In His Speech, Ismaili Muslim leader applauds Canada's diversity - 2008-11-25
VANCOUVER, B.C. - The leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims says Canada's pluralism is a model to the world.
The Aga Khan thanked Canada for welcoming Ismailis, a moderate group within the Shia wing of Islam, who were forced to flee persecution and conflict in their own countries over the years.
'Canada has been the country which has been most generous, most thoughtful, most helpful in bringing people to Canada from these difficult backgrounds, offering them a new opportunity ... to live in a society which is pluralist, which is conscious of quality, which is conscious of human development and human values,' he told a luncheon group Tuesday.
The Aga Khan, who assumed the title from his grandfather in 1957 at age 20, was in Vancouver on Tuesday to cap a four-city tour of Canada celebrating the 50th anniversary of his position as the community's 49th Imam.
He held a private meeting with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell before the two went into a lunch with about 100 prominent guests.
Campbell praised the wealthy, Swiss-born religious leader's philanthropic work through his Aga Khan Development Network, which works in 29 countries, including Afghanistan.
'For decades now you have partnered with Canadians to build a new infrastructure of hope that's based on education and pluralism, on health, on creating for individuals the sense of themselves, the promise that they have and the possibility that exists in the world in which they live,' Campbell said.
Canada's great strength is its diversity, said Campbell, a theme the Aga Khan built on in his brief address.
Canada not only sheltered Ismailis who escaped persecution in countries such as Uganda in the 1970s, he said, but allowed them to prosper so that some could return home, bringing Canadian values with them.
'You have given them the wherewithal to return to their countries in due course and bring back to Africa, bring back to Asia ... the pluralism, the values of Canada, the knowledge society that you have created here in Canada,' the Aga Khan said.
He said he sometimes jokes that more and more Ismaili leaders around the world are Canadian.
'You don't have a colonialist history but you are colonializing the Aga Khan Development Network,' he said.
One of the unique traits Canadian Ismailis bring back is an ability to promote knowledge needed to become globally competitive in a way that does not threaten traditional societies in many developing countries, he said.
'Knowledge in its purest form is often abrasive,' the Aga Khan said. 'When this knowledge comes into these societies it creates difficulties, creates reactions because the societies are not prepared for pure knowledge.
'What Canada has done is it has humanized that knowledge.'
Canada, he said, continues to be a partner on common issues such as early-childhood development, how traditional societies can work in a modern environment and pluralist government based on merit, not manipulation.
The Aga Khan was scheduled later to preside over a service that's expected to draw upwards of 18,000 Ismailis to BC Place Stadium.