An eminent Muslim leader, thinker and reformer of the 19th century, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III was born in Karachi on the 2nd of November 1877.  It is reported that when the Aga Khan I received word of his birth, he had replied, “Name him Sultan,” as he would earn a “distinguished position in the world.” Through Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s remarkable achievements over his lifetime, we learned this to be true.

The year 1911 is not a distant past. While delivering his inaugural address at the All-India Mohammedan Educational Conference in 1911, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah highlighted the need for a serviceable and extended system of education to raise Muslims of the subcontinent to their legitimate sphere of power, influence and usefulness. He said, “If our people take to science and scientific education in the right spirit, the industrial and economic future of our community will no longer be in doubt.”

For Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, the advancement of science and technology was essential to growth and development. In every land he touched, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah preached the importance of science as much as he did for education, as integrating science into the educational system would improve the quality of life and socioeconomic development of Muslims. He emphasized that education must be combined with religion, applied sciences, agriculture, medical technology and women’s education to provide Muslims with the skills, knowledge and views they required to meet the needs of modern times.

Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah believed that Islam was the religion of nature, and therefore the study of science was a religious obligation for Muslims. Time after time, he reminded Muslims of their glorious past when Islam was a leader in scientific discoveries and intellectual traditions. “Our social customs, our daily work, our constant efforts, must be tuned up, must be brought into line with the highest form of possible civilization. At its greatest period, Islam was at the head of science, was at the head of knowledge, was in the advanced line of political, philosophic and literary thought.”

The establishment of Aligarh University, a dream rooted from Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, was one such accomplishment that brought Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah the utmost joy, which he later called his “greatest service to Islam.” After the creation of Pakistan, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah appealed to advisors to invest in science and technology asserting, “It is for the public of Pakistan, and indeed for the Muslim world, to adjust its cultural foundation to the study and ultimate victory over the forces of nature ever at our disposal through science, and thus once more, as, in the first thousand years of Muslim history, we will be in the vanguard of mankind.”

Furthermore, as noted in history, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah refused to relegate women to a secondary role. To his core, he was driven by the imperative of women’s advancement and enhancement of their social status. He called women “the guardians of the life of the race” and emphasized the fundamental value of educating girls, as he went on to say, “Personally, if I had two children, and one was a boy and the other a girl, and if I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl.”

He was a man of many roles, yet the guiding principle and his motivating element was a humanistic concern for the betterment of the Muslims of the subcontinent. Having this particular characteristic served as the foundation of his social conscience, enthused by the needs of the rural masses. The proof of his unflinching commitment to the development of Muslims lies in the establishment of the first Aga Khan School in Gwadar in 1905. During his Diamond Jubilee in the year 1945, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah donated all the presents received from his followers to the advancement of healthcare and education in East Africa and the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The funds were utilized to start maternity homes, medical facilities, schools and hostels. A total of 16 schools were established, named Diamond Jubilee schools, and provided the necessary impetus for turning the wheel of fortune in the remote terrain of Northern Pakistan.

Currently, his grandson, Mawlana Hazar Imam has carried on his grandfather’s legacy by building upon the foundation his grandfather laid, and stretching forth the largest network of development agencies known as the Aga Khan Development Network, commonly recognised as AKDN, that operate to improve the quality of life of the people of Asia and Africa. Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, AKDN has made enormous contributions to rural development, health, education and architecture. Investing in research to find innovative solutions to development problems has been one of the key components of AKDN’s approach to development.

As a result, a notable example, the Aga Khan University (AKU) has grown into a research-focused institution in healthcare and medical education which is involved in cutting-edge and innovation-focused research in the country, reflecting his grand father’s vision of promoting science and technology.

Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s mission was the true expression of reconstruction and reform for the Muslims of the subcontinent, placing the foundation of welfare and prosperity for future generations. Today, on his birth anniversary, we pay tribute to this prince whose name will forever shine in golden words in the history of Pakistan.