Gilgit-Baltistan:The role of Aga Khan III Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah in development of education in Pakistan

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Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III, the forty-eighth hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, was born on 2nd November, 1877 in Karachi.

As an Imam of the Ismaili Muslims (1885-1957), he not only provided spiritual guidance to his followers but also played a pivotal role in the intellectual, social, and economic development of Muslims around the world.

Ismaili Muslims across the world celebrated Golden, Diamond, and Platinum Jubilees of his Imamat in the years 1937, 1946, and 1954 respectively. During these Jubilee celebrations, he was weighed in gold and diamonds and these funds were used for establishing various social welfare institutions which have shown proven successes at national and international levels in many respects.

The Ismaili Imamat has a long tradition of leadership in educational development. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah also advocated access to quality education for the Muslims in the Subcontinent.

In his speech at the Muslim Educational Conference in 1904 in Bombay he said, “There are some dangers ahead and I venture to draw your attention to some of them which we can now guard against.

It would be the greatest of all our misfortunes if we now mistook instruction for education and the mere power of passing examinations for learning. It is for this reason that the thoughtful welcome the reform of the Universities which the Government of India now contemplates.

It is for this reason that the far-sighted amongst the Muslims of India desire a University where the standard of learning shall be the highest and where with scientific training there shall be that moral education – that indirect but constant reminder of the eternal difference between right and wrong which is the soul of education.”

One of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s greatest contribution to the Muslims of the subcontinent was his role in the establishment of Aligarh University through provision of funds, leadership, and guidance. He not only advocated the role of Higher Education but also emphasized on the quality of primary education. In the Inaugural Speech at the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference held on December 4, 1911 in Delhi, India, he said. “While advocating the system of higher education, I must also draw your attention to the absolute necessity of a sound system of primary education. No solid superstructure can stand safely on softer soil. In order to raise our people to their legitimate sphere of power, influence and usefulness, we must have a serviceable and extended system of education for the benefit of the masses.”

A critical review of the history of the Muslim world shows that following the Second World War and subsequent decolonization in the Subcontinent and most of East and Central Africa, Muslims were deeply affected and their socio-economic conditions had deteriorated. In that era Sir Aga Khan’s educational initiatives led to the long term development of the Muslims in these regions. He established schools in various parts of the Subcontinent – the first Aga Khan Schools were set up more than a century ago in 1905 in Mundra, India and in Gwadar, Pakistan.

In the culturally sensitive region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) where female education was not common, he set up Diamond Jubilee Schools through the Diamond Jubilee Funds and these schools have retained the unique identity of DJ schools till today. Today, there are 179 Aga Khan Schools all across Pakistan including Aga Khan Higher Secondary Schools, which are icons of academic and architectural excellence in the areas that they serve.

Many health institutions were also set up by Sir Aga Khan. All these development initiatives are now being taken forward under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network founded by Sir Aga Khan’s grandson and successor, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III played a leading role in the Pakistan Movement and helped create political awareness among the Muslims of the sub-continent. He was appointed president of the Muslim League and remained on this post from 1906 to 1913. He was elected as the leaders and spokesperson for the Muslim delegation at the Round Table Conference organized to introduce new reforms for the Indians.

In 1902, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah became a member of the Imperial Legislative Council and he was asked to preside over the Mohammadan Education Conference held in Delhi. In 1911, the Aga Khan took upon himself the task of collecting funds to establish the Aligarh University.

He not only assisted in generating funds but also donated money in cash for scholarships to the most deserving students for foreign studies. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah passed away on July 11, 1957 and was laid to eternal rest in Aswan, Egypt. In his entire life, he always shouldered the Muslim world to ensure peace, tranquility, justice, and compassion in the society so that people should be able to lead their lives with greater social, moral, ethical, spiritual, and intellectual values of Islam and the humanity.(The News)

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