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Aga Khan inspires gathering at Vancouver's BC Place - 2008-11-26

Wednesday, 2008, November 26
The Vancouver Sun
Kelly Sinoski

VANCOUVER - She was only nine, but Almira Bardai remembers the day the Aga Khan came to dinner at her mother's family home. She didn't get to join the 200 or so guests, but she knew the importance of seeing the spiritual Ismaili Muslim leader.'It was really, really special,' Bardai said Tuesday. 'I was really young but you understood that you were there in the presence of the Aga Khan. It was pretty amazing.'

On Tuesday afternoon, Bardai, now 31, joined tens of thousands of men in dark suits and women in colourful saris and cocktail dresses at BC Place to celebrate a visit by the Aga Khan.

Between 22,000 and 25,000 people came from around the world - including Afghanistan, London, Dubai and the U.S. - to hear the revered Ismaili Muslim leader's spiritual advice and prayers. A celebration including food and dancing followed in the evening.

BC Place was the last stop for the hereditary leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims on his cross-Canada Golden Jubilee tour marking the 50th anniversary of his reign.

Bardai said the Aga Khan spoke of the economy, ethics, generosity in the community and giving back. 'It was really moving; it was inspirational,' she said. 'It makes me feel lucky about living in Canada. We came here in times of turmoil so now it's our time to help others.'

Farrah Jinha-Devji, spokeswoman for the event, said in an interview before the Aga Khan's address that the day was a 'happy celebration for the community; to celebrate the work he's done over the past 50 years.'

Shortly before the Aga Khan's arrival at BC Place at about 3 p.m., most people were already under the dome. A few men stood in a circle smoking outside, while latecomers rushed in so as not to miss the Aga Khan's entrance.

'It's a great feeling,' said Salim Rahemtulla, who attended the event with his family. 'He's our spiritual leader, he advises us in our day-to-day matters and gives us advice on whatever is going on in the world. It's important to hear what he has to say.'

Shaheed Devji, 22, said the Aga Khan embodies the values of Islam - generosity, compassion and peace - and instils those values in the community.

He said he's 'been blessed' by being able to see the Aga Khan a few times already.

'It's a really good life experience,' Devji said. 'Not every Ismaili Muslim gets the opportunity to see the Aga Khan.

'When you do get to be in his physical presence, it's something to jump on.'

His friend Zam Karim, 22, of Vancouver, said the Aga Khan is so revered he has drawn people from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said the Muslim leader has inspired him to volunteer and give back to the community he lives in as well as the community at large. 'We've been blessed in Canada with the Aga Khan's relationship with our country,' he said.

Munier Amlani, 33, of Vancouver, said he has also been inspired by the Aga Khan and his spiritual and philanthropic efforts as head of the world's largest non-governmental development agency. 'For me, he is a role model in terms of what we do in the world,' said Amlani. 'He's inspiring in what he does in his life. He's outspoken in terms of how important it is to the community on how Muslims and the Western world co-exist.'

Shahida Lofti, who came to Canada from Tanzania 35 years ago, said the Aga Khan is 'more like a pope; a very practical human being and very different from the rest of the Muslims.

'He's the head of our community; he always preached that we instil in our children and in ourselves good habits,' she said. 'It makes me feel really good, fantastic ... I'm not very religious but I know if there's one thing I'm truly proud of is this community is one of the most generous I've known.'

Rahim Valji, 28, who travelled from California to hear the Aga Khan, also lauded his leader's work. 'The main thing for me is I see all the social programs he has going on around the world - it's more of how I feel the world should be.'

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