Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III – Eloquent Persian Quatrain by 48th Ismaili Imam Graces a 1923 Invitation For Talk About Imamat

By Malik Merchant

Shown below is an image of an historic document dated 30 July, 1923. It is an invitation extended by the newly established Recreation Club Institute of Bombay for a lecture on the subject of Imamat, which was presented a week later by a bright and enthusiastic sixteen year old matriculation student from Punjab by the name of Aziz Ghulam Sadaruddin.

An image of a Gujarati invitation card sent out in 1923 containing a Persian verse by the 48th Ismaili Imam, Aga Khan III. Credit: Africa Ismaili

This unique 1923 Gujarati invitation to a talk on Imamat includes a Persian quatrain on the top line. The quatrain had been handwritten by Aga Khan III in a personal diary belonging to Vazir Mecklai. Image: A.M. Sadaruddin family collection of "Africa Ismaili". Click for enlargement.

The complete English translation of the invitation card is provided below, but one item on the invitation which makes it distinctly unique and historical is the Persian Quatrain which appears at the top of the card (translation below). This quatrain was originally entered by Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, in his own handwriting, in a diary belonging to Vazir Ali Mahomed Mecklai, the president of the Recreation Club.

Translation of quatrain. Click for enlargement

Upon reflection on the verses two important aspects come to light. It is well known that the 48th Ismaili Imam was particularly fond of  Sufi Poetry. The quatrain, in the first two  lines, refers to the doctrine of annihilation, which is so prominent in Sufi thought and literature. Secondly, for Ismailis, the last two verses  – irrespective of the context by which the Imam noted them in the diary –  are an affirmation of  the historical and traditional notion and reality that the teachings (or talim) of the Imam of the Time leads them to  spiritual advancement, and lights their path to enlightenment  and vision. The Imam’s light (or Nur) leads his Murids (followers) to inner peace and happiness.

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, led the Ismaili community as their Imam for 72 years. Photo: Copyright, The National Portrait Gallery, London

Aga Khan III, direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and 48th hereditary Imam of the Ismailis. Each Imam, at any given time in history, is responsible for advancing the spiritual and material conditions of his followers. Photo: Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London.

That the quatrain of such profound significance was included in an invitation for a talk about Imamat, makes this document even more thoughtful and valuable, and of immense historical importance.

The composition of the invitation card is as follows:

A. 1st line

Text of Persian Quatrain (copied from Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah handwritten Persian quatrain in Vazir Mecklai’s personal diary)

B. 2nd and 3rd lines

The Gujarati transliteration of the Quatrain

The following is the English transliteration and translation of the Quatrain (not shown on the card):


Atish Ba jan Afrokhtan,
Az Bahray Janan Sokhtan,
Azman Baist Amakhatan,
In Kar ha Karay Manast


How to kindle a fire in the soul
and burn oneself for one’s beloved
should be learnt from me
as this is one of my responsibilities

C. The remainder of the card contains the invitation text in Gujarati. A reasonable translation of the invitation is as follows:

Dear Saheb (Sir),

It is with great pleasure that we wish to invite you to a public lecture to be delivered by Maulavi Aziz bin Gulamali Sadrudin of Punjab on the subject of “Imamat” at The Recreation Club Institute Hall on Sunday, 5th August, 1923 at 4.30 p.m. Indian Standard Time.

Mr. Ahmedbhai Rahim has kindly accepted to chair this occasion.

Yours sincerely and with Ya Ali Madad,

Hasan Lalji Devraj,
Hon. Chief Secretary.


The Recreation Club Institute
Kandi Maholla, Jail Road,

The card appears to have been printed by Kagdi P. Works, Bombay – 3 (see last line)

On the card, the speaker’s name Aziz bin Gulamali Sadrudin, is preceded by the term Maulavi. In refering to this term and introducing the speaker, Vazir Mahomed Mecklai made the following light remark:

“Please do not wait for a “Maulvi” with a “juba” (gown) and a beard. This young boy is in fact our ‘beardless’ Maulvi who will prove to you the significance and the need of Imamat from the Holy Qu’ran and the Hadith.”

A.M. Sadaruddin spoke for approximately two hours at this historic gathering. Subsequently, he continued his literary pursuits with passion and determination until his demise in London in 1980 while attending a review meeting of  the Institute of Ismaili Studies. That the 48th Imam always held  Rai A.M.  Sadaruddin in high esteem is shown by a personal message that the prodigious literary figure received  from the Imam on the occasion of the publication of the Diamond Jubilee Souvenir in 1948. Indeed, Rai Sadaruddin’s services were also recognized by the current 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who sent a personal message to his family describing the late Rai as a “pillar of strength and example.”

A portrait of Rai A.M. Sadaruddin (1906 - 1980). Photo: A.M. Sadaruddin Family Archives

Aga Khan III message to A.M. Sadaruddin on publication of 1948 Diamond Jubilee Souvenir mentions family history & author's contribution to the Ismaili faith. Image: A.M. Sadaruddin Family collection of "Africa Ismaili". Click for enlargement

A.M. Sadaruddin provided the following background context for the above message to him from Aga Khan III in “Africa Ismaili”:

Ismailis in the Punjab, before 1912, were known as Shamsis, the followers of the great Ismaili Pir Shams who converted them to Islam two generations before the Ismaili Khojas who were converted by Pir Sadar Din in Kathiawar and Cutch. Like many Khojas they still had Hindu names, but in 1912 there was a riot between Hindus and Shamsis at Amritsar and several Ismailis lost their lives. Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis, thought it was time that Ismailis in the Punjab adopted Muslim names only and identified themselves completely with Islam. Until then they had practiced Islam and their Ismaili tariqah in secret.

Rai Sadaruddin’s father was personally given the name of Sadar Din by the Imam.  He, however, adopted the full name as Ghulam Sadar Din. He maintained how could he call himself  Sadar Din which was the name of a great Ismaili Pir. He shall be (Sheikh) “Ghulam” Sadaruddin, a “servant” of Sadar Din. All Ismailis in the Punjab came to be known with the honorific title of  “Sheikh” i.e. new converts who were loyal to their faith. When Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah gave to A.M. Sadaruddin a personal message for the Diamond Jubilee Souvenir in 1948, he was referring to this occasion when he wrote:

Mr. Sadaruddin is of particular interest to me as he is one whose family was converted by me personally. I am glad to see the good work he has done for our faith. I have followed his work & career with great interest. I give him my blessings & best wishes for a life of success & service – Aga Khan.


Credits: Simerg would like to thank the family of the late Rai A.M. Sadaruddin, and specifically his grandson Mohib Ebrahim who is currently in Vancouver, for providing images and material from the family archives of Africa Ismaili, the magazine that Rai Sadaruddin  founded and edited in Kenya.


For a complete list of articles in the Aga Khan III series please click:  Special Series: His Highness the Aga Khan III

4 thoughts on “Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III – Eloquent Persian Quatrain by 48th Ismaili Imam Graces a 1923 Invitation For Talk About Imamat

  1. Powerful! My grandmother told me many powerful moving stories about him that have left an enormous impact in my mind like this article thank you very much.

  2. All the copies of “Africa Ismaili” that I brought as an immigrant in my one packed travel bag to Canada remain in my prized worldly possessions, which I will Inshallah take to the next world. Why? Not having had occasion or opportunity to meet this inspiring “pillar of strength and example”, I seem to be anchored and attached to his seemingly ephemeral gift to me, as if by some homing instinct from another life, a lost remembrance of an unfinished mission. Limited in time as this gift may be, it seems to be an ageless, evergreen Nazrana, a search and a yearning able and willing to withstand, nay embrace, the forces of nature and harshness of wordly disappointments.

  3. I still have a few old copies of Africa Ismaili and used these in my thesis on Social Change… submitted for Social Anthropology at University of Oxford way back in 1975. I remember the writings of late Mr A M Sadruddin whom our present Imam also played tribute to. Well Done!

  4. This is a magnificent Qasida by Imam Sir Sultan Mohamad Shah. Indeed our beloved Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) knowingly made obedience to the Imam as his last wish before his rehla – approach the Imam of your time for the continuous worldly and spiritual guidance so that you may not go astray.

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