The Toronto Star
Jun. 9, 2005. 01:00 AM
Ismaili Muslims reaching out
Religious centre, art and heritage museum set for city

The Aga Khan speaks to 70,000 devotees at CNE


The Ismaili Muslim community plans to build a massive religious and cultural complex in east Toronto in a broader effort to reach out to other Canadians.

Ismailia's revered spiritual and temporal leader yesterday confirmed plans for multi-million-dollar facilities in this city and Ottawa, designed to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and other groups in this country.

The Aga Khan told the Toronto Star that his religious sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, will construct an Islamic art and heritage museum as well as a centre of worship on a site of almost seven hectares on Wynford Dr. near Eglinton Ave. and the Don Valley Parkway. It is expected to cost upwards of $200 million.

During a stop in Toronto on his trip to Canada this week, the Aga Khan also revealed plans for two centres in the nation's capital. A building on Sussex Dr. will house the Delegation of the Imamat, a body representing the Aga Kahn. The facility will provide information about the community's work, and house public events and educational programs.

Plans are also underway for a Global Centre for Pluralism designed to facilitate discussions about policies in place in Canada in the hope that countries in the developing world could adopt our philosophies in areas such as health, education and laws.

"Of all the modern industrialized societies, Canada is by far the most effective and by far the most successful in its pluralism, and therefore there was something very serious to learn from Canada and to try and move ... it into parts of the developing world," the Aga Khan said.

He said much of the work of the institutions will be in close collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency and leading academic institutions in Canada.

The Aga Khan hopes Canada will help with development programs in the Muslim world.

The beloved leader was presented the insignia of Companion of the Order of Canada earlier this week for devoting his life to philanthropy.

He addressed an estimated 70,000 Ismailis who flocked from across North America yesterday to the Canadian National Exhibition for morning and afternoon sermons.

Many people who didn't get a chance to attend the service wept with joy as they caught a glimpse of the Aga Khan leaving the CNE grounds in his four-limousine motorcade.

"This is a very important event for Ismailis," said Wilma Jiwani, whose husband and three children travelled from Georgia.

"He is like what the Pope would be to Catholics," she added.

Jawed Ayam, 15, who came with his family from Whitby and was present at the sermon, said the imam is a source of inspiration for him.

"The talk was all about knowledge and how to seek knowledge, and it was very important to be here."