Prince Aly Salomone Khan

“Prince Aly Salomone Khan, the son of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah was born at Turin in Italy on June 13, 1911. Because he was a delicate child, his father decided against sending him to experience the rigours of an English boarding school. He was entrusted to the care of a private tutor, Mr. C.M. Waddington, the former Principal of Mayo College for the sons of Princes in India. He finished his education at Lincoln’s Inn, London, though he was not called to the bar. He was fluent in a number of European and Oriental languages. He spoke English in the right Oxford accent, and talked and gave speeches in French with rich fluency.

Prince Aly Khan visited India with his mother in 1923. The Imam sent him in Syria in 1930 and again in 1931 where he inaugurated a school at Khawabi. He also visited India on November 21, 1931, and during the year 1932 he had been deputed to India as a representative of his father and made historical visit of Bombay and Calcutta. He also had gone to Pinang, Singapore and Rangoon. Prince Aly S. Khan was granted an honour of J.P. (Justice of Peace) by British India on November 1, 1934. His first marriage took place at Paris with Joan Guinness, known as Joan Aly Khan or Princess Tajudawla on May 18, 1936, who gave birth of the Present Imam, Prince Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV on December 13, 1936 and Prince Amyn Muhammad on September 12, 1937. This marriage, however, did not last long. Then on May 27, 1948, he married the famous Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth. This marriage was not fated to go well. There was a divorce in 1953. Through this marriage, Prince Aly Khan had a daughter, Yasmin, who was born in December 20, 1949.

Prince Aly Khan obtained an aeroplane pilot’s license in 1937 when he was about 26 years old, and was flying regularly. He is said to have made the longest civil flight from India to Singapore and back covering about 10,000 miles. He was equally enthusiastic about motor racing and skiing. He was great at taking risks. He broke his legs three times skiing and nearly broke his neck many a time while motor racing and flying. From a gentleman jockey who had whipped home more than 100 winners to a distinguished soldier winning high praise in the Second World War; he swam, dived and played tennis like a professional. In a biography of Prince Aly Khan, entitled Golden Prince (London, 1955, p. 15), the British author Gordon Young says, “He has always looked like a man restlessly – searching for a happiness which for most of the time seems to have eluded him like a shadow. His life has been rich but it has never seemed incomplete.”

He was a skillful hunter and launched several hunting expeditions in Africa and India. Like his grandfather, he never made use of shelters in the hunting field for big game. In this way he is reported to have bagged no less than three lions, seven tigers and twenty leopards.

With his wife, Princess Tajudawla, he visited India in 1936 and attended the Silver Jubilee of His Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad. From India they traveled in Turkey, Egypt and Syria. While in Egypt he made that country the base for visits to East Africa and there met many thousands who recall with joy his benevolent manner and his care for the social and educational welfare of the people. It was here that the sportsman’s instinct led him to hunting safaris.

The East Africa saw Prince Aly Khan for the first time in February, 1939 when he visited every large town and met Ismailis who were struck by his captivating youth and charm. One glaring instance is the Prince Aly Khan War Fund which he inaugurated in East Africa and which raised for the Allies a very handsome amount.

His life has been a headline parade. He was an outstanding social figure, a darling of the international set – equally at home in the West and in the East, an international sportsman, philanthropist, soldier and an able diplomat. Unfortunately, the social gossip column writers took keen interest only in his social occupations and painted him as a playboy in florid and bombastic words. Prince Aly Khan had played a key role in the Ismaili communities and directed the different institutions from time to time. He inaugurated Aly Nursary at Bombay on February 23, 1944 and since then the opening of the nursery schools began in the community in different places. In 1945, a hospital in an old rented building, at Samuel Street, Bombay was erected. Prince Aly Khan took keen interest in it and donated his large estate of Aga Hall, where a magnificent hospital was built and declared open by him in 1957.

He had rendered outstanding military services to the Allies in the World War II (1939-1945) and joined one of the toughest fighting forces in the world – the French Foreign Legion. He saw service in the Middle East under General Waygand. In 1940, he joined the British forces in the Royal Wiltshire Yeomantry. He was promoted to Lt. Col. on October 10, 1944. Later, he was decorated for distinguished service with the U.S. Army. In an operation, aided by a British officer and two Ismaili irregulars, he captured a tank in the desert of Syria. From the French he received both the Legend of Honour and the Croix de Guerre with palms on August 15, 1944 at Paris. In 1951, he opened Kibuli Mosque at Kampala.

In November, 1957, he met President Iskander Mirza of Pakistan and was offered a service as the country’s permanent spokesman in the United Nations, whose formal announcement was made on February 6, 1958. He put over Pakistan’s viewpoint admirably. His Assistant at the Pakistan Mission to the U.N., Mr. Agha Shahi said: “He sometimes worked till 10 or 11 in the night. He did not smoke, and at cocktail parties, he just ordered tomato juice for himself.” He was elected Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly on September 17, 1958 and was also the Chairman of the Peace Observation Committee in 1959. Within a very short time he proved himself a first rate diplomat. Shortly before his fatal blow of the unfortunate accident, he was accredited in addition as an Envoy to Argentine. But as fate would have it, in the midst of it all when the world was seeing in him a different Aly, a budding statesman marching along the glorious path reaching the heights.

The tragic death of Prince Aly S. Khan took place in a car accident near Paris on the night between May 12 and 13, 1960. Field Marshall Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan said in his tribute that: “I am deeply shocked at the sudden tragic death of Prince Aly Khan. His statesmanship, his friendliness and his personal charm will be remembered by thousands of his friends and admirers. Pakistan has lost a diplomat of the high calibre and value.”

Prince Aly Khan had expressed his wish to be buried at Salamia among Syrian Ismailis he knew and loved so well. In the meantime he was to be interred in the grounds of the Chateau de l’Horizon where a grave was dug in the lawn by the side of his study. Starting on the sad journey to the South of France, chanting and praying Ismailis carried the coffin, which was covered with the red and green Ismaili flag and put it on a special train. In the coach ahead were the Present Imam, Prince Sadruddin and Prince Amyn Muhammad in their compartment. Regular trains taking precedence, the trip took twelve hours and it was midnight before they arrived. Next day, at the open grave, the Imam palms turned skywards, recited the funeral prayers. Then Prince Aly Khan was put to rest in the temporary grave.

On Monday, the 27th Jamada I, 1392/July 10, 1972 the final burial ceremony of late Prince Aly Khan took place in Salamia, Syria according to his will. It was participated by the leaders of the community from Pakistan, India, East Africa, Europe, United States and South East Asia, including 36 delegates and four guests. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Prince Amyn Muhammad were also present in the ceremony. The remains of late Prince Aly Khan was transported from Nice to Damascus by an Air France chartered Boeing on July 10, 1972 at 7.00 a.m., and it was interred in the main Jamatkhana compound with great honour. In his speech, Ahmad Nasir al-Hayek, President of H.H. The Aga Khan’s Salamia Council said: “Salamia, this town which is situated at the edge of the desert, and patiently faced many natural disasters, is very proud to have within its humble existence this selected gathering on this very sad occasion. The occasion of the Prophet’s sacred family; His Serene Highness Prince Aly Khan, son of late Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and the beloved father of the present Imam of the Ismailis…The late Prince Aly Khan had loved Salamia and its inhabitants. To whom they represented the Arab tradition, which are well known for their pride, integrity, bravery and hospitality. In this patch of our Arab land his imagination took him back, through our Islamic and Arabian history, to see his great ancestors travelling through the Arabs land to Africa, and Europe to spread Islamic ideas and Arab civilization. His great ancestors played a major role in the establishment and spreading of such civilization. As it is also well known that he in person had served Islam and Arab affairs internationally and particularly in United Nations. And as a symbol of his love and admiration he made his will to be buried here in Salamia which is loved by every Ismaili, because our glory started from its soil, and also in this soil rest the bodies of a number of his ancestors as it will have now his own.”

He was popularly known as the Golden Prince in spite of all the worldly wealth and comforts was a model of nobility, politeness and humility of demeanour. Though with a dashing character, the Prince by his amiable nature, sociable ways and kindness of heart and made himself agreeable to all the varied people around him. To all big and small he gave a smile that captivated their hearts. He was a prince among men and a man among princes. The sentimentalist was always uppermost in his heart. To quote Gordon Young, when asked, Aly replied with apparent sincerity, “I should say that the greatest satisfaction in life comes from showing kindness to other people. That does not necessarily mean giving the money; it may mean just showing them consideration.” In him dwelt not one person but several different people rolled into one, a rare example of unparalleled combination. First there was the sporting Aly. He lived fully and very minute of his life, colourful and gay, and dangerously too. His love for education was unsurpassable. Karachi University is the realization of his dreams. He had the dynamic energy and zeal and took keen interest in the welfare of Ismailis in general. The Co-operative societies, rehabilitation of Ismailis in Pakistan, Scouting, semi-military organizations, banking and sports organizations owe a great deal to Prince Aly Khan for his continuous guidance.

Mata Salamat Umm Habibeh, the Begum Aga Khan observed her 90th birthday at Aswan in Upper Egypt on February 15, 1996. She told in an interview to Hello (February 24, 1996) that, “He (Prince Aly Khan) was a very big-hearted man and not only did he not mind being displaced by his son, he was proud of him. Aly Khan was phenomenally alive.”