Morit French

He is the wealthy leader of a religious group with millions of followers, a Harvard graduate, the grandson of the former president of the League of Nations and the stepson of the late and beautiful Rita Hayworth.

Ismailis, who live in over 25 countries around the world, mostly in central and southern Asia, believe that theĀgā Khān is the legitimate heir to the Prophet Muhammad. There are anestimated 12 to 15 million Ismailis worldwide who revere the Āgā Khān as their spiritual guide.

The Āgā Khān is founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the largest private development networks in the world. It coordinates the activities of over 200 agencies and institutions, employing a total of 70,000 paid staff. Its partners include numerous governments and several international organizations. AKDN agencies operate in social and economic development as well as in the field of culture, with special focus on countries of the Third World. The network operates in 35 ofthe poorest countries in the world and is statutorily secular.

Born in Geneva, Switzerland on December 13, 1936, Prince Karim Āgā Khān IV is the eldest son of Prince Aly Khān, (1911–1960) who, with his wife Rita Hayworth, had a daughter, Princess Yasmin Āgā Khān, half-sister of the Āgā Khān.

Following the death of his grandfather, Sultan Muhammed Shad Āgā Khān, Prince Karim, at the age of 20, became the 49th Imām of the Ismailis, bypassing his father, Prince Aly Khān, and his uncle, Prince Sadruddin ĀgāKhān, who were in direct line of succession.

In his will, the Āgā Khān III explained the rationale for choosing his eldest grandson as his successor: “I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on life to his office.”

Upon taking the position of Imam, the Āgā Khān stated that he intended to continue the work his grandfather had pursued in building modern institutions to improve the quality of life of the Ismaili community. The main themes that the Āgā Khān emphasized were development, education, interracial harmony, and confidence in religion.

The Āgā Khān has described his role of Imam as being a guide to Ismailis in the daily practice of Shia Islam, a duty that requires an understanding of Ismailis and their relationship with their geographic location and their time. The role and responsibility of an Imam, respectively, is to interpret his religion to the community, and to do his utmost to improve the quality and security of their quotidian. This role is not limited to the Ismaili community but also extends to the people with whom the Ismailis share their lives, locally and internationally.

During the Pope Benedict XVl Islam controversy, His Highness said: “I have two reactions to the Pope’s lecture: There is my concern about the degradation of relations and, at the same time, I see an opportunity, a chance to talk about a serious, important issue: the relationship between religion and logic.”

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