Carleton students gathered to welcome
Prince Karim Aga Khan IV to Ottawa this December

by Farhan Devji 

The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat was inaugurated with a ceremony on Dec. 6 on Sussex D Flags announce the Golden Jubilee of His rive ( Photo: Farhan Devji )

Highness, though we met for the first time only three years ago, I feel like I have known you a long time,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Prince Karim Aga Khan IV at the inauguration ceremonies of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat on Dec. 6.

“My long-time university roommate, Alnoor Lakhani, is an Ismaili, and he kept a picture of you in our room,” added Harper, as the falling snowflakes became visible through the translucent walls of the elegant $54 million landmark.

Alnoor Lakhani isn’t the only one who keeps a reminder of His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of over 13.5 million Shia Ismaili Muslims around the world.

Among the 70,000 Ismaili Muslims in Canada, approximately 1,250 live in the Ottawa region, and roughly 35 attend Carleton University, according to Ottawa Ismaili Students Association President Shelina Jamal.

Hafiz Moledina, a public administration master’s student, says he also keeps a picture of the Aga Khan in his dorm room.

“Canada and the Aga Khan have had a very fruitful relationship since the early 1970s, and I feel this shows the level of admiration and confidence His Highness has for our country,” he says.

Flags announce the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan

The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, located on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, will serve to house the Aga Khan Development Network’s main offices. According to an official press release from the office of the Prime Minister, the AKDN is a “group of private, international, non-denominational agencies working to improve living conditions and opportunities in the developing world.” Additionally, the Delegation building will provide the Aga Khan a place of residence on his visits to the nation’s capital and operate as an embassy of sorts – the first of its kind – for the Ismaili Muslim community.

“My parents, like many Ismaili Muslims in Canada, fled their home countries in East Africa in order to escape political persecution and instability. Canada welcomed them with open arms,” Moledina says, who is originally from Vancouver, B.C.

“Therefore, I feel this building is a reflection of not only the enhancement of the Aga Khan’s relationship with Canada, but also the progress the community has made in this country.”

The opening ceremonies of the delegation building were closed to the general public, but even so, a group of Ismailis lined up on Sussex Drive in sub-zero temperatures, hoping to catch a glimpse.

Their prayers were answered, as the Aga Khan smiled and waved to them before he welcomed Harper into the building.

One particular Carleton student, however, didn’t have to wait outside. Alisha Dharshi, also an Ismaili, volunteered at the opening ceremonies as an usher.

“The experience was amazing,” says Dharshi, a second-year history and theory of architecture major. “Already I was so excited just to see the building, as it’s not open to public at the moment. I felt so honoured to be part of the building opening.”

Dharshi says while she has several positive memories from her experience at the Delegation opening, she says she’ll never forget the giant smile on the Aga Khan’s face as he saw all his volunteers celebrating after the ceremony.

“For me, it felt like he was watching his children, just enjoying seeing them celebrate.”

His Highness the Aga Khan speaks at the inauguration

Although Dharshi is proud to say she hails from Brampton, Ont., but she says she feels very fortunate to be in Ottawa for this event.

“Wow, I feel so lucky that [the building’s] here in Ottawa. I would never have been able to be involved if it was not here,” she says. “Also, the fact that the building has joined so many others on the Confederation Boulevard is momentous. It’s joining buildings that have been there for so long, holding so much history within the walls. It was time for a building like this to take its place amongst them and create history itself.”

As Moledina explains, the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat is a beacon of hope for a better and more serene future.

“It’s a demonstration of what the community can do to bring Canadians of all backgrounds together in order to help tackle and solve some of the world’s most serious challenges, namely global poverty.”

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