Karim Ibrahim’s father Ibrahim Pabani came from Mandavi, Kutchh. He was an eminent owner of the ships, sailing in Arabian and Zanzibar coasts. He had three sons – Ladha, Datoo and Karim. Ibrahim Pabani died in 1857.
Karim Ibrahim was born on November 18, 1840 at Mandavi, where he acquired his formal education. When his father died, he was about 16 years old. He prospered his business in Bombay and opened the branches as far as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Calcutta. Karim Ibrahim earned distinction as an industrialist and businessman very soon. He built up an extensive sea trade with China during the days when modern ships had not yet replaced sailing vessels and the hazards of the sea voyage were dangerous. His enterprise was an inspiration for many other Ismailis to establish business connection with China in silk, crockery, tea and cotton.
In 1854, Karim Ibrahim got married and when his first wife expired, he married Phoolbai in 1876. Phoolbai was the daughter of Visram Sajan. In 1883, he was nominated by the British India as J.P.
Karim Ibrahim also managed a cotton mill in Bombay, which he sold. He then obtained the agency of the Prince of Wales Mills, also known as Hong Kong Mills for three years. In 1888, he built a new mill in his name, and became an owner of 17 mills and ginning factories. He was also known as the King of Cotton. He had a caravan of 40,000 workers in his mills and factories . His industry was like a small village. He also opened his agency in Japan in 1895. N.M. Dumasia writes in “The Short History of the Aga Khan” (Bombay, 1903, p. 243) that, “Karim Ibrahim is considered as a royal trader, and his one firm alone runs as a standard bank.”
When the Prince of Wales visited India, Karim Ibrahim was knighted on November 14, 1905. He was also appointed the President of the Anjuman-e-Islam on October 30, 1906.
The British India made him Baronet, and he became the first Baronet among the Indian Muslims in 1910 when he was 73 years old.
Karim Ibrahim donated three lacs for the Prince of Wales museum. On March 10, 1910, he also donated four lacs and fifty thousand rupees to British India for promoting education in the Science Institute. He also granted ten lacs to Bombay University for scholarship to the students.
He was a generous and he also played a prominent role in the welfare of the community. Karim Ibrahim opened many orphanages, notably Karim Ibrahim Khoja Orphanage, which was opened on Sunday, April 24, 1894 and the Ibrahimbhai Girls School in Mandavi, Kutchh. He also built in Mandavi a resting house for the tourists.
He died on September 26, 1924 at 3.30 pm. at the age of 84 years in Bombay. Sir Lesaley Wilson, the governor of Bombay started to raise funds on February, 1925 to build Sir Karim Ibrahim Memorial Fund, and completed the task on April 3, 1925.