For more than a decade, it has been my job to cover the Oscars, attend fashion shows in Paris and New York, have lunch with Robert De Niro and dinner with Madonna, interview everyone from that Harry Potter kid to Beyoncé.
In other words, star-struck is not in my current repertoire and yet, when I saw the Aga Khan, now 77 years old, in my hometown of Toronto, star-struck is precisely what I felt. All that stuff from childhood was coiled up in the occasion.
Shinan Govani, formerly a social columnist at the National Post, is currently a contributing editor and celebrity columnist for Hello! Canada magazine. As a Shia Ismaili Muslim, he explains why the Aga Khan Museum, opening Thursday, means so much to him, his family and his community.
Expectancy built as I walked across a glazed courtyard with paths the size of tarmacs and the promise of an extraordinary garden come spring.
Here on Wynford Drive, the imminent arrival of His Highness the Aga Khan for last Friday’s ceremonial opening of the Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum would surely be a trigger for jubilation.
But when the man of the hour — the 49th hereditary leader to some 15 million Ismailis around the world — appeared, a childhood memory from growing up in the suburbs of Toronto intruded: one of watching blustery men roll and unroll carpets, weekend after weekend. …
Progressive yet devout, Ismailis had, back then, only just joined the grander Canadian quilt, with a good chunk of the community hailing from Uganda. Families like mine arrived here in the 1970s after the mass Asian expulsion, courtesy of Idi Amin. That was the tipping point, in terms of settlement, for a clan that would in the coming decades welcome kindreds from all parts of the world, and would eventually number somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 across Canada. And those high schools in North York and Scarborough where the men furled and unfurled those carpets? We hunkered there largely because there were few, if any, built-to-suit gathering halls.
That vision hung as I watched the Aga Khan officially launch the museum bearing his name — the first wholly devoted to Islamic art in North America. Opening to the public Thursday, and part of a gleaming new complex — one that includes both an Ismaili Centre, for spiritual contemplation, as well as a formal park, all of it designed by world-renowned architects — one certainly didn’t need to reach too far to find the freight of the occasion. …
The prominence of the occasion was heightened, also, by the presence of the Prime Minister Stephen Harper (he stayed for four hours!), as well as other command-performance dignitaries like Justin Trudeau. As someone growing up in a time when we could never imagine that one of our own would become mayor of one of Canada’s largest cities — hello, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi! — the opening of the museum was not about just bricks and mortar. …
Read the full story and watch the video at Toronto Star | Celebrity watcher Shinan Govani reflects on the new Aga Khan museum
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