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Aga Khan's visit excites community - 2008-11-23

Sunday, 2008, November 23
Calgary Herald
Graeme Morton

14,000 Ismaili Muslims expected for prayer session
Calgary's close-knit Ismaili Muslim community is on pins and needles in anticipation of today's visit by the Aga Khan, spiritual leader for the world's 15 million Ismailis.

The Aga Khan, who began his weeklong Canadian tour in Ottawa on Nov. 18, will fly into Calgary this evening.

The 24-hour Calgary stop, his first visit here in 16 years, will include a meeting with Lt.-Gov. Norman Kwong.

But for Calgary Ismailis, the highlight will be the Aga Khan's gathering with the community at the Roundup Centre on Monday afternoon. More than 14,000 faithful are expected to pack the venue for his address, a prayer session and social gathering.

'There are about 10,000 Ismailis in Calgary and we're expecting more than 3,000 to come down from Edmonton and many others from across the prairie provinces,' says local community spokeswoman Sameera Sereda.

'This is a huge event for our community. Everyone is extremely excited. I'm sure he will share with us guidance on both spiritual and worldly matter.'

For the Mahjor family, who came to Calgary from Afghanistan seven years ago, the chance to see their imam in person is creating sleepless anticipation.

'Because of the ongoing dangers in our homeland, we were never able to see the Aga Khan in person,' says Jamila Mahjor.

She notes the couple's four children, who range in age from five to 12, are among the estimated 3,000 local volunteers who have been assigned various tasks leading up to and during the Aga Khan's visit.

'Our youngest (five-year-old Arash) is going to be handing out bags for people to put their shoes in as they enter the hall,' says Jamila.

Amin Mahjor, who was working in Russia when his family was first sponsored to come to Calgary in 2001, says life under the Taliban was difficult for Afghanistan's Ismaili Muslims.

'They closed our prayer centres. We weren't able to practise our faith in public. We believe in equality between men and women and the Taliban didn't like that,' says Amin.

Trained as a civil engineer, Amin now runs his own painting business.

'Life is much better for us here. The local Ismaili community has been very supportive for us,' says Amin, who has been volunteering for days helping prepare staging for the Roundup Centre gathering.

Amin says the Aga Khan has been a great role model for all Ismailis in both spiritual and secular life. The Aga Khan Development Network has spearheaded economic, educational and humanitarian initiatives in many developing countries. The visit is part of an extended global celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Aga Khan's leadership of the Ismaili community.

'I wouldn't be surprised if many of our people take Tuesday off school and work, too, because it's going to be a very emotional time for us. Thousands of people have poured a great deal of their heart and effort into this visit.'

The Aga Khan will fly out of Calgary late Monday for Vancouver, the final stop on his Canadian tour.

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