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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

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Who is the Aga Khan?

During the time of Hasan Ali Shah (d. 1881), the religious leader, or Imam, of the Nizaris (the largest branch of the Ismaili followers in Shii Islam) inherited the title of Aga Khan. Ismailis believe that the present Imam, Prince Karim al-Husseini, Aga Khan IV (1936-), is the forty-ninth hereditary Imam, descended directly from the first Shii Imam, Ali and his wife Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter.

Born in Geneva, the Aga Khan spent his early childhood in Kenya. He was schooled in Switzerland, and in 1959 he earned a degree in Islamic history from Harvard University. While still at Harvard, he became the spiritual leader of the fifteen million members of the worldwide Ismaili community in 1957.

The Aga Khan's fifty-three-year leadership has been known for its emphasis on the spiritual as well as the material. He expresses the belief that he has a mandate, as Imam, to improve the quality of life for the world community. His interests center on eliminating global poverty, advancing women, promoting Islamic art, architecture, and culture, and fostering pluralistic values in society.

The Aga Khan has created major philanthropic institutions to achieve his goals. He is founder and chair of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest in the world, employing a staff of seventy thousand who coordinate the social and economic development work of over two hundred agencies and institutions and operate in thirty-five of the poorest countries in the world, especially in Asia and Africa. They focus on the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, private-sector enterprise promotion, and historic-cities revitalization projects.

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