The Aga Khan is a smiling man, genial, with twinkling eyes and never less than a faint trace of benign good will turning up the corners of his mouth. He smiled all the way through a speech last month at the opening of the new Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, especially while alluding to the innate happiness embodied in the branch of Shiite Islam of which he is the spiritual leader, Ismailism: “We are a community that welcomes the smile,” he said.
Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. October 3, 2014 – TORONTO
Toronto’s new Islamic art museum aims to express a non-threatening Islamic identity
The museum, designed by the renowned and venerable Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, is a physical extension of that smile. Sitting on a nearly 17-acre site a few miles northeast of downtown Toronto, it is part of a larger campus devoted not just to worship, but to cultural outreach, concerts, lectures and other events — or “enrichment, dialogue and warm human rapport,” in the words of its benefactor.
The Aga Khan’s purpose isn’t just to showcase the diversity of Islamic cultural production. It is to express an Islamic identity that is non-threatening and capable of assimilation without dissolution into secular, democratic society with an emphasis on youth, prosperity, education and success in both spiritual and worldly matters. When the Ismaili campus was being planned, in 1996, the younger generation of Canadian Ismailis was asked for input; and at the opening festivities last month, their successors a chic young cohort born not long before the planning began,were conspicuously and charismatically present as volunteers. The museum also includes classroom space and plans for a robust educational agenda.
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