Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The Aga Khan IV, 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims

Shah Karim al Hussayni, also known simply as the Aga Khan (Imamate: 1957-present), is the leader of the Shi‘a sect of Muslims known as the Nizari Ismailis. For 5 million Nizari Ismaili Muslims the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam, with lineage descending back to Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. He is only the fourth Aga Khan, a hereditary title bestowed upon the Imam by the Shah of Persia in the mid-nineteenth century.

Hereditary Leader of Ismailis
The Aga Khan derives his position of authority from his lineage. He has a direct line of ancestry going back to Imam Ali. For Nizari Ismaili Muslims this ancestry is directly attached to the idea of an Imamate starting with Imam Ali. However Nizari lineage differs from the larger sect of Ithna’Ashari‘a (Twelver) Shi‘a. Twelver Shi‘a heritage derives from the younger son of the sixth Imam Jafar al Sadiq, whereas Ismaili heritage derives from the elder son. The Aga Khan’s influence stems from his obligation to lead the community and to find solutions to the ever-changing issues facing his followers. At the age of 21 the Aga Khan bypassed his father and uncle to become the 49th Imam, a choice that his grandfather made because he felt the community needed a leader ‘who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on life to his office.’

Unparalleled Philanthropist
The Aga Khan is also an influential philanthropist on the world stage. His influence on development is very significant and disproportionate to the size of the Nizari Ismaili community, which is one of the smaller Muslim sects. To fulfill the Imam’s responsibilities in the contemporary world, the Aga Khan set up the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is a collection of development and humanitarian agencies working in areas of poverty. The network is widely known for its architectural and cultural work, including projects that revitalize historic cities. These initiatives aim to show the greatness of Islamic civilization through projects such as the renovation of the Old City of Aleppo and the Al Azhar Park in Cairo. The Aga Khan’s foundation maintains a strong and enduring presence in developing countries - building health care capacity, promoting economic development in rural areas and helping improve educational opportunities. The AKDN is particularly influential in Central Asia, where it works in areas that are often neglected by other organizations.

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