Afghanistan. Thus ended the Iranian period of the Nezārī Ismaʿili imamate.

Once inside Afghanistan, he advanced with his remaining followers—about a thousand in number—by way of Gerešk to Qandahār, which was then under British occupation. Major Rawlinson, the taḥṣīldār, assigned him a daily allowance of a hundred rupees, and anxious to be of service to those whom he calls in his memoirs “the people of God” (ibid., p. 56), the Āqā Khan offered to conquer Herat on their behalf. The proposal was accepted, but soon all British plans in Afghanistan were nullified by the uprising of Moḥammad-Akbar Khan and the annihilation of the British garrison in Kabul. The Āqā Khan, however, still found occasion to be useful, by aiding General Nott to evacuate his forces from Qandahār and join up with a relief column coming from Sind (The Aga Khan, Memoirs: World Enough and Time, London, 1954, p. 21).

The Āqā Khan continued supplying mercenary services in Sind, where he helped the British in implementing the “forward policy.” He not only placed his cavalry at their disposal but also put pressure on Nāṣer Khan, the ruler of Kalāt, to cede Karachi to the British, and when he proved obdurate, he betrayed his battle plans to the British (see ʿEbrat-afzā, p. 60; William Napier, History of Sir Charles Napier’s Administration of Scinde, London, 1851, p.75). For these and other services rendered in Sind, the Āqā Khan received an annual subvention of 2,000 pounds and the hereditary title of Highness.

Despite his increasing involvement with the British, the Āqā Khan seems initially to have hoped to return to Iran. Profiting from the British desire to subdue Baluchistan, he participated in the campaigns against various Baluchi chieftains and sent two of his brothers, Moḥammad-Bāqer Khan and Abu’l-Ḥasan Khan, across the border into Iranian Baluchistan to establish a bridgehead at Bampūr for the subsequent conquest of south-east Iran. Despite some early successes, the plan failed (see Ādamīyat, Amīr-e kabīr, p. 213).

In the meantime, the Āqā Khan had proceeded via Kuchh, Kathiawar, Junagarh, Surat and Daman to Bombay, visiting Ismaʿili communities en route. Soon after he arrived in Moḥarram, 1262/January, 1846, the Iranian government demanded his extradition, citing article fourteen of the Anglo-Iranian Treaty of 1299/1814. The British refused to comply, promising only to transfer the Āqā Khan to Calcutta. Even this measure was delayed, however, while the British made efforts to secure a pardon and honorable return to Iran for their protégé. When the Iranian government proved obdurate, the Āqā Khan was finally sent to Calcutta in April, 1847. There he remained until the death of Moḥammad Shah the following year, when, hoping for a show of leniency in the new reign he returned to Bombay and had the British make new efforts on his behalf. These, too, were unavailing, and after a final approach to the Iranian government in 1852, the Āqā Khan resigned himself to permanent residence in India.

The new place of residence was not without its benefits. Not only did the British continue their patronage (the Āqā Khan was the only Indian dignitary visited in his home by the Prince of Wales on his state visit to India), but also it became possible to organize the Ismaʿili community more tightly and profitably than had been possible at the remote and changing seats of the imamate in Iran. Ismaʿilis from places as distant as Badaḵšān had shown great resourcefulness in visiting their imam even during his campaigns and wanderings in south-east Iran, Afghanistan and Sind; now that he was settled in Bombay, the flow of tribute swelled to a flood, and in the words of one Ismaʿili source, “the palaces of the Āqā Khan began to cover a large area of Bombay” (M. Ḡāleb, Aʿlām al-Esmāʿīlīya, p. 217).

This position of reinforced power and prosperity was not won without a fight. Certain of the local Ismaʿilis (converts from Hinduism known as khojas) had been refusing the payment of their religious dues (the das-sondh, literally a tenth of the property of the faithful, but sometimes as much as an eighth) even before the Āqā Khan’s migration to India. In order to enforce the payments, he had sent his grandmother to Bombay, who—among other measures—instituted a suit against the dissidents in the Bombay High Court. The recusants, known as barbhai, because they were twelve in number, were excommunicated, but subsequently readmitted to the community after they had paid their arrears and performed acts of atonement. This by no means settled the matter, however, and a reformist party of khojas came into being, which formulated doctrinal as well as financial objections to the position of the Āqā Khan, denouncing in particular his claims to divinity. The Āqā Khan and his reformist opponents clashed in court in 1847, and three years later the conflict took a bloody turn with the murder of four reformists at the Bombay ǰamāʿat-ḵāna. The murderers were executed, and given a martyr’s burial under the personal supervision of the Āqā Khan. In order to secure a pledge of loyalty from the members of his community, the Āqā Khan circulated papers in 1862 summarizing the doctrine of the Nezārī Ismaʿili sect and requiring all in agreement to sign. Matters finally came to a head in 1866 when dissenting khojas filed a suit in Bombay against the Āqā Khan demanding that an accounting be made of all communal property; that the property be held in trust for charitable, religious and public uses; that the religious officials of the community (moḵīs and kamadīyas) be elected; and that the Āqā Khan refrain from interfering in the management of communal property, appointing moḵīs and kamadīyas, and charging fees for discharging the functions of the imamate. After a hearing lasting twenty-five days, in the course of which the Āqā Khan himself testified, Justice Joseph Arnould gave a long and detailed judgement, finding against the plaintiffs and for the Āqā Khan in all points (for the text of the judgement, see A. S. Picklay, History of the Ismailis, Bombay, 1940, pp. 113-70). Probably the most important effect of this ruling was to place, for the first time, all the community property of the Nezārī Ismaʿilis in the name of the Āqā Khan and under his absolute control; the legal basis for the vast fortune of his heirs was thus laid.

Āqā Khan Maḥallātī died in April, 1881, and was buried in a lavish shrine at Ḥasanābād in the Mazagon area of Bombay. He was succeeded by the eldest of his four sons, Āqā ʿAlī Šāh, Āqā Khan II.



Āqā Khan Maḥallātī wrote an autobiography, Tārīḵ-eʿebrat-afza, which was first published in Bombay in 1278/1861, and reprinted in 1325 Š./1946 by Ḥ. Kūhī Kermānī in Tehran.

A Gujarati translation appeared soon after its first publication. According to W. Ivanow (Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963, pp. 148-49), the Tārīḵ-eʿebrat-afza was written on behalf of the Āqā Khan by Mīrzā Aḥmad Weqār Šīrāzī, son of the celebrated poet Weṣāl, but he cites no evidence beyond the fact that Weqār visited Bombay in 1266/1850.

Contrary to what, Ivanow implies, the account of Weqār in Maʿṣūm-ʿAlī Šāh’s Ṭarāʾeq al-ḥaqāʾeq (ed. M. J. Maḥǰūb, Tehran, 1345 Š./1965, III, pp. 372-73) does not mention any ties between Weqār and the Āqā Khan.

According to Moḥammad Fedāʾī, (Tārīḵ-e Esmāʿīlīya, p. 154) the Āqā Khan wrote a book called Bahrām o Nīmrūz, describing the circumstances of his departure from Iran; it is not clear whether this is the same book as ʿEbrat-afzā. Fedāʾī also devotes some thirty pages (pp. 146-76) to the miracles the Āqā Khan allegedly performed from infancy to death.

See also H. Algar, “The Revolt of Āghā Khān Maḥallātī and the Transference of the Ismāʿīlī Imamate to India,” Stud. Isl. 29, 1969, pp. 55-81 (includes references to all relevant Persian chronicles).

A J. Chunara, Noorum Mubin, or the Sacred Cord of God: A Glorious History of Ismaʿili Imams (in Gujarati), Bombay, 1951, pp. 401-23.

M. Ḡāleb, Aʿlām al-Esmāʿīlīya, Beirut, 1964, pp. 214-19.

Idem, Taʾrīḵ al-daʿwa al-Esmāʿīlīya, Damascus, 1953, pp. 267-69.

J. N. Hollister, The Shiʿa of India, London, 1953, pp. 364-70.

B. Lewis, The Assassins, New York, 1968, pp. 15-17.

Z. Noorally, The First Aga Khan and the British, 1838-1868, unpublished M.A. thesis, University of London, April, 1964.

N. Pourjavady and P. L. Wilson, “Ismāʿīlīs and Niʿmatullāhīs,” Stud. Isl. 41, 1975, pp. 114-35.

F. Ādamīyat, Amīr-e kabīr o Īrān, 4th ed., Tehran, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 255-61.

ii. Āqā Khan II

Āqā ʿAlī Šāh Āqā Khan II (1246-1303/1830-85), son of Āqā Khan Maḥallātī by Sarv-e Jahān Ḵānom, a daughter of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah. He spent the early years of his life in Maḥallāt before being taken to Karbalā by his mother to study Arabic and the doctrines of Nezārī Ismaʿilism. Despite his father’s record of rebellion and flight, Āqā ʿAlī Šāh was permitted to take up residence in Iran in the late 1840s, and he assumed responsibility, on behalf of his father, for the affairs of the Ismaʿili faithful in Iran and Syria. In 1294/1877, Āqā ʿAlī Šāh married for the third time, taking a Qajar princess, Šams-al-molūk, as his wife, and soon after he moved to Karachi. After a few years, he moved to Bombay, where in 1298/1881 he succeeded to the wealth and authority of his father. Evidently he was able to repair the breach between the Nezārī Ismaʿili imamate and Iran, for he was appointed official representative of Iran to the government of British India (according to M. Ḡāleb, Taʾrīḵ al-daʿwa al-Esmāʿīlīya, p. 270). He also maintained links with Iranian masters of the Neʿmatallāhī order to which both his father and more distant ancestors had been linked. While still in Iran, Āqā ʿAlī Šāh had been initiated into the order by Raḥmat-ʿAlī Šāh, and after the death of his master, Āqā ʿAlī Šāh sent money from India for the recitation of the Koran at his tomb in Shiraz. In addition, he was visited in India by a number of Neʿmatallāhīs from Iran, including Maʿsūm-ʿAlī Šāh, who spent a year as his guest, and Ṣafī-ʿAlī Šāh, the founder of the Neʿmatallāhī suborder that bears his name. More importantly, however, Āqā Khan II continued the close association of the Nezārī Ismaʿili imamate with the British that his father had inaugurated, and was appointed to the Bombay City Council. At the same time, he began to expand the institutional basis of the Ismaʿili community, opening a number of schools in Bombay and elsewhere. The growing prosperity of the sect, together with the manifest favor shown it by the British, earned the Āqā Khan a certain prestige among the Muslim population of India, so that he was elected head of a body called the Muhammadan National Association, the forerunner of more important political groupings. In addition, he expanded the regular contacts with the Ismaʿili communities elsewhere that his father had begun, showing particular interest in his followers in the Hindu Kush (the so-called Mawlāʾīs), Burma and East Africa. With British support, he petitioned the Ottoman authorities to permit the Ismaʿilis of Syria to emerge from their desert communities and take up residence in Salamīya, a small town in the region of Ḥomṣ. The petition was successful, and the Ismaʿilis were even granted exemption from taxation and military service. Āqā Khan II’s heir apparent to the imamate was Šehāb-al-dīn Šāh, a son born him by his second wife who grew up to be a man of some erudition in Ismaʿili doctrine (see his Resāla dar ḥaqīqat-e dīn, Bombay, 1955; Eng. tr. W. Ivanow, True Meaning of Religion, Bombay, 1956). Šehāb-al-dīn Šāh predeceased his father, however, in a riding accident in 1303/1885. When later in the same year Āqā Khan II died of pneumonia contracted after a day’s duck hunting, it was, therefore, another son, Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Šāh, a child of Šams-al-molūk, that succeeded him. Āqā Khan II was taken to Naǰaf for burial.



M. Ḡāleb, Aʿlām al-Esmāʿīlīya, Beirut, 1964, pp. 373-76.

Idem, Taʾrīḵ al-daʿwa al-Esmāʿīlīya, Damascus, 1953, pp. 270-71.

J. N. Hollister, The Shiʿa of India, London, 1953, p. 371.

Maʿsūm-ʿAlī Šāh, Ṭarāʾeq at-ḥaqāʾeq, ed.

M. J. Maḥǰūb, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, III, pp. 328, 413, 445-46.

Q. A. Mallick, H. R. H. Prince Aqa Khan, Karachi, 1954, p. 41.

Moḥammad b. Zayn-al-ʿābedīn Ḵorāsānī Fedāʾī, Tārīḵ-e Esmāʿīlīya, ed.

A. A. Semyonov, Moscow, 1959, repr. Tehran, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 176-83, 193.

iii. Āqā Khan III

Solṭān Moḥammad Šāh Ḥosaynī Āqā Khan III (1294-1376/1877-1957), the “existent and present” (mawǰūd wa ḥāzÎʷer) imam of the Nezārī Ismaʿilis for more than seventy years, also well-known as a bon vivant, racehorse owner and close associate of British imperial policy, both in India and beyond. Āqā Khan III was born in Karachi on 2 November 1877/25 Šawwāl 1894, and was only eight years old when his father, Āqā Khan II (Āqā ʿAlī Šāh), died, and he was installed in his place in Bombay as head of the community. His nominal guardian was an uncle, Āqā Jangī Šāh (murdered in Jedda in 1326/1908 under circumstances that gave rise to an unsuccessful lawsuit against other members of the family), but the most important influence on his upbringing was that of his mother, a woman of strong character who not only supervised his rigorous, multilingual education but also invested the family wealth widely and shrewdly. The Āqā Khan’s first exercise of a public role came in 1893 when he successfully mediated a dispute between Hindus and Muslims over cow slaughter in Bombay; this was followed four years later by his involvement in efforts to promote cholera inoculation among a reluctant populace. (This essay in public hygiene was undertaken in collaboration with Dr. Hafkin, a Russian Jew who later persuaded the Āqā Khan to sponsor a project of Zionist settlement in Palestine in 1898; see Aga Khan, Memoirs: World Enough and Time, London, 1954, pp. 185-86). In 1898, he embarked on his first journey to Europe, which soon became his chief place of residence. After lengthy stays in France and Britain, he paid the first of several visits to his followers in East Africa before returning to India. A second European journey followed in 1900, which included visits to Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin and Sultan ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd in Istanbul. Two years later he was back in London, as a guest of Edward VII at his coronation. A further sign of the favor in which the British held the Āqā Khan came in November, 1902 when he was appointed to a seat on the Regency Legislative Council of India.

The Āqā Khan’s closeness to the British gained him some standing among Indian Muslims, and, encouraged by Nawab Moḥsen-al-molk, a prominent member of the Aligarh movement, he began to involve himself in Muslim affairs. He was chairman of the first All-India Muslim Educational Conference, held at Bombay in 1903, and president of the second one, held at Delhi in the following year. In October 1906, he headed the Muslim delegation that visited the viceroy, Lord Minto, at Simla, and the following year, he joined in founding the Muslim League, of which he remained president until 1913. He also lobbied energetically for the elevation of the Anglo-Muhammadan College at Aligarh to university status, a measure that came about in 1912.

In 1914, the Āqā Khan paid a visit to the Ismaʿili community in Rangoon, advising its members to adopt Burmese dress and Buddhist names (M. Yegar, The Muslims of Burma, Wiesbaden, 1972, p. 46). The outbreak of Word War I, however, found him again in Europe, where he made himself useful to the British cause in a number of ways. Already during the Balkan Wars, he had sought to dampen Indian Muslim feelings of solidarity with the Ottomans (Memoirs, p. 159), and now, after fruitless attempts through the Ottoman ambassador in London, Tevfik Paşa, to dissuade the Ottomans from entering the war, he did his utmost to counteract their declaration of ǰehād against the allies. Addressing himself to all Muslims living under colonial rule, he proclaimed that it was their religious duty to aid their British, French, and Russian masters in the war against the Ottomans (Memoirs, pp. 163-67). In addition, the Āqā Khan strove to consolidate the position of the British in Egypt after their deposition of the khedive, ʿAbbās Ḥelmī (Memoirs, pp. 170-73), and instructed members of his community to gather intelligence for the British behind Ottoman lines in Syria and Iraq (H. J. Greenwall, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Ismailis, London, 1952, p. 65). For all of these services, the Āqā Khan was awarded the status of a ruling prince, akin to the other native rulers of India, despite his lack of a territorial principality.

When the Turkish nationalists began moving to abolish the Ottoman Caliphate in 1923, the Āqā Khan sought, paradoxically, to preserve the institution. Together with Amīr ʿAlī, the well-known Anglophile modernist of Shiʿite origin, he addressed to İsmet İnönü a letter emphasizing the symbolic value of the Ottoman Caliphate as a focus for Muslim unity, and warning against the unfavorable reaction that would follow in the Muslim world if it were abolished (complete text of the letter is given in Q. A. Mallick, H. R. H. Prince Aga Khan, Karachi, 1954, pp. 92-94). For reasons that remain unclear, copies of the letter were published in three Istanbul newspapers (İkdam, Tevhid-i Efkâr and Tanin), as well as one newspaper in Trabzon (İstikbal), before the original reached İnönü (S. Albayrak, Türkiye’de Din Kavgası, Istanbul, 1975, p. 158). The editors of the newspapers were arrested and charged with high treason, and the letter was used by the nationalists as evidence that the caliphate had become a tool of British policy. Atatürk was able caustically to remark, in the celebrated marathon speech be delivered in 1926, that those who wished to defend the caliphate were also those who had once fought against it, under the British and French flags, in Syria and Iraq (Nutuk, new ed., Istanbul, 1980, II, p. 457).

During World War I, the Āqā Khan wrote a book (India in Transition, London, 1918) setting forth his views on the future of India. In it he called for the gradual elevation of India to dominion status as the central link in a chain of British-affiliated territories stretching from Malaya to Egypt. The Āqā Khan also sought in dissuade Indian Muslims from participating in the hartal launched by Gandhi in 1919 and the Khilafat Movement. In 1928, he presided over the All-Muslim Conference held in Delhi, which guaranteed rights for Muslims in the framework of a federal and self-governing India. Three years later, the Āqā Khan was selected as head of the Muslim delegation to the Round Table Conference in London; the three years during which this and its successor conference met formed the highpoint of the Āqā Khan’s career in Indian politics. Jawaharlal Nehru protested against the Āqā Khan’s presence, describing him as one who had been “closely associated with British imperialism and the British ruling class for over a generation” (Nehru, Autobiography, London, 1936, p. 293), but Eqbāl rose to his defense (see W. C. Smith, Modern Islam in India, p. 135). It appears that the conference persuaded the Āqā Khan that India would fairly soon become independent of Britain, for in 1934 he petitioned the British government for a strip of territory to rule in Sind as a princely state. This would have made him more fully the equal of the ruling princes, to whose number he had been ceremonially added at the end of World War I, and enabled him to claim both exemption from taxation and legal immunity. More importantly, the rule of a princely state might have been expected to provide some assured status after the departure of the British (see the extracts from the Āqā Khan’s memoranda quoted in Greenwall, The Aga Khan, pp. 190-95). The Āqā Khan’s suggestion that his followers approached him with the project for establishing an “Ismaʿili Vatican,” somewhere in India, is unsubstantiated (Memoirs, p. 305). The Āqā Khan’s petition was rejected, and although he submitted it again in 1938, the British government was adamant. In any event, the Āqā Khan was to find himself virtually isolated in Indian politics after World War II, since he sympathized neither with the Muslim League’s demand for partition nor with the pro-Congress sentiment of other segments of Muslim opinion.

Despite his close relations with the British and primary interest in Indian affairs, the Āqā Khan retained some consciousness of his Iranian ancestry. He claimed always to have followed “an Iranian-Muslim pattern” in his home life (Memoirs, p. 30), and even considered himself a member of the Qajar family (Memoirs, p. 93), both his father and mother being of Qajar descent. He regarded Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah as “prudent and capable” but held Moẓaffar-al-dīn Šāh, whom he met in Paris in 1900, in much lower esteem (Memoirs, pp. 92-93). It was also in Paris that he made the acquaintance of Aḥmad Shah, last of the Qajar monarchs, whom he found to be likeable but reluctant to assume the burdens of rule. Reżā Shah was therefore justified in deposing him, and the Āqā Khan admired the first Pahlavi ruler for what he termed his attempts at “freeing Islam . . . from the many superstitions which had been fostered in Iran by the ecclesiastical lawyers” (Memoirs, p. 295). The Āqā Khan’s only contact with Reżā Shah was the long telegram he sent him in the summer of 1941, urging him to submit to the allied demands that were then being made (Memoirs, p. 297). In 1949, the Āqā Khan requested the Iranian government to grant him Iranian nationality, possibly for reasons connected with the partition of India a year before; a positive response was given on October 10 (Greenwall, The Aga Khan, p. 201). Two years later, he paid his only visit to Iran, as a guest of Moḥammad Reżā Shah at his second wedding. From Tehran he went to inspect the ancestral lands at Maḥallāt, where, gratified to see that the Ismaʿili women were not wearing the čādor, he promised to found a cooperative bank (Memoirs, pp. 344-45; Mallick, Prince Aga Khan, pp. 96-98). After the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry by Dr. Moḥammad Moṣaddeq, the Āqā Khan publicly espoused the British side in ensuing dispute, an act for which he was vociferously denounced by the Iranian press.

For all the international ramifications of the Āqā Khan’s career—including a term as president of the League of Nations assembly in 1937—its most lasting effect was the financial and institutional consolidation of the Nezārī Ismaʿili community, both in India and in East Africa. The annual income of the Āqā Khan, derived from payments by his followers and investments, was estimated variously at 10 million dollars (M. Ḡāleb, Taʾrīḵ al-daʿwa al-Esmāʿīlīya, p. 296) and 12 million pounds (Greenwall, The Aga Khan, p. 1); he is said to have kept ten percent of this vast income for his personal use (S. Jackson, The Aga Khan, Prince, Prophet and Statesman, London, 1952, p. 137), and assigned the rest to communal purposes. Thus a network of schools, sports clubs, hospitals, dispensaries and economic enterprises came into being under his auspices, resulting in a closely knit and prosperous community; the jubilee weighing against precious metals that took place in Bombay, Karachi, Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam were a symbol expressing the affluence both of the community and of its leader (albeit at different levels). Nonetheless, the dissident voices that were raised during the imamates of his father and grandfather did not entirely fall silent. Several thousand people seceded from the community in 1901, in protest against its tenets and organization, and embraced Twelver Shiʿism. Other dissidents stayed within the community, forming the Khojah Reformers’ Society, with headquarters in Karachi. In August 1927, one of their number, Karim Goolamali (sic), addressed an open letter to the Āqā Khan, and five years later sent to ʿAlī Khan, then heir apparent to the Imamate, a detailed critique of the history and doctrines of Nezārī Ismaʿilism (An Appeal to Mr. Solomon Aly Khan, Karachi, 1932).

It is remarkable that neither the effective transference of the imamate to Europe nor the high level of prosperity and education that many reached in the Ismaʿili community occasioned any sustained questionings of doctrine. The mixture of extremist Shiʿite and Hindu—chiefly Tantric—elements that had come to constitute Nezārī belief remained unchanged. The Āqā Khan was regarded simultaneously as a deity and a reincarnation of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb (see the Persian poem by Fedāʾī Ḵorāsānī discussed by A. A. Semyonov in “Ismailitskaya oda posvyashchennaya voploshcheniyam Aliya-boga,” Iran (Leningrad) 2, 1928, pp. 1-24), and the homage to him that formed the core of Ismaʿili ritual always required a complete prostration at the mention of his name (see Duʿa: Arabic text with English and Gujarati transliteration and meaning, Shia Imami Ismailia Associations for Africa, Karachi, 1956, pp. 1-5, 8).

The Āqā Khan died in Switzerland on July 11, 1957, and was buried eight days later in a mausoleum overlooking the Nile at Aswan. The succession went not to ʿAlī Khan, his eldest son, but to Karīm, ʿAlī Khan’s son.



See also The Aga Khan and Z. Ali, Glimpses of Islam, Lahore, 1954 (chap. i is by the Āqā Khan; chap. iv was written jointly by both men).

Āqā Khan, al-Dorar al-ṯamīna, tr.

M. Ḡāleb, Damascus, 1956 (selections from the Āqā Khan’s speeches translated into Arabic by a Syrian Ismaʿili).

N. M. Dumasia, A Brief History of the Aga Khan, Bombay, 1903.

Idem, The Aga Khan and his Ancestors, Bombay, 1939.

M. Ḡāleb, Aʿlām al-Esmāʿīlīya, Beirut, 1964, pp. 459-79.

Idem, Taʾrīḵ al-daʿwa al-Esmāʿīlīya, Damascus, 1953, pp. 273-368.

J. N. Hollister, The Shiʿa of India, London, 1953, pp. 371-77.

S. M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan, Lahore, 1970, pp. 85-86, 164 189-96.

Jawaharlal Nehru, “His Highness the Aga Khan,” Modern Review 58/5, November 1935, pp. 505-07.

S. Ikbal Ali Shah, The Prince Aga Khan, London, 1933.

W. C. Smith, Modern Islam in India, New York, 1946, p. 206.

Souvenir Commemorating the Historic and Auspicious Occasion of H. R. H. Prince Aga Khan’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrated at Karachi, Pakistan, February 1954, Ismailia Association, Pakistan, Karachi, 1954.

Moḥammad b. Zayn-al-ʿābedīn Ḵorāsānī Fedāʾī, Tārīḵ-e Esmāʿīlīya, ed.

A. A. Semyonov, Moscow, 1959, repr. Tehran, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 183-89, 195-96 (an account of miracles allegedly performed by the Āqā Khan).

(H. Algar)

Originally Published: December 15, 1986

Last Updated: August 5, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 2, pp. 170-175