Today, thousands of Canadians and millions of Ismailis around the world celebrate His Highness the Aga Khan’s 82nd 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 2017 announced a new $25-million garden at the University of Alberta, and in May 2017 opened the global headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.
Most recently, he received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Calgary and opened the Aga Khan Garden in Alberta, and received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in a historic joint conferral ceremony.
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. A friend of 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 82-year-old Harvard grad celebrated his 60-year Diamond Jubilee as spiritual leader on July 11, 2017, and celebrations around the world took place, including the launches of many new initiatives to commemorate the occasion.
“Today, we join Shia Ismaili Muslims across Canada and around the world to celebrate the 82nd birthday of their spiritual leader, His Highness the Aga Khan,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
“His Highness is a global humanitarian leader and an ambassador for pluralism and peace. For over 50 years, he has worked tirelessly to reduce poverty, advance gender equality, and champion healthcare and education for the most vulnerable.”
“His dedication to bridge building and message of compassion offers a way forward. He reminds us all of our common humanity, and that the measure of success is not what we achieve for ourselves, but what we do for others.”
“The Aga Khan and Canada share a special bond, epitomized by the vibrant Ismaili community that calls this country home,” Trudeau said. “We have long championed the same values – respect for diversity, openness to others, generosity of heart – and work every day toward a more caring, peaceful, and inclusive world. We are proud to have bestowed honorary Canadian citizenship on the Aga Khan, and honoured to host to both the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.”
“Today, Sophie and I thank the Aga Khan for setting a tremendous example for us all, 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: