He is one of the world’s richest men with an estimated net worth of $800 million as well as a revered religious figure. Recognized worldwide for his charity work, Prince Karim Al Husseini Aga Khan is believed to be a direct descendant of Islam’s revered Prophet Mohammed.
Who is he and what’s his mission?
Like his grandfather, the Aga Khan – the name used by the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismailia Muslims – is committed to promoting the image of Muslims, bridging the gap and misunderstandings about the religion, giving a greater understanding of the Islam particularly in the West.
The Ismaili, as they are known, are a sect of Shia Islam with some 15 million members living in countries worldwide from North America to India.
In a recent address to the Canadian parliament, he explained how Muslims view the world, saying "essential among them is that they do not share some common, overarching impression of the West. It has become a commonplace for some to talk about an inevitable clash of the industrial West and Islamic civilizations. But most Muslims don't see things this way."
The Aga Khan assumed the role of the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismailia Muslims in 1957, at age 20, after succeeding his grandfather. In his role, prejudice is among the issues the Aga Khan is trying to combat.
The Harvard Graduate who has a degree in Islamic History is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, an organization that helps to improve people’s lives in the developing world. Relying largely on donations that flow in from followers, Aga Khan has been able to build schools and hospitals. He has also provided regular funding for administration, new initiatives and other activities.
Semin Abdulla, a spokesperson for the Aga Khan, said, "The Network's main goal is to improve the quality of life of people who are often stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. His Highness has adopted a multi-pronged approach working in many different sectors from education to health to cultural and economic development. The Network, which includes nine private non-denominational agencies, strives to attain best practice in all it does. His Highness sees the role of civil society as a key contributor for stability and development, especially in post conflict areas.
The Aga Khan is scheduled to speak on March 10 at Brown University.
In the meantime, he continues to make the important distinction of the diverse cultures and traditions within Islam.
“Sadly, what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world often gets mistaken for what is normal,” he said. “Of course, media perceptions of our world in recent years have often been conveyed through a lens of war."