Aga Khan To Receive Canadian Honorary Citizenship: Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared in the House of Commons today that Canada will grant honourary citizenship to His Highness the Aga Khan. 9 June, 2009, Edmonton, Canada - The University of Alberta and the Aga Khan University today signed a memorandum of understanding that advances their respective goals to increase global engagement and to promote equitable human advancement and social justice throughout the world. The agreement was signed at Government House by University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera and Aga Khan University President Firoz Rasul in the presence of Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, and His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, and founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network.
His Highness the Aga Khan received an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta in recognition of his efforts to improve the lives of millions of the world's poorest people and build a global culture of tolerance.
On the same day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared in the House of Commons that Canada will grant honourary citizenship to His Highness the Aga Khan. "He is truly a beacon of humanitarianism, of pluralism and of tolerance throughout the entire world," said the Prime Minister, calling him "a great partner and long-time friend of Canada, and a great benefactor to humanity."
Speaking at the MoU signing, University of Alberta President and Vice-Chancellor I.V. Samarasekera said: " In a world that is too often envisioned as divided and broken, His Highness has given voice to another possibility. He has shown us the possibility of a world where understanding and compassion can heal division, where education and self-reliance can raise the poorest communities out of poverty, where the celebration of beauty in all cultures can bring joy, and where an ethic of service to humanity can unite us all." (For more information, please see the University of Alberta site: http://www.registrar.ualberta.ca/ro.cfm?id=377. A broadcast of the ceremony can be see here: http://www.registrar.ualberta.ca/ro.cfm?id=1014.)
“The expansion of this partnership puts the University of Alberta on the forefront of international capacity building,” said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach at the signing ceremony. “AKDN’s extensive reputation in economic, social and cultural development allows the university to harness Alberta’s research and teaching innovation to benefit communities not only in Alberta, but also in East Africa, and Central and South Asia.”
The agreement expands on an existing relationship between the two universities and includes two additional agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network: the University of Central Asia and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
“The University of Alberta, along with the Aga Khan Development Network, is deeply committed to providing globally engaged higher education and research,” said Samarasekera. “Through our partnership, the university will move much closer to fulfilling one of our most important goals—to reach out to the developing world in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, and engage in meaningful and effective dialogue and exchange.”
Areas identified for immediate collaboration include health sciences education, humanities development and library planning, biodiversity conservation and sustainable land use programs with particular emphasis on mountain environments and semi-arid regions with the University of Central Asia.
“This partnership will enable the University of Alberta’s expertise to impact parts of the world that would not otherwise benefit from these capabilities,” stated Rasul. “Their innovative approach to research, teaching and service in healthcare, education, and sustainable economic and environmental development in northern Canadian communities could greatly benefit the developing countries in which AKU, UCA and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture currently work.”
The deepened partnership will also facilitate the participation of the U of A in the development of the Undergraduate Medical Education Programme in East Africa and will build on previous successes to move beyond health care and the health sciences into areas that will benefit the larger AKDN vision.
The collaboration between the two universities builds on an initial agreement signed in June 2006 on academic and scientific cooperation together with Alberta Health Services. As a result of that agreement, faculty and staff from the AKU School of Nursing and the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, have recently completed graduate programs and training at the U of A in areas such as interventional cardiology, breast conservation surgery and physiotherapy.
Over the past 25 years, the Aga Khan University has fostered partnerships with several universities in Canada and across the world including McMaster, the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, Harvard University and Oxford University. Based on common values and approaches to sustainable development, these partnerships have improved the quality of curriculum development and teaching standards at AKU and raised the profile of professions such as nursing and teaching in the developing world, giving students the impetus to enter these desperately needed careers. Students and faculty from partner institutions have further benefited through professional exchanges, joint research projects and teaching opportunities.
“Partnerships, such as this one, build capacity in the developing world where it is needed most, but more importantly, they build compassion and understanding across our interconnected world. By expanding this partnership to other AKDN agencies, we hope to spread the benefits further afield,” said Rasul.
For more information, please contact:
Aga Khan University Department of Communications
Director, Development Canada
His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The Network’s nine development agencies focus on social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. The AKDN’s underlying ethic is compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is in excess of US$500 million.
Recent Canadian Initiatives
In 2006, the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada signed a funding agreement towards the development of a new international initiative, the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, dedicated to the creation of successful societies. The Centre is founded on cherished Canadian values of tolerance, openness and understanding towards the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other peoples and that these values are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.
The Aga Khan, an Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada, last visited the country in December 2008, as part of the commemoration of his fifty years as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims. During the commemorative visit, the Aga Khan inaugurated the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper.
The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, serves a permanent representational role for the activities of the Imamat in Canada, and as stated by His Highness the Aga Khan represents “a new creative link between the spiritual dimensions of Islam and the cultures of the West, and even more particularly, it represents another new bridge between the peoples of Islam and the peoples of Canada."
Other projects under development in Canada are the Aga Khan Museum, housing exceptional collections of Islamic art, the gardens and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto.
When the Aga Khan stepped onto the University of Alberta campus Tuesday to speak to graduates, he brought a message of ethics, citizenship and respect for diversity.
Addressing a "knowledge deficit" in these areas is essential for pushing global development in the right direction, he told graduates, noting his Aga Khan Development Network has made such virtues a key part of its educational mission.
In an interview with The Journal's Keith Gerein, he expanded upon his remarks, sharing his views on the way forward both for political leaders and ordinary citizens.
Here are excerpts from three of the questions and answers:
Q: What do you ask of these graduates in terms of aiding global development? What obligation do they have to the less fortunate?
A: I wouldn't call it an obligation. I think it's something young people want to do if they have had the benefit of a good education. It's a sense of generosity, a sense of returning to society what society offered you.
What do we want of them? One thing is to improve standards of education, which in much of the developing world is very, very low. Many of the graduates I saw (Tuesday) would have a massive impact.
Q: Why are so many people unmoved at the suffering of others around the world, and what can be done to change such attitudes?
A: I'm not sure they are unmoved. People's horizons are governed by their own context, and what is not in their context is outside their notions of perception.
Unfortunately, I would say it is crisis-driven situations which are still dominating people's attention. What we need to do is go into areas of high risk before they become critical. If you go in after they are critical, it's too late. But the notion that many of these of crises can be reduced or avoided through anticipatory work is not part of strategic thinking in many parts of the world.
Q: In your speech, you remarked on U. S. President Barack Obama's attempts to reach out to Islam. Do you sense a substantive change emerging in the relationship between the West and Muslim societies?
A: It's early days, so I can't say there is anything mature yet in that process of change. What I can say is there is a strong sense of new empathy, and if there is empathy, things become possible that were not possible before. Now it's going to be up to the president and his government to build on that and to translate that into effective results. But he has a very, very demanding agenda.
As part of the leader's visit, the U of A and Aga Khan University announced an expanded partnership involving research collaborations, student exchanges and knowledge sharing. While a previous agreement was mainly limited to health sciences, the new deal will expand the relationship into a much larger set of academic disciplines.
The Aga Khan also announced a gift for the U of A, promising to build a traditional Islamic garden at the Devonian Botanic Garden.
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