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'JUBILEE MUBARAK' Who is the Aga Khan and why is his Diamond Jubilee being celebrated? 2018-06-08

Friday, 2018, June 8
His Highness the Aga Khan IV
Sofia Petkar

The 81-year-old is known as a man of few words but his tireless work over six decades has seen communities across the world thrive

THE Aga Khan is one of the world’s most generous philanthropists and the spiritual leader of more than 15 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide.

He has spent the last 60 years beautifully bridging gaps between communities, ensuring his legacy breaks boundaries between religions, cultures and societies. But just who is he and why is this such a special year for him?

The Aga Khan keeps a low profile but has been a driving force behind many global changes over the past six decades

The Aga Khan’s full title is His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.

Although he is known as a man of few words, he is in fact the 49th and current spiritual leader of around 15 million Ismaili Muslims, who are scattered across 25 countries.

While most Ismailis live in African and Asian countries – there are sizable communities in Britain as well as the US and Canada.

The Aga Khan has a British passport but he lives in France and is among the top 15 of the world’s wealthiest royals.

According to Forbes magazine, he’s worth an incredible £800 million.

He assumed the role of the 49th Imam (or spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismailis on July 11 1957 at the age of 20 – succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah.

When this happened, he was in his junior year at Harvard and it was the first time in the family’s 1,300-year history that a generation had been skipped over.

In March, Queen Elizabeth hosted a special dinner at Windsor Castle to honour the Aga Khan's tireless work for the wider community
What is his Diamond Jubilee all about?
In 2017, the Aga Khan began his Diamond Jubilee year – that is, the completion of 60 years at the helm of the Ismaili community.

The last 11 months have seen countless celebration, festivities and the launch of dozens of new projects in his honour that will go on to benefit not just the Ismailis, but every man, woman and child worldwide, regardless of their creed, colour, background or financial standing.

The Diamond Jubilee year is effectively a celebration of the Aga Khan’s vision and tireless work, which has steered the Ismaili community through six decades of sweeping changes in the global landscape.

These changes have been on a scale that is unprecedented in history and during a period which has seen massive social, political and economic challenges.

The 81-year-old is also currently on a worldwide ‘tour’ where he is personally meeting as many of his followers as he is able, and using each visit to launch a Diamond Jubilee legacy project that will live on for generations.

Is the Aga Khan visiting the UK soon?
The humble leader is due to visit the United Kingdom at the end of June where he will spend two days meeting the British Ismaili community in private gatherings.

During his time in the UK, he will personally open the Aga Khan Centre in London’s thriving ‘Knowledge Quarter’ at King's Cross.

The Aga Khan Centre has been designed by Maki and Associates and the project was led by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary architects.

The centre will provide a new home for a number of UK based organisations founded by His Highness the Aga Khan.

These include The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK).

These Institutions have been operating in the UK for many years and are part of a mission and mandate to increase knowledge and understanding of Muslim civilisations and help improve the quality of life for people around the world.

The Aga Khan Centre will also help connect the public to global development issues and the Aga Khan Foundation’s work to improve the quality of life for people of all faiths and backgrounds in some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities.

The building will stand proudly alongside the new offices of Facebook and Google.

Is the Aga Khan friends with the Queen?
Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Karim are old friends, and it was the Monarch who bestowed the title of ‘His Highness’ on the Aga Khan in 1957 on his ‘Imamat’ – the year of his accession as hereditary leader of the Shi’a Ismaili Muslims.

The Aga Khan holds a number of titles and honours worldwide, and was most notably appointed Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2004.

In March 2018, Queen Elizabeth hosted the Aga Khan and his family at Windsor Castle to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee.

In attendance were a number of members of the Royal Family, including The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke of York, The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence.

The event acknowledged historic linkages between the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy and longstanding connections between the Ismaili Community, the institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network and the United Kingdom.

The AKDN works toward improvement of the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities
What is the Aga Khan Development Network?
The staggeringly large Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) works across 30 countries around the world, and employs 80,000 people.

It was established to improve the quality of life not just for Ismailis, but also for the wider communities in which they lived.

For over 60 years, the AKDN has been building institutions and delivering essential services by creating schools and hospitals, newspapers and electricity generation plants, and social programmes of all kinds.

The collective agencies work towards multiple causes – these include the elimination of global poverty and the advancement of the status of women, among others.

And that’s not all.

Worldwide, the Aga Khan’s name can be seen on a number of hospitals, schools and universities – each facility employing, assisting, treating and educating without discrimination.

What are his business ventures?
Prince Karim is a passionate horse breeder and owns an impressive racing and breeding operation.

These include stud farms in Ireland and France, and a stake in Goffs – one of Britain’s largest horse auction houses.

In fact, he bred Shergar – once the most famous and most valuable racehorse in the world.

He also and owns and operates Arqana – the largest horse racing and breeding operation in France.

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