Aga Khan joins prime minister’s neighbourhood - 2008-12-06
OTTAWA — The Aga Khan, the Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader, opened a new $50-million architectural landmark on Ottawa’s famed Sussex Drive on Saturday.
The new building will be a link between the spiritual dimensions of Islam and the cultures of the West, the Aga Khan said.
“It affirms our intent to share, within a western setting, the best of Islamic life and heritage,” he said. “It will be a site for robust dialogue, intellectual exchange and the forging of new partnerships” with the Canadian government, academics and international organizations.
Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, known as the Aga Khan, was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, which will serve as his office in Canada as well as a conference centre, and will be home to the Aga Khan’s development agencies. The organization has partnership programs with the Canadian International Development Agency and several Canadian universities.
The event was attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a neighbour from just up the street.
Harper said the Canadian government shares a commitment to “tolerance, compassion and community service” with the Aga Khan Development Network.
“Social integration can occur without sacrificing cultural identity,” he said of the Ismaili community in Canada. “We are proving that there can be unity in diversity.”
Harper called the building an “architectural masterpiece,” adding that “the work that will develop here will help lift the darkness of poverty.”
The Aga Khan said his vision for the building was “a certain mystique, centred around the beautiful mysteries of rock crystal.”
The building, featuring a vaulting glass roof with a crystalline structure and a high, domed glass ceiling, was designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.
Guests at the opening ceremony included former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, several members of Parliament, diplomats, representatives from the Ismaili community and heads of the Aga Khan network agencies.
The Aga Khan said the Ismaili community has had strong links to Canada since it provided refuge to Ismaili Muslims when Idi Amin forced them to leave Uganda in the 1970s. He called Canada’s international leadership “thoughtful, empathetic and avoiding both intellectual pretensions and dogmatic simplifications.”
The Aga Khan is a British citizen, who divides his time between Switzerland and France.
He enjoys personal wealth thanks to family inheritance and business investments.
His philanthropic institutions, funded by his followers, spend about $600 million a year, mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The significance of the Aga Khan’s status is rooted in the history of Islam.
The religion has two main divisions, Sunnism and Shiism. Ismaili Muslims are the second-largest Shia community. Their imams, or spiritual leaders, are regarded as direct descendants of Mohammed.
They have carried the title “Aga Khan” since the Shah of Iran conferred it in the 19th century, and “His Highness” since Queen Elizabeth granted the title in 1957. The current Aga Khan, now 71, became the 49th hereditary imam when he was a 20-year-old student at Harvard University.