Aswan, Egypt: Final resting place of Aga Khan III; and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s message to the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims on his succession


[An extended version of this post can be read on Simerg’s sister blog Barakah which was launched in 2017 as an honour and dedication to the 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Husssaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious and historic occasion of his 60th Imamat anniversary or the Diamond Jubilee — Ed.]

When the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, passed away on July 11, 1957 at the age of 79, he chose his 20 year old grandson, Shah Karim al Hussaini, then a student at Harvard University, to succeed him as the 49th Hereditary Imam of the community.

The late Aga Khan who was born on November 2, 1877, succeeded to the throne of Imamat on August 17, 1885, when he was only 7 years old. His Imamat of 71 years is the longest in the 1400 span of Ismaili history that goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad — may peace be upon him and his family — appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. The current 49th Imam said in an interview, that the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely himself.

Aga Khan III, by Elliott & Fry, photograph. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under a licensing agreement.

At the death of the 48th Imam in 1957, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (d. September 2022), sent the following message to the new Aga Khan through her Private Secretary:

“His Highness will be remembered by all for the wise guidance and selfless leadership which he has freely given during his many happy and eventful years. His energetic and devoted work for the League of Nations in a life dedicated to the service of his followers and to the welfare of mankind will long be remembered. In the arduous responsibility which you will be called on to bear as leader of your people, Her Majesty extends to you her sincere greetings and prayers that you may long fulfil your role as counsellor to the Ismaili community who owe you their allegiance.”

Aga Khan III had long expressed the wish that his burial should be in Aswan, Egypt. His wife, the Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, undertook the monumental task of coordinating the construction of the mausoleum near the villa. The mausoleum was completed in about 18 months. In the meanwhile, the body of the late Imam was temporarily buried in the compounds of the Villa. The final burial then took place on February 19, 1959.

We present a selection of photographs of the mausoleum as well as other images from the historical day (for more details and photos see the post in Barakah.)

Aga Khan burial Aswan
The successor of Aga Khan III, Mawlana Sha Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, left, his uncle Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, right, and his younger brotehr Prince Amyn Aga Khan at the back, carrying the shrouded body of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, from its temporary resting place to the mausoleum. Photograph: Jehangir Merchant collection.
Aswan Aga Khan burial in mausoleum, Simerg
Mourners watch as the body of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, is carried into the mausoleum, February 19, 1959. Photograph: Jehangir Merchant collection.
Sarite Sanders Aga Khan Mausoleum Aswan, Simerg
The mausoleum of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, in Aswan overlooking the family’s white villa, Noor al Salaam, and the River Nile. This magnificent mausoleum of the Aga Khan was modelled on the Fatimid tombs in Egypt. Photo: © Sarite Sanders. Published in Simerg and its sister blogs Barakah and Simergphotos under a licensing agreement with Sarite Sanders.
Sarite Sanders Aga Khan Mausoleum Aswan, Simerg
High up on the west bank of the Nile in Aswan stands the tomb of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah His Highness the Aga Khan III, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis, who died in 1957, and of his wife the Begum, who died in 2000. The Mausoleum is a very elegant pink granite structure of late 1950 origin. The Aga Khan succeeded his father in 1885 when he was eight to become the 48th Imam. Upon his death on 11 July, 1957, he was succeeded to the Imamat by his grandson, Prince Karim Aga Khan. Photo: © Sarite Sanders


The new Aga Khan on his predecessor

Aga Khan takhtnashini or ceremonial installation dar es salaam tanganyika 1957 simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured on October 19, 1957 at his 1st Takhtnashini or ceremonial installation, held in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He became the 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims,on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20. Photograph: Ilm Magazine, July 1977.

“Today, I am speaking to you in a city and in a country which have a particular meaning to my family and myself. On 2nd November, 1877 my beloved grandfather was born here in Karachi. Through 72 years of Imamat, he guided his spiritual children to happiness and prosperity” — Karachi, August 4, 1957.

“Many many memories come to our minds as we think of him. He achieved in his life, for our community that which could only have been accomplished normally in a period of many generations. The tributes that the world has paid him bear honest testimony to his great life and work” — Takhtnashini, ceremonial installation, Karachi, Pakistan, January 23, 1958.

Date posted: February 21, 2023.

Featured image at top of post: The mausoleum of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, overlooking his villa and the Nile. Photograph: Motani Family collection, Ottawa, Canada.


For an extended version of this post please click HERE.

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos

The editor may be reached via email at

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