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Aga Khan ( ) is the hereditary title of the Imam of the Nizārī Muslims, the largest branch of the Ismā'īlī followers ( ) of the Shī‘a faith. The Ismaili branch of Shia Islam affirms the Imamat of the descendents of Ismail ibn Jafar, eldest son of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, while the mainstream Twelver branch of Shi`ism follows Ismail's younger brother Musa al-Kazim and his descendants.


In the 1850s, the honorific title of Aga Khan was bestowed upon Aga Hasan Ali Shah, the 46th Imam of the Ismailis, by Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar, the Shah of Persiamarker. Etymologically the title combines the Turkish military title Agha, meaning a "noble" or "lord", with the Altaic title Khan for a local ruler, so the combination means roughly "Commanding Chief". In Persia's Qajar court protocol, Khan (and Amir) was commonly part of commanders of armed forces and provincial tribal leaders which ranked fourth in precedence amongst the eight title classes for non-members of the dynasty.

In 1887, the colonial rulers of India, the British Raj Sarkar, gave the Aga Khan rank and nobility in recognition of the help in suppressing a Muslim rebellion against the Britishmarker. In recognition of helping the British suppress Muslim uprising against the British, the Aga Khan was hailed as a great leader by the British and thus the Aga Khan became the only religious or community leader in British Indiamarker granted a personal gun salute; all other salute dynasties were either rulers of Princely States, or Political Pensioners holding ancestral princely titles in states abolished by the Raj.


Prince Karīm al-Hussainī became the present Aga Khan IV upon assuming the Imamat of the Nizari Ismailis on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan (Aga Khan III). In his will, his grandfather stated the conditions that led him to select his grandson as successor to the Ismaili Imamat:
"In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes that have taken place, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man 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."

Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the 49th Ismaili Imam, tracing their lineage to Ali, cousin of Muhammad, and his wife Fatima, Muhammad's daughter. The title His Highness was granted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1957 and His Royal Highness by the Shah of Iran in 1959. On July 11, 2007, Aga Khan IV completed 50 years of the imamat of the Ismaili Muslim community.

The Aga Khan, heir to the family fortune and a society figure, is founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world. AKDN continues to work with a variety of African and Asian countries to improve living conditions and promote education. For instance, in Afghanistan the AKDN has mobilised over $700 million in development projects. In 1979, the Aga Khan also established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard Universitymarker and the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker to promote the study of Islamic art, architecture, urbanism, landscape design, and conservation - and the application of that knowledge to contemporary design projects. The program engages in research at both institutions and students can graduate with a Master of Science of Architectural Studies specializing in the Aga Khan program from MIT's Department of Architecture.

List of those who have held the title of Aga Khan

  1. Aga Khan I = Hasan Ali Shah Mehalatee Aga Khan I (1800–1881), 46th Imam (1817–1881)
  2. Aga Khan II = Ali Shah Aga Khan II (about 1830–1885), 47th Imam (12 April 1881–1885)
  3. Aga Khan III = Prince Sultan Mohammed, (1877–1957), 48th Imam (17 August 1885–1957)
  4. Aga Khan IV = Prince Karim Al Husseini (b. 1936), 49th Imam of the Ismailis (from 11 July 1957)


  1. "Aly Khan's Son, 20, New Aga Khan", The New York Times, 13 July 1936, p. 1
  2. Farhad Daftary. The Ismāʿīlīs: Their history and doctrines.


See also

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