Item(s) for the ‘Ismaili News’ Category

Mar 24,2008

TORONTO – In the chilly confines of a warehouse, images, voices and words carried from the far reaches of the globe converge, radiating from still photos and video screens.For citizens from at least 40 countries including Afghanistan, Kenya and Pakistan, their common bond is Canada, which plays a crucial role in shaping their communities and lives.

Organizers of the Bridges that Unite exhibition, which had a preview stop in Toronto recently, say they hope these stories will soon be part of a national conversation as they hit the road with the interactive, travelling display designed to engage Canadians and help them explore the country’s role in the developing world.

Bridges that Unite marks a quarter-century partnership between Canada and the Aga Khan Development Network in the region. Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) is an agency of AKDN, an international group of non-denominational agencies with a humanitarian agenda encompassing social, economic and cultural development.

The network was founded by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of about 15 million Ismaili Muslims in some 25 countries, including between 80,000 and 100,000 in Canada.

The Canadian International Development Agency and AKFC first collaborated 25 years ago in northern Pakistan employing principles around keeping the community in charge. They’ve seen “extraordinary results” in that part of the world, said Khalil Shariff, CEO of Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

Shariff said there have been improvements in almost all measures, including infant mortality and education for men and women.

“We thought this is an example of Canadian leadership, of thoughtful, sensitive, long-term visionary Canadian leadership, which is unheralded,” he said.

“At a time in the world where that kind of leadership is in real demand, we thought that showcasing it in a way that would make it accessible to lots of Canadians made sense: not only that experience in the northern areas of Pakistan but everything it has spawned across many other parts of the world.”

Just beyond the entrance of the sprawling 465 square metre exhibit sits a ring of chairs, symbolic of the approach allowing individuals to identify their own ideas and priorities for community development. Interactive audio elements allow visitors to listen to those working in the field, including program officers instructing on how to run a community meeting, take minutes and assign responsibilities.

“If we don’t understand, for instance, that the heart of most international development efforts is bringing the community together to discuss over time their problems, it’s gong to be very hard for us to appreciate why it’s complex, why it takes a long time,” Shariff said.

“If all we think (about is) distributing handouts, we’re going to be very poor decision-makers and very poor contributors.”

The Aga Khan University in Pakistan has also developed strong partnerships with Canadian institutions including the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Students can participate in exchanges or earn scholarships to study in Canada in hopes of taking their newfound knowledge back to their communities.

Hamilton’s McMaster University was involved in setting up a nursing school at Aga Khan University in Pakistan 25 years ago. In the past decade, the Aga Khan University went on to establish a growing presence in east Africa. In one of the featured short films, a Kenyan nursing grad speaks of her work at a local hospital while helping to raise her orphaned nephews and nieces.

“What we’re talking about here is investments in higher education so you create the leaders that you need to strengthen society and ensure all the parts are working together so you can have a vibrant, pluralistic, democratic society where people have choices,” said Jennifer Morrow, the foundation’s communications director.

The exhibition also spotlights Canadians who serve as “agents of change.”

Sarah Bandali followed two years of work with Aga Khan’s Geneva office with a two-year stint in Mozambique where she designed and facilitated HIV-AIDS prevention workshops.

She said it’s important to recognize the process of development is incremental, and the aim is to establish longer term changes and outcomes.

“I think working with communities, they have a lot of hope and inspiration and willingly and actively want to participate in enhancing their own development,” she said.

“I think they appreciate that you’re not only wanting to help them but you’re actually actively taking their concerns and voices into account by actively engaging them in the process itself.”

At the conclusion of the exhibition, visitors are welcome to share their thoughts on ways to help push Canada forward with “21 questions for the 21st century.” They can express what they believe to be among the most pressing global issues and how Canada can help address them. The answers will be compiled and posted on the exhibition website, along with details of future tour stops.

While initially greeted with walls of photos of a diverse array of faces, the journey concludes with visitors reflecting on their own image in a mirror and the Aga Khan’s parting words: “Successful experience with democracy, civil society and pluralism are the national genius of Canada of which much of the developing world is in dire need.”

“The significance of the mirror is that we see ourselves as the future, as Canadians who can make a difference, that we do have the capacity as individuals to have a voice of how we want Canada to play a role in the developing world,” Morrow said.

Bridges that Unite is slated to open Feb. 1 in Victoria at the Victoria Conference Centre, the first stop on a scheduled nationwide tour which will be open free to the public.

Mar 24,2008

Imamat, His Highness the Aga Khan, AKDN, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Ismaili, Jamat, Golden Jubilee, Aga Khan University.

One of the central elements of the Islamic faith is the inseparable nature of faith and world. The two are so deeply intertwined that one cannot imagine their separation. They constitute a ‘Way of Life’. The role and responsibility of an Imam, therefore, is both to interpret the faith to the community and, also, to do all within his means to improve the quality and security of their daily lives.” His Highness the Aga Khan. 1

In a single sentence, His Highness the Aga Khan IV captures both the role and mandate of the institution of Imamat, historically validated and particularly evidenced in the last 50 years. The exemplary life of Prophet Muhammad has enabled Muslims in every age to understand the links between matters worldly and spiritual. In Shi’a Islam, it is the mandate of the Imam to ensure a social context that maintains a harmonious balance between din and dunya. During the last half century, His Highness has responded, with foresight and determination, to a world where his followers have lived in extremely varying conditions and in which there has been accelerating change. Central to his leadership, work and long-term vision is the untiring pursuit of a better quality of life for current and future generations.

Since acceding to the Imamat in 1957, he has developed a global network of institutions. Ismaili community (Jamati) organisations at local, national and international levels serve the Imam’s murids, while other Imamat institutions, most of them operating under the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), work to improve living conditions and opportunities for people, regardless of their faith. Under the Imamat’s guidance, professional staff and selfless volunteers in large numbers, work to transform lives through these institutions.

Putting a modern complexion on the historic guiding and leading role of Imamat, ordained well over a millennium ago, the Imamat has, in recent history, established religious, social, economic and cultural institutions to respond to the changing circumstances of the Jamat. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah founded organisations that addressed the conditions of the first half of the 20th century, when many of the Ismailis lived under colonialism. This institutional structure has evolved and expanded remarkably under the present Imam. He has formalised, consolidated and reoriented existing organisations and has established many new ones. The last half of the century has witnessed significant global changes including decolonisation, Ismaili migration to the West, strengthening of contacts with Ismaili communities in Central Asian, economic and social upheavals, wars, rapid technological advancements, and globalisation. Against this backdrop, the institutions of the Ismaili Imamat have spread over a space more extensive than at any other time in history.

On 13th December 1986, His Highness the Aga Khan promulgated The Constitution of the Shi’a Imami Ismaili Muslims, bringing the transnational community’s governance under one institutional structure. Ordaining the Constitution, His Highness said, “It is my belief that the Ismaili Constitution will provide a strong institutional and organisational framework through which my Jamat (community) will be able to contribute to the harmonious development of the Ummah and of the societies in which the Jamat lives.” This framework, organising the community’s dini (spiritual) and dunyavi (material) matters, has proved to be an effective and sustainable civil society model.

Ismaili Councils are responsible for social governance at the local, regional and national levels. The Ismaili community institutions also include Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards, Grants and Review Boards, and Conciliation and Arbitration Boards. Other boards operate in the areas of economic wellbeing, education, health, housing, social welfare, and youth and sports. His Highness determines the roles, responsibilities, composition, powers and jurisdiction of these bodies. He has also established the Leaders’ International Forum (LIF) to whom he refers specific matters affecting the Ismaili community. The Institute of Ismaili Studies is a key academic and educational resource for the community. It addresses, amongst other aspects of its mandate, the Ismaili community’s religious education needs by conducting research on its intellectual, spiritual and literary heritage and provides materials for religious formation.

AKDN agencies deal with the development needs of people regardless of their faiths. The Network is an endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to realise the social conscience of Islam. It brings together organisations and programmes that seek to relieve society of ignorance, disease and deprivation. In societies where there is a significant presence of Muslims, it also seeks to revitalise and broaden the understanding of Islam’s pluralist cultural heritage. AKDN’s mandate derives from the ethics of Islam which aim for a balance between the material and the spiritual. Islam’s ethical ideal is to enable each person to live up to the exalted status of the being in whom Allah has breathed His spirit. Allah made all that is in the heavens and the earth an object of trust for human beings. Therefore, worship is incomplete without an active social conscience. By grounding societal values in the principles of moral responsibility, Islam lifts the social order to a spiritual level. In the words of His Highness the Aga Khan:

To the Imamat the meaning of ‘quality of life’ extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being measured over generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background. Does the Holy Qur’an not say in one of the most inspiring references to mankind, that Allah has created all from one soul?2

The Imamat’s vast institutional network addresses the needs of the poor, particularly in Asia and Africa. AKDN organisations are structured broadly under three categories: Economic Development, Social Development and Culture. The Network’s long experience in engaging with social and economic development has drawn governments to it for policy advice and partnership. The Ismaili Imamat and AKDN have formalised frameworks for their development initiatives by entering into internationally recognised Protocols, Agreements of Cooperation, Memoranda of Understanding or Letters of Intent with many national governments and international organisations. These serve to strengthen and formalise the Imamat’s and AKDN’s international partnerships, relationships and long-term commitments in the countries and regions within which they work.

AKDN adopts a comprehensive strategy to help people move out of poverty and enable them to participate in the social and economic mainstream. It is guided by a philosophy of human dignity and self-reliance. For development to be sustainable over the long term, local people are engaged in planning and development. This requires projects to be inclusive and respectful of the pluralism of societies. Additionally, encouraging the recognition of merit promotes excellence and continual improvement in standards.

The provision of quality education is the cornerstone of AKDN’s approach to uplifting the human condition. This view emerges from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat ‘Ali that inspired Imam al-Muiz’s establishment of Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest in the world.

The global network of AKDN’s educational institutions, including pre-schools, Aga Khan Academies, Aga Khan University and University of Central Asia, is a testament to His Highness’s conviction that knowledge is vital to the fulfilment of individuals and betterment of society.

Addressing AKDN’s social development mandate, Aga Khan Foundation’s programmes incorporate education, healthcare and environmental safeguards, revitalisation of cultural assets, and the development of appropriate infrastructure, rural support and income generation opportunities. Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance’s not-for-profit programmes, which provide small loans to the less fortunate, constitute a critical building block for an equitable civil society.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development is the only for-profit agency of the Network. Its innovative agenda, based on the AKDN’s strong ethical framework, promotes public and private sector partnership in which investment decisions are primarily based on prospects for improving lives. Taking bold but considered steps to invest in fragile and complex economies, it has assisted in rehabilitation efforts after war or internal turmoil in places as varied as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Tajikistan and Uganda.

To complete the picture, architecture, urban revitalisation and traditional music are the responsibility of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It focuses on culture as a means of enhancing the physical, social and economic regeneration of Muslim communities. It runs the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, the Historic Cities Programme, and various education and culture programmes including the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Imamat’s plans for the coming years include new poverty alleviation initiatives as well as the establishment of additional Aga Khan Academies, AKU’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Global Centre for Pluralism, Aga Khan Museum, Delegations of the Ismaili Imamat, and Ismaili Centres and Jamatkhanas in Dubai, Dushanbe, Houston, Khorog and Toronto. The Golden Jubilee will witness various new initiatives, which will undoubtedly come to be seen by future generations as part of His Highness the Aga Khan’s unique legacy.


1 Excerpt of an address by His Highness the Aga Khan to the Tutzing Evangelical Academy, Tutzing, Germany, 20th May 2006

2 Excerpt of a speech made by His Highness the Aga Khan at the opening of the Alltex EPZ Limited plant, Athi River, Kenya, 19th December 2003
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Mar 24,2008


Special to Globe and Mail Update

January 25, 2008 at 11:25 AM EST

When a 20-year-old university student recently Googled himself, he discovered the top result was a 2006 news story that listed him as one of several people arrested on drug-related charges.

The student, who asked that he not be named, recently began applying for work in his profession, which is one that’s prone to extensive background checks. He fears prospective employers might write him off based on what they find out about him online.

“It’s the only real testament to my character that my potential employer would find online,” said the student, who adds that the person named in the story is him, but that the charges were dropped and he has no criminal record. “Likely, I would not even receive a follow-up phone call to allow me to explain the circumstances under which this incident occurred.”

He’s not alone in his concern.

Employers are increasingly turning to online searches or social networking sites to discover information about potential employees. According to research carried out by ExecuNet, a Norwalk, Conn.-based human resources agency, 77 per cent of executive recruiters use search engines to help screen candidates. Meanwhile, employment website CareerBuilder reports that, in a survey of more than a thousand hiring managers, one in four stated they use search engines to help filter applicants.

“I’ve never done my job without Google,” said Cheron Martin, lead technical recruiter at Shore Consulting Group, a Toronto staffing and consulting firm.

However, she pointed out that she’s not conducting searches with an aim to dig up dirt on the applicant, but rather to learn more about their pertinent experience.

“Once I was looking for someone to work as a programmer with the Department of National Defence,” she explained by way of example, “and through online research I discovered that the applicant had previously been with a company that had worked on military applications. It was highly relevant to the position he was applying for, and that information wasn’t on his resume.”

But even if an employer is simply looking to learn more about an applicant’s experience, they sometimes stumble across personal information that can affect how they view the candidate.

One Toronto-based hirer, who asked not to be named, said that a search of a promising candidate’s name turned up a dating advertisement posted by the applicant that contained “sex-related information that could be seen as bizarre.” When she revealed what she had found to a senior executive in her office, he told her that the applicant “wouldn’t be a good fit for their corporate culture.” As a result, the company discarded the candidate’s application.

That screening ability opens a can of worms for human resource professionals.

Hirers can discover information about employees online that, legally, they aren’t allowed to ask about in interviews, such as religious affiliation, marital status and race, says Claude Balthazard of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO).

“If you aren’t allowed to ask about a topic in an interview, you aren’t allowed to use that information if you discover it online,” said Mr. Balthazard. Still, he acknowledged that screening based on inequitable prejudices probably happens, and that most candidates who fall victim to this practice will never be the wiser.

However, there are ways job seekers can manage information about themselves that appears online.

Andy Beal is an Internet marketing consultant with Raleigh, N.C.-based Marketing Pilgrim and co-author of Radically Transparent, a book about managing personal and professional identities online. He works with clients to improve the results returned when their names are searched using Google.

“If a client comes to me with something negative in their search results and wants it pushed out [of the first page of links returned by Google], we have to find ten other pieces of information about them that are positive and get those things to appear before the negative,” he said. “The problem is that scandal is popular. People like to talk about it, and they like to link to negative stories. Google’s algorithm looks at all of those links and thinks that [the page to which these links lead] must be highly relevant to the search query. We have to convince Google that there are other pages with information that is just as relevant.”

It can be an expensive process. Mr. Beal said his clients spend between $3,000 and $10,000 to clean up their search results, and, due to the chaotic nature of the Internet, he can offer no guarantees that, at the end of the day, searching his client’s name will result in nothing but squeaky clean results.

That’s why he recommends that people begin managing their Internet identities before any undesirable information appears online by registering a domain containing a person’s name, or creating personal and professional pages on networking sites like MySpace and Linked In.

“Build up credibility in the eyes of Google,” said Mr. Beal. “You’re being searched all the time, whether you know it or not.”

Some Canadians may already be in the early stages of learning about and managing their online identities. According to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted last fall on behalf of MSN Canada, 76 per cent of Canadians who use the Internet are conscious of the impact that their online activities could have on their image, and 59 per cent have conducted searches of their own names to see what the World Wide Web has to say about them.

As for the student whose name surfaced in a story about a drug bust, he may have solved his problem on his own. He emailed the publication that had originally posted the news story in which he was named, explained his situation, and asked that his name be removed from the article. He received a prompt response stating that his request would be honoured (though, at the time of this writing, the story containing his name was still posted).

Despite his experience of having a negative result associated with his name in online searches, the student doesn’t think it’s invasive for employers to conduct online research into prospective employees. He simply advises they use prudence.

“Discretion needs to be exercised,” he said. “The employer should speak with the person about what is found in online searches before discarding their application.”

The HRPAO’s Mr. Balthazard said this would be an example of best practices in the human resources profession, and he hopes that most hirers take this step. However, just how often employers actually call applicants to give them a chance to explain unflattering information found online is unknown.