BY Jon Sarpong
June 26, 2008 10:29 AM

Individuals from Canada, the United States and around the globe will converge on London, England, to commemorate the golden jubilee of Prince Karim Aga Khan, the 71-year-old spiritual and temporal leader of Shi’a Imami Nizari ‘Ismaili’ Muslims.
The observance of this anniversary began in France on July 11, 2007, exactly 50 years to the day he became the 49th hereditary imam (Living Guide) of the pluralistic and pacifist minority Shi’a community.

Today, close to 15 million Ismailis practice their faith in more than 50 countries around the world.

The Ismaili branch of Islam is the second largest part of the Shi’a community, after the Twelvers. The Ismaili get their name from their acceptance of Ismail bin Jafar as the divinely appointed spiritual successor (imam) to Jafar al-Sadiq, wherein they differ from the Twelvers, who accept Musa al-Kazim, younger brother of Ismail, as the true Imam.

The Ismaili and the Twelvers both accept the same initial imams from the descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima Zahra and therefore share much of their early history.

As Muslims, the Ismailis affirm the fundamental Islamic testimony of truth, the Shahada, that there is no God but God (Allah in Arabic) and that Muhammad is His messenger. They believe that Muhammad was the last and final Prophet of Allah, and that the Holy Qur’an, Allah’s final message to mankind, was revealed through him.

Muslims hold this revelation to be the culmination of the message that had been revealed through other prophets of the tradition before Muhammad, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus, all of whom Muslims revere as prophets of Allah.

During his week-long stay in the United Kingdom, the Aga Khan will be involved in meeting with representatives from various non-governmental organizations and charities with whom his global Aga Khan Development Network has been involved in humanitarian projects in various countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and South Africa.

The pinnacle of celebration will be the special get together (Mulaquat) in solemn and tranquil surroundings with his spiritual followers at ExCel Centre in the London Docklands.

About 30,000 followers are expected to welcome Prince Aga Khan in jubilation of this monumental event. Adorned in a ceremonial religious robe and cap, and in possession of the Sword of Justice, Prince Aga Khan will wear the chain of office, which displays 49 links that inclusively symbolize his predecessors. With the signet ring used as the seal of the imam as far back as the 12th century, the Aga Khan will enter the Congregational Hall to continuous unified supplications, beseeching the creator to shower blessings on the Prophet Muhammad and his progeny (from whom The Aga Khan’s ancestors originated more than 1,400 years ago).

Affectionately referred to by his devout followers as ‘Hazar Imam’ (Present and Living Guide), the Aga Khan will be imparting spiritual and worldly advice as to how his followers should live and conduct themselves in their personal environment and impart religious knowledge and directives that reflect the ethics of their esoteric faith.

This historic event will mark a milestone in the lives of millions around the globe, as well as thousands of Toronto Ismailis participating in this event.

Visit for details on the celebration of Prince Karim Aga Khan’s golden jubilee.

Jon Sarpong is a diversity consultant. He provides independent diversity training and consultation for various organizations. To suggest a story idea for Panorama, e-mail


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