November 21, 1978

Metro's Moslems greet Aga Khan

Just as there is only one pope there is only one Aga Khan.

He is "Imam" - spiritual leader - to the world's 15 million Ismaili Moslems.

And he is in Toronto.

Last night, about 600 of his 10,000 followers in Metro, and 250 or so "invited guests" - translate that to mean dignitaries and the media - gathered for a sumptuous banquet at the Harbour Castle Hilton Hotel to honour him and Canada.

If you're Catholic, imagine seeing the Pope; if British, the Queen.

And if you're one of the world's 465 million Moslems - let alone one of his 15 million followers - imagine meeting a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

When Mohammed died in 632 AD, his son-in-law, Ali, became the first Imam. Karim Aga Khan is the 49th Imam- each one a direct male descendent.

The banquet included consomme, lobster, steak, sherbet, fruit, pastries and a choice between fruit punch or wine.

Ismailis are not supposed to drink, but they don't force their beliefs on their guests - the banquet cost of paying guests $125 each.

There are now about 20,000 Ismaili Moslems in Canada. Before 1972, there were hardly any. But in 1972, Idi Amin forced them out of Uganda, and the Aga Khan flew to Ottawa to ask Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to accept some.

He accepted 6,000. Since then, more have come, primarily from Kenya and Tanzania.

Last night, after Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon, federal Multiculturalism Minister Norman Cafik and other federal, provincial and municipal leaders congratulated the Ismaili on their adaption of Canadian life, the Aga Khan thanked Canada for accepting the "stateless and destitute Ismaili refugees from Uganda, many of whom arrived with only the clothes they were wearing."

The assembled Ismaili politely applauded the dignitaries, but it was obvious it was Imam they were there to see and honour.

He will meet Premiere William Davis today and then leave for his home in Paris, ending his 10-day tour of Canada. Most of that time was spent with his followers, conducting religious ceremonies.

"He is more than our spiritual leader, one Ismaili explained. "He guides us in the secular world as well. He has always stressed the need for education and for committing ourselves to the countries we live in. That is why many of us are in business and the professions, and why we have taken out Canadian citizenship. We are Ismailis, but we are also Canadians."

And while they are Canadians and the Aga Khan is, by birth, Swiss, and by residence, French, they are all Ismailis, and he is Imam.

Unlike a queen or pope, the Aga Khan rules no country, wears no robes or jewels, badges or rings of office.

"He needs no symbols," an Ismaili said.

"He is Imam."

Source: The Toronto Star

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