April 17th, 2008
01:56 PM ET

Aga Khan – My Grandma’s Dream

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/14/art.vert.tajikistan.jpg caption="Boziqala, Tajikistan" width=292 height=320]

Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva
CNN International Assignment Editor

(Dedicated To All Grandmas in Pamir, Tajikistan)

Editor's Note: Pope Benedict XVI is not the only religious leader visiting America. Also touring the country, the Aga Khan. To about 20-million people around the world who practice the Ismaili branch of Islam, he is their imam, or spiritual guide. He has a worldly mission, as well, overseeing a large, nondenominational foundation dedicated to easing global poverty.

The Aga Khan's tour of Ismaili communities in the United States and around the world has unleashed an outpouring of affection among Ismaili Muslims. In the case of CNN journalist Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva, his visit also brings back memories of his impact on her small town, in the Tajik province of Pamir, in a poor corner of the former Soviet Union.

Zarifmo begins her story by saying:

If only my Grandmother could hear this.

When I was growing up, my grandma and her friends in my tiny Boziqala, and villages nearby, knew little about the world. They didn’t have much education and never traveled beyond their province, Pamir.

Their children and grandchildren, though, were well educated. It made them proud, but the pain of longing for their faraway imam never left their hearts. My grandma said, before the Soviet Union, it was easier to get messages from the imam, but now we are disconnected. She used to blame the government, sometimes. But most of the time she blamed people for not remembering God...

I loved sitting next to my grandma when she was praying because, at the end of her prayers, she used to shake my hand saying shohi didor, a prayer for an audience with the imam. My brothers and I fought over who would sit closer to her to hear the shohi didor. There was a special sacred place in the corner of our house, where my grandma used to sit during her evening prayers.

That’s all I knew about the Aga Khan while growing up. Once, though, in college, I heard one Pamiri professor asked why Pamiris pay so much attention to education. And his answer: “It’s a wish of the imam.

I graduated and went back home to my village Boziqala. I was a teacher for 3 months then got a job in Badakshan Radio station and few years later became a newscaster on Badakshan TV station. Got married and had two small children. I loved my life.

Then, the USSR collapsed. Winter came. So did civil war.

My remote corner of the world first turned chaotic, then the chaos cut us off nearly completely from the outside. I had visions of my two children starving.

Then, one snowy night, I was called to the TV station to broadcast the most important words of my career and, perhaps, my life.

The studio was very cold.

The engineers told me I’d have to wait for two hours for the power to be restored. While I was waiting, I went over the announcement.

Only then did I realize, it was a letter from the Aga Khan Foundation, a letter telling people not to give up hopes, aid is on the way.

I don't know how to describe it. I wish there were words to express the feelings. I moved closer to the window. The snow was falling, but I didn’t feel the winter anymore. I knew Spring was coming.

My children, my neighbors and I wouldn’t starve.

This group, sponsored and inspired by that man, a man I had only known through memories of my grandmother, had saved us.

Filed under: Aga Khan
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Shameen

    I had tears in my eyes when I read the story. The blessings and guidance we have received from The Aga Khan is priceless. His work has not only helped the Ismaili community, but all people, regardless of race, religion or creed in the developing countries of Africa, Central Asia, certain Asian and Western countries!

    His Grandfather, the late Aga Khan, Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah and the present Aga Khan, have always emphesized the importance of education. Quote "Educate the woman first, then the whole family gets educated" unquote.

    For further information on all the projects, please go to:


    Peace and God bless all!

    April 19, 2008 at 5:03 pm |
  2. Sarwar Arkan

    The story forced me to remind my experience. The children in Badakhshan, Afghanistan usually didn`t pray and we didn`t Jamatkhana not Mosque. I remember my father used to pray at home as loud as I could hear him. I almost learned the payer and the most enjoyable for me was to shake hand with my father and say SHAH DIDAR! I really didn`t know the meaning, but the feeling was good. At home we had a young man picture as known “Shah Karim Al Hussaini”. We knew him as a second person after God. If we didn`t like someone, we could say to him” Shah Aga Karim will punish you!” His picture was hidden between the page of books (they were old and heavy book; all about relegion. The books were again in a metallic box(Sonduq) which was locking all the time.) Because the government was strict on ismaili faith. Sometime we steal the key to see the picture and kiss it as other did and put it back. Or secretly show the picture to other people from one house to another in order to collect nut, coin and buttons for playing games (Talak and Mishkbozi). I heard a lot about Khan Agha the Muki for Ismaili in Afghanistan. Through my life in Afghanistan sometime there was the sound of Aga Khan, but I referred to the Muki. The Muki did a lot of work for Ismaili in Afghanistan, but he has never mentioned about Aga Khan-the Imam of ismaili. While I was a student in Ukraine, the Aga Khan came to Moscow, and my ismaili friend told me that Aga Khan is Moscow, and he explained me the difference between Aga Khan and Khan Aga. I got in tear and cried while see our Imam Hazer on Russian TV. Then I remembered the picture that we had at home was too young from the picture in TV.

    Sarwar Arkan

    April 19, 2008 at 2:11 pm |
  3. Shaila

    I have had the pleasure of hearing this story from Zarifmo herself at a lunch meeting for the Partnership Walk in Atlanta, (an endeavor of the AgaKhan Foundation-AKF.) All the guests had tears in their eyes.
    One should check out akdn.org to see how His Highness The AgaKhan has alleviated poverty and worked towards providing a better quality of life to individuals all over the world.

    April 19, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  4. Surur

    I'm from Pamir
    And we are celbrating the whole year
    the Golden Jubilee, it is greates holiday

    April 19, 2008 at 2:01 pm |
  5. Surur

    I'mIsmaili myself and i want to tell you that
    Our Hazir Imam has really helped us in
    difficult time when we were near to extinction.After
    His coming we got independe and freedom.

    April 19, 2008 at 1:56 pm |
  6. Engr. Farman Karim

    It's indeed a soul touching story based on real soul to soul, heart to heart and above all spiritual relationship. Thanks for sharing with us and such kind of beautiful relationship must be appreciated. He (His Highness Prince Shah Karim Al Hussain Aga Khan) is the “Imam of the hour” to guide his community in worldly matters as well as spiritual matters. But, His sphere of philanthropy is not restricted to only the Ismailli community but to all those communities of the world who are living in distressed conditions like Aga Khan Foundation, Aga Khan Education Services, Aga Khan Health Services, Aga Khan Rural Supports Program, Aga Khan Building & Planning Services, Aga Khan Historic Cities Conservation Program and much more, have entirely changed the living conditions, their literacy level, their capacity level, their level of thinking and areas of economic activities of 3 million multi ethnic, multi faith and multi raced people of Gilgit – Baltistan. The topography of the area consists of high mountainous terrains where the approach of the Govt. is inconsiderable. So, He is unique and pure. We wish Him a HAPPY GOLDEN JUBILEE YEAR.
    Farman Karim
    The Morganti Group Inc. Dubai

    April 19, 2008 at 1:12 am |
  7. Abdulrehman Premji

    What you have heard and knew of above is just a fraction of what The Agakhan, the Imam, is doing. It is not only just for His community but for others in general. You should read and study His life story and you will be amazed as to what He has done, doing and the future plans for His community and public at large, unbeleivable.

    With best of regards.


    April 18, 2008 at 9:51 pm |
  8. Mary Hass

    I am amazed to see what one person could do to alleviate global poverty. Recently I read about his $ 750 Million hydro project in Uganda that will supply electricity to whole of East Africa. The Agakhan has served humanity unconditionally. What a good role model.

    Mary Hass
    Alberta, Canada

    April 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  9. Rowzani

    what a wonderful story which brings tears to eyes , His Highness The Aga Khan has changed many lives around the world, live by his teachings and live happy

    April 18, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  10. Gulnar Nanji

    This is a very beautiful story. Thanks for sharing with me. I am very lucky that I am born Ismaili. I know Aga Khan since I was kid. He is our spiritual Leader, a man of personality, purity and unique. He always guides us to the right path. He does not only cares for Ismails, his followers but also to other communities. Since last year we ALL iSMAILS are celebrating Aga Khan's Golden jubilee in all parts of the world. I WISH HIM VERY HAPPY GOLDEN JUBILEE AND HE LIVES LONG. I FEEL PROUD TO BE ISMAIL.

    April 18, 2008 at 1:18 am |
  11. Gulnar Nanji

    This is very beautiful story, thanks for sharing with me. I am very lucky that I am born Ismaili and I know Aga Khan since I was kid. He is like father to us and always guides us to the right path. He is a man of personality, purity, unique and he is our spiritual Leader. He is not only concern about Ismails but also to other communities. I feel very much great to hear good things about him. I feel proud to be an ISMAILI. Since last year we all Ismails are celebrating Aga Khan's Golden jubilee in all part of the world. I WISH HIM A VERY HAPPY GOLDEN JUBILEE AND LIVE LONG.

    April 18, 2008 at 1:07 am |
  12. Nash Velshi

    The emphasis on education by His Highness the Aga Khan has its philosophical basis in the linking of intellect to faith in the Shia Ismaili Muslim interpretation:

    “The second great historical lesson to be learnt is that the Muslim world has always been wide open to every aspect of human existence. The sciences, society, art, the oceans, the environment and the cosmos have all contributed to the great moments in the history of Muslim civilisations. The Qur’an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God’s creation”(Closing Address by His Highness Aga Khan IV at the “Musée-Musées” Round Table Louvre Museum, Paris, France, October 17th 2007)

    April 18, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  13. Annie Kate

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I had never heard of the Aga Khan before this and I was impressed by how through his foundation the Aga Khan reached out to not only lift the spirits of his followers but to provide them with the physical means to survive that terrible winter. And with his emphasis on education he provides a means to survive and flourish in the years to come. It is wonderful to see a religious leader who takes care of and cares for his followers on so many different levels.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 17, 2008 at 8:42 pm |
  14. Roger Shah

    This is a wonderful story. I have heard great things about Aga Khan through my Ismaili friends in India. Although I am Hindu, I have utmost respect for this great man. There have been numerous occassions in the past when he has come to the rescue of his community. Be it Adi Amin incident in Africa or recent riots in Africa. Even folks from the Hindu community too refuge in the "Jamadkhana" in Africa. The importance of education preached by him is particularly admired by me. All my Ismaili friends are very very nice people, well educated, they respect other religions, are a tightly knit community, helpful to others...Reading this story has only added to my respect for Aga Khan. I sincerely hope all religions would follow suit and preach the importance of education.

    April 17, 2008 at 2:38 pm |