The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, October 10, 2002
David Rider
The Associated Press

Muslim art treasures find home in Toronto suburb

Prince Karim Aga Khan had orginally wanted the museum to be located in London, England.

TORONTO -- The Aga Khan, billionaire spiritual leader to the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims, has chosen suburban Toronto as future home for the largest collection of Islamic art in the English-speaking world.

Don Mills, an area northeast of downtown full of strip malls and faceless glass buildings, will be home to a complex designed by a renowned Indian architect and filled with ancient and modern Islamic treasures, it was announced yesterday.

Prince Karim Aga Khan, 66, originally wanted to put his museum and cultural centre in the heart of London, opposite the Houses of Parliament and next door to Lambeth Palace.

Despite an above-market price bid of $60 million for the site, his charitable foundation was thwarted earlier this year by a neighbouring hospital that wanted the land to expand its facilities. The Aga Khan threatened at the time to take his philanthropy overseas.

So, where now sits the international headquarters of Bata Shoes will be a public display of ceramics, metalwork, paintings and manuscripts including Avicenna's Qanun fi'l Tibb -- The Canon of Medicine -- dated 1052. Artifacts are to come from private collections including that of the Aga Khan and the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.

Relatives Prince Sadruddin and his wife, Princess Catherine Aga Khan, have also expressed a desire for their collection to be part of the museum.

The Aga Khan, philanthropist, patron of the world's richest architecture prize and owner of a race-horse empire, is considered the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

He was also a 30-year friend of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and an honorary pallbearer at Mr. Trudeau's funeral. His father, Prince Aly Khan, was once married to Rita Hayworth, the Hollywood actress.

In a statement, the Aga Khan said Canada has a tradition of tolerance and inclusiveness and an environment that has permitted diversity to flourish.

Nazeer Aziz Ladhani, chief executive officer of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, said from his Ottawa office the centre will also include a major non-denominational institute to study and foster pluralistic societies using Canada as a source of inspiration for the world. The Aga Khan Development Network is talking to the federal government as well as Canadian universities and institutions about collaborating on the project.

The Aga Khan's love of beautiful buildings is well known. His Ismaili community centres in cities including Vancouver have drawn praise for being inspired by Islamic themes while fitting in to their western settings.

No date or pricetag was given for completion of the Toronto complex on seven hectares leased from Bata. Buidling ermits and zoning approval from the city are needed.

Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen