From North Shore News (local Vancouver paper)
10 June 2005

*Ismailis flock to see Aga Khan *

Jane Seyd

UP to 1,000 Ismaili Muslims who live on the North Shore were preparing to meet their spiritual leader today, as the Aga Khan - Prince Karim Aga Khan IV - makes a rare visit to meet with followers in Vancouver.

North Vancouver resident Farrah Jinha-Devji is just one of many local Ismailis who planned to take the SeaBus over to the spiritual meeting that will happen at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre this morning.

"It's a time for me to reflect on my faith and my spirituality and reflect on the role I can play" in the wider world community, said Jinha-Devji, who will attend the event with her husband and three children.

"It's going to be a really special time to be with the people who are closest to you."

Shuttle buses and car pools have been organized to get the faithful from all over the Lower Mainland to the event. There are about 12,000 Ismaili followers in British Columbia, but the numbers at the convention centre are expected to swell to up to 25,000 as faithful from Alberta and neighbouring western American states make the pilgrimage to see the Aga Khan.

Jinha-Devji said a visit by the spiritual leader is quite rare - the last one was 13 years ago in 1992. She said the meeting on Friday will not be a prayer service, but will be a chance for the Aga Khan to provide spiritual guidance to local Ismailis on "how to live your life."

Ismailis - who follow an offshoot of the Shia branch of Islam - believe the Aga Khan is a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed.

Throughout his spiritual leadership - which began in 1957 when he was 20 - the Aga Khan has stressed values like tolerance and taking on leadership roles to improve conditions in the developing world, said Jinha-Devji.

"He's a philanthropist and he's a humanitarian," she said. "My parents went to Aga Khan schools in East Africa. They were schools that he has built."

A private man of immense personal wealth, who was schooled in Switzerland and at Harvard University, the Aga Khan also founded the Aga Khan Development Network, which works with development agencies throughout the world, but especially in Africa, south and central Asia and the Middle East. Providing health care and education are priorities of his network.

In recognition of that work, the Aga Khan was in Canada this week to be made an honourary Companion of the Order of Canada. Other non-Canadians who have received the award include Nelson Mandela, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Vaclav Havel.

The Aga Khan, who is a British citizen but lives in an estate near Paris, France, has described the Ismailis as "a transnational community."

Most Ismailis on the North Shore immigrated to Canada from East Africa in the late 1960s and 1970s, fleeing brutal political regimes such as that of dictator Idi Amin in Uganda.

Jinha-Devji arrived in Canada from Uganda that way herself when she was only two years old.

Between 1,000 and 1,200 Ismailis attend the jamatkhana - or house of worship - in the Edgemont area of North Vancouver for daily evening prayers, social gatherings and religious education. Each September, the North Shore Ismaili community also hosts an "Ismaili walk" to raise money for local non-profit causes and projects.

"It's based on the ethic that His Highness has shared with us," said Jinha-Devji.

posted on 06/10/2005