September 20, 2014

​For Ismaili Muslims, a Toronto Milestone

 ©2014 Religion News Service

Two new Muslim attractions opening soon should
help dispel negative stereotypes of Islam, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen
Harper said.

The country’s first museum of Islamic art opened
September 18 in the heart of Canada’s largest city, Toronto. An adjacent
Ismaili center is expected to follow. Harper and the Aga Khan, spiritual leader
of the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims, attended a ceremony last week
inaugurating the $300 million complex, which sits on 17 acres of lush gardens
and parkland.

The Aga Khan Museum will house some 1,000
artifacts spanning a millennium of Islamic history. The adjacent Ismaili Centre,
Toronto, will include a prayer space and rooms for social, educational and
cultural events.

“The center creates an understanding of the
values, ethics, culture and heritage of Ismaili Muslims,” a statement from
Canada’s 90,000-strong Ismaili community said.

Ismailis are an offshoot of Shiite Islam. They
are spread across 25 countries but united in their allegiance to Prince Karim
Aga Khan.

In opening the museum, Harper praised the Aga
Khan, who “has greatly contributed to demystifying Islam, throughout the world,
by stressing its social traditions of peace, of tolerance and of pluralism.”

In his remarks, the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary
imam (spiritual leader) of Ismaili Muslims, lauded Canada for having accepted
thousands of Ismailis who fled persecution in Africa and Asia.

When the Aga Khan set out more than a decade ago
to build a landmark museum to house his family’s collection of Islamic art, he
wanted to locate it in London. When those plans fell through, he chose Toronto
because of the city’s large Ismaili population and his strong ties to Canada.

The connection grew stronger, and in 2010, the
Aga Khan was named an honorary Canadian citizen, one of just six people on whom
the honor has been bestowed.

The Ismaili Centre, Toronto, which is winning kudos
for its modernist architecture, is the sixth in a network of such facilities in
Vancouver, Canada; London; Lisbon, Portugal; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and
Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.