Zahra Aga Khan was once tipped as the next Ismaili Imam

Before Karim Aga Khan married Gabrielle Renate Homey, and well before Aly Muhammad Khan was born, Karim Aga Khan had little intentions of pushing his son Rahim as his successor. So much was his lack of confidence in Rahim, that he pushed the idea of Zahra Aga Khan as the next Ismaili Imam as she was at the forefront of virtually all business ventures of Aga Khan. At that time, it did make sense for her to fill in for her father for his primary business.

Here is the news clip which appeared in this regard when Karim Aga Khan said in responses to a question: “You know traditionally and historically it’s been a man. But the Imam keeps that choice to himself.”

At that time, Zahra was already married to Mark Boyden – a Christian.

Karim’s hints towards Zahra’s succession and Zahra’s act of marrying a Christian were already in sharp contrast to Islamic teachings. The Qurʼān says:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

Translation (English):

Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by Allah over women and tasked with supporting them financially. And righteous women are devoutly obedient and, when alone, protective of what Allah has entrusted them with. And if you sense ill-conduct from your women, advise them ˹first˺, ˹if they persist,˺ do not share their beds, ˹but if they still persist,˺ then discipline them ˹gently˺. But if they change their ways, do not be unjust to them. Surely Allah is Most High, All-Great.

al-Quran 4:34

Moreover, whereas a Muslim man is permitted to take a wife from the People of the Book (Arabic: أهل الكتاب‎ ′Ahl al-Kitāb), a Muslim woman is not permitted to get married to someone from the People of the Book.

وَلَا تَنكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكَاتِ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنَّ وَلَأَمَةٌ مُّؤْمِنَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكَةٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ وَلَا تُنكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنُوا وَلَعَبْدٌ مُّؤْمِنٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكُمْ أُولَٰئِكَ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ

Translation (English):

“…And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al-Mushrikoon till they believe (in Allah Alone) and verily, a believing slave is better than a (free) Mushrik (idolater, etc.), even though he pleases you. Those (Al-Mushrikoon) invite you to the Fire, but Allah invites (you) to Paradise and Forgiveness by His Leave, and makes His Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to mankind that they may remember”

al-Quran 2:221 (part)

Allāh also says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا جَاءَكُمُ الْمُؤْمِنَاتُ مُهَاجِرَاتٍ فَامْتَحِنُوهُنَّ اللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِإِيمَانِهِنَّ فَإِنْ عَلِمْتُمُوهُنَّ مُؤْمِنَاتٍ فَلَا تَرْجِعُوهُنَّ إِلَى الْكُفَّارِ لَا هُنَّ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحِلُّونَ لَهُنَّ وَآتُوهُم مَّا أَنفَقُوا وَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ أَن تَنكِحُوهُنَّ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ وَلَا تُمْسِكُوا بِعِصَمِ الْكَوَافِرِ وَاسْأَلُوا مَا أَنفَقْتُمْ وَلْيَسْأَلُوا مَا أَنفَقُوا ذَٰلِكُمْ حُكْمُ اللَّهِ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

“…then if you ascertain that they are true believers, send them not back to the disbelievers, they are not lawful (wives) for the disbelievers nor are the disbelievers lawful (husbands) for them”

al-Quran 60:10 (part)

It is clear from the above three quotes from al-Qurʼān that in ’Islām, a woman can neither have authority over men, nor can a Muslim woman marry a non-Muslim. However in Ismāʿīlīsm, both the above seem to be plausible as Imām ʿAlā Dhikrihis Salām (also spelled as Ala Zikrihis Salam, one of the earlier Imāms of the Ismāʿīlīs) had made a public announcement during his time that all Ismāʿīlīs were absolved from following any requirements of the Sharia. From that day, Ismāʿīlīs neither fast, nor they offer ṣalāt, nor pay zakāh, nor do they go for hajj.

Read more: Who was Imam ʿAlā Dhikrihi’s Salām?