An Ismaili Reflects on the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II in her coronation robes, 2 June 1953. Photo: Wikipedia

By Ameer Janmohamed

The population of these islands is caught up in the celebrations and excitement relating to the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We have a virtual close down of shops and offices as the nation embarks on four days of festivities beginning Saturday June 2. Garden parties – 10,000 of them – are happening at Buckingham Palace, village greens, and streets in the suburbs of towns and cities across the land. The last time the country celebrated a Diamond Jubilee was in 1897 for Queen Victoria. A year later Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, the 48th Ismaili Imam, landed in this country for the very first time and was graciously received by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.

His Highness the Aga Khan received the title “His Highness” from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on July 26th 1957. Here he is pictured in July 2008 with Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip when the Queen hosted a dinner to mark the Ismaili Imam’s Golden Jubilee. Over the generations the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy have had a close relationship. Please click for enlargement. Photo Credit: www.Akdn.org

British Ismailis, in common with numerous immigrant communities who call this country their home also feel the excitement of the occasion. One can think of so many reasons why this should justifiably be so. As British Citizens we enjoy liberties which are taken so much for granted that they often go unappreciated. We work and play, and worship as we like, as long as we remain within the laws of the land, laws which apply equally to all. We are a part of the fabric of this country where our culture, our faith and our institutions are respected and accepted. I dare say that we could not have the same life in any number of other countries, including Muslim countries.

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His Highness Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan and His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan on the Victorian and Elizabethan Eras

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, 48th Imam of Shia Imami Ismailis, in full regalia. Photo: Jehangir Merchant archives

My life in many ways has been a bridge across vastly differing epochs. Looking at it for the moment simply from the Western point of view — I had a full life in the Victorian era, and I am leading now an equally full life in this new Elizabethan era. When I was a young man I sat next to Queen Victoria at a dinner party and talked to her throughout it; the other day I sat next to Queen Elizabeth II at a tea party and talked to her throughout it. In my youth the internal combustion engine was in its early, experimental phase, and the first motor cars were objects of ridicule; now we all take supersonic jet propulsion for granted, and interplanetary travel is far more seriously discussed today than was even the smallest flying venture at a time when I was quite grown up and had already lived a full and active life….

“At Ascot I have had a Royal Household badge for well over fifty years; I was first given my badge by Queen Victoria, and it has successively been re-bestowed on me by King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.

“[Egypt’s] Prince Mohammed Ali and I have been friends for fifty-five years. When I first went to London in 1898, he and I stayed at the same hotel, the old Albemarle in Piccadilly. He dined at Windsor Castle as Queen Victoria’s guest either shortly before or after I had the same honor. By a curious and delightful coincidence, fifty-five years later, in Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Year, he and I, who had been Queen Victoria’s guests at dinner, in the same summer were her young great-great-granddaughter’s guests at tea. Across this great stretch of time Prince Mohammed Ali and I have been firm and fast friends”….Above excerpts from “The Memoirs of Aga Khan”, 1954.

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October 19, 1957: His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan at the Takht Nashini in Dar-es-Salaam. Photo Credit: Ilm Magazine, July 1977.

“…Over a century ago, my grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, worked closely with Her Majesty Queen Victoria and her governments in the pursuit of common ideals. These ties were further strengthened by the strong presence of the Ismaili community – initially in places which later became Commonwealth countries, and later, here in the United Kingdom.

“…It is striking to me that in 1957, there were only about 100 Ismaili residents in this country, and most of them were students. Today, there are fourteen thousand Ismailis permanently living here and of all ages and walks of life.

“…In 1957, there was only one Ismaili space here for congregational prayer – and that was on leased premises! Creating places of prayer as centres for community life was fundamental to ensuring the cohesion of the community, and there are now over 40 such places. Among them, of course, a central focal point is The Ismaili Centre, located in South Kensington.

“…All of these comments, then, speak to the context in which we gather tonight – a rich history of partnership reaching deeply into the past – and extending, we hope and trust, into an even more productive future”….Excerpts from a speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Golden Jubilee Banquet in London, UK, July 3, 2008.

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Some will disagree, and with justification. Like every other country in the world the UK is not perfect. Compared to other countries however the UK is more universally perceived a magnate for people from all over the world, whether they speak English or not.

I feel that as Ismailis we understand the concept of Jubilees, perhaps more than any other community in the world. For instance, some of us old-timers have personally participated in the Golden Jubilee of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in 1937, The Diamond Jubilee in Dar-es-Salaam in 1946 and celebrated the Platinum Jubilee 1955, and more recently the Golden Jubilee of the present Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam. Institutions like Jubilee Insurance and the Diamond Trust remind us of these Jubilees, and how they came into being, and helped shape the future of our community for years to come.

His Highness Aga Khan (1877 – 1957), 48th Ismaili Imam, at the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in Dar-es-Salaam in 1946. Photo: The National Geographic, March 1947. Please click on photo for “His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee – An Incomparable Occasion in the World.”

For those of us with Kenyan origins this is a particularly poignant occasion for Her Majesty was in Kenya when King George VI passed away sixty years ago.

As an unashamedly proud British Subject I too share in this feel-good factor and rejoice with the nation. For the next four days we shall forget the Euro and the Economy. I look forward to watching most of the events on TV but will happily be able to watch some of the seven mile, 1000 boat Thames River Pageant from the balcony of my apartment.

But my thoughts keep returning to the 1946 and 1955 Jubilees and I have been back to numerous articles on this website to rediscover and savour the numerous readings under H.H. the Aga Khan III and H.H. the Aga Khan IV, and the story on the Jubilee Ball held at the Savoy in 1955. A Jubilee by its very nature is about the past. A peep into our past, through the window provided by this website might be a worthwhile exercise on this occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. A few fascinating reads with an equally impressive array of photographs are:

1. 48th Ismaili Imam’s Platinum Jubilee: World Evolved from Candle Lights and Horse Carriages to Nuclear Physics and Jet Travel

2. Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III – The Diamond Jubilee: “An Incomparable Occasion in the World”

3. Ismailis Celebrated Longest Imamat in History with Three Magnificent Jubilees

Date posted: Saturday June 2, 2012.
Last updated: Sunday, June 3, 2012 (added Prince Karim Aga Khan quotes)

Copyright: Ameer Janmohamed/Simerg. June 2012.

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Ameer Janmohamed has contributed numerous pieces for this website, the most recent being his Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali and the Ismaili Pirs of the Ginanic Tradition and a description of The 1955 “Jubilee Ball” of His Highness the Aga Khan III at the Savoy

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