In a PMO News Release on February 7, rebroadcast on a “24 SEVEN Exclusive” on February 8, Stephen Harper announced that he’d invited His Highness the Aga Khan to address Parliament during an official visit on February 27, 2014.
Who is the Aga Khan?
The Aga Khan is stated to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad through the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, the first Imam, and his wife Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter; the Aga Khan IV is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, succeeding his grandfather Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III.
After being born on December 13, 1936 in Geneva, Switzerland he spent his early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, later returning to Switzerland for 9 years of schooling at Le Rosey School. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA Honors Degree in Islamic history.
Today he has a range of titles, honorary degrees in a variety of fields. From Canada alone he has 6 honorary degrees including an LL.D. (honoris causa) McMaster University (1987), LL.D. (honoris causa) University of Toronto (2004), LL.D. (honoris causa), (honoris causa) University of Ottawa,(2012), and Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sacred Letters from Trinity College, University of Toronto (2013).
He is also one of the few to be bestowed with an Honorary Canadian Citizenship (2010) after being passed unanimously on June 19, 2009, joining ranks with Nelson Mandela (the first living person to be bestowed with an Honorary Citizenship in 2001) and Aung San Suu Kyi, human right’s activist in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).
The Aga Khan has had extremely close ties with Canada since stepping into the office of Imam for Shia Ismaili Muslims on July 11, 1957.
One of his current Canadian projects today is the Aga Khan Museum, the first museum in North America dedicated exclusively to Islamic art and culture, sitting next to the Ismaili Centre Toronto, a location for the Ismaili community (Jamat) to socialize and network with the public while acting as a Jamatkhana (a location for prayers), launched in 2010 with the help of Prime Minister Harper.
The location will also be home to a set of gardens in the heart of Toronto designed by world-class architect Vladimir Djurovic, chosen through a competition. He said he was influenced by green spaces around the Muslim world, TheIsmaili.org writing “The gardens at Humayun’s Tomb in India are one of my favourite gardens of all time…Seeing a garden designed a very, very long time back — and which today is probably even more magical than when it was designed — was a huge inspiration.”
His work doesn’t just focus in Toronto. The Global Centre for Pluralism is a charitable organization led by a 12 person Board of Directors including His Highness the Aga Khan (chair), UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Canadian Governor General the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson and former Guatemalan Vice-President Eduardo Stein. It’s funded by the Government of Canada and the Aga Khan, currently operating from the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, located at 199 Sussex Drive, headquarters of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Inspired by Canada, the Centre “works to advance respect for diversity worldwide, believing that openness and understanding toward the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other peoples are essential to the survival of an interdependent world” and will be moved to 330 Sussex Drive, a renovated building, former home to Canada’s War Museum.
The Aga Khan’s ties to Canada date past the time of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.