Although I'm not clear as to Shi'a beliefs in general or those of the Ismailis in particular, I know that the Shi'a/Sunni split originated in a dispute about the who should succeed Muhammad as spiritual leader of the Ummah, the Muslim community. Sunnis believe the Caliph, as they were first called, should be elected from the community, while Shi'as hold that he should be a relative of the Prophet stemming from the line Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law.
As the holder of such a pious office, the Aga Khan is an interesting character. He's not only called "Your Highness" and regaled with head of state status as he travels the world, but he also has a huge bank account stockpiled with billions of dollars gleaned from the offerings of his Ismaili followers. He's received countless awards for his philanthropy, and he founded and chairs the multi-million-dollar Aga Khan Development Network, a conglomeration of nine separate but overlapping agencies that focus on alleviating poverty throughout the developing world.
He recently came to Atlanta, and I was able to listen to him speak about education in an age of increasing globalization. I found him quite eloquent, and it was easy to see why many have labeled him a modern and progressive Muslim leader. He engages crowds with a light European accent. He gives off an air of humility, and he calls for peace and tolerance from his followers while encouraging them to engage with their communities for the good of humankind. He wears western suits and travels by private jet, a walking contrast to the extremist, militant Islam that many Americans mistake as the only interpretation of the 1,400-year-old faith.
The Aga Khan is a pretty popular guy. Nearly 1,000 people have viewed the article I wrote and more than 2,000 have watched the video on YouTube that we posted of his speech. Just so you know, those numbers are huge for our small, local publication.
But according to one reader all the way from Denver, Colorado, the Aga Khan is just a bit too popular, especially among Ismaili adherents. Although they are reticent to reveal this to the outside world, some actually call him God, said a man who made a cross-country call to tell me the "true story" behind the Aga Khan. While he refers to himself as the Ismailis' imam, the Aga Khan is an extortionist who demands the worship of his Ismaili followers and uses the amount they give as a gauge of their devotion. Believers must buy their way into certain congregations, and they sometimes ask the Aga Khan for the forgiveness of sins. The Aga Khan and his forefathers are carousers and cult leaders, according to the caller, who identified himself as Alex.
Alex claims to be an insider, a Bombay, India, native and former Ismaili follower who was chosen by Jesus Christ to be brought into fellowship with the true and living God of Christianity. He said he had personally bowed the knee to the Aga Khan and to pictures of him. His family made the same mistake. Alex said were often transfixed by Satanic spirits as they participated in the mindless incantations that he says are a regular part of Ismaili worship. But they never received the truth, and they died in their sins, without the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Aga Khan, Alex said, had "stolen the eternity" of his mother, father and sister. Now, Alex wants to expose the Aga Khan, not for revenge, but so that the leader and his followers might shake off their ignorance and come to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
So who is the real Aga Khan? Is he a cult leader who earns billions of dollars a day by keeping people in spiritual bondage? A rich guy who does good with the offerings entrusted to him? A shameful liar who builds the legitimacy of his regime on the salaries of his constituents?
Whatever the answer is, I hope to find out, and I think I'm in the right place to do it. I'll be in contact with Alex, whom I like to think of as an "apostle to the Ismailis." And I live less than five minutes away from the largest Ismaili community in the Southeast, the Ismaili Jamatkhana (house of worship) on Dekalb Industrial Way. Anyone out there who can offer some clarity on the true nature of the Aga Khan, please leave your comments, and stay tuned for more...