The lady of Yakymour

 

Yvette Labrousse Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan

Yvette Labrousse

Yvette ‘Yvonne’ Blanche Labrousse born, in 1906, of a father who was a tramway driver and a town councillor for Le Cannet, and a mother who was a seamstress. Nothing in her modest upbringing told anything of the glorious destiny that was to be hers.

Today, 110 years ago, Yvette Labrousse was born Yvonne Blanch Labrousse in the small town of Sète, near Marseilles, France, on 15 February 1906. She was the daughter of Adrien Labrousse and Marie Brouet, a seamstress. When she was only six months old her family soon move to Cannes, where they lived in a flat in the Rue d’Antibes, and later on to Lyon where the young Yvette spent most of her childhood.

 

Yvonne Yvette Labrousse Om Habibeh Begum Aga Khan

Yvette Labrousse

Yvette grew up tall, more than six feet, and vèry beautiful. Having stricktly raised, however, she showed no disposition to accept the film and modelling offers that cameher way, instead, she went to work with her mother, who was running a dress shop that time. She always told that her parents were very warm, kind and always openminded.

 

Yvette Yvonne Blanche Labrousse Sète Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan Le Cannet

Yvette Labrousse

After being elected Miss Lyon in 1929, then Miss France in Paris in 1930, she joined the Miss Europe 1930 pageant in Paris, at the Paris Opera. The streets outside the hall were packed with people eager to see the beautiful participants from all over Europe… It was one of the most talked about events in the press.

 

Miss France, Yvette Labrousse, Begum Um Habibeh Aga Khan

Miss France, Yvette Labrousse, she was always full of great story’s about ‘her time’ as Miss France. Talking about the girls, the fashion of that time, the make-up and the travels.

 

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Yvette Labrousse, Paris, 1930’s

Yet Yvette Labrousse was no longer a provincial. As a beauty queen and a representatieve of France, she traveled to many countries around the world. She found herself particulary taken by Egypt and, in the late thirdies she moved to Egypt.

Yvette Labrousse Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan III by Weinberg Picture FrameSir Sultan Mohamad Aga Khan III and Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan seated half-length portrait by Weinberg. Photograph signed and inscribed by Begum, “A souvenir – from an old friend – of the family Aga Khan”. Inscribed in the image, middle left and right. 8 1/2×6 1/2 inches; matted in original sterling silver frame bearing Khan’s emblem at top. Circa 1955

She started to travel around the world and settled in Cairo. There Yvette Labrousse met her future husband, the Sultan Aga Khan III, 48th Imam of the Nizari Shia Ismaili community, and they fell in love at first sight when they met at a royal dancing party in Egypt in 1938. They married thirteen months after the Aga Khan III and his third wife were divorcedby mutual consent, on 9 October 1944 in Switzerland. Then she took the name of Om Habibeh (Little Mother of the Beloved) and became Begum, fully Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan. In 1954, Om Habibeh was given the title of ‘Mata Salamat’, which literally means serene or peaceful mother. She was the foutyh woman in Islamic history with that title!

I have at last been granted the real and wonderful haven of finding in and with my wife a true union of mind and soul

Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III, in his Memoirs ‘World Enough & Time’, page 275

They settled in the Avenue Victoria villa at Le Cannet, in the hills above Cannes, on a hillside wich she had once looked on to from the flat in the Rue d’Antibes, for which planning permission applications had been submitted in 1937. They named it Yakymour: Y for Yvette, ak for Aga Khan, mour for amour. The French word for love. As is clear from such indications , the couple was very close and the two loved each other dearly.

 

Yakymour

Yakymour, Le Cannet, France

Within this property surrounded by parkland, Her Higness La Bégum used to assemble the members of the Cannes film festival jury, and many national and international movie stars. Some of them became friends for live. She wasn’t only Kees van Dongen’s muse, but with her husband’s encouragement, she also developed an active interest in painting and sculpture, herself becoming an accomplished artist and sculptor. She was also interested in the arts including classical music, opera and ballet.

She rarely left his side, and nursed him devotedly through the pains of old age until his death in 1957. But her duty was also a delight. She never ceased to be grateful for the manner in which he had widened her horizons, especially in music and in the arts. “Enjoy yourself”, he told her. “It’s later then you think”.

 

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan

Before his death, the Aga Khan III chose a location on the on the West Bank of the Nile as his final resting place. The location was highly symbolic, for centuries earlier the Aga Khan’s ancestors had founded the Fatimid dynasty with its capital in Cairo. The Fatimids represented one of the apogees of culture, being patrons of the arts, liteature, achitecture, pluralism (the acceptance of racial, ethnic, cultural and intra-religious differences) and scientific endeavors,  all fields that were equally dear to the Aga Khan III an Om Habibeh. The Begum was very supportive of her husband in his work during their thirteen years together. They both took a particular interest in issues affecting women’s welfare.

When her husband died in 1957, he had stated in his will that his successor, his grandson Karim, would have Om Habibeh as advisor for the first seven years of his reign. because she had been familiar for many years with the issues facing his followers and he had the confidence in her wise judgment. Immediatly, with the help of architect Farid El-Shafie and contractor Hassan Dorra, Om Habibeh started building at Aswan, on top of the hill above there house, a mausoleum to her husband, a task that took 16 months.

 

Begum Om HabibehAga Khan Yvette Labrouse Aswan

It was not in her nature either to forget, or to try to hide, her humble orgins. Her legacy remains in the Om Habibeh Foundation, whose programs have contributed to health, education and inclusion in some of the poorest areas of Egypt.

Her gesture of daily placing a red rose on her husband’s tomb while in Egypt (every day for 43 years, either the Begum or when she was away in Europe, Sheikh Ahmed Ibrahim, whom she hired in 1963 to spend eight hours a day chanting verses from the Koran over her late husband’s tomb, laid a fresh red rose there) enforced the reputation of the legendary romance between the Aga Khan III and Om Habebeh. After the death of her husband, she continued to live at Yakymour, though she always spent three months a year in the villa at Aswan, the site of her husband’s mausoleum.

As a widow, she travelled widely both for charity and for pleasure. She was a regular face at Ascot (she herself owned several horses), where she always caught the eye. In the 1950’s and 60’s she was a true fashion icon, and was a countless times on the cover of big magazines. Her advice on fashion was typically sensible: “Don’t choose what you like, but what suits you. To be elegant one must have discretion. The secret is in the details”. Often she was sitting front-row at the Paris fashion shows from Christian Dior, Lanvin, Jaques Faith and many others.

 

Yvette Labrousse Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan by Gyenes

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan by Gyenes

She was dearly loved by her people because of her generosity to the poor, childern, women and the elderly, and, by her own husband as well. She had a big heart for everybody. Also for people outside the Shia Ismaili community. No matter what kind of religion, man or women, or even sexual oriantation, she was véry openminded, Yakymour and Nour el-Salam were both an open house.

We should take care of eachother, everybody should be loved!, we are here on earth to do good, and not to harm or judge people, so lets love.

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan

Begum Om Habibeh also loved annimals a lot. Over the years she had several dogs and cats. “Every person and every animal should be loved, we are all creations from Allah. “When a person is not good for animals, he can not be good to humans”. “We should take care of eachother, everybody should be loved!, we are here on earth to do good, and not to harm or judge people, so lets love”…. And that’s what she did!

 

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Grandma ‘Yaky’, the Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan with her poodles at Yakymour, Le Cannet, France, January 1, 1985 

Beauty was not only on the outside. It came from the heart. Highly popular, Her Highness La Bégum showed great generosity throughout her life. She made many donations to schools (‘education is the most impotant thing in life after being loved’ and ‘The highest result of education is tolerance’ she always said) and hospitals. But also donations to women’s shelters, Alzheimer foundation, and… Aids foundation.

The highest result of education is tolerance.

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan

Over four decades of widowhood (she never thought of remarrying) she was always out in the community helping the poor and elderly and would relentlessly encourage education for women. For over forty years, banquets were offered to the town’s elderly inhabitants. The Begum also ran a charitable foundation, the Om Habibeh Foundation, which tackled poverty in Aswan, Egypt, where she inherited her husband’s villa by the Nile. At home in Le Cannet, she established a home for the elderly. It was not in her nature either to forget, or to try to hide, her humble origins. In the last years of her life, she made an outstanding donation to the town, enabling it to renew its school property.

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan at Le Cannet, Le Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers

Begum Om Habibeh, Le Cannet, Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers, Le Cannet, 1997

She also contributed to the creation of the Jardin des Oliviers, for which the town showed its gratitude by erecting a bronze statue by Charles-Louis La Salle, unveiled by the mayor of Le Cannet Rocheville, in her image. She last appeared in public for the inauguration of this garden in 1997. She was also vèry happy that she could be present at the wedding of Princess Zahra Aga Khan with the businessman Mark Boyden, June 21, 1997 in Paris.

Le Cannet, Le Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers

Le Cannet, Le Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers Park

Le Cannet, Le Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan

Le Cannet, Le Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers, bronze statue of Om Habibeh by Charles-Louis La Salle

Before her death, the late Begum arranged for Yakymour, the home of which she and her husband were so fond, to be retained for use by the Aga Khan family. She also planned that a large part of her estate be donated to two foundations closely associated with the family: The Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva, a non-profit organisation established by the current Aga Khan in 1967, which oversees and supports major international programmes in health, education and rural development, in some of the poorest regions of Asia and Africa, and the Bellerive Foundation in Geneva, established by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in 1977, which is devoted to the protection of the environment, conservation of natural resources and the safeguarding of human and animal rights.

There was no doubting her enduring devotion. “Now all I have left to hope for”, she said shortly before her death, “is that Allah will take me to his side”. Begum Om Habibeh ‘Mata Salamat’ aka Yvette Labrousse died on 1 July 2000, in Le Cannet, near Cannes, at the age of 94 years, and is buried next to her beloved husband at the Aga Khan’s sandstone mausoleum in Aswan. The couple had no children. She was survived by her stepson, Sadruddin Aga Khan, and three step-grandchildren, Karim Aga Khan the current Aga Khan, Amyn Aga Khan and Yasmin Aga Khan, who are the children of the late Prince Aly Khan, who died in 1960 and who was the eldest son of the late Aga Khan.

The jamat will recall with fondness and affection her support for the work of My late beloved grandfather, and also her devoted care and attention to Him particularly in the later years of His life. Throughout her lifetime Mata Salamat retained an abiding interest to the progress and well-being of the jamat world-wide

Mawlânâ Hazar Imam Karim Aga Khan IV

She has now been reunited with her husband, who has been resting, since 1957, in a mausoleum built on their Nour es-Salam property, near the river Nile, in Aswan, Egypt. ‘Till today she is very respected and loved. For her eternal love, her honesty, her help (she hated the word ‘charity’!) and being só openminded…..

by Jean Amr

 

 

 

 The Om Habibeh Foundation

The Om Habibeh Foundation was established by the Aga Khan’s late step-grandmother, Om Habibeh, the Begum Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan. It is an Egyptian, not-for-profit organisation of long-standing that has been contributing to, and supporting, a number of institutions, in the Aswan area, which are involved in healthcare, education and income generation for disadvantaged communities. The Foundation draws on the support and technical expertise of the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network to advance the newly announced initiatives.

The Aga Khan Foundation

For more information:

Farees Nathoo
Aga Khan Foundation
Tel. +20 (22) 506 1570
Email: info@akdn.org

 

 

 

 

 

Long Reign Ends

In the early afternoon of 11 July, 1957, after an Imamat spanning seventy-two years, the 48th Imam, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, passed away in Geneva.

In a leading article published the following day, The Times of London offered condolences “to the millions distributed over the length and breadth of the Islamic world”, recognizing the Imam as “a great force working for understanding and harmony between east and west”; the obituary in The Times was titled: The Aga Khan: A Citizen of the World.

On July 12, 1957, the will of the 48th Imam was read at Villa Barakat in Geneva with the whole family present. In his will, the Imam stated:

I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son, Aly Salomone Khan, to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to be the Imam and Pir of all my Shia Ismailian followers.

Assuan,_Aga_Khan_MausoleumThe Aga Khan III mausoleum in Aswan by the Nile. In the foreground is the villa, Noor al-Salaam (Click photo to enlarge).

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah’s Burial in Aswan

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah had expressed a wish to be buried in Aswan in Egypt. The Imam had a special place for Egypt ever since his first visit to the country in 1935. In his Memoirs, the Imam writes:

On my way home to India I visited Egypt for the first time. Those who have not experienced it, who have not been lucky enough to fall under Egypt’s spell, will find it difficult, I suppose, to realize the sheer magic of the first sight of Egypt. And that my first sight was on a perfect early winter day, and need I say that all my life since then I have had a special corner in my heart for Egypt, and that I have returned there as often as I could.

ak-iii-mata-salamatSir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III and Begum Om Habibeh ‘Mata Salamat’ Aga Khan (Click photo to enlarge).

In an interview with the Al-Ahram Weekly (23-29 April, 1992), Mata Salamat, the Begum Om Habibah explained the choice of Aswan:

“…We had been coming here since 1935, when the place was not a touristic location at all but a health retreat and resort. We used to come for one or two months and stay at the Cataract Hotel and have lovely promenades on the Nile. We did not come to be cured of asthma or such things, it was just to enjoy the good weather and good air of Aswan”.

“During these visits to the hotel, one day my husband said: ‘I would like to be buried in Aswan”.

“He used to say ‘Egypt is the flag of Islam.’ And he wanted to be buried here. Then we looked around and one day while on the Nile in a felucca with the Director, who said: ‘But why do you insist on finding somewhere to be buried? You see that house?’ It was absolutely closed and neglected. ‘It is on sale. Why don’t you buy it and enjoy yourself here?’ My husband replied: ‘But I agree. Provided I have the permission to build a mausoleum behind.’ And we bought it”.

The villa was named Noor al-Salaam.

“He put the house entirely in my hands saying: ‘You will choose the mausoleum. The style and everything else – do as you like. I want to be buried here”.

The Begum Describes the Task of Building the Mausoleum

“Now building the mausoleum was a great task for me. I was not sure of which style. But my husband had told me to see one of his friends at the American University, a British professor specializing in Islamic architecture. He took me all over Cairo and finally I made my choice, but if you see what I chose to copy, what inspired me, you may not see a resemblance.”

“It is the Al-Juyushi mosque. It is Fatimid and that is why I chose it; the piece that inspired me the most was the mihrab.”

“And something that maybe nobody knows is that this monument was made entirely by hand. Most of the marble is carved from one piece. It is the only thing, coming from abroad Carara marble, a very special and rare pure kind of Carara. The remainder, granite and sandstone from Aswan”.

First Burial Ceremony at Aswan in July 1957

On July 19, 1957, the Imam was laid to rest in a temporary place created in the grounds of the villa. A special service was held at a mosque in Aswan attended by Prince Aly Khan, Prince Sadruddin, Prince Amyn and the newly-appointed Imam, Shah Karim.

The Final Burial Ceremony at Aswan in the Mausoleum in February 1959

On 19 February 1959, the 48th Imam was finally laid to rest in the mausoleum which had taken over 18 months to construct. A special tent was raised on the outskirts of Aswan and more than 2,500 people, including Ismailis from all parts of the world, attended the ceremony.

aga-khan-iii-noor-salaamFebruary 1959: The villa, ‘Noor al-alaam’, Aswan, where the body of the 48th Imam lay temporarily buried before it was moved to its final resting place in the mausoleum (Photo privat collection © Motani Collection, Ottawa) (Click photo to enlarge).

aga-khan-iii-funeral-21February 1959: The Aga Khan’s body being carried by Karim Aga Khan and Sadruddin Aga Khan from the villa ‘Noor al Salaam’ to its final resting place (Photo privat collection © Motani Collection, Ottawa) (Click photo to enlarge).

Begum Om abibeh Aga Khan AswanFebruary 1959: Like the men, all dressed in white, Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, followed by group of women, walking from the villa ‘Noor al Salaam’ following her husbands to his last resting place (Photo privat collection).

Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan Aswan

February 1959: Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, followed by group of women, walking from the villa ‘Noor al Salaam’ to up the mausoleum (Photo privat collection).

aga-khan-iii-aswan-family-walkingFebruary 1959: Prince Sadruddin and Prince Amyn walking back to the villa ‘Noor al Salaam’, behind Prince Karim Aga Khan, successor to Aga Khan III (Photo privat collection © Motani Collection, Ottawa) (Click photo to enlarge).

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February 1959: The 49th Imam, Shah Karim Aga Khan IV, is followed by his uncle, Prince Sadruddin (on left), and Prince Amyn (on right) at Aswan (Photo: Jehangir Merchant collection) (Click photo to enlarge).

by Jean Amr