June 17, 2004

University of Toronto to confer honorary degree on the Aga Khan

TORONTO (CP) - If University of Toronto education students get a "holier than thou" feeling from their convocation speaker this year, it's only because it is his Highness, the Aga Khan, a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammed.

The Muslim spiritual leader will be in Toronto on Friday to receive an honorary doctor of laws from the university for his "outstanding contributions to community service, higher education and philanthropy," university officials said.

His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Born 1936 in Geneva, he spent his early childhood in Kenya before attending school in Switzerland. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA (honours) in Islamic history.

"We feel privileged that he will be adding the University of Toronto's highest honour to his list of achievements," said U of T president Robert Birgeneau.

In 1957, at the age of 20, the Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather as the hereditary leader of the Ismaili Muslims.

"(He) has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to improving the living conditions of the disadvantaged and to the promotion of higher education for all," Birgeneau said.

"He has consistently championed idealism and service and inspired people around the world to follow his example."

As Imam, the Aga Khan has emphasized the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds the dignity of man.

He will address graduating students who will receive undergraduate degrees from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of U of T.

Tickets for the graduation ceremony, which takes place at 2:30 p.m. at the university's Convocation Hall, are reserved for the students and their families and will not be available to the public.