Aga Khan back in Toronto
To most Canadians, he is known simply as the Aga Khan.
Few are likely to know much more about the man, considered to be the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, a community made up of more than 30,000 people in Toronto alone.
The Aga Khan will be in Toronto on Friday to mark the groundbreaking for the first museum of Islamic art and culture in North America, an Ismaili centre and park near Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue. His last visit to Toronto was in 2008, as part of the celebrations for his 50th Jubilee, which honoured his role as the imam of the community for half a century.
“For members of the Ismaili community in Canada, it is an exciting time anytime His Highness visits Canada,” said Farid Damji, a volunteer with the Ismaili Council of Canada. In 2005, when he came to Toronto, more than 70,000 worshippers jammed into the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to hear him speak.
Renowned for his numerous humanitarian projects and his friendship with heads of state around the world, the Aga Khan is known as the 49th hereditary imam and a direct descendent of Muhammad through the prophet’s daughter and son-in-law, Ali.
Born in Geneva in 1936, the Aga Khan spent his early childhood in Kenya, attended school in Switzerland and graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with an honours BA in Islamic history. He succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, in 1957 as imam.
Since then, his role has been to provide spiritual and worldly guidance to 15 million Ismailis around the world.
“The role of the imam includes the overall responsibility for the spiritual advancement of the community as well as the improvement of the quality of life of the community and those amongst whom it lives,” said Damji.
As a result, much of his work focuses on development projects, hospitals and educational institutions in the Third World.
He is also believed to be one of the richest men in the world, with a personal wealth estimated at $15 billion.