His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as Imam in 1957 at the age of 20.
The Aga Khan was born in 1936, in Geneva, Switzerland, as the eldest son of Prince Aly Khan and Princess Tajuddawlah Aly Khan. He spent his early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and then attended Le Rosey School in Switzerland. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA honors degree in Islamic history.
Today, the Aga Khan leads a community that is present in 25 countries, mainly in Central and South Asia, China, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America and Australia. It is a community with a 1400-year history: Under the guidance of their Imams, Ismailis have made major contributions to the growth of Islamic civilization. Renowned philosophers, jurists, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers and scientists benefited from the patronage of early Ismaili Imams. This legacy continues today. His Highness the Aga Khan describes Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith, one that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds the dignity of man, Allah’s noblest creation.
As Imam, the Aga Khan is responsible not only for the interpretation of the faith but also for the well being of the Ismaili community. This has led to His Highness’ deep involvement with development. Building on social programs created by his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, the Aga Khan has created the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a private, international, non-denominational development agency. AKDN’s activities now cover the full spectrum of development challenges, from humanitarian assistance to rural development, microfinance to cultural restoration, early childhood education to large-scale infrastructure projects. AKDN institutions are active in nearly 30 countries.
The Aga Khan’s family has had a long tradition of international civil service. The Aga Khan’s grandfather was president of the League of Nations and his father, Prince Aly Khan, served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations. His uncle, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was the longest-serving United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees and subsequently served in other high level United Nations positions. The Aga Khan’s younger brother, Prince Amyn, is a director of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and a member of the board of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED).
The Aga Khan’s eldest child and daughter, Princess Zahra, is the head of the Social Welfare Department. His eldest son, Prince Rahim is an executive director of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM). The Aga Khan’s second son, Prince Hussain, is involved in the activities of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Aga Khan Foundation. His youngest son, Prince Aly Muhammad, was born in 2000.