He is the antithesis of the stereotypical Islamic imam — he wears business suits and silk ties instead of robes and turbans, owns a fancy yacht club in Sardinia, and oversees a multibillion-dollar economic empire that stretches from Switzerland to South Africa and beyond.
But what really sets the 70-year-old Aga Khan apart from many other high-profile Islamic leaders is the affection he often expresses for Jews and Christians.
“The faith of Islam, in the vast majority of its interpretations, is not in conflict with the other great Abrahamic traditions,” he said in a speech last month in Paris.
On Wednesday, the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims will celebrate the Aga Khan’s 50 years of spiritual leadership of their small but powerful Islamic sect.
In Canada, an estimated 80,000 Ismailis are expected to gather at large private meetings across the country to pray and feast.
“It is a tradition within the Ismaili community to commemorate epochal events in the life of our imams,” says Amir Karim, a Montreal-based businessman and a volunteer with the Ismaili Council for Canada.
Throughout his Jubilee year, the Aga Khan will travel to Canada and a dozen other countries, dispensing development aid, opening schools and cultural centres, and advancing his belief that the terrible tension that now divides the Islamic world and the West is less a sign of “clashing civilizations” than a symptom of deep ignorance and political disputes on both sides.
Ismaili Muslims have been persecuted through history, including by many fellow Muslims. They have been called the “Jews of the Islamic world.” Many came to Canada after being expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin.
The current Aga Khan is considered a direct descendant of Ali, the cousin and son-inlaw of the Prophet Mohammed. He grew up in Kenya and Switzerland in a world of wealth and privilege, developing a taste for fast cars and race horses.
His grandfather, the third Aga Khan,urged the Muslim world to support the Allied cause in the First World War and in 1937 became president of the League of Nations. He chose the current ruler over a brother, Prince Aly Khan, the playboy who married Rita Hayworth.
…this post forwarded by a Windsor Humanist (Neil.Hod.) after a July 10, 2007 article by Richard Foot in The Vancouver Sun