8 June 2005
Muslim world slow to respond to pressing ethical issues: Aga Khan
The wealthy philanthropist, who praised Canada’s multiculturalism, said it’s time Islamic people joined global debates, writes HAYLEY MICK
The Aga Khan says the Muslim world has been late to join the West in the debate over the most pressing ethical issues of our time, such as stem-cell research.
“The Islamic world is far behind on some of these issues and yet we’re facing them all the time,” the leader of 15 million Ismaili Muslims told the Citizen editorial board in a rare interview yesterday.
“Muslims will be looking to the Judeo-Christian debate when they, too, begin addressing them.” But the soft-spoken imam also emphasized that the West has a poor grasp of Islam and the difference between faith and politics — contributing to an ominous cultural divide that he says can only be lessened by education, democracy building and dialogue.
“Unless the definition of an educated person includes basic knowledge about 1.4 billion people and their histories and their civilizations ... we are going to continue to live in a situation where this lack of understanding is there,” he said.
The wealthy philanthropist, born in Geneva and based just outside of Paris, was in Ottawa this week as part of a three-city Canadian tour to announce the opening of several new buildings funded by his foundation, including the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.
The 68-year-old’s Canadian visit was quietly announced last month at Mosques across North America. Thousands of Ismailis have travelled from as far away as San Francisco to hear him speak at gatherings that will take place today in Toronto and on Friday in Vancouver.
Ismaili Muslims, one of the smaller branches of the minority Shia sect of Islam, are spread throughout the world, including a community of about 75,000 in Canada.
One of the world’s most wealthy and influential men, the Aga Khan has made no secret of his admiration for Canada. He has often articulated his desire to see this country export its greatest asset to the world: multiculturalism.
“Canada has been very humble about this,” he said. “We all know it’s always a work in progress, but bringing the capacity to think around the notion of a pluralist society is very important.”
He will add $40 million to the federal government’s $30 million investment in the Global Centre for Pluralism, a research institute. Construction on Sussex Drive will begin next spring.
He says he wants to see Canada share its pluralist values globally through development work and institutional capacity building.
“I don’t believe that societies are born pluralist,” he said. “Pluralism has to be omnipresent in civil society ... it’s got to be part of the way a society is constituted.”
A multimillionaire himself, the Aga Khan presides over a slew of foundations that direct health, educational, cultural and development projects worth about $250 million a year.
The Aga Khan Development Network is the world’s largest non-governmental development agency and its Canadian wing is a partner with the Canadian International Development Agency on several projects in Africa and Asia.
CHRIS MIKULA, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN The Aga Khan said the West has a poor grasp of Islam and the difference between faith and politics — contributing to an ominous cultural divide that he says can only be lessened by education, democracy building and dialogue.