By Mohib Ebrahim

I think the real value of the timeline lies in helping us understand what these honours represent and their significance. In his 2005 Jeune Afrique interview, Mawlana Hazar Imam made, what is to me, one of his most significant statements: “The ethics of Islam guide all my activity.” The depth of these few words are the foundation upon which all the awards have been accorded. In essence, the awards represent the world’s enthusiastic endorsement of the ethics and principles of Islam as interpreted and practiced by Mawlana Hazar Imam.

With many existing compilations of awards and honours conferred on Mawlana Hazar Imam (as His Highness the Aga Khan is known to his followers) one may wonder the need for yet one more. Existing lists enumerate his awards by various categories (decorations, honorary doctorates, and so forth), with some details from the citation as to why an honour was accorded. For me, the dozens of photos in the series on simerg.com made it the most interesting compilation. Although these compilations, both mine and others, can never do justice to the significance of the honours Mawlana Hazar Imam has received for his life’s work, hopefully this graphic will add one more step towards that impossible objective.

A reduced size image of the graphic timeline of awards and honours conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan. To download a full sized version, suitable for printing or viewing on screen, click the download icons at bottom of this page.

A reduced size image of the graphic timeline of awards and honours conferred on His Highness the Aga Khan. To download a full sized version, suitable for printing or viewing on screen, click the download icons at bottom of this page.

The timeline was inspired by another I created for the Aga Khan Development Network Kenya because not only does this visual format let us review the awards both chronologically and by type, it also lets us see at a glance the life time of honours as they unfolded, the sheer quantity of honours and the increasing pace at which Mawlana Hazar Imam is honoured; on average once every six months. However, I think the real value of the timeline lies in helping us understand what these honours represent and their significance.

A section of the timeline from 1998 to 2009.

A section of the timeline from 1998 to 2009.

In his 2005 Jeune Afrique interview, Mawlana Hazar Imam made, what is to me, one of his most significant statements: “The ethics of Islam guide all my activity.” The depth of these few words are the foundation upon which all the awards have been accorded. In essence, the awards represent the world’s enthusiastic endorsement of the ethics and principles of Islam as interpreted and practiced by Mawlana Hazar Imam. One of these principles, Mawlana Hazar Imam has explained, is the Qur’an’s “affirmation of the primacy of the intellect” and when viewed from an intellectual dimension this endorsement is even more profound.

The awards’ encompassing breadth — from the political to the theological, from the technical to the cultural and artistic, from social programmes to commercial enterprises, from patron of the destitute to patron of “the sport of kings” — this breadth is testament to the breadth of knowledge and depth of intellectual subtlety and elegance Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Imamat exhibit in every sphere of human endeavour. That this intellectual tour de force is inspired and driven by the ethics of Islam tangibly demonstrates one reason why Mawlana Hazar Imam characterizes Islam’s very strong links between faith and knowledge as “an extraordinary message for humanity“ (2007 L’Express interview).

Printed copy of the awards and honours timeline. This print is 54 x 26 inches, 70% of the full size of 78 x 39 inches. Photo: simerg.com

Printed copy of the awards and honours timeline. This print is 54 x 26 inches, 70% of the full size of 78 x 39 inches. Photo: simerg.com

Besides helping us understand these facets, the timeline was also an attempt to create a definitive compilation of all the honours accorded him. This effort was complicated by the fact that all existing lists have errors and omissions, some subtle, others not so. For example, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1957 decoration, Brilliant Star of Zanzibar from His Majesty the Sultan of Zanzibar, is sometimes missing. Similarly it is often overlooked that in 1992 Mawlana Hazar Imam was not only made an Honorary Citizen of the City of Samarkand but also, according to the brief Ismaili Africa report of the function, presented with the Key to the City. And in 2008, it is unclear if Mawlana Hazar Imam was awarded a second Honorary Citizenship to Timbuktu; my reading of his speech concluded that he was awarded only one — in 2003. Thus, despite every effort to go back to original reports where possible, and despite an attempt to also identify every honour, no doubt some errors or omissions may remain and I welcome feedback.

Note that some honours, though not usually cited as such, have also been included. For example, in the centuries long histories of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University, Mawlana Hazar Imam was the first Muslim invited to deliver the commencement addresses at both these prestigious institutions. Note also that awards to AKDN institutions, such as the 2006 Royal Toledo Foundation Award to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, have been omitted; a compilation of all institutional awards would itself be a worthwhile project.

A section of the timeline from 1979 to 1992.

A section of the timeline from 1979 to 1992.

Although timelines I have designed have been characterized as “works of art”, I think timelines exploit a compelling format which portrays knowledge as art and lets us engage in history both intellectually and aesthetically. If a picture is worth a thousand words then perhaps a picture with a thousand words is twice as valuable and this small effort will encourage us to reflect upon and appreciate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life’s work from new perspectives as we witness the re-emergence of the Ismailis on the world stage under his guidance. Insh’allah, in the future it will be said, “During the period of the Aga Khans, the Ismailis once again enlightened humanity for centuries and vigorously moved it forward with knowledge and wisdom, compassion and kindness.”

Download the awards and honours timeline

The timeline chart is provided in three formats:

Originally published on simerg.com