Today, thousands of Canadians and millions of Ismailis around the world celebrate His Highness the Aga Khan’s 80th 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, and in September was awarded the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship.
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, 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, 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 32 years.
The 80-year-old Harvard grad celebrates his 60-year Diamond Jubilee as spiritual leader on July 11, 2017, and celebrations are expected to last for an entire year, which will include the launch of many new initiatives to commemorate the occasion.
“Sophie and I offer our best wishes today to His Highness the Aga Khan,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. “For more than 50 years, His Highness has worked tirelessly to reduce hunger, poverty, disease, and illiteracy in developing countries. He is a beacon of acceptance and compassion, and an inspiration to both his community and the world.”
“I am proud to call His Highness both a mentor and friend,” Trudeau said. “He has shown time and time again that no matter our faith, where we were born, what colour is our skin, or what language we speak, we are equal members of this world. Today, we salute the tremendous efforts that the Aga Khan has undertaken over his lifetime to help those most vulnerable, and wish him health and happiness on this special day.”
To get to know the Aga Khan more, watch this video introducing him prior to receiving the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship:
Statement from BC Premier Christy Clark:
“For almost 60 years, His Highness has served as a humanitarian leader and philanthropist. A champion of ideals and noble causes, including economic, social, and cultural development, he is committed to helping those less fortunate, notably through the charitable works of the Aga Khan Development Network.
In April, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby and was impressed by the ongoing work of the community to promote equality, pluralism, education, civic engagement, volunteerism, and charitable projects, including the annual Ismaili Walk.
On behalf of all British Columbians, I extend warm wishes to His Highness the Aga Khan on this 80th birthday and wish him continued success in his efforts to make the world a better place.”
Statement from Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly:
“It is a pleasure to extend birthday wishes to His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, Imam and spiritual leader of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.
For more than 50 years, the Aga Khan has devoted himself to the spiritual and worldly progress of Ismailis everywhere. As Minister responsible for multiculturalism, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting his Highness earlier this year. I thanked him for his passionate advocacy of peace, compassion and pluralism. He has helped build bridges across religious and ethnic divides around the world.
His Highness is also an inspiration to our country, as he was named an honorary Canadian in 2010. He led the creation of the Aga Khan Museum and the world’s sixth Ismaili Centre, both opened in Toronto in fall 2014.
The Aga Khan’s global humanitarian efforts—including those undertaken through the Aga Khan Foundation Canada—have had a lasting impact on the developing world, bringing improved health, education and rural development to some of the most vulnerable communities in Africa and Asia.
As Minister of Canadian Heritage, I thank His Highness for all he has done to help those in need, and join with Canada’s Ismaili community in wishing him a very happy birthday. Khushali Mubarak!”
Happy 80th birthday to His Highness the Aga Khan and Salgirah Mubarak to everyone in the Ismaili community!
— Naheed Nenshi (@nenshi) December 13, 2016
Sending my sincerest best wishes to His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan and to the Ismaili community, today on his 80th birthday. @akdn
— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) December 13, 2016
— Malik Z. Talib (@malikztalib) December 13, 2016
Wishing His Highness the Aga Khan the very best on this, his 80th birthday. Khushali Mubarak to our #Ismaili friends.
— Stephen Harper (@stephenharper) December 14, 2016
Happy birthday to HRH the Aga Khan IV. Thank you for your leadership in addressing poverty, hunger & illiteracy around the world. @AKFCanada
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) December 13, 2016
Today, I join the Ismaili community in wishing His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan a very happy birthday: https://t.co/93p3K5zB6M
— Rona Ambrose (@RonaAmbrose) December 13, 2016