ISMAILI The Ismaili sect of Islam owes its origin to a series of disputes between the sons of a Shia imam (leader) in the 18th century Ismail was one of the two sons With their claims unsettled, the followers of Ismail became the Ismailis; the followers of his brother remained in the mainstream of Shiism The Ismailis, fearing persecution, went into hiding for more than a century but emerged to establish sovereignty over Egypt and North Africa The Ismaili missionaries traveled far and wide and established communities of their followers in a number of areas, including the northern parts of Pakistan, southern Russia, and western China In the mid-1800s, the head of the Ismaili community was forced to leave Iran He took his followers to Sindh, now a province of Pakistan, and proclaimed himself the Aga (father) Khan His grandson, Sultan Aga Khan, played an active role in the Muslim politics of British India, was associated with the decision to form the All-India Muslim League, and became a close associate of Muhammad Ali Jinnah After the death of Sultan Aga Khan, his grandson, Karim Aga Khan, was nominated to succeed him as the Aga Khan Sultan Khan established a number of charitable organizations that work not only among the Ismaili communities but also among other groups of poor Muslims

These organizations expanded a great deal under the leadership of Karim Aga KhanThe Ismailis are estimated to number about 15 million, with their largest communities in Pakistan and India There are also pockets of Ismailis in China, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, and East Africa In Pakistan, the largest communities of Ismailis are in Gilgit and Hunza The Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, both based in Geneva, established the Aga Khan University in Karachi, and are financing an imaginative program of rural development in Gilgit and Hunza

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