1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aga Khan I.

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AGA KHAN I., His Highness the, (1800–1881), the title accorded by general consent to Hasan Ali Shah (born in Persia, 1800), when, in early life, he first settled in Bombay under the protection of the British government. He was believed to have descended in direct line from Ali by his wife Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Mahomet. Ali’s son, Hosain, having married a daughter of one of the rulers of Persia before the time of Mahomet, the Aga Khan traced his descent from the royal house of Persia from the most remote, almost prehistoric, times. His ancestors had also ruled in Egypt as caliphs of the Beni-Fatimites for a number of years, at a period coeval with the Crusades. Before the Aga Khan emigrated from Persia, he was appointed by the emperor Fateh Ali Shah to be governor-general of the extensive and important province of Kerman. His rule was noted for firmness, moderation and high political sagacity, and he succeeded for a long time in retaining the friendship and confidence of his master the shah, although his career was beset with political intrigues and jealousy on the part of rival and court favourites, and with internal turbulence. At last, however, the fate usual to statesmen in oriental countries overtook him, and he incurred the mortal displeasure of Fateh Ali shah. He fled from Persia and sought protection in British territory, preferring to settle down eventually in India, making Bombay his headquarters. At that period the First Afghan War was at its height, and in crossing over from Persia through Afghanistan the Aga Khan found opportunities of rendering valuable services to the British army, and thus cast in his lot for ever with the British. A few years later he rendered similar conspicuous services in the course of the Sind campaign, when his help was utilized by Napier in the process of subduing the frontier tribes, a large number of whom acknowledged the Aga’s authority as their spiritual head. Napier held his Moslem ally in great esteem, and entertained a very high opinion of his political acumen and chivalry as a leader and soldier. The Aga Khan reciprocated the British commander’s confidence and friendship by giving repeated proofs of his devotion and attachment to the British government, and when he finally settled down in India, his position as the leader of the large Ismailiah section of Mahommedan British subjects was recognized by the government, and the title of His Highness was conferred on him, with a large pension. From that time until his death in 1881 the Aga Khan, while leading the life of a peaceful and peacemaking citizen, under the protection of British rule, continued to discharge his sacerdotal functions, not only among his followers in India, but towards the more numerous communities which acknowledged his religious sway in distant countries, such as Afghanistan, Khorasan, Persia, Arabia, Central Asia, and even distant Syria and Morocco. He remained throughout unflinchingly loyal to the British Raj, and by his vast and unquestioned influence among the frontier tribes on the northern borders of India he exercised a control over their unruly passions in times of trouble, which proved of invaluable service in the several expeditions led by British arms on the north-west frontier of India. He was also the means of checking the fanaticism of the more turbulent Mahommedans in British India, which in times of internal troubles and misunderstandings finds vent in the shape of religious or political riots.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, Aga Khan II. This prince continued the traditions and work of his father in a manner that won the approbation of the local government, and earned for him the distinction of a knighthood of the Order of the Indian Empire and a seat in the legislative council of Bombay.

Aga Khan III. (Sultan Mahommed Shah), only son of the foregoing, succeeded him on his death in 1885, and became the head of the family and its devotees. He was born in 1877, and under the care of his mother, a daughter of the ruling house of Persia, was given not only that religious and oriental education which his position as the religious leader of the Ismailiahs made indispensable, but a sound European training, a boon denied to his father and grandfather. This blending of the two systems produced the happy result of fitting this Moslem chief in an eminent degree both for the sacerdotal functions which appertian to his spiritual position, and for those social duties of a great and enlightened leader which he was called upon to discharge by virtue of that position. He travelled in distant parts of the world to receive the homage of his followers, and with the object either of settling differences or of advancing their welfare by pecuniary help and personal advice and guidance. The distinction of knight commander of the Indian Empire was conferred upon him by Queen Victoria in 1897, and he received like recognition for his public services from the German emperor, the sultan of Turkey, the shah of Persia and other potentates.

See Naoroji M. Dumasia, A Brief History of the Aga Khan (1903).  (M. M. Bh.)