In history, few are born who transcend the boundaries of time and place, leaving their imprints on the world stage. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III was undeniably one such trailblazer whose legacy extends far beyond his role as the leader of the Ismaili Muslim community. Born in Karachi, Pakistan on 2 November 1877, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah inherited a rich legacy of leadership and community advancement.

Aga Khan III’s life was a mosaic of diverse roles, but what truly distinguished him was his genuine concern and humanistic interest that permeated every aspect of his influence. It was this deep sentiment that guided his dedication to social reform, his opposition to violence and war, his rejection of racism, his advocacy for democracy, his unwavering commitment to global peace, his relentless focus on education, his tireless efforts for social progress and his advocacy of women's empowerment.

“Islam means peace,” said Aga Khan III at the Dar es Salaam Cultural Society on 3 August 1946. “The Holy Prophet of Islam laid down as the rule of life, peace between man and man, peace in thought and in action, and he always insisted on kindliness and gentleness towards all animals and all human beings.” It was this concern for humanity that compelled Aga Khan III to embrace internationalism and cosmopolitanism, seeing in them the pathways to address the urgent needs of the time. 

The aftermath of World War I ushered in a transformative era in global history. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 gave birth to the League of Nations, an institution envisioned to foster international harmony. At this critical moment, Aga Khan III emerged as a prominent statesman, leading subcontinent delegates in Geneva. His humanitarian efforts earned him a Nobel Prize nomination in January 1924 highlighting his tireless work in maintaining harmony between Turkey and the Western world following a peace agreement.

His political tenacity prepared him for several significant roles, including serving as the President of the League of Nations, the predecessor institution to the United Nations. He also held positions such as the Founder and President of the All-India Muslim League, Patron of the London Muslim League, Head of the 1906 Muslim Deputation to the Viceroy of India, President of the All Indian Muhammadan Educational Conference, Head of the British Indian Delegation to the Roundtable Conference, Delegate to the Disarmament Conference and Head of the Simla Delegation, reflecting his active participation not only in the Pakistan movement but also playing an instrumental role as an ambassador for establishing and sustaining world peace. The Maharaja of Bikaner once fittingly described Aga Khan III as, “A bridge connecting East and West, linking two major civilizations of the modern world.”

The League of Nations provided a stage for Aga Khan III, in his words, “to serve the cause of international peace”. To establish and maintain peace in the world, he proposed both conventional and innovative measures such as learning foreign languages, exploring different literary traditions, traveling, enhancing educational standards and improving the health of ordinary people, activities that encouraged mutual understanding and friendship with a more holistic approach.

During the 15th session of the League of Nations on 27 September 1934, Aga Khan III eloquently stressed the significance of collaborative efforts in nurturing global harmony. His wisdom echoed once more during the 17th session on 29 September 1936, where he emphasised the importance of international understanding and cooperation. The most significant moment of his international engagement came in July 1937 when he was elected as the President of the League of Nations, and in this capacity, he passionately advocated for the “peaceful elimination of the root causes of war.” His leadership facilitated the inclusion of nations like Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt within the League of Nations, stressing the need for unity and cooperation in the pursuit of peace.

In retrospect, we now realise that Aga Khan III’s efforts resonate far beyond his lifetime. His vision for a harmonious world found expression through the establishment of development institutions that later evolved into the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Today, his grandson, Mawlana Hazar Imam, has diligently upheld this legacy. Upon receiving the Asia Society’s Game Changer Lifetime Achievement Award, presented in recognition of his role in "improving the lives of millions in Asia and around the world," the Aga Khan IV emphasized the values embraced by himself and AKDN institutions. He stated, “Any leader of any global community hopes and prays for one thing – peace; peace in every community, in every country of the world, so that men and women can live in safety, build their futures with strength, courage, hope, and wisdom.”

Continuing in the footsteps of his grandfather, Mawlana Hazar Imam has passionately worked for shaping public opinion, supported organizations that champion pluralism, and exemplified "tolerance, openness, and empathy towards the cultures, social structures, values, and faiths of others." He has described "a genuine sense of pluralism" as the cornerstone for “human peace and progress”.

Operating across more than 20 countries, the AKDN stands as a testament to its vision of a better world, driven by a fundamental commitment to compassion and wellbeing for the vulnerable and marginalized within the society with a focus on the collective welfare. Through institutions like the Global Centre for Pluralism and strategic partnerships like the one with the Paris Peace Forum, the AKDN is dedicated to fostering inclusivity and addressing urgent global development challenges.

These challenges include climate change, disease outbreaks, growing inequalities, and enduring geopolitical conflicts. The AKDN’s various agencies and institutions share a common goal: helping to create an environment in which peaceful, productive societies can flourish. Through investments in research, innovation, and partnerships, the AKDN continues to address global challenges, carrying forward the legacy of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, characterized by compassion, inclusivity, pluralism, and the restoration of human dignity.