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Fabian Dawson: Aga Khan’s diamond jubilee brings focus to spiritual leader’s contributions to world

Tuesday, 2017, July 11
H.H. The Aga Khan IV
Fabian dawson

As I began to write this column, I googled the word “Islam” for a snapshot of news coverage about the only religion that is now growing faster than the world’s population.

It was only after 10 pages, and about 100 stories, one appeared with a positive tone. The rest, as you can guess, were about terrorism, war, hate, blasphemy and extremism.

But there is another side to Islam, one we rarely see, read or hear about. One that inspires with pluralism, humanitarianism and action framed in ethical service and unrelenting philanthropy.

It’s the side of Islam that lives among us, creating a legacy of hospitals, schools, business enterprises and cultural institutions to impact the quality of life of communities across Canada, Asia and Africa.

Today, July 11, as Shia Ismaili Muslims around the world commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, that legacy and the man behind it comes into focus, showing why we Canadians should care.

The Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, is the spiritual leader of 15 million people around the world, including 120,000 in Canada, who belong to the Ismaili faith. They’re a global, multi-ethnic community whose members — comprising a wide diversity of cultures, languages and nationalities — live in Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America.

On July 11, 1957, at age 20, the Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather, as the 49th Imam of the Ismailis, to energize the understanding of Islam and Muslim civilizations, and foster collaboration between different peoples and faith communities around the world.

The first wave of Ismailis into Canada began in the early ’70s after then-dictator Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Asian residents from Uganda.

Since then, this community has embraced Canadian values at all levels, putting into practice their ethic of compassion, service and respect for all through a vast number of community initiatives and institutions.

The Aga Khan’s fundamental philosophy revolves around religious leaders not only interpreting the faith, but also taking on the mantle to improve the quality of life in their communities and in the world they live in.

In Canada, that is manifested through the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and its partner agency, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada (AKFC).

Over the years, the Aga Khan has established several major institutions in Canada, including the stunning Aga Khan Museum and Park in Toronto, the Ismaili Imamat, an architectural jewel in the heart of Ottawa and the Ismaili centres in Toronto and Burnaby. In the works are the Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton and a park in Burnaby.

In 1985, a group of Ismaili women in Vancouver came together to raise funds to support the work of the Aga Khan. They got 1,000 other Canadians to join them in a walk to fight global poverty and raised $55,000. Today, the World Partnership Walk, an annual event held in 10 cities across Canada, has raised more than $100 million — making it the largest event in Canada in support of international development.

Last May, the Aga Khan, together with David Johnston, governor general of Canada, officially opened the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa. This centre of excellence will bring together the world’s best and brightest minds to promote the importance of valuing diversity, and shape successful narratives of different people working in harmony toward common goals.

The Aga Khan isn’t only an honorary Canadian citizen. He is a global ambassador of Canadian values who preaches the spirit of connection.

Today, across Canada and the world, as the Ismaili community pays tribute to their spiritual leader, take some time to reflect on these words by the Aga Khan: “Faith … is a force that should deepen our concern for our worldly habitat, for embracing its challenges and for improving the quality of human life.”

Fabian Dawson is the former deputy editor of The Province.


The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at gclark@postmedia.com. Letters to the editor can be sent to provletters@theprovince.com.

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