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Aga Khan Museum to be a beacon of enlightenment across civilisations
Farees Nathoo
Ceisin Popat
14 September 2014
  • Toronto, 12 September 2014 — The Aga Khan Museum shall be “a gateway into the history and artistic traditions of the Muslim world,” announced Prince Amyn, “at a time when such a gateway is profoundly needed.” As Vice-Chair of the museum’s Board of Directors, he was addressing the audience gathered to witness the opening ceremony of the Toronto museum — the first such institution in North America dedicated to the Islamic arts.

    Despite increased contact between Muslims and non-Muslims in today’s globalised world, misunderstanding and a growing knowledge gap are contributing to dangerous divisions, said Prince Amyn. “The result of that gap is a vacuum within which myths and stereotypes can so easily fester, fed by the amplification of extreme minority voices.”

    “That context is precisely the reason that the potential contribution of an institution such as the Aga Khan Museum can be so important,” he continued.

    The ceremony, which took place in the museum auditorium, followed the opening of the Ismaili Centre, Toronto earlier in the afternoon by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mawlana Hazar Imam. They were also present to mark the opening of the museum, together with Prince Amyn and the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. Among the distinguished guests at the ceremony were Prince Rahim, Princess Salwa, and Prince Hussain, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, government leaders, diplomats, and leaders of Jamati and Imamat institutions.

    “The Aga Khan Museum will deliver to Canadians and visitors alike some of the world’s most breath-taking Islamic art,” remarked Minister Glover during the ceremony. “In its educational focus, the Museum will reach out to speak to Muslims and to non-Muslims alike about the peace, creativity, beauty and pluralism of Muslim history and in these tumultuous times, those values are needed more than ever.”

    Situated adjacent to a major Toronto thoroughfare within a park that it shares with the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum was designed by award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki. Moriyama & Teshima is the Canadian architect of record, and Adrien Gardère designed the gallery interiors, which will display items from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 1,000 pieces. The core of this unique collection was contributed by Princess Catherine, the widow of Prince Sadruddin. The Museum commemorates the Prince’s passion for collecting in the Bellerive Room, a recreation of the Prince’s salon in Geneva that displays many of his ceramics.

    From poetry and philosophy to music and architecture, the museum is committed to conveying the values and traditions of the Islamic world through art. Prince Amyn explained that this commitment rests at the very heart of Islamic thought as part of, “the profound unity of three great dimensions of human life: the cultural, the spiritual and the natural.”

    The endeavour to spread knowledge and understanding through the arts is not a new one in either the Muslim world or the West. Prince Amyn recounted how as far back as the 9th century, commerce and curiosity brought objects from the Muslim world to the West, and how in Islam, the tradition of waqf (religious endowments held in trust) led to the creation of large collections of fine objects. From Fatimid Cairo to Central Asia and Iran, these objects were regularly made accessible to for public viewing.

    “The pursuit of cultural excellence resulted in Western, and also Far Eastern art and learning becoming important elements in Muslim life within an ethic of tolerance and collaboration,” noted Prince Amyn. “A manifestation of this approach was, of course, al-Andalous in the Iberian Peninsula where Muslim leaders welcomed Christian and Jewish participants in a rich cultural life, pluralistic so to speak. The same approach characterised the Mughal courts of Hindustan, the Uzbecks of Bokhara, Ottoman Turkey.”

    The Aga Khan Museum will continue in this “long history of cultural sharing between Islam and the West,” he said.