Does the Aga Khan’s wealth come from the tithes (dasond) of his followers?

The Aga Khan’s personal wealth comes from four sources: 

1) his family inheritance which includes the wealth generated by the real estate investments of his great grandmother Lady Aly Shah,
2)  the inherited personal businesses and investments of his grandfather Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III
3) the horse-breeding business inherited from his father Prince Aly Khan
4) The Aga Khan's personal investments in tourism and real estate development (such as in the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, the Meridiana Airline, Ciga Hotel chain)

The Aga Khan’s personal wealth is kept entirely separate from the tithes (religious dues and contributions) given by the Ismailis. The tithes or religious dues of the Ismailis and all Ismaili Imamat assets are used exclusively for the needs, investments, and expenses of the Ismaili community - such as the construction and maintenance of Jamatkhanas, Ismaili community banks, cooperatives, loans, and social programs, and funding for the Aga Khan Development Network operating budget. 

  • Just as there is a distinction between the President of a country, personally, and the Office of the President, the Presidency, that he occupies, similarly a distinction must be drawn between the Aga Khan personally and the Imamat, which is an Office or institution.
  • On becoming Imam, the Aga Khan personally inherited what was left to him as a legal heir of his grandfather and father, while the Imamat continued to own its own assets. The Aga Khan’s personal assets are kept and used separately from the assets of the Ismaili Imamat.
  • Religious dues — such as tithes and other offerings — are voluntary offerings from the Ismaili community members and belong to the Ismaili Imamat.
  • These Imamat funds are used exclusively for the benefit of the community — and for the expenses the Office of the Imamat incurs in this work. The Imam often supplements Imamat funds from his personal resources, sometimes by an additional 150%.

This question has been asked to the Aga Khan on numerous occasions and he has always been clear that the personal assets of the Aga Khan are kept separate from the institutional assets of the Ismaili Imamat – the latter including the tithes or religious dues given by the Ismailis. The Aga Khan has spoken to this question on countless occasions, some of which are quoted below:

ITV: You have immense wealth, both private and institutional. Where does all that wealth spring from?
Aga Khan: “Well, the institutional wealth is that which comes from people who practise the faith. It comes from the institutions themselves which, if they are successful develop their own wealth in the economic field. Personal wealth I inherited from my father and my grandfather. And the institutional wealth is used exclusively for institutional development. And this I think has been demonstrated by a lot of what has been done in the recent years.”
- Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, Independent Television (ITV) Interview (2nd), Andrew Gardner (London, United Kingdom), 4 June 1985

“There is a great difference between wealth which comes from the faith and is used for the faith and personal wealth used for the individual. The Imam has responsibility for significant resources but they in no way cover the needs we have, and never will.
- Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, Financial Times Interview, Rachel Morarjee (London, United Kingdom), 26 September 2008

“There is, like in I think all faiths, a form of religious due which is voluntary, which is institutional income. It is given within the context of the link between the Imam of the Time and the individual, or the family, and I think that it is been a source of strength both to the community and to the institution so long as those resources are used in a manner which is appropriate to the role of the Imam as an institution and is understood as such.”  - Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,  CBC Interview (1st), Man Alive with Roy Bonisteel (Canada), 8 October 1986

The Aga Khan also does not withdraw any dividends from the Aga Khan Development Network or any of its agencies. He does not personally profit or benefit from the development activities of the Aga Khan Foundation or any AKDN agency. As he stated in a 2008 interview:

“I am the sole shareholder of the Aga Khan Development Network, but I never withdraw dividends, because the objective is to serve from the resources, and not to make them personal. The notion that an institution carrying the name Aga Khan is personal is incorrect, whether it is a university, a school or a project in the field of micro-finance...If this work is undertaken under the name of Aga Khan, it is undertaken in the name of the Imamat and not under the Aga Khan’s personal name.”
- Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, Paroquias de Portugal Interview, 2008

In fact, it is often the case that the Ismaili Imamat resources, which include the tithes from the Ismaili community, are insufficient to cover the needs of the Ismaili Community and the AKDN. So this means that the Aga Khan draws on his personal assets to supplement and cover the financial needs of the Ismaili Imamat institutions.

“The Imamat revenue is given by the community to the Imam. He has a responsibility to manage the Imamat revenue…. I would say easily 98% of those funds, and in fact at times much more than 98%, in fact probably of the order of 150%, goes back to the community…I think that if representing an institution which has an income and which manages that income in the interest of the people which it represents is discreditable, then I think practically every institution in the modern world is discredited, because there is no institution in the modern world which does not have its income. The question is, is that income used appropriately? I think the Ismailis today would say that, if you look at the last twenty years of development, there has been more development than ever before. At the present time [1979] and in recent years, we have made an enormous effort in health, education, housing. There is a $300 million teaching hospital coming up in Karachi; there is a 5-6 million pound Ismaili Centre in London; there is a teaching college which we are envisaging in India, and in fact, as I said, the Imamat is spending on many occasions more than it actually has.
- Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,  BBC Radio 4 Interview, Michael Charlton (London, United Kingdom), 6 September 1979

  • The information provided in the Aga Khan’s biography written by Willi Frischauer shows that the Aga Khan spent at least $10 million of his personal wealth on the Ismaili community and the AKDN institutions from 1960-1969. This biography quotes the Aga Khan as saying: “I want to use as much as possible of my money for the benefit of the community.”
  • In 1965, the Aga Khan was considering making personal “investments of two or three million pounds in individual African countries” because, he said, “I would put money in if I also felt it would help the community that’s living there. But this would be my own investment, a personal thing.”
  • In the last decade, the Aga Khan gave away his personal shares valued today at $40 million USD in the Nation Media Group  to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.
  • From 2007-2014, the audited financial statements of Aga Khan University show that the Aga Khan personally contributed $160 million over 7 years to cover the University’s operating deficits every year.
  • The Aga Khan personally funds and pays for the annual operating budget of Aga Khan Foundation USA and Canada for over 30 years, an amount of $4 million to $5 million annually, so that no donations are used for administration costs: “Operating expenses are funded by grants from His Highness the Aga Khan apart from those recovered indirectly from federal grants. No donations from individuals, foundations or corporations are used for operating expenses.” (Source: AKF USA Annual Report).  

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