The Associated Press | Published: April 11, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas: The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide, was to begin an eight-day U.S. visit Friday in Texas that will be highlighted by the announcement of a nearly $1 billion (€630 million) initiative to establish residential schools in 14 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia.

The visit was the latest in a series of trips by the Aga Khan to mark his 50th anniversary, or Golden Jubilee, as imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community. He previously visited East and Southern Africa, and will later be traveling to Dubai.

Tens of thousands of Ismaili Muslims live in Texas, and many of them are expected to hear their spiritual leader speak in San Antonio on Sunday.

The 71-year-old Aga Khan, one of the world’s richest men and a major philanthropist, was also planning to visit California, Illinois and Georgia.

On April 18, the Aga Khan was scheduled to deliver the annual Peterson Lecture at a conference in Atlanta marking the 40th anniversary of the International Baccalaureate program that is now offered to more than 600,000 students in nearly 2,300 schools in 127 countries.
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In the speech, he plans to announce plans to establish 18 Aga Khan Academies, with each school expected to cost around $50 million (€31.6 million), in 14 countries, according to his spokesman Nazim Karim. One academy has already opened in Kenya, and others are being constructed in Tanzania, Uganda and India so far.

The academies, which will offer the International Baccalaureate program, reflect the Aga Khan’s “commitment to education and the need for excellence to promote civil society and encourage democracy and pluralism in developing countries,” Karim said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

In Texas, the Aga Khan was scheduled to meet with Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday and attend the signing of a student and faculty exchange agreement between the University of Texas and the Aga Khan University, which has campuses in Pakistan and other countries.

The governor was scheduled to host a private dinner Saturday night and then a fireworks show near Austin for the Aga Khan, a Harvard-educated businessman and philanthropist who traces his lineage to the Prophet Muhammad.

Perry and the Aga Khan became friends nearly a decade ago. Their friendship resulted in a University of Texas program that exposes state teachers to Muslim history and culture. It is funded by the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the world’s largest private development agencies.

The Aga Khan was also scheduled to attend an event Saturday at an exotic game ranch in Buda.

The present Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather as the 49th hereditary imam of the Ismaili Muslims in 1957. Ismaili Muslims are a branch of the Shiite community.


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