This Muslim Prince of Pakistani origin has lived most of his life traveling around the world. As a person with global exposure since childhood he has become a leader in a worldwide educational movement to equip people to live in a diverse world rather than give in to the fears of a “clash of civilizations.”
Karim al-Hussayni was born into the family of a royal Pakistani independence leader who was living in Geneva, Switzerland, at the time of his birth. His childhood was spent in Kenya, creating a lasting love and concern for Africa. Then he returned to Switzerland and later went to Harvard University in the U.S. to complete his schooling, already spanning three continents.
His grandfather was Aga Khan III, the Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, a religious community of about 20 million people. The elder Imam named his grandson as his successor, now to be designated as Aga Khan IV, because of the fundamental changes taking place in a rapidly globalizing world. He saw Karim al-Hussayni as someone uniquely able to bring experience and new perspective to his religious leadership. So at the age of 20 Aga Khan IV assumed leadership of the Ismaili Muslims.
In addition to his role as a religious leader, Aga Khan IV is a billionaire who has turned his assests into a campaign to eliminate global poverty especially through education. He established the Aga Khan Development Network with nine inter-related agencies to pursue various development projects in poorer countries as well as emergency relief activities. For Aga Khan, the challenge is to make development sustainable and equitable, benefiting all classes, cultures and regions of the world fairly. In various educational programs and the Aga Khan Academies across South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, students are supported regardless of race, gender or religious background. In Afghanistan his projects have been especially noted for educating Afghani girls.
Aga Khan’s premier educational initiative has been the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB) established to improve education in poor countries particularly in an effort to help young people adapt to a diverse multi-cultural world. The IB mission statement says, “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect … These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” IB programs have helped more than 650,000 students in 2,400 schools in 129 countries over the 40 years of the program to date.
For Aga Khan, the tolerance that embraces diversity is rooted in his religious faith. He speaks of the Quranic view of all humanity as sharing an origin as children of God. Building positive relationships with people who are different and cooperating with people of other faiths and races will help build harmony in the world. Not content to rest upon what he has accomplished, Aga Khan continues to dream of new ways to encourage the diverse peoples of the world to learn about one another and live together peacefully. He is planning a Global Center for Pluralism to be opened in Canada that will promote Islamic awareness and a pluralistic attitude in society.
Meet more peacemakers
This profile on Karim Al-Hussayni, Aga Khan IV comes from the pages of Interfaith Heroes 2. Interfaith Heroes 2 is one of the three books that inspired this website. Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.