6 December 2008
PLEASE CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
Thank-you your Highness for your kind introduction.
Ya ali madat. It is a great pleasure to see you again. May I also say what a great pleasure it is to welcome your family to Canada.
Your Highness, though we met for the first time only three years ago, I feel like I have known you a long time. My long-time university roommate, Alnoor Lakhani, is an Ismaili, and he kept a picture of you in our room. He told me much about you, but I have to admit that when I think of that picture and see you today, I still have one question: how is it that you never age?
Off the top, your Highness, let me congratulate you on your Golden Jubilee as Imam of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. For half a century you have provided spiritual guidance for Ismailis and worked to improve the quality of life in their communities.
Your name has also become synonymous with humanitarian aid and development in countries beset by conflict and poverty.
And perhaps most importantly of all, you have acted as a bridge-builder between faiths and cultures. In a world still riven by sectarian strife, this is very important work indeed.
Your highness, I am honoured to be with you today on the occasion of the opening of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat. And on behalf of the government and people of Canada, I want to thank you for choosing to build the Delegation – the world’s first – in our nation’s capital.
This architectural masterpiece is a spectacular addition to our magnificent mile of history here in Ottawa. And like a giant quartz crystal plucked from the Canadian Shield, this beautiful atrium illuminates the openness and timeless purpose of the Delegation. The work done here will help lift the darkness of poverty, ignorance and inequality that afflicts so many in our troubled world.
Your Highness, Canada is a fitting choice for the Delegation. Our country and the IsmailI Imamat are bonded by our shared values; tolerance, compassion, community service and, especially, our devotion to pluralism – the essential ingredient for harmony in our modern, interconnected world.
We are also bonded by a long and fruitful relationship. Canada has been providing generous support for the health, education and economic development work of the Aga Khan Development Network for over 25 years.
And, of course, we are bonded by the tens of thousands of Ismailis who call Canada home. Beginning with their flight from brutal repression in Uganda, Ismailis have adapted quickly and successfully to life in Canada, becoming leaders in our communities. Their success has demonstrated that in a genuinely pluralistic society, social integration can occur without sacrificing cultural identity.
In a very real way, this glorious building will serve as a permanent Canadian monument to that success. In its modern, state-of-the-art design and essentially secular purpose, the work done here will be infused with the ancient traditions and tenets of the IsmailI faith, as embodied by your tireless efforts to teach the world there is more that unites than divides us.
This is the IsmailI way, as your Highness noted when you initiated the delegation here in 2005, and I quote: "Ismailis are a transnational community who are, first and foremost, active and loyal citizens of the countries where they live."
So it is with the Ismailis of Canada. The blossoming of the Ismaili community in Canada offers a ray of hope to the world. By demonstrating that diverse congregations of the great faiths can co-exist and flourish peacefully here, we are proving that there indeed can be unity in diversity.
It is crucial that this message be heard in countries and regions where religious persecution and sectarian violence destroy the lives of innocent human beings. This message will be transmitted from Canada to the world through the programs, policy and diplomacy that will emanate from this Delegation of the IsmailI Imamat.
These efforts will complement the work of the Global Centre for Pluralism, also here in Ottawa, which was initiated last year as a partnership of our government and the Aga Khan Development Network. Working together, your Highness, we are effectively making Canada the headquarters of the global effort to foster peace, prosperity and equality through pluralism.
Sectarianism has been part of the human condition for millennia; it will not easily give way to pluralism and harmony. But this vision has been the inspiring lifelong goal of the Aga Khan.
And when it is achieved, ladies and gentlemen, I believe the world will look a lot like Canada.