Aga Khan to launch $300M Islamic centre in Toronto

TORONTO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Aga Khan will break ground on Friday at the future site of a $300-million cultural centre for Ismaili Muslims.

By 2013, the seven-acre expanse in Toronto’s north end will be home to a world-class museum, a multi-purpose building and parklands.

The museum – to be devoted entirely to Islamic art – will be the first of its kind.

Farid Damji, a member of the Ismaili Council for Canada, said the Aga Khan chose to build the centre in Toronto because of its "cosmopolitan cultural outlook."

Almost half of Canada’s 70,000 Ismailis live in Toronto.

The Aga Khan Museum will be a white-stone building with a low dome by prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki. Directly south, the larger Ismaili Centre Toronto by Mumbai-based architect Charles Correa will strike a similar, modern pose, with a multi-faceted glass roof and a limestone exterior. It will contain meeting rooms, a prayer room, youth lounge and a library. Surrounding these buildings will be a network of geometric ponds, fountains, gardens and pathways.

A billionaire, intellectual, diplomat and tycoon, Shah Karim al-Hussayni – the Aga Khan IV – is revered by Ismaili Muslims as a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.

He is perhaps best known for his vast array of philanthropic projects, and as chair of the private Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan directs about 70,000 employees at hundreds of institutions on four continents.

Once a trusted friend of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the Aga Khan has a soft spot for Canada, which he has called "the most pluralistic country on the face of the Earth" and "a beacon to the world."

His project in Toronto will complete a trio of architectural projects in the country, including the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, B.C., and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, inaugurated by Harper and the Aga Khan in 2008.

Ismailism – a branch of Shia Islam – first prospered during the 10th to 12th centuries. Today, the group counts an estimated 15 million members around the globe and is comprised of at least three distinct sects.

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