Vancouver: In an historic ceremony today attended by Her Honour the Honourable Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin of British Columbia and Honourable Premier John Horgan, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), was conferred with honorary Doctors of Laws – the highest academic award – from both the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU).
The importance and singularity of the occasion was expressed by the Chancellors of the Universities as being “an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of an exceptional individual. In honouring a candidate of eminence and excellence, we offer a public illustration and declaration of our values and we inspire our graduates and our community with an example of what may be achieved in a well-lived life.”
Reading from the citation presented to the Aga Khan, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono noted “… I can think of no candidate who so deserves this unprecedented joint recognition than His Highness the Aga Khan.” Citing that there is no “better exemplar than His Highness the Aga Khan” President Ono applauded the Aga Khan’s leadership and spoke of the deep impact that the AKDN has had around the world investing close to $1 billion annually in non-profit development activities. Acknowledging that the AKDN is “guided by the ethical principles of Islam”, President Ono stressed that it works “with every religion, race, ethnicity and gender” and that “pluralism is a central pillar of the AKDN’s ethical framework.” “We are, again, inspired by this example” said Ono.
Expounding upon these principles on which His Highness’ work rests and recognising His Highness as a global citizen and a champion of pluralism, inclusion and consultation, President Ono remarked the Aga Khan is guided by the notion that every person is deserving of human dignity and propelled by the imperative of improving the quality of life of those less fortunate. As such, “He presents his work not as an act of generosity but as the exercise of his responsibility.” Ono added that “If we all took the same view in our own lives, it would be such a better world.”
Echoing these sentiments, Andrew Petter, SFU President and Vice-Chancellor, reflected on the symmetry of values and common objectives of His Highness the Aga Khan and SFU noting that both are “committed to the values of education, pluralism and global citizenship” as well as the “value of community engagement” as “drivers of social betterment.” Offering examples of AKDN’s embrace of such ideology, President Petter highlighted AKDN’s contributions in the fields of education, health, civil society, humanitarian assistance, social infrastructure, and culture. The recent inauguration of the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta earlier in the week exemplifies one of the “extraordinary cultural legacies of Muslim civilizations” that His Highness has brought to Canada.
Appreciating this “remarkable record, and in celebrating the alignment of our values” President Petter reinforced that the Aga Khan was “richly deserving of the honours we bestow today.”
The unique distinction of today’s conferrals adds to an illustrious list of Canadian honours bestowed upon the Aga Khan. Earlier in his visit to Canada, His Highness was conferred a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from the University of Calgary in recognition of his exceptional service to humanity and his “impact and spirit” which was said to be “felt by millions of people” around the world. His Highness is also a past recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, and McGill University. He was invested as honorary companion of the Order of Canada and an honorary Canadian citizen. In 2014, the Aga Khan became the first faith leader to address both houses of the Parliament of Canada. These awards, while serving as symbolic representations of the admiration and reverence of the Aga Khan and his work, are also illustrative of the friendship and partnership between the Ismaili Imamat (Office of the Imam) and Canadian institutions.