Item(s) for the ‘Islamic Articles’ Category

May 28,2010

Aga Khan Museum project to include Ismaili centre and park

By Noor Javed

The artistic pieces have graced the homes of Mughal emperors, adorned the gardens of Persian palaces and educated the masses of the Muslim world.

Soon, over 1,000 years of Islamic art and culture will find a permanent home in Toronto.

The groundbreaking for the Aga Khan Museum, the first in North America solely devoted to Islamic art, will take place on Friday near Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. The museum will be built alongside an Ismaili centre and park on a 7-hectare site at 49 Wynford Dr.

More than 1,000 Islamic artifacts from China to the Iberian Peninsula will be showcased — with 200 on permanent display — when the museum opens in 2013.

The pieces, which come from the collection of the Aga Khan family, already have more air miles than most Canadians. They have been featured in museums around the world from London to Madrid. Before they settle in Toronto, they will be exhibited in Istanbul and five other cities in the Muslim world.

The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, will arrive Friday to put a shovel in the ground and give his blessings to the $300 million project

“While some North American museums have significant collections of Muslim art, there is no institution devoted to Islamic art,” he said. “In building the museum in Toronto, we intend to introduce a new actor to the North American art scene. Its fundamental aim will be an educational one, to actively promote knowledge of Islamic arts and culture.”

The 10,000-square-foot building will be designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, who is also working on the expansion of the United Nations building and Tower 4 at the former World Trade Center site.

“This project will help to bridge the clash of ignorance,” said Amyn Sayani, a volunteer with the Ismaili Council for Canada. “This is very much an opportunity for people to dialogue and to bridge different cultures and faiths.”

A sampling of the art coming to town:

Manuscript of the Canon of Medicine by Ibn Sina, Iran or Mesopotamia, c. 1052: This manuscript is considered to be one of the most important collections of medieval medical knowledge in the Islamic world. It was used in the 12th and 13th centuries by medical schools in Europe, almost until the beginning of modern times. The document to be displayed is the fifth book, focusing on drugs and pharmacy.

Emerald green bottle, Iran, Safavid dynasty, 17th century: The Islamic world, mainly due to proximity, has always had close ties to the Chinese world. This bottle was made to imitate Chinese ceramics, in both colour and appearance.

Portrait of Sultan Selim, Turkey, c. 1570: A large album portrait done in watercolour, ink and gold of Sultan Selim II. It was his father, Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, who solidified the geographical borders of the Ottoman Empire. Selim was better known for enjoying finer pleasures such as literature, art and wine. Here, he shown by the painter as larger than life, in a luxurious fur-lined and gold garment.

Standard (alam), Iran, 16th century: Made of steel, standards usually decorated bowls used as drinking vessels or food containers for wandering ascetics. This pear-shaped standard contains an inscription which can be read from different angles. The text from top to bottom says: “Ya Allah, ya Muhammad, ya ‘Ali” (“O God, O Muhammad, O Ali).


Feb 4,2010

Ali Asani uses arts to explain, appreciate Islam

Using art forms, such as poetry, music, and calligraphy, Ali Asani is combating ignorance about Islam and Muslim cultures.

In his office, dotted with delicate weavings and tapestries, and stacked with books on religion and languages, Asani proudly shows off the product of a recent academic endeavor, a handful of music videos created by his students. In the short clips, the men and women are singing their own compositions, inspired by a verse from the Koran.

“The arts help to humanize cultures where political discourses based on nationalist ideologies tend to dehumanize. They are wonderful pedagogic bridges that help to connect peoples who perceive those different from themselves as ‘the other,’ ” said Asani, Harvard professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures.

Asani’s use of the arts as a teaching tool is just part of his broader effort to eradicate what he calls “religious illiteracy.” For more than 30 years, he has dedicated himself to helping others better understand the rich subtext and diverse influences that make religion — in particular, Islam — a complex cultural touchstone.

“For me, religion is a cultural phenomenon that is complexly embedded in historical, political, economic, literary, and artistic contexts. As these contexts change, people’s interpretation of religion changes, so it’s never really something that is fixed.”

Those who refuse to see understandings of religion as contextually constructed engage in a dangerous form of religious illiteracy, said the scholar, one that “strips people in a very broad way of their humanity. Looking at people through the exclusive lens of their religious identity and ignoring their historical, cultural, and political contexts is dehumanizing and leads to stereotyping and sometimes to even genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

His quest is partly personal. Asani, who came to the United States as a young man directly from his native Nairobi to attend college, was stunned when his American peers challenged his African heritage.

“Because of the way I looked, people were questioning that I really could be African,” recalled the scholar, who has ancestral ties to South Asia. “I thought it was very strange, since my family has roots in Africa dating back 200 years.”

“It was my first encounter with what people in the United States know about the rest of the world. Most of my peers had no idea of Africa’s racial, cultural, and religious diversity. I hoped it was something that I would get a chance to remedy someday. And then I found out there were larger problems in the academy about how Islam is taught and understood.”

Asani came to Harvard as an undergraduate in 1973 and has been here ever since. A concentrator in comparative religion, he later pursued his doctorate work on Near Eastern languages, developing his dissertation on the ginans, the religious texts of the Ismaili branch of Islam. Capitalizing on his multilingual fluency in Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Gujarati, Sindhi, and Swahili, he began teaching at Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Today a tenured professor, his research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions of Islam, as well as popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life.

In keeping with his mission of promoting religious literacy, Asani held workshops for educators following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to help them better understand Islam. He also recently developed a detailed historic and cultural curriculum for the study of Muslim societies for the Islamic Studies Initiative, an international professional development program for high school teachers in Kenya, Pakistan, and Texas.

Most recently, Asani, who is also associate director of Harvard’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, has been working on incorporating the arts into his “Culture and Belief” course, which is offered as part of Harvard’s new Program in General Education.

“I am interested in exploring the use of the arts not only as lenses to study religious traditions but also as a means of engaging students in deeper forms of learning through art making,” he said.

“By studying and appreciating a piece of art or a piece of literature from a different culture and then attempting to re-create that artistic or literary form within their own cultural framework, students participate in learning processes that are intimate and bear the imprint of their own personalities. In this manner, education can truly become personally transformative.”


Jan 22,2010

Thought-provoking Exhibition Invites Canadians to Explore Our Nation’s Global Leadership Role

OTTAWA, Jan. 21 /CNW/ – Bridges that Unite, an interactive exhibition showcasing Canada’s ability to bridge the developed and the developing worlds, is set to open in Ottawa next week as part of a cross-Canada tour.

Presented from January 28th to February 28th at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the exhibit invites visitors to consider Canada’s role in the world through the lens of a remarkable 25-year partnership with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in some of the world’s most isolated and impoverished regions. Thought-provoking stories, spanning several continents, are told through powerful images, evocative soundscapes and multimedia components.

Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, is presenting the bilingual exhibition, which provides an opportunity to share the experience of the past quarter-century and chart a way forward for Canada and the world, explained Khalil Z. Shariff, Chief Executive Officer of AKFC.

“The exhibition draws on our rich experience in the developing world to spark conversations about what Canada and Canadians can do to ensure a more peaceful, prosperous and pluralist world. We are delighted to continue this important dialogue in Ottawa and we look forward to teaming up with the Canada Science and Technology Museum and other key partners to present Bridges that Unite.”

The exhibition provides an ideal platform for in-depth exchanges on some of the most pressing questions of the 21st century and plays host to a range of on-site events including free film screenings, cultural events, and school programs. Guides are on hand to engage with visitors and animate special activities.

“While at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Bridges that Unite exhibition will highlight many of Canada’s contributions on the world stage. As one of Canada’s national cultural institutions, we are also pleased to provide a platform to generate dialogue and engagement for visitors of all ages with this revealing window on the human condition. Both Bridges that Unite and our concurrent exhibition, Hungry Planet will provide a unique opportunity to reflect on some of the great issues that challenge our planet,” said Denise Amyot, President and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation.

Bridges that Unite is presented Tuesday through Sunday, free of charge, at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, located at 1867 St. Laurent Blvd., Ottawa. The Museum will also be open on Monday, February 15, 2010, for Family Day.

For more information including details on the weekly calendar of events, visit or contact Aga Khan Foundation Canada at or 1-800-267-2532 ext. 8.

                               UPCOMING EVENTS

    Dialogue on Enhancing Equality and Human Development
    Monday, January 25, 2010, 1.00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.

BRIDGESTHATUNITE and Canada’s World will host a dialogue session that will bring together a cross-section of citizens to reflect on the question of Canada’s role in enhancing equality and human development. Registration is free, however seating is limited. To register please contact Sarah Van Borek at:

Media Preview: Members of the media are invited to attend a preview on Tuesday, January 26th from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St Laurent Boulevard. (Free parking available at the museum). Representatives of host organizations will be available for interviews.

Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) is a Canadian international development organization, and an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, founded in 1980. Working primarily in Asia and Africa, AKFC works to address the root causes of poverty.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of non-denominational development agencies founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, with wide-ranging mandates covering social, economic and cultural development.

Sharing Canada’s rich collections of objects related to transportation, natural resources, communications, space, energy, manufacturing and industry, the Canada Science and Technology Museum helps Canadians explore the rich connections among science, technology, and culture.

Bridges that Unite began its successful cross-country journey in Victoria with tour stops in Calgary, Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo and Halifax. The tour continues to Concordia University in Montréal, March 7-26, 2010.

The exhibition is presented with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

For further information: Jennifer Morrow, AKFC Manager, Communications, Telephone: (613) 237-2532 x 107, Email:; Kelly Ray, media and public relations, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Telephone: (613) 949-5732, Email: