PUBLICATION: Toronto Star
DATE: 2004.06.19

BYLINE: Vivian Song
ILLUSTRATION: Simon Hayter Toronto Star The Aga Khan, centre, who was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree yesterday at the University of Toronto, receives applause after addressing a class of education graduates.

Cherish democracy, Aga Khan tells grads

The biggest global threat is not failed states but failed democracies, the Aga Khan told a graduating class at the University of Toronto yesterday afternoon.

The 49th hereditary spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims appealed to the class of teacher graduates at Convocation Hall yesterday to instil in their students the virtues of pluralism, meritocracy and civil society - three pillars on which successful democracies are built.

"True regime change occurs when liberty is guaranteed by a people free to create or support institutions of their own choosing," he said. "True regime change occurs when that strength and that freedom are defined by the depth, breadth and quality of education shared across the society in question."

The Aga Khan addressed the convocation of U of T's Ontario Institution for Studies in Education, after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree.

U of T president Robert Birgeneau introduced the Aga Khan Development Network - which oversees the development of health, education and economic programs, primarily in Africa and South Asia - as "one of the world's most effective private development agencies."

"He's dedicated a profession to improving the quality of life to the disadvantaged population on the planet," Birgeneau said. "His tenacity and commitment are to be admired. He's helped renew peace and stability, ... dedicated every resource of Ismaili Mohammed to cultural revitalization."

The Aga Khan called Canada an exemplary leader in democracy. He underlined that there are many opportunities for partnership between Canada and the developing world, such as the twinning of institutions.

He urged the graduates to "reflect deeply on the needs of their world today" and to "seize opportunities for sharing your knowledge with future generations here in Canada."

Dozens of Ismaili followers waited outside the hall with flowers for the Imam. Fanny Mariji was with her 5-year-old daughter Inaara, who was ready to hand the Aga Khan a red rose.

"He's our spiritual leader," she said. "His vision is 25 years ahead of our time."