Imam of world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims given honorary doctorate from U of O
The list of honours the Aga Khan has received during his illustrious lifetime consumes three pages in Wikipedia. In this country alone, he’s been named an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada and granted honorary Canadian citizenship – just the fifth person, and first Muslim, ever so honoured. He also has 19 honorary degrees from universities around the world, including five from Canadian institutions.The latest came Friday from the University of Ottawa, which awarded him an honorary doctorate for his service to humanity.
The 75-year-old hereditary Imam of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims, who assumed the position in 1957, has earned the recognition. An unstinting advocate of the virtues of pluralism, he’s the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, now one of the world’s largest private development networks. “His work has bettered the lives of people in communities around the world,” said Huguette Labelle, who awarded the honorary degree Friday as her last official function as chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
Allan Rock, the university’s president, said the Aga Khan – who is properly addressed as His Highness – speaks directly to the goodness in all people. By his words and actions, Rock said, he has demonstrated that “there are no divisions among us if our desire truly is to create a better world.” In a reference to Friday’s snowstorm, Rock also confided that the Aga Khan had told him he was a great fan of skiing, “but not necessarily on the sidewalks.” The Aga Khan is a complex figure. He’s a revered spiritual leader, but also a billionaire who owns hundreds of racehorses, an exclusive yacht club on Sardinia, several estates around the world, a private island in the Bahamas and a $150-million highspeed yacht. He’s twice married and divorced.
When he rose to speak Friday after receiving his degree, the Aga Khan focused on a single topic: The difficulty of establishing workable constitutional systems in developing countries with limited experience with democracy. He said the Arab Spring had brought special attention to this challenge, illustrating that “it is easier to rally people to opposition to a particular government than to forge agreement about new governing processes.” Many developed nations, he observed, have developed “two-pronged political structures,” where one party forms a government while the other constitutes the opposition. “This arrangement can foster greater accountability and even a certain stability.”