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Aga Khan IIIís widow buried next to husband
July 5, 2000
ASWAN, Egypt (AP) - The sheik labored up the steps leading to the Aga Khan III's hilltop mausoleum to lay three wilted red roses on his grave Tuesday, carrying out the wishes of the late religious leader's widow even on the day of her funeral.
Begum Om Habibeh, a former beauty queen who died Saturday in the southern French town of Le Cannet at the age of 94, was to be buried next to her husband Tuesday following simple religious ceremonies at her villa and at the mausoleum on the banks of the Nile.
The Begum was the fourth and last wife of the late Aga Khan III, the 48th hereditary imam of the Ismaili Muslim community, which has a following of 12 million to 15 million people worldwide. He died in 1957 and the Begum never remarried. The current Aga Khan, Prince Karim, is his grandson.
Two dozen representatives of the Ismaili community have flown into Aswan, where the Begum had contributed medical equipment and educational materials to hospitals and schools, to attend the funeral. The couple once wintered in the Nile-side desert town.
The Begum was born Yvette Blanche Labrousse in 1906 in the southern French town of Sete. Begum is the title of the wife of the Aga Khan.
Her entree into the aristocratic circles in which the Aga Khan moved began after she was chosen Miss Riviera in 1930. She reportedly caught the Aga Khan's eye as she danced the tango at a party thrown by one of Egypt's royal princesses in 1938.
The Begum converted to Islam before her marriage to the Muslim leader in Switzerland in 1944. They had no children.
At the time, the Aga Khan was a well-known international figure who served as the first president of the League of Nations in Geneva in the late 1930s.
The Aga Khan, who was founding honorary president of the Muslim League in 1906 in what was then British India, later played a significant role in the movement to establish the Muslim state of Pakistan.
His son, Prince Aly, married actress Rita Hayworth in 1949. The marriage lasted four years. He died in a car crash in 1960.
The current Aga Khan, Prince Karim, has devoted a substantial part of the wealth of the Ismaili community to development projects in countries with a significant Ismaili population. His uncle, Prince Sadruddin, was U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 1965 until 1977.
The Begum was known for her interest in the welfare of women, the poor and the elderly. She also traveled widely and was interested in the arts, taking up painting and sculpture.
After her husband's death, the Begum split her time between Geneva, Paris, Le Cannet and Aswan.
In Aswan, Sheik Ahmed Ibrahim said that when the Begum hired him in 1963 to spend eight hours a day chanting verses from the Quran next to the Aga Khan's grave, she also asked him to make sure there were red roses on the white marble tomb every day.
When she was in town, she would take the roses up the path herself from the Nur al-Salam villa's garden to the mausoleum, built of sandstone that blends into the desert surroundings.
"She was a good woman who respected the Quran," said Ibrahim. "When she came and found me chanting, she wouldn't let me rise to greet her. She would say, 'The Quran is more important."'