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Canada, Asia and The Aga Khan.

The Aga Khan's visit to Vancouver this weekend is expected to attract over 100,000 people for an Ismaili-Canadian celebration of shared values, inclusiveness and pluralism.

Part of his worldwide Diamond Jubilee tour, the Aga Khan's visit to Canada includes stops in Ottawa, Vancouver (May 5-to-7) and Calgary (May 9-to-11).

Earlier this week in Ottawa, the Aga Khan attended a dinner at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General.

In Vancouver and Calgary, he will meet with an active faith community that reveres the Aga Khan as a living, hereditary spiritual leader--or Imam--directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad.

For Canadian Ismailis, the tour represents an opportunity to reflect on the tenets of a faith steeped in strong principles of volunteerism and support for humanitarian causes.

It is also an opportunity to connect with the global philanthropist whose Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has transformed the quality of life for millions of people around the world. Canada has been a strong supporter of that work, particularly in the developing countries of Asia where the AKDN has invested more than half-a-billion dollars of Canadian money over the past four decades.

Rahim Talib, a lawyer and entrepreneur, is a volunteer with the Vancouver-based Ismaili Muslim Committee, which is co-organizing the West Coast leg of the Aga Khan's Diamond Jubilee tour. Talib says it is customary in Jubilee years for the Aga Khan to visit and meet with the faith community, which is based in 30 countries around the world.

"Any time his Highness is in our city, it's very special, but the Aga Khan's Diamond Jubilee makes his visit even more special," says Talib. "The community is incredibly excited about it."

Canada and the Ismaili Imamat or congregation, have a long history of cooperation and mutual respect, both in Canada and abroad.

The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of 15 million people around the world, including 120,000 in Canada, who belong to the Ismaili faith. They're a global, multi-ethnic community whose members--comprising a wide diversity of cultures, languages and nationalities--live in Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America.

In British Columbia there are about 20,000 Ismailis, whose names dominate industry, real estate development, capital markets and local charities.

The Aga Khan has a long-standing relationship with Canada, dating back to the arrival of the first Ismailis in the 1950s and 1960s as part of a professional pool that immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom and western European countries.

This steady growth continued until the early 1970s when political changes in many Asian and African countries led to the arrival of large numbers of Ismailis in Canada. Today, approximately 120,000 Ismailis of diverse origins are settled throughout Canada.

In Canada, institutions established by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, an agency of the worldwide, non-denominational Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) include the Global Centre for Pluralism (in partnership with the Government of Canada); the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby; the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre, and Park in Toronto; the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta; and a forthcoming park in Burnaby.

"If you look at the close relationship between Canada and the Imamat over the last several decades, it reflects the shared values of pluralism, diversity, tolerance, openness, and a mutual commitment to combating poverty and instability in some of the toughest parts of the world," says Talib.

"I think his Highness loves Canada. And I think he shares in this conviction that we believe in as a community, that the world needs more Canada."

It is these Ismaili-held principles of peace, pluralism, and ethics-inaction that so clearly align with Canada's own development policies, particularly as they relate to Asia, where the challenges of health, education, gender equality, and economic empowerment still impact vast populations in the region.

Canada is the largest external supporter of the AKDN's work in Asia, with grants totalling over C$500 million since 1981 and an active portfolio valued at $C140 million.

Steve Mason is the Director of Programs with the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada, and responsible for oversight and management of the organization's overseas portfolio in Africa and Asia.

Mason says the major areas of focus in Asia are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in South Asia, and Tajikistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

The development agency, adds Mason, takes a "multi-pronged approached" aimed at improving quality of life, particularly for poor and marginalized populations, with a specific emphasis on women and girls. The AKDN has also partnered with like-minded organizations in the region, including the Asia Development Bank headquartered in the Philippines and the Japan International Cooperation Agency based in Tokyo.

"A lot of the work that we've done in Asia over the years has been supported very significantly by Canada and by Canadians," says Mason, adding that some of the more "transformational" work has been undertaken in South Asia, where large swaths of the population were extremely impoverished and isolated when the AKDN arrived in the early 1980s.

"Canada was an early investor in the Aga Khan rural support programs in India and Pakistan, which really had a very significant focus on moving people out of just subsistence agriculture into livelihoods that could actually generate an income," says Mason.

"Canadian investment has also been essential in health and education, in training nurses, mid-wives and teachers."

Mason says the Aga Khan's Diamond Jubilee year is an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the work that has been done, and on the road ahead. New challenges in Asia include mitigating the impacts of climate change on peoples' livelihoods, keeping pace with shifting demographics including the health and education needs of much younger populations, and continuing to promote the pluralist ethic of the Aga Khan and his globe-spanning faith community.

"In some ways we've seen increased interconnectedness around the world but in other ways there has also been retrenchment into us-versus-them mentalities," says Mason.

"We always try and work in areas where we can help bridge ethnic, religious, or cultural divides and help people see their commonalities rather than their differences."

By M.J. Roberts

Mata Press Service

What they say:

"The Aga Khan's decades of work in fighting poverty, encouraging peace, and promoting education and religious understanding offer a much needed witness to common belief in loving God and our neighbour. His philanthropy, rooted in his Muslim faith, demonstrates to the world that religious convictions have a vital role to play in secular society"

--Most Rev. J. Michael Miller, CSB Archbishop of Vancouver.

"We, from the bottom of our hearts, congratulate you and hope that you continue to have a positive impact not only on the lives in Canada, but on the lives of those, who are hungry, sick and in need of education to stand on their feet in the world."

--Suresh Kurl, is a retired senior public servant who writes on socio-political issues and Hinduism.

"The Aga Khan, is not only the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. He is a global statesman who promotes the principles of pluralism and inclusivity in the fields of economic development, job creation, education, health care, as well as heritage, music, and fine art."

--Anthony Shelton, Director, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.

"The Aga Khan's tireless advocacy to bridge the humanitarian-development divide has always been a guiding beacon for me; during my early years in Uganda, then as a refugee to Italy and the United States, and now as a businessman in British Columbia."

--Sam Hirji, president Samco Printers, Vancouver, BC.

"Like our Sikh Gurus, the Aga Khan transcends religious boundaries and has created a movement based on universal humanism. He is a radical force not confined to within the borders of any one faith. He is a committed community builder and a global ambassador of Canadian values who preaches the spirit of connection."

--Harbinder Singh Sewak, publisher of the Vancouver-based South Asian Post and recipient of the UK-based World Sikh Award.

Caption: The Aga Khan with his followers in Tajikistan.

Caption: The Aga Khan Development Network delivers health services to 5 million people every year, through over 200 health facilities, including 13 hospitals.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Title Annotation:Special Feature
Author:Roberts, M.J.
Publication:The Filipino Post
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 3, 2018
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