Item(s) for the ‘Ismaili News’ Category

Nov 20,2007

Canadian Muslim well-positioned for job of ambassador
Peter O’Neil, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, November 03, 2007

LONDON – Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Arif Lalani, can claim uniquely among western ambassadors in Kabul a religious and cultural connection to his host country, as well as some empathy for the kind of violent upheaval that has always plagued Afghanistan.

Mr. Lalani, only 40 years old and considered a rising star in the Canadian diplomatic corps, has an unmistakable Canadian accent that betrays a childhood spent in southwestern Ontario and, from 1982 until graduation, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

But he is also a Muslim, born shortly before the dawn of tragedy in Uganda, who was the only western diplomat invited recently with other top Muslim foreign diplomats to pray with President Hamid Karzai at the end of Ramadan.

“It was the first time a Canadian ambassador, a western ambassador, really, was there with the president,” Mr. Lalani said yesterday.

“And that was interesting. It gives us a different insight (to see) the president and his cabinet ministers and others in a very different setting. It’s a very personal and informal setting.”

He is in London as part of the federal government’s stepped-up efforts in Canada and abroad to highlight the successes of the Afghan mission.

Mr. Lalani, the former ambassador to Jordan, was appointed to the Kabul post by the Harper government in April. He said his family’s Indian background also gives him a south-Asian cultural link to Afghans.

Born in Uganda five years before Idi Amin’s savagely brutal 1971 coup, he remembers being perched on his father’s bed watching his father get ready to head off to work at the family hardware store.

“We heard a couple of gunshots, and we didn’t know what it was, and all of a sudden we heard more,” he recalled.

“And then we heard troops in the back of our house and we knew something was up.”

His father was later abducted by the army, but managed to avoid the grim fate of most other captives — thousands of corpses of Mr. Amin’s real and perceived enemies were dumped into the crocodile-infested Nile River — because he knew important military officers who made army purchases at the hardware store.

The Lalani family was among the community of Ismaili Muslims forced to flee after the coup. The Lalanis were flown to Montreal and they moved immediately to Cambridge, Ont. In 1982, they moved to Vancouver.

His swift ascent up the ranks of Canada’s foreign service after joining in 1991 included postings at the United Nations and in Washington, as well as policy adviser for assignments in Ottawa where he was responsible for hot files like the Balkans and the Middle East peace process. He was appointed ambassador to Jordan last year.

Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Chris Alexander, said Canada’s diplomatic mission in Afghanistan has reached “new heights of coherence and impact” under Mr. Lalani.


Nov 12,2007
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is the only one that recognises an eclectic approach in the field. A. SRIVATHSAN


The prize money of $500,000 makes it the largest architectural award in the world. But there is more to Aga Khan Award than the largesse it offers. It is probably the only architectural award that recognises eclectic approaches within architectural p ractice. Projects varying from contemporary design to historic restoration are recognised as equally creative. At times, depending on the jury, the awards may have shown a restrained tilt towards a particular ideology or method but, by and large, they have remained liberal.

Broad spectrum

Established in 1977, Aga Khan Award encourages architecture that addresses the needs and aspirations “in societies in which Muslims have a significant presence”. However this does not mean that the awards are limited to Muslims, but are open to all architects and institutions.

This month, the 10th cycle of this triennial award, was announced in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. From the 343 projects nominated, 27 were short-listed for on-site review and, from them, nine projects were awarded the prize. This year too, the spectrum of award-winning projects was broad. If, at one end, the Royal Netherlands embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, designed by Dutch architects was chosen for being ‘unashamedly contemporary’; the restoration of Amiriya complex in Rada, Yemen, and the rehabilitation of the city of Shibam, Yemen, were chosen for restoring lost tradition of craft.

The University of Technology at Petronas, Malaysia, with the glass-and-chrome signature of London-based Lord Norman Foster, won for its technological novelty. In the same breath, the School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh, was celebrated for its innovative adaptation of traditional methods and materials of construction to contemporary needs.

Not all projects were valued as an architectural object; somewhere chosen for being a part of the larger social process. Rehabilitation of the Walled City in Nicosia, Cyprus, brought two opposing sides of the city together. Central Market Koudougou in Burkina Faso appears as a simple array of useful functional boxes but was acclaimed for its participatory approach to design that involved the entire community.

Innovative uses

The speculative commercial projects were not left out of the awards category. The Moulmein residential tower in Singapore, in spite of being a commercial project, was appreciated for its innovative use of tropical elements like monsoon window and perforated wall. Samir Kassir Square in Beirut is the smallest among the projects. It is a jewel-like urban artefact, tactfully woven around a few trees creating a restful urban space.

These awards articulate a more sophisticated and complex nature of Muslim societies and their expressive architecture. It is clear from the choice of projects that no particular approach or style is put forth either as a representation or prescription for Muslim societies.

Even though history and theory have always arrayed architectural objects between the poles of tradition and modern, people and practices have gone beyond such taxonomies and territories.

Architecture has aligned itself with a wide variety of strategies and enriched itself. This award recognises the wide space of the architectural praxis and avoids narrow debates like modern versus tradition Architectural awards including Pritzker prize, the Nobel equivalent in architecture, have always favoured the avant-garde and celebrated the buildings that exhibited the hitherto-unseen kind of creativity. In resistance to this emphasis on the new, other alternative awards championed architecture that totally rejected the modern and avant-garde and looked at traditions and past.

Relevance and strength

Thus awards to one specific kind of practice or the other are a reflection of the institutions affiliation and preference and not necessarily about a wide variety of possibilities that architecture seriously explores. The location of the Aga Khan Awards within the Muslim society does not have to be construed as a limitation or being retrograde. At the same time, it need not be exaggerated as a resistance and alternative to international awards that are excessively Euro-centric.

Its relevance and strength is in the sweep and acknowledgement of multiple ways of working with architecture and making it.

Oct 28,2007
October 2007
The Institute’s Department of Graduate Studies welcomed its first cohort of students to the newly established Secondary Teacher Education Programme ( STEP) this month. The STEP is a large-scale initiative involving The Institute of Ismaili Studies, the Institute of Education (IOE) at the University of London, and the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards ( ITREBs) of five participating countries.
The STEP aims to develop an international community of qualified religious education teachers who will deliver the Institute’s secondary curriculum throughout the worldwide Ismaili Muslim community. The programme is being piloted in six regions: Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; Mumbai, India; Karachi, Pakistan; Khorog, Tajikistan; and Houston, USA. The current pilot will run for two cycles: 2007-2009 and 2008-2010. Students from the first cohort, who will graduate in 2009, have already begun their studies.This programme is a collaborative endeavour between the IIS and the IOE, building upon a history of joint programmes spanning over 20 years. The students will complete a two-year course of study that culminates in two masters degrees awarded by the University of London: a Master of Teaching (MTeach) and a Master of Arts in Education (Muslim Societies and Civilizations). Following the two-year programme, participants will become secondary classroom teachers, employed by national ITREBs, to implement the secondary curriculum.

Recruitment began with a marketing launch in December, 2006, during which IIS staff and local ITREB personnel gave presentations in several cities in India, Pakistan, Canada, the USA and Tajikistan. The 41 participants were selected from 350 applicants through a competitive application process. This required candidates to submit material attesting to their qualifications and experience, to complete a teaching practicum at a local religious education centre (REC), and to attend an interview.

The breakdown of students in the first cohort by country is as follows: 12 from Canada, 6 from India, 7 from Pakistan, 6 from Tajikistan, and 10 from the USA. This year’s STEP cohort comprises a range of individuals with diverse academic backgrounds.

Reshma Panjwani, from Hyderabad, India entered the STEP with a master’s degree in Hospital Management. “I’m not a professional teacher,” she comments, “and my field of study is completely different. However, this programme provides me with a career and also affords methe privilege to serve the [Ismaili] Imamat institutions.

Shamsah Ebrahim, an American student with a PhD in Biochemistry, explains her decision to pursue a career as a religious education teacher: “I believe that true success – not only material plenty, but also emotional contentment – requires excellence of intellect to be balanced with inner strength, faith in a larger purpose, belief in the worth of every individual, and a developed conscience. If this is true, then to be successful and confident members of tomorrow’s world, students will need a spiritual and cultural education in conjunction with their secular studies. I wish to be part of that effort.”

Eraj Sodetsairov, a participant from Khorog, Tajikistan, concurs. For him, the most important aspect of this programme is its originality: “The reason why I chose the STEP over other career options is its focus on education, both in the religious and secular dimensions of human life. It is a unique programme.”

STEP students take courses from both the MTeach and MA degrees simultaneously over the course of two years. The academic terms are interspersed with practicum experiences that take place at Ismaili religious education centres and secular schools in London as well as at RECs in the pilot cities. The programme includes field visits to Cairo, Egypt and Cordova, Spain to explore two of the great cities of Muslim civilizations. Throughout the programme, participants are expected to reflect upon and to create and improve methods to make the richness and complexity of Muslim civilizations understandable to young people.

The second pilot, to be rolled-out in the same five countries, begins in September 2008. Deadline for submission of applications is 31 October 2007.