Oct 22,2010

In a world where technology and human migration push people of differing backgrounds increasingly “in each other’s face,” spiritual leader the Aga Khan hailed Canada as a country that has got pluralism right.

The religious leader — imam — of the world’s 14 million Shia Ismaili Muslims praised this country for allowing citizens to keep their identity as they become Canadian.

“What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others,” he said Friday in the keynote address to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s prestigious annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium.

He spoke to more than 1,000 of Toronto’s intellectual class at the glittering new Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, a setting he did not fail to note as he described the theme of pluralism.

“We might talk not just about the ideal of harmony — the sounding of a single chord — but also about counterpoint,” he said. “In counterpoint, each voice follows a separate musical line, but always as part of a single work of art, with a sense both of independence and belonging.”

It’s no surprise the globetrotting philanthropist chose to locate his new think tank on pluralism in Canada, a nation he noted was built on two European cultures but has exploded in diversity.

“I am impressed by the fact that some 44 per cent of Canadians today are of neither French nor British descent,” he said. “I am told, in fact, that a typical Canadian citizenship ceremony might now include people from two dozen different countries.”

With quips about the Maple Leafs’ recent winning streak and Canada’s fall colours, the Harvard graduate said he felt like a local — especially considering the Canadian government has made him an honorary citizen.

But while he praised Canada and other multicultural nations such as Portugal for celebrating diversity, he also warned that the flip side of pluralism — tribalism and hyper nationalism — threatens to divide people unless we are vigilant by promoting mutual understanding.

He warned the West not to underestimate the diversity of the Muslim world, or the lesser-known rural communities of developing nations.

Pluralism is a concept dear to the heart of the 49th hereditary leader of the Ismaili faith. The concept of people of different backgrounds living in harmony is the focus of a think tank he is creating in Ottawa in a building once home to the Canadian War Museum.

In Toronto, he also announced earlier this year he will build a new Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum and Gardens at Eglinton Ave. and Wynford Dr.

Both centres – in Toronto and Ottawa – reflect the ties the Aga Khan said he has felt with Canada for nearly 40 years, since this country welcomed thousands of Asian refugees from Uganda, including many Ismailis.

By Louise Brown, Staff Reporter

Oct 19,2010

TORONTO— The Aga Khan Museum, scheduled to open in 2013, is the centerpiece in a new $300-million complex set within a landscaped park based on Islamic design principles and that will also include a new Ismaili Center. The museum will showcase treasures from the Aga Khan’s collection of outstanding works of art drawn from all over the Islamic world, while the Ismaili Center will provide a social, educational, and religious focal point for Toronto’s 30,000-strong Ismaili community.

In a foundation ceremony attended by almost 1,000 people, the Aga Khan was joined by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who granted honorary Canadian citizenship to him. The event also marked the unveiling of the design and layout of the new museum complex, which will be built on a seven-hectare site in the Don Mills area of Toronto. The Aga Khan, spiritual leader to 15 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide, has repeatedly affirmed his belief that art and culture should serve as platforms of understanding between cultures.

Designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, the museum will include a large permanent gallery housing works of art from the collection acquired over the years by the Aga Khan and his family, as well as extensive exhibition spaces to accommodate temporary shows, a 350-seat auditorium, a reference library, multimedia center, classrooms, and workshop spaces. It will have a defined educational vocation, covering different periods and geographic areas of the Muslim world, with a focus on their preservation and display, alongside further collecting and research.

The construction of the museum in North America represents a blow for London, which lost out to Paris 30 years ago in the race to be the venue for what is now l’Institut du Monde Arabe. The British capital has now missed the boat again, despite being the frontrunner in the early years of the project, which started life over a decade ago. The choice of Canada generally, and Toronto specifically, as the location for the new museum has raised some eyebrows, something the Aga Khan was eager to address in his foundation ceremony speech. Citing the context of “Canada’s pluralism… and historic welcome to displaced Ismailis in the 1970s and later,” he drew particular attention to the values he believes that Ismailis share with Canadians. Perhaps equally pertinent is Toronto’s location: 50 million potential museum visitors live within a two-hour journey of the city, which is North America’s fifth largest.

Members of the Aga Khan’s family have long been recognized as important collectors of Islamic art, none more so than the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. On permanent display in the new museum will be a replica of the Bellerive room in Prince Sadruddin’s home in Geneva, as well as up to 200 flagship pieces from the collection. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture‘s director-general, Luis Monreal, explained that while the acquisition of works of art for the museum collection will continue, there would not be an unbridled shopping spree as undertaken in recent years by some museums in the Middle East. Pending construction of the new museum, objects from the collection will continue to be featured in a series of traveling exhibitions, with the next show scheduled to open in Istanbul’s Sakip Sabanci Museum in October.

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Jun 26,2009
Madrid is hosting an exhibition “The Islamic Worlds in the Aga Khan Museum Collection” which shows some of the greatest treasures of Islamic art.
Madrid is currently hosting the exhibition “The Islamic Worlds in the Aga Khan Museum Collection” which shows some of the greatest treasures of Islamic art, from ancient al-Andalus to India.

The exhibition, available until September 6, 2009, will travel several other cities such as Barcelona, said.

The art, the history, the traditions and the geographies of the Islamic world from the Far East to the Iberian Peninsula are the subjects of the exhibition The Worlds of Islam in the Aga Khan Museum Collection.

The event is organised by “la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects in cooperation with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture –the cultural arm of the Aga Khan Development Network and hosted at the CaixaForum Madrid.

Aga Khan shows 190 art objects spanning 1400 years of history and summarizing, in wood, stone, gold, bronze, ivory, glass, ceramic, fabric, parchment and paper, the finest artistic accomplishments of a world that stretched from ancient al-Andalus to India, said.

The exhibition sets out to question current commonplaces about the polarity between East and West and reconcile points of view about Islamic culture. Through works of art of different periods and geographical origins across world, the exhibition reflects the splendour of Muslim culture in its full diversity, bringing out the pluralism of Islam, both in interpretations of the Koranic faith and the variety of styles, materials and techniques involved in the creation of these works.

Among the outstanding works on show is a rich group of manuscripts and miniatures with figurative representations, which are among the finest productions not only of the Islamic sphere, but of universal art. They help refute the widespread commonplace of the prohibition of images in Islamic art, since although Islam does not use animal or human motifs in buildings or objects related to religion, in the official or private civil sphere there have been representations of living beings, often profuse. It was merely a matter of aesthetic preferences and historical moments.

These provide an overview of the Islamic world’s finest artistic achievements in wood, stone, gold, bronze, ivory, ceramics and textiles, and on parchment and paper. The different Islamic dynasties can be seen, identifying the territories over which each dynasty ruled following the Abbasid caliphate at the end of the 9th century. The Umayyads held sway over al-Andalus, the Fatimids and the Mamelukes reigned in Egypt, the Ottomans in Turkey, and the Safavids in Iran and the Mughals in India.

The essential characteristics of Islamic courtly culture can be seen in generic portraits of respective sovereigns in profile. The works of art on display also emphasize the high cultural level of the Islamic courts responsible for spreading knowledge of Ancient Greece to the west via translations in Arabic.


The exhibits are divided into three large sections. The central section is devoted to The Qur’anic Faith while the other two guide viewers through various Islamic courts using as a metaphor a journey in two stages –From Cordoba to Damascus and From Baghdad to Delhi.