Who is Aga Khan? A Brief Introduction

Who is Aga Khan? A Brief Introduction

As per a report in Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar of 10th April, 2015 H.H. Aga Khan, The Spiritual Head of Nizari Ismailis- popularly known as Khojas has arrived at Udaipur on a personal visit.


Who is Aga Khan? A Brief Introduction

As per a report in Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar of 10th April, 2015 H.H. Aga Khan, The Spiritual Head of Nizari Ismailis- popularly known as Khojas has arrived at Udaipur on a personal visit.

In this write up, a brief introduction is being presented for the readers of Udaipur Times about this Shia sect of Islam.

Islamophobs throughout the world during the last at least two centuries have been projecting Muslim Ummah (Muslim Community as a single entity) as a homogenous entity for their mission of projecting it as the ‘Other’ in mobilizing their opponents.

However, the fact is that this ‘Other’ entity has been continuously dividing itself in innumerable branches, sub branches, sects and sub sects ever since the demise of The Holy Prophet of Islam and his closest companions.

In the first installment, the ‘Ummah’ split in two major branches- Sunnis constituting almost ninety percent of present Muslim population the world over and The Shias, the remaining ten percent.

This division first was on the recognition of the first deputy of The Holy Prophet. The Sunnis consider Hazrat Abu Bakr as the first, Hazrat Umar Faruq as second, Hazrat Usman Ghani as third and Hazrat Ali as the fourth successor and all of them are called ‘Khulafa Rashidoon’ roughly translated as pious deputies.

On the other hand, the Shias reject this order and consider Hazrat Ali as the only rightful successor holding others in the category of pious companions of The Prophet.

This difference of opinion in the beginning was confined to small groups but took a definite shape after the tragedy of Karbala when Imam Hussain, the grandson of The Prophet was martyred along with a small band of his family and companions-in all seventy two in number by a mighty army of Umayyad Ruler Yazid.

Later on, this division also took a different theological interpretation. The highest religious rank in Shi’ism is ‘Imam’ which means ‘The Leader’. The institution attached to this is the term ‘Imamah’.

Initially the definition of these terms was very vague, therefore, a large number of Imams are found in history. Almost anyone who rose in revolt against the Umayyad rulers to take revenge of the martyrdom of Imam Husain was considered as Imam.

Later on, the institution of Imamah (and hence Imam also) was established in the second century of Islam by Imam Mohammed Baqir-a grandson of Imam Husain and consolidated by his illustrious son Imam Jafar Sadiq. He defined a rightful Imam as the one who is a male from the Chain starting with the children of Ali and Fatema (The daughter of The Holy Prophet).

Sadiq also established the method of the appointment of the next Imams and this method remains in force even at present.

An Imam of the Shias is the spiritual as well as the temporal head. It is, however, not necessary that he has to have a geographical territory to rule. By compulsion of circumstances he even goes underground.

After the death of Imam Sadiq The Shias could not remain united on recognition of rightful ‘Imams’ and split into many groupings each having its own Imam.

Out of many only three survived.  They are now known as ‘The Ithna Ash’aris’,’The Ismailis’ and ‘The Zaidis’. The first is the largest population wise and are mainly in Iran and Iraq. The Zaidis are the Houthis presently fighting in Yemen. The Ismailis are not in any political contest. All these factions have come into existence by following an Imam from the line of Ali and Fatema.

The Zaidis are the oldest. Their Imams start with Zaid s/o Ali s/o Imam Husain who in turn is s/o Ali & Fatema.

The other two are co-terminus. Whereas Ismail s/o Imam Sadiq is the rightful Imam of Ismailis his half brother Musa Kazim s/o Sadiq is that of the Ithna Ash’aris. They are called Itha Asha’ris because their 12th Imam went into hiding (occultation) and is still alive as per their belief and will redeem the world of all corruption as and when he leaves his hiding.

The Ismaili Imams on the other hand carried out an underground politico-religious movement and succeeded in establishing their “Khilafah (Caliphat)”-theocratic governance- in the third century of Islam.

The Fatemi Khalifas of Egypt belong to this group who ruled a vast territory of north western Africa and expanded in east and Arabian Peninsula and even a part of Europe. They ruled for close to tree centuries with ups and downs in their territories.

During their glorious period a faction separated and is now called “The Druze” who mainly inhibits Lebanon and Syria.

Yet again the main stream Ismailis bifurcated into two on the death of Imam Mustansir: one follows his elder son Nizar and the other his younger brother Musta’li.  The Aga Khan is from the chain of Imam Nizar and The Bohras draw their existence from Musta’li.

The 21st Imam named Tayyib of the Bohras went into seclusion and the Imamat continued with the children of Taiyyib. The last successor of this chain will appear one day to redeem the world of corruption. In the absence of this Imam in seclusion the Dai-ul-Mutlaq is the spiritual leader of the Bohras.

Thus both, The Ithna Ash’aris and The Bohras are expecting their respective Imam for the redemption of the World of all its corruption as and when they emerge from their hidings.

On the other hand, Aga Khan is a living Imam of the NIZARI ISMAILIS. He has no such claim as the other of having the world free of corruption.

This gentleman who arrived Udaipur i.e. Prince Karim al Husseini is the 49th Nizarichain of Imams and 4th Aga Khan in the chain of Aga Khans. His followers like the Bohras are educated prosperous and found all over the world. The Aga Khani Trusts and Foundations have many a laudable charitable and religious schemes. The Ismailis are cosmopolitans in outlook.

Aga Khan is the name used by the Imam of the Nizari Ismailis since 1818. According to Ismaili historians Aga Khan is an honorific title bestowed on Hasan Ali Shah, the 46th Imam of Nizari Ismailis by Persian king Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.

However, as per another account the Aga Khan is not a title, but instead a sort of alias or “pet name” that was given to the Aga Khan I when he was a young man.

The first Aga Khan arrived in India in the nineteenth century and organized his community in a cohesive entity.

 Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, 48th Imam of Nizari Ismailis & 3rd Aga Khan, associated with Indian freedom movement, was the founding member of Muslim League and had chaired League of Nations.

The Aga Khanis too have their quota of splits.

It will be interesting to note that Mohammed Ali Jinnah was also an Ismaili.

Contributed By: Mansoor Ali Bohra

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