The Aga Khans, the Hereditary Imamat and the British Monarchy: A 150 Year Relationship of Respect, Cooperation and Friendship; Plus Rare Photos Featuring Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, with the Present 49th Ismaili Imam

[The original version of this piece by Rizwan Mawani was published on Simerg’s sister website Barakah. This reformatted version includes a number of licensed photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with Prince Charles that were not part of the Barakah article. We have also included excerpts from speeches made by Prince Charles at events where Mawlana Hazar Imam was also present, prior to the Prince of Wales becoming King Charles III upon the death of his mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on September 8, 2022 — Ed.]

The British Monarchy and the Ismaili Imamat – 19th Century to present day. Chart: © Rizwan Mawani. King Charles III Aga Khan, Simerg
The British Monarchy and the Ismaili Imamat – 19th Century to present day. Chart: © Rizwan Mawani. Please click on image for enlargement.

By RIZWAN MAWANI

In advance of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee commemorations in January 1887, a 10-year-old Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (1877-1957), accompanied by his uncle Aga Jungi Shah (d. 1896) addressed the jamat at Bombay’s Darkhana in Persian. His private secretary, Kurrim Khan, translated the speech for the jamat in their native tongue and its English translation was published in the local newspaper. The reign of the sovereign was commemorated across the Empire and a decade earlier, in the same year that Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was born in Karachi, the Queen was also proclaimed the Empress of India further cementing her relationship to the Subcontinent and its people.

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Aga Khan III with members of his family, Barakah
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah as a young boy (seated holding a book) with members of his family. His uncle, Aga Jungi Shah, the son of Imam Hassan Ali Shah and the brother of Imam Aga Ali Shah, is likely the person with the cane. Photograph: “H.R.H. Prince Aga Khan’s visit to Iran 1951,” published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan.

The young Aga Khan III began his speech: “I have great pleasure to inform you, all members of the jamat in and out of Bombay, that her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen Empress of India’s subjects are about to show their loyalty in celebrating the Jubilee year of the reign of her Majesty…”

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Chromolithograph of Queen Victoria in state robes with the crown, sceptre and cushion, symbols of her reign.
Chromolithograph of Queen Victoria in state robes with the crown, sceptre and cushion, symbols of her reign. ©The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY_NC_SA 4.0. Reproduced from Wikipedia.

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In his heartfelt oration, the Imam spoke of his gratitude to the Crown. For under its rule, his community was able to practice its faith in relative peace and of the long-standing tradition of the Khoja Ismailis to offer their thanksgiving for this privilege. He continued: “On reference to your prayer books you will find that loyalty to rulers is directed from the foundation of your faith by one of my ancestors, Islam Shah, who instructed Pir Sadr al-Din, the great missionary to the Khojas to teach them to pray daily, ‘God preserve the Raj of the reigning king and grant prosperity to his subjects.’ There are also traditions from his Holiness the Prophet Muhammad to the same effect.”

“I further suppose,” he said, “that many of you present here this morning will remember that my grandfather, Sarkar Aga [Khan I, Imam Hassan Ali Shah], preached in this Jamatkhana to a large assembly of the jamat on the same subject to which I am this day drawing your special attention. I allude to the occasion when public prayer throughout Her Majesty’s dominions was offered up for the recovery of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales from a dangerous illness, and that my grandfather said that he knew of many traditions of his Holiness the Prophet Muhammad, to the effect that it is necessary for all to pray for the safety of the reigning king under whose protection they were living…”

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Aga Khan and the British Crown, Barakah, Rizwan Mawani
Painted photograph of Imam Hassan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I (1804–1881). Photograph: The Ismaili Bombay 1936, Golden Jubilee Number.

In this speech, the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis alluded to the relationship of respect that his predecessor, Aga Khan I had with the monarchy, and in hindsight one that would, as we now know, be fostered and strengthened in the coming generations. The Ismaili Imamat, from its early days, has forged relationships with the leadership of international bodies, heads-of-state and religious representatives promoting peace, cooperation and hope. This happened at the state level at times when the Imams also were political rulers. In more recent generations, Ismaili Imams have been concertedly working towards improving the lives of some of the world’s most impoverished and at-risk populations, alongside the betterment of the global Ismaili community through these diplomatic relationships.

The Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy share a number of features. They are institutions anchored in history and tradition, both reaching back over a millennium, and yet through their holders-of-office engage with and respond to the challenges of the modern world. They are entrenched in an ethic of service and exemplify this through their many global endeavours aimed at reaching populations regardless of creed or background, despite being associated with Islam and Christianity respectively. Furthermore, they are guided and informed by a duty and responsibility inherent to the position.

The relationship between the Imams and the Queens and Kings of England began to take shape once Imam Hassanali Shah, Aga Khan I, left his native Persia and found himself in the territories under the rule of the British. The aftermath of a political power struggle in the Qajar ruling family, propelled the 46th Ismaili Imam to leave his native home — and the home of at least 25 Ismaili Imams before him. Before settling in Bombay in 1845, the Imam spent time in Afghanistan and Sindh, where he and his retinue rendered his services to the British Crown. In gratitude, Queen Victoria honoured the Aga Khan with the hereditary title of His Highness.

While Imam Hassanali Shah never traveled to London — the metropole and centre of the British Empire — nor spoke English, he was instrumental in forging an important relationship between two long-standing institutions that continues to this day. He regularly corresponded and visited with senior representatives of the monarchy in India, including a number of Viceroys. When the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, visited India in 1875, they visited Aga Khan I at his home, an honour usually only afforded to ruling princes within the Empire. The two leaders also bonded over their love of horses and this common interest and passion drew the two figures, and those of their descendants closer together.

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The SS Laos. The ocean liner taken by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III on his first trip to Europe in 1898. Barakah, Rizwan Mawani, News
The SS Laos. The ocean liner taken by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah on his first trip to Europe in 1898.

It was not until the time of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah that an Ismaili Imam would meet a British sovereign for the first time. In February 1898, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah left Bombay for Europe on the French Ocean Liner, the Messageries Maritimes SS Laos. [2] On the same trip, he visited London where he had an audience with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and also with Edward VII, the future King of England, who became a close friend. In May of that year, as part of her birthday honours, the Queen conferred on the Ismaili Imam the title of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) for his valuable service in British India during times of riot, famine and plague. [3] A year earlier he worked with Professor Haffkine in developing an inoculation for the plague. In doing so, he helped break down barriers and fears about inoculation and establishing hospitals for the various communities in India to battle the disease.

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Aga Khan III sporting his decorations and honours from the British Government, Barakah
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, sporting his decorations and honours from the British Monarchy. Photograph: The Ismaili Bombay. Birthday Number, 1932. Thursday 3rd March 1932 (25th Shawwal 1350/Mana Vad II Samvat 1988).

Until Queen Elizabeth II surpassed the milestone, Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch and the longest reigning queen in world history. She died in 1902 and was succeeded by her son, Edward VII. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was personally invited to attend the coronation of the new King Emperor and Queen Empress Alexandra. He was further honoured as a personal guest of the royal couple and visited Buckingham Palace and York House outside the formality of the official ceremonies taking place. [4] As a memento of the occasion, the King and Queen sent him two large photos with royal signatures as a souvenir of his visit to England.

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Aga Khan and the British Crown Simerg and Barakah
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in Garten Robes in London for the Coronation of King George VI, 1936. Photograph: Life Magazine, September 27, 1937 (also republished in Ismaili magazines)

In 1906, before he was King, George V came to India. During his tour, he visited Aligarh University, an institution which Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was instrumental in establishing with the intent to provide equal opportunities for quality education for Muslims of the Empire. The King was impressed with both the cause and vision of the fledgling institution, and he eulogized the university on his return to England at London’s Guildhall. To return his admiration, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah set on the process of naming the Academy of Sciences at the school after the then-Prince of Wales. [6]

In May 1910, news reached India of the King Emperor’s death. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah sent a telegram from Paris as did his mother, Lady Aly Shah, from Mahableshwar relaying the news to the jamat. As with monarchs past, the Jamat conveyed their condolences on behalf of the Ismaili community to the Royal Family and the new King. [7] The Imam, in addition to his condolences sent a wreath comprised of over a thousand lilies. [8] Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah attended the funeral at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor and was only one of three people representing India and its princes.

By this time, the Ismaili Imam had become an important figure not only within the British Empire, but also on the world stage. In addition to holding the office of the Ismaili Imam, he was now also representing and providing a voice for the concerns and priorities of a significant proportion of the world’s Muslim population and in particular was an advocate for their educational uplift. In his role as honorary president of a newly formed body whose seeds were sown at the Muhammadan Educational Conference a quarter-century earlier, he was a champion for the opportunities of Muslims across the Empire.

In the first decade of the new century, there had been an increasing volume in the sentiments against Empire and Empirical rule in various corners of the world. It is likely for this reason that the Reuter’s Agency interviewed Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah on the role and values of the monarchy in the changing world: “Speaking first for myself personally, secondly as president of the All-India Moslem League, representing seventy million Moslems; and thirdly on this question on behalf of all Indians, I gladly pay a tribute to King Edward and to his successor.” In the interview, Sultan Mahomed Shah spoke about the relationships that Britain’s Kings and Queens had with Indians, their values and their service. He also reflected upon the visits of India’s ruling princes to England and the Crown’s regal visits to India. He noted the complexities of rule and that varied sentiments did exist in some quarters and yet noted, “[t]he Thone is the only object in the Empire which unites us with white British fellow-subjects — a common centre of loyalty and love.” [9]

At the time of King George’s ascension to the throne, one half of the world’s Muslim population was still governed by the British monarchy. [10] Many states in which Ismaili Muslims lived were also under British governance, rule or influence. This remained the case for significant parts of the 20th century even as members of the community migrated and relocated from their ancestral lands. These countries where the community’s residence intersected with British rule included the now independent states of Afghanistan (1919), Australia (1901-1986), Bahrain (1971), Canada (1867-1982), Egypt (1922), India (1947), Iraq (1932), Kenya (1963), Kuwait (1961), Malaysia (1957), Myanmar/Burma, New Zealand (1948-1986), Pakistan (1947), Qatar (1971), South Africa (1910-1961), Sri Lanka (1948), Tanzania (1961), Uganda (1962), United Arab Emirates (1971), Yemen (1967), and of course the United Kingdom.

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Aga Khan, the Ismaili Imamat and the British Crown
King George V and Aga Khan III at the Armstice Day Memorial Service in London. Photograph: Souvenir of The All-Africa Celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Hazar Imam, His Highness the Rt. Hon Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, 1946.

In June 1911, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was invited as a guest of the nation to attend the coronation of King Edward. On this occasion he also requested from the King a Charter for the Muslim university at Aligarh alongside other champions of Muslim education including the Begum of Bhopal. Later that year, the Aga Khan was decorated with the Star of India from the King during the Coronation Darbar. In 1916, he was further honoured with the status of Chief of the Bombay Presidency for Life which was accompanied by an 11-gun salute, a mark of respect and admiration for his service. From 1914 onwards during his trips to London, the Imam regularly lunched with the King and Queen and also had the opportunity to further their social bonds at Ascot and other racecourses.

In January 1936, due to the illness, and later death, of King George V, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah muted his own Golden Jubilee commemorations in Bombay and cancelled commemorations in other cities where Ismailis lived. The deep respect and depth of the sentiments of the Imamat to the British Monarchy echoed throughout the Jamat as a result of this gesture.

In 1937, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah attended the coronation of King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, at Westminster Abbey. In his long illustrious career as Imam, Sultan Mahomed Shah was offered 5 titles by 4 different British monarchs: the Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire, KCIE by Queen Victoria, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire, GCIE by King Edward VII, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, GCSI and Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, GCVO by King George V and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St George, GCMG by Queen Elizabeth II.

Upon Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s death in July 1957, Queen Elizabeth wrote a personal note of sympathy to Mata Salamat Om Habibeh, the Imam’s widow. It read:

“It is with deep sorry that I have learned of the death of His Highness, the Aga Khan. I and my predecessors on the Throne have for many years enjoyed the loyalty and devotion of His Highness, and we have been pleased to welcome him on many pleasant occasions when he has visited Britain.” [11]

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Memoirs of Aga Khan French edition Barakah and Simerg
A portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Mata Salamat Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, in the French edition of the Memoirs of Aga Khan.

Two weeks after the succession of the new Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan in 1957, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the title of His Highness upon him in the tradition of her predecessors. Although the British Empire had irreparably eroded into an emerging world of nation-states, the reinvestment of the title underscored the continued importance of the Imam on the world stage. Aga Khan IV was to demonstrate over the decades of his Imamat, the office and institution he represented was able to transcend political and geographical ties in a constantly evolving world. This enviable position allowed him to play a unique role in the Muslim world and on the global stage. This was in addition to his transnational community, whose many members continued to live in the independent countries once part of British dominions.

While in the Western world, colonialism was simply an ideology, subjects who experienced this rule first-hand often had very mixed and sometimes devastating experiences. Despite this, one of the greatest legacies of Queen Elizabeth will be the creation of the Commonwealth and the facilitation of the various movements towards independence throughout Asia and Africa. Like the Imamat, the British monarch also was responsible for stewarding and bringing together diverse groups of people under a common cause.

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His Highness the Aga Khan's support enabled contingents from four Commonwealth countries to participate in a spectacular equestrian event honouring the Queen on her Golden Jubilee in May 2002. Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s support enabled contingents from four Commonwealth countries to participate in a spectacular equestrian event honouring the Queen on her Golden Jubilee in May 2002.

In May 2002, Mawlana Hazar Imam joined ambassadors from Commonwealth nations as well as the United States and France to honour the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Recognizing the shared history and traditions of these countries and the strength of diplomatic lineages that had been forged, His Highness the Aga Khan remarked, “This event serves to acknowledge the Commonwealth’s importance in maintaining good relations among countries through both good and less good times in their shared history.” He continued, “The event honours the personal attention that Her Majesty the Queen has accorded to that history and the admirable manner in which she has exercised, and continues to exercise, the challenging role of Head of the Commonwealth.” The culmination to her Golden Jubilee celebrations and the crown of this event was the “All the Queen’s Horses” event, the largest of its kind in the world.

In 2020, Mawlana Hazar Imam attended the Annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on special invitation by the Queen. He is currently the Vice-President of the Commonwealth Society which was under the patronage of the Queen until her death with the now-Queen Consort Camilla as its Vice Patron. In March 2022, Prince Rahim Aga Khan, the eldest son of the Ismaili Imam, attended the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey at the Queen’s invitation, representing Mawlana Hazar Imam. In Prince Rahim’s capacity as Vice-President Designate, he led the Loyal Societies and met with Charles, then Prince of Wales, who represented Her Majesty at the service as well as Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This year’s service had marked the beginning of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

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Commonwealth service to mark Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II
A section of page 3 of The Commonwealth Service held at Westminster Abbey on Monday March 14, 2022, at which Prince Rahim Aga Khan represented Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Please click image to view the complete PDF file of the service.

The Queen, or her representative, were often seen along Mawlana Hazar Imam at events of mutual importance and international significance. These included independence events of a number of countries which were previously under British rule and where the Imam had communal representation or followers. At one of these occasions, on December 12, 1963, the Duke of Edinburgh and Mawlana Hazar Imam were both present in Nairobi, Kenya, to witness and participate in the handover of the instruments of independence to Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta. Representatives of 78 countries were in attendance along with those from the Vatican and the United Nations.

Like his predecessor, the Imam also received honours from the British Monarchy. In 2004, the Imam received the title of Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) from Queen Elizabeth II.

Mawlana Hazar Imam also had warm and friendly relations with the current King Charles III. They shared common interests and a commitment to bettering the world around them and met publicly on numerous occasions while Charles was still Prince of Wales. Their respect extended to each other’s responsibilities and many of these meetings allowed them to better understand the breadth and scope of each other’s work and how it improved the wellbeing of its beneficiaries. Aga Khan IV welcomed the then-Prince Charles to Al-Azhar Park in Egypt’s capital, Cairo in March 2006 and hosted him later that year in Pakistan as they toured development projects in the South Asian country.

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Special Presentation: His Highness the Aga Khan and King Charles III – An Album of Photographs and Speech Excerpts from the Last 30 Years

[IMPORTANT NOTE: A number of images in this section are reproduced under a licensing arrangement with Alamy photos, and may not be reproduced without Alamy’s written permission — Ed.]

OCTOBER 1993: Prince Charles and His Highness Aga Khan at Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

“I believe wholeheartedly that the links between these two worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live and work together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater….

“It is odd, in many ways, that misunderstandings between Islam and the West should persist. For that which binds our two worlds together is so much more powerful than that which divides us. Muslims, Christians — and Jews — are all ‘peoples of the Book’. Islam and Christianity share a common monotheistic vision: a belief in one divine God, in the transience of our earthly life, in our accountability for our actions, and in the assurance of life to come.

“We share many key values in common: respect for knowledge, for justice, compassion towards the poor and underprivileged, the importance of family life, respect for parents. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ is a Quranic precept too. Our history has been closely bound up together” — Excerpts from speech Islam and the West by Prince Charles, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, October 27, 1993

Aga Khan and the Bitish Crown, Simerg and Barakah, King Charles speech Islam and the west
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with Prince Charles and the Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Dr. Farham Nizami, at a lecture presented by Prince Charles on “Islam and the West” at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre on October 27, 1993. Photograph: The Ismaili, Canada, March 1994.

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NOVEMBER 1993: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the University of Wales

The Aga Khan and the British Crown, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Prince Charles, Chancellor of the University of Wales, and other members of the Chancellor’s procession “doff” their caps following the award of the honorary degree of the Doctor of Laws (LL. D) to Mawlana Hazar Imam on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Wales, November 30, 1993. Photograph: The Ismaili Canada, March 1994.

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The Aga Khan and the British Crown, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in conversation with Prince Charles as President Mary Robinson of Ireland signs the Visitors’ Book at a banquet held on November 30, 1993 at the Cardiff City Hall honouring recipients of Honorary Degrees earlier during the day on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Wales. Photograph: The Ismaili Canada, March 1994.

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DECEMBER 1997: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at Asia Society in London

Aga Khan and Charles at Asia House to celebrate 50th anniversary of independence Pakistan and India, Ismaili Imamat and British Crown
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, greets Prince Charles at a special banquet hosted in July 1997 by the Asia Society to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan. Photograph: The Ismaili Canada, December 1997.

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MARCH 2006: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at Al Azhar Park, Cairo

Aga Khan and King Charles III Al Azhar Park, Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, welcomes HRH The Prince of Wales (now King Charless III) and The Duchess of Cornwall (now Queen Consort) to Al-Azhar Park in March 2006 at the beginning of their official 2-week to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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NOVEMBER 2006: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan in Northern Pakistan

Prince Charles and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan visit a mountain village near Skardu in Northern Pakistan on November 3, 2006.
Prince Charles and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan visit a mountain village near Skardu in Northern Pakistan on November 3, 2006. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam on a tour of development projects in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The Royal visitors viewed restoration work undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in the traditional settlement of Altit, in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan, and also visited the “organic village” of Nansoq, where a programme supported by the Aga Khan Foundation is designed to demonstrate the viability of organic agricultural production. Photograph: © Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment via Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

“….. if I may say so, [the Ismaili Imamat] is that same leadership and vision which has enabled the Aga Khan Development Network to grow into an organization of international importance, addressing development needs in some thirty-five countries around the World, bridging boundaries of race and religion. My darling wife and I were privileged to see some of this work, towards the end of last year [November 2006], in Altit and Nansoq villages in Northern Pakistan — in fact I was devastated when I had to leave behind the gift I was given, in Altit: a very beautifully shampooed Yak! I got a crate to bring it back, and actually I think a Yak is the only rare breed I haven’t got” — Prince Charles’ reference to the yak (see photo below) was made during his speech at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition on July 12, 2007, at the Ismaili Centre London. Please read the full speech HERE

The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (right) admire a yak, during a walking tour of Altit Mountain village in northern Pakistan.
The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (right) admire a yak, during a walking tour of Altit Mountain village in northern Pakistan. The Prince and the Duchess were hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam, on a tour of development projects in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The Royal visitors viewed restoration work undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in the traditional settlement of Altit, in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan, and also visited the “organic village” of Nansoq, where a programme supported by the Aga Khan Foundation is designed to demonstrate the viability of organic agricultural production. Photograph: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

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JULY 2007: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the Opening of Spirit and Life Exhibition, Ismaili Centre, London

Prince Charles (L), Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Duchess of Cornwall bow their heads as they listen to an Islamic prayer at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre London on July 12, 2007.
Prince Charles (L), Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Duchess of Cornwall bow their heads as they listen to an Islamic prayer at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre London on July 12, 2007. The exhibition showcased the beauty, diversity and rich legacy of Islamic Art, and was launched as His Highness the Aga Khan commenced his Golden Jubilee Year. Photograph: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

“Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is for my wife and I to join you this afternoon in celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Highness the Aga Khan’s succession to the Imamat. It is, if I may say so, London’s great good fortune that His Highness has chosen to open his Golden Jubilee celebrations with the ‘Spirit and Life’ Exhibition which my wife and I have just seen – we had to drag ourselves away from it! I understand that this is the first time these masterpieces of Islamic art have been seen in London. They are of quite exceptional historical importance and beauty. But, perhaps still more importantly, they also convey the clearest possible message about the close ties between the Abrahamic Faiths. For example, the magnificent Eleventh Century Canon of Medicine, which originated in Iran, was equally indispensable to Western scholars for the better part of five hundred years.” — Excerpt from speech made by Prince Charles at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition on July 12, 2007. Please read the full speech HERE.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall , attend the opening of the Islamic Art Exhibition hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (R) Aga Khan, at the Ismaili Centre in London on July 12, 2007, with co-curators Alnoor Merchant (L) and Sheila Canby (C) providing highlights of the artefacts
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall , attend the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (R), at the Ismaili Centre in London on July 12, 2007, with co-curators Alnoor Merchant (L) and Sheila Canby (C) accompanying the party to provide details of the artefacts. The exhibition showcased the beauty, diversity and rich legacy of Islamic Art. Photo: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

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NOVEMBER 2010: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the Ismaili Centre London on its 25th Anniversary

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, receives Prince Charles at the Ismaili Centre, London, on November 18, 2010, to commemorate its 25th anniversary
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, receives Prince Charles at the Ismaili Centre, London, on November 18, 2010, to commemorate its 25th anniversary. Photograph: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

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JUNE 2018: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the Opening of the Aga Khan Centre, London

“Your Highness, the extraordinary work that you have done throughout your lifetime, in the service of humanity and in the name of Islam, is as remarkable as it is invaluable. For that, you are owed the greatest debt of gratitude and I did just want to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of us all, if I may.

“It is clear to me that in holding dear the values of humility, honour, magnanimity and hospitality, the Ismaili Community takes its inspiration from you, Your Highness, and from your extraordinary ‘Greatness of Soul’.” — Prince Charles, Aga Khan Centre Opening, June 26, 2018. Please read the full speech HERE

On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, HRH The Prince of Wales opened The Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Situated at the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter, the Aga Khan Centre, designed by Maki and Associates, led by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary architects, provides a new home for a number of UK based organisations founded by His Highness the Aga Khan: The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK).
On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, King Charles III (then The Prince of Wales opened) The Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Situated at the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter, the Aga Khan Centre, designed by Maki and Associates, led by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary architects, provides a new home for a number of UK based organisations founded by His Highness the Aga Khan: The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK).
Aga Khan and the British Monarchy, Prince Charles now King Charless III at Aga Khan Centre inauguration Barakah dedicated to Hazar Imam
Prince Charles and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, discuss the features of the Garden of Life at the new Aga Khan Centre in London with garden designer Madison Coxon during the inauguration of the Centre on June 26, 2018. Photograph: AKDN/Nayyir Damani.

In similarly inspiring this Centre, you have set it on a path to serve the world with great distinction, just as Your Highness has yourself done throughout your remarkable life. My wife and I have been fortunate enough to see just what an inspiration you are to your community when we accompanied you to Altit years ago. Never will we forget that occasion nor, for that matter, the magnificently shampoo-ed bull yak with which I was presented and which, very sadly, I was unable to transport back to Highgrove to graze in my Islamic Garden! — Prince Charles, Aga Khan Centre Opening, June 26, 2018. Please read the full speech HERE.

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MARCH 2019: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace

 Prince Charles named Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Global Founding Patron of The Prince’s Trust’s work. They are pictured at a dinner at Buckingham Palace on March 12, 2019.
Prince Charles named Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Global Founding Patron of The Prince’s Trust’s work. They are pictured at a dinner at Buckingham Palace on March 12, 2019. Photograph: Ian Jones/AKDN.

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Rizwan Mawani’s article continues here

During the Imam’s Golden Jubilee, Mawlana Hazar Imam welcomed the Prince of Wales to the Ismaili Centre London on July 12, 2007, to view the Spirit and Life Exhibition showcasing the beauty, diversity and rich legacy of Islamic Art. Many of these artifacts are now on display at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. In June 2018, Prince Charles opened the Aga Khan Centre in London in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The Aga Khan Centre is the current home of the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilization, The Institute of Ismaili Studies as well as a research library and residences for students. In 2019, Mawlana Hazar Imam was appointed as a Global Founding Partner of the Prince’s Trust UK, then under the patronage of the future King Charles. There have been other occasions when the current King, His Majesty Charles III, as well as members of his family met or honoured Mawlana Hazar Imam that illustrate the bond between the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy.

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The Aga Khan and the British Crown, Princess Anne University of London, Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature in Education at the University of London by Princess Anne, Chancellor of the University, on October 12, 1989. Photograph: UK Ismaili Newsletter, November/December 1989.

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Doctor of Divinity degree to Aga Khan at Cambridge who is pictured with the Duke of Edinburgh; Barakah and Simerg
On June 12, 2009, the University of Cambridge, conferred Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan with a Doctor of Divinity, the first Muslim ever to have received this degree. The Late Duke of Edinburgh was the Chancellor of the University and he is seen in the front row with Mawana Hazar Imam and the University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Alison Richard. Also in the photograph are other Honorary degree recipients. Photograph: University of Cambridge via The Ismaili Canada, December 2009.

The relationship between the Imamat and the British Monarchy has also extended to members of each of the institutions’ families and their representatives. A result of their mutual interests and common dedication to the service of humanity has also meant celebrating milestones and achievements in addition to co-operation on programmes and projects.

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Lady Aly Shah Aga Khan, Barakah
Lady Aly Shah, mother of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Aga Khan II’s wife and mother of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Shamsul Muluk, more commonly known as Lady Aly Shah, was an important contributor to welfare projects throughout the British Empire. She was a champion for women’s rights, a skilled fundraiser and a force of change for both the Ismaili community as well as for Muslim women in India. For many years she was president of the influential Mohammedan Purdah Ladies Committee which held its first major conference in 1911. As part of this work, she formed strong relationships with a number of the wives of the Viceroys, or Governors-General of India, including Lady Willingdon. For her dedication and service to humanity, she was honoured with the title of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, membership which is normally reserved for Queens, ruling princesses and the Vicerenes. For the occasion, she travelled to London at the age of 86 where she was personally invested by King George V.

On the occasion of the funeral and Committal Ceremony of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on September 19, 2022, Mawlana Hazar Imam was represented by his son Prince Rahim at the service. Members of the Imam’s family were also present during a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Aga Khan IV’s Golden Jubilee in 2008 and at Windsor Castle in 2018 for his Diamond Jubilee.

Likewise, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, met with Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Aga Khan Centre in London on October 2, 2019, for an event that preceded their tour of Pakistan later that month.

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His Highness the Aga Khan together with Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, during a dinner hosted in honour of His Highness the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace to commemorate his Golden Jubilee, London, 7 July 2008. Photograph: AKDN / Gary Otte
Mawlana Hazar imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, together with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, during a dinner hosted in honour of His Highness the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace to commemorate his Golden Jubilee, London, July 7, 2008. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte

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Aga Khan Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, presents his second son, Prince Hussain, to Her Majesty the Queen. His brother, Prince Amyn, and his oldest son Prince Rahim prepare to be greeted by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and the Duchess of Cornwall, as Princess Yasmin, his sister, looks on. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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Court Circular

March 8

Buckingham Palace

8th March, 2018

The Queen gave a Dinner Party for The Aga Khan at Windsor Castle this evening to mark His Highness’s Diamond Jubilee at which The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke of York, The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, and Members of The Aga Khan’s Family were present.

The Duke of Edinburgh this morning received Mr Martin Palmer (Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation).

The Prince of Wales, on behalf of The Queen, held an Investiture at Buckingham Palace this morning.

[Note: The Court Circular is the official record of royal engagements and appears daily in the London Times — Ed.]

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The Aga Khan and the British Monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee at Windsor Castle Barakah
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in conversation with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at a dinner hosted on March 8, 2018 by Her Majesty at Windsor Castle on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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Aga Khan and the British Crown Prince William
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, welcomes Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at the Aga Khan Centre in London on October 2, 2019. Photo: The Ismaili/Anya Campbell

The article has shown that the relationship of the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy blossomed beginning in the 19th century. Through many monarchs and 4 Ismaili Imams, beginning with Aga Khan I, we have outlined their relationship of respect, cooperation and friendship over the last 150 years from Queen Victoria to King Charles. This relationship is illustrated in the chart shown above at the beginning of this article.

Date posted: October 6, 2022.
Last updated: October 7, 2022.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rizwan Mawani The Aga Khans, the Imamat and the British Crown, Barakah and Simerg, Queen Elizabth II, King Charles III
Rizwan Mawani

Rizwan Mawani has a background in Anthropology and Religious Studies and is the author of Beyond the Mosque: Diverse Places of Muslim Worship (I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2019). Rizwan has written for a wide variety of audiences and his work has appeared in academic publications, encyclopedias as well as the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post. Rizwan was previously Website Content Editor and Research Coordinator in the Department of Constituency Studies at The Institute of Ismaili Studies. His current research focuses on the past two centuries of global Ismaili history with a focus on the jamatkhana and its development during that period.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to almost 2000 pieces published since the website was created in 2009. Also visit Simerg’s two sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. Barakah’s editor may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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NOTES

[1] The Times of India, January 24, 1887, p. 7
[2] The Times of India, February 19, 1898, p. 5
[3] The Times of India, May 23, 1898, p. 4
[4] The Times of India, July 7, 1902, p. 6
[5] The Times of India, June 3, 1903, p. 5
[6] The Times of India, May 14, 1910, p. 9
[7] The Times of India, May 9, 1910, p. 5
[8] Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg), May 16, 1910, p. 7
[9] The Times of India, May 28, 1910, p. 10
[10] The Times of India¸ May 30, 1910, p. 6
[11] Times of India, July 13, 1957.

2 thoughts on “The Aga Khans, the Hereditary Imamat and the British Monarchy: A 150 Year Relationship of Respect, Cooperation and Friendship; Plus Rare Photos Featuring Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, with the Present 49th Ismaili Imam

  1. Excellent coverage of the association between the British Monarchs and our Imams and their families. Thanks Rizwan

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