Encyclopedia of Female Islamic Saints

LADY ‘ALĪ SHĀH †

A portrait of Lady ‘Alī Shāh.

Lady ‘Alī Shāh (c. 1840’s–1938), born Shams al-Mulk, was an Iranian princess and the third wife of the 47th Nizari Isma‘ili Imam, Āghā ‘Alī Shāh, Āghā Khān II. She was the daughter of the Qajar shah, Fatḥ ‘Ali, and married Āghā Khān II in 1867, becoming known as Lady ‘Alī Shāh and taking residence with the Imam in India. There, she blessed and named babies of the local jamā’at khānās, or Isma‘ili gathering halls, including the founder of Pakistan, Muḥammad ‘Alī Jinnah. Shortly after the Āghā Khān’s son from an earlier marriage, Pīr Shihābuddīn Shāh, died in 1889, she was given the title Mātā Salāmat, “Mother of Peace,” by him. When her husband later died, her son Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, Āghā Khān III, was only eight years old, so she acted as regent over the Isma‘ili community with a council until he was old enough to reign as Imam. When World War I started, the Āghā Khān left to represent British India in negotiations (although he later withdrew from politics), and Lady ‘Alī Shāh became increasingly active in the community, acquiring supplies for the Allies, organizing women-lead hostels for injured soldiers, and influencing Iranians to support the Allies.

Lady ‘Alī Shāh was not only skilled politically, counseling princes, but a scholastically learned woman and Iranian historian. She encouraged Isma‘ili girls and women to pursue education, and she encouraged her son’s social reforms and progressive outlook on women. She was also known for her extravagant generosity, giving open handedly while on Ḥajj, while she was conservative to herself and lived rather simply. Her search for knowledge and her charity were outflows of her piety; Āghā Khān III said of her in his memoir “My mother was herself a genuine mystic in the Muslim tradition…” She spent much of her time in prayer and had an astute knowledge of even obscure Sufi literature and poetry. She also had an amazing memory, memorizing much of Rūmī and Ḥāfiẓ’s works, even gaining the compliment from the presiding judge when she gave evidence for her son in the Hājī Bībī inheritance case. In 1937, however, she lost much of her memory and cognitive ability after a stroke, and in 1938, sensing her end coming, she relayed this message to the present kamadia (a high ranking Isma‘ili deputy):

“Send my love to all the members of the Ismaili community. I may not return to India, but wherever my spirit be I will eternally watch their peaceful progress and prosperity, as I have done all my life.”

Having lived at least past ninety years, she spent her last moments in her son’s lap. She willed to be buried in an independent Muslim land with her husband, so when she passed, she was buried beside her husband, her husband’s grandfather, and his grandmother Maryām Khatūn in a familial mausoleum, in Najaf, Iraq.

Not necessarily considered a saint.

West AsiaIsma‘iliImami Shi‘iRegentImam’s ConsortMysticMissionaryScholar.