Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 34

Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Ismaili Centre

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, on Friday May 28, Senator Kochhar and I had the privilege of attending the foundation ceremony for the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and Park in Toronto hosted by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan and his royal family.

After the ceremony was completed, I struggled to find the words to describe the significance of the Aga Khan’s generous contribution. Nothing I could say would do this project justice. It was not until I awoke the following morning to a Toronto Star article that read: “Of all the gifts ever given to Toronto, none is more beautiful than the Aga Khan’s” that I realized what the Aga Khan had bestowed upon not only Torontonians, but all Canadians.

The Aga Khan’s project, which will be crafted by several world-renowned architects, comprises three elements. These elements include: an Ismaili Centre that will feature a circular prayer hall; an Islamic museum that will be the first of its kind in the English-speaking world; and a welcoming park that will connect these two buildings together and will be designed to resemble the traditional Islamic gardens in Alhambra, which flourished during the great era of Spanish history when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together harmoniously.

Although the Ismaili Centre, park and museum will indeed be rich in beauty, this beauty extends far beyond the aesthetic and architectural merit of its design. The true appeal of the Aga Khan’s project lies not only in the vast gardens, glass domes or serene pools that these grounds will showcase. The true beauty lies in the concepts and ideologies this project seeks to promote, and in the message it sends to the world.

This message is one that Prime Minister Harper described at the ceremony as being “. . . dedicated to the promotion of ethnic, cultural and religious interchange . . .” and is one that “. . . truly inspires our own hopes for a better world.”

Honourable senators, Muslim societies constitute over a quarter of the world’s population. However, many people, particularly those who reside in the Western world, have limited knowledge of Islam.

The Aga Khan’s project will help those who are currently misinformed and blinded by a veil of ignorance with an insight into the plurality within Islam and the relationship that Islam has with other traditions. The Aga Khan continuously assures us that once this veil is lifted, we will be able to recognize what our societies are experiencing is not a clash of civilizations, but rather a clash of ignorance.

Honourable senators, in our great country, we are open to understanding and embracing diversity. We no longer dwell on the differences between various religions and cultures. Instead, we embrace our commonalities and this embracing, in turn, enables us to live together in peace and harmony. As the Aga Khan so eloquently stated in his closing remarks, this project is “. . . a proud gift from our generation to future generations — even as it celebrates so fittingly what past generations have given to us.”