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New Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili complex opens in Toronto

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (centre) and the Aga Khan (left) tour the Aga Khan Museum at the official opening in Toronto on Sept. 12, 2014. HANDOUT/PMO/Deb Ransom

The first museum in North America devoted to Islamic art will help promote an understanding of a religion that is based on tolerance and pluralism, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday at the new landmark’s opening ceremony.

The Aga Khan — spiritual leader of the Ismaili community — joined Harper in Toronto to celebrate the opening of his namesake museum, the $300-million Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre.

“We celebrate today, then, not only the harmonious meeting of green gardens and glass galleries, or of Italian marble and Canadian maple. We rejoice above all in the special spirit which fills this place and gives it its soul,” Harper said.

“For a very, very long time this priceless gift will bring joy to the eyes and jubilation to the hearts of countless visitors.”

The Aga Khan, an honorary Canadian citizen, thanked the prime minister and the Canadian government, saying the country has been a significant partner for the Ismaili community and the Aga Khan Development Network.

He said it was a joy to celebrate the spirit of friendship at a time when so much of the world’s attention is focused on a climate of belligerence.

“These spaces will be filled with sounds of enrichment, dialogue and warm human rapport, as Ismailis and non-Ismailis share their lives in a healthy, gregarious spirit,” he said.

Harper praised the spiritual leader’s role in “demystifying Islam…by stressing its social traditions of peace, of tolerance and of pluralism.”

On display in the museum will be more than 1,000 artifacts from the 8th through 19th centuries sourced from various countries.

Renowned architects from Japan and India designed the main buildings, while a Lebanese architect designed the landscaped park that links them on the 6.8-hectare site. All three were present at Friday’s opening ceremony.

Federal and provincial political leaders, including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, were also present.

The museum, which opens to the public Sept. 18, joins a network of Ismaili centres in Vancouver, London, Lisbon, Dubai and Dushanbe.

About 100,000 Ismailis, part of an estimated 15-million strong community in 30 countries, live in Canada.