Anupam Dasgupta
Tuesday, May 13, 2008 03:52 IST

The Aga Khan is back in city after 16 yrs

The spiritual leader of Shiite Ismaili Muslims is the 49th heriditary imam

MUMBAI: The top spiritual leader of the Shiite Ismaili Muslims is expected to reach Mumbai on May 14 as part of an eight-day official visit to the country.

The 49th hereditary imam, prince Karim al-Husseni, who is a descendant of the Prophet Aga Khan, touched base in Delhi on Monday, where he met prime minister Manmohan Singh, president Pratibha Patil and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. He is in the country to take part in the golden jubilee celebrations of the Aga Khan, which began in July last year.

For the 6,000-odd Ismaili Muslims in Mumbai the occasion is nothing short of grand. "The imam is visiting Mumbai after a gap of 16 years and we are upbeat about it," said Amin Patel, a community representative close to al-Husseni.

The Aga Khan is likely to preside over interactive sessions with members of his community. He may also allow an interface with other streams of Islam and their followers, a community member said.

According to a report in the International Herald Tribune (IHT), the Aga Khan - one of the world's wealthiest Muslim investors - preaches ethical use of wealth and financial aid that promotes economic self-reliance among developing countries.

It said the Aga Khan has poured money into poorer, neglected parts of the world. He presents a less threatening face of Islam on the global business stage.

He owns hundreds of racehorses and valuable stud farms. He also owns an exclusive yacht club on Sardinia and a lavish estate near Paris, according to the IHT report. It is estimated that around 20 million Ismaili Muslims, spread across 25 countries, view the Aga Khan as their "messiah".

The Ismaili sect broke away from the parent Shiite tradition, and soon Nizari Muslims embraced the new ideology and internalised it. Shiite Islam views Ali as the rightful successor of the Prophet.

The Aga Khan is often credited with projecting Islam as a thinking man's religion and a spiritual faith that is in consonance with the larger Ismaili credo. The Islmaili tradition grew in large parts of the world by marrying intellectual freedom with tolerance.

And in keeping with this vision of Islam and towing a long tradition of service to the humanity at large, the Ismailis have carved out an elaborate institutional framework to build capacity and improve the quality of life for their community members.

It was under the leadership of the present Imam that the institutional framework was welded into the Aga Khan Development Network - a loose collection of groups and agencies devoted to improving the quality of life across some of the troubled spots in the world.