Last weekend, on August 23, 2020, the Ismaili Centre, Vancouver, celebrated its 35th anniversary. The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, who conducted the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre in 1985, reflected on the pivotal role of The Centre as a symbolic marker of Canadian diversity and values. He shared high praise for the Ismaili community, expressing that “I can’t think of any community in modern Canadian history that has contributed more to its people,” and referred to the community and the centre as being “part and parcel of the big puzzle of the mosaic called Canada”.
The Ismaili Centre, Vancouver is one of six such buildings around the world, the other five being in London, Lisbon, Dubai, Dushanbe, and Toronto. Each building’s architecture and functionality reflect the places in which they are located. Described by many as B.C.’s best kept architectural secret, this spectacular building was designed by renowned architect Bruno Freschi, who drew on architectural principles steeped in the tradition of Islam to create a centre that co-exists with modern-day society; a fusion that is symbolic of the Ismaili community, which found a home in Canada in the early 1970’s after leaving Uganda due to political upheaval.
At the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Centre in 1982, His Highness the Aga Khan shared his aspirations for Canada’s first Ismaili Centre. “This will be a place of congregation, of order, of peace, of prayer, of hope, of humility, and of brotherhood. From it should come forth those thoughts, those sentiments, those attitudes, which bind men together and which unite. It has been conceived and will exist in a mood of friendship, courtesy, and harmony.”https://the.ismaili/ismaili-centres
Thousands of Victoria residents have experienced these sentiments first-hand through tours organized by Naz Rayani, a prominent leader in the Victoria community. During these tours they learned about how the Ismaili Imamat actualizes the social conscience of Islam through the actions of the Aga Khan Development Network’s institutions, including Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s World Partnership Walk, which many Victoria residents actively participate in.
Samir Manji, President of the Ismaili Council for British Columbia, highlighted the Centre’s role in Canadian life. “The Ismaili Centre is at the confluence of creative and critical conversations of relevance to Canadians from all avenues of life and hopes that it remains a place that continues to reflect Canadian values of diversity and respectful dialogue and exchange for generations to come."
Karima Ramji is an active community member, having served most recently as Chair of Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s World Partnership Walk in Victoria. Certified as an Advanced Cultural Intelligence Facilitator, Karima tries to practice inclusion and pluralism in all she does, including her professional life as Manager of International Programs at University of Victoria’s Co-operative Education Program and Career Services.
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, August 29th 2020