Today, thousands of Canadians and millions of Ismailis around the world celebrate His Highness the Aga Khan’s 81st birthday.
The 49th hereditary spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims is no stranger to Canada.
In May 2010, he became the fifth person to be granted honourary Canadian Citizenship, in February 2014 addressed the Canadian Parliament, in September 2016 was awarded the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship, in April announced a new $25-million garden at the University of Alberta, and in May opened the global headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.
But the Aga Khan’s relationship with Canada is one that dates back many decades. In the early 1970s, Idi Amin began forcing South Asians out of Uganda, many of whom were Ismailis. Friends with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Aga Khan asked for Canada to open its doors and become a home for Ismailis, and thousands of them began immigrating from East Africa.
Since then, Ismailis have created communities and businesses here, as well as being elected and appointed into various levels of government, including Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Don Valley East MP Yasmin Ratansi, Parkdale-High Park MP Arif Virani, and Senator Mobina Jaffer.
The Aga Khan has also opened two of the world’s six Ismaili Centres in Canada, beginning with Burnaby in 1982 and Toronto in 2014 (along with the Aga Khan Museum), which are spaces for social and cultural gatherings, like citizenship ceremonies, and prayer. His Aga Khan Development Network charitable arm in Canada, Aga Khan Foundation Canada, sees many events in cities around the country, including the World Partnership Walk and World Partnership Golf Tournament, which were both started in Canada and have raised over $100 million in 33 years.
The 81-year-old Harvard grad celebrated his 60-year Diamond Jubilee as spiritual leader on July 11, and celebrations around the world have been taking place since then, including launches of many new initiatives to commemorate the occasion.
“Today, we celebrate the birthday of His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims – a community that includes tens of thousands in Canada and millions around the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
“The Aga Khan is a global humanitarian leader dedicated to the promotion of pluralism and peace. He is an inspiration to millions, including myself. I often say that Canada is stronger not in spite of its differences, but because of them. For half a century, the Aga Khan has shown that about the world.”
“His Highness has worked tirelessly to reduce poverty, promote diversity, and advance gender equality, particularly in developing countries. He is a beacon of compassion and acceptance, who has always stood by those most vulnerable.”
“In recognition of his noble work, he was named an honorary Canadian citizen and an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada. I am proud to call His Highness both a friend and a mentor. Canada and the world are stronger and richer because of his commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to finding common ground.”
“Today, Sophie and I thank the Aga Khan for all that he has done to help those in need, and wish him continued health and happiness for years to come.”
To get to know the Aga Khan more, watch this video introducing him prior to receiving the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship: