Canada can lead the way in education and pluralism, Foundation CEO says

OTTAWA, May 7 /CNW/ - Canada can lead the way in enhancing -- or rebuilding -- relationships between Western and Muslim societies and address pressing global challenges by fostering education and pluralism, Nazeer Aziz Ladhani, Chief Executive Officer of Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), told a parliamentary committee today.

Speaking before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs -- which has launched a study on Canada's relations with the countries of the Muslim World -- Mr. Ladhani underscored the importance of the dramatically different issues and opportunities within different regions, countries and communities with Muslim populations. He noted that fundamental to improving Canada's relations with Muslim societies is improving the collective understanding of Islam and its peoples. An important first step is to see the Muslim World's remarkable -- and remarkably overlooked -- diversity and rich civilizations.

In terms of education, Ladhani recommended a three-fold approach: providing education about Muslim societies, by building the study of Islamic civilizations into school and university curricula and increasing understanding within the media of Islam and its peoples; pursuing avenues to increase understanding among Muslim societies about the histories and cultures in the West generally and in Canada especially; and improving the quality of and access to education generally throughout the developing world, which includes the majority of Muslim societies. Through this latter effort, he said, "we will replace ignorance and hopelessness with knowledge, skills and opportunity for men and, especially, women -- the best means of combating the poverty and isolation that too often leads to intolerance and extremism."

Addressing his second recommendation, Ladhani suggested that fostering pluralism could be the most powerful lever Canada has available to enhance its relations with all countries not only those in the Muslim World, but in the larger developing world and even in the West. "Pluralism offers a practical means of managing diversity, mitigating conflict, fostering greater social inclusion and laying the foundation for equitable human development."

Ladhani also counselled against viewing relations with countries of the Muslim world solely through the lens of religion, or interpreting all conflicts involving Muslim peoples as inherently rooted in religion as much as in the socio-economic conditions of the developing world.

AKFC is a non-profit social development agency established in Canada in 1980 that supports programs in Asia and Africa without regard to race, religion, political affiliation or gender. It is a member of the Aga Khan Development Network, a non-denominational group of agencies established by His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, which is dedicated to improving living conditions in countries of the developing world, many of which have Muslim majorities or minorities. In October, 2002, the Aga Khan announced the intention to establish an internationally focused centre for pluralism in Canada.

For further information: Mary Gooderham, Aga Khan Foundation Canada, Ottawa, Canada, Telephone: (613) 237-2532 (ext 107), Fax: (613) 567-2532, Email:; Nazeer Aziz Ladhani, Aga Khan Foundation Canada, Ottawa, Canada, Telephone: (613) 237-2532 (ext 108), Fax: (613) 567-2532, Email: