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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Ismaili Immigration

Ismaili literally means “followers of the faith”. The Ismailis are a group of Shiite Muslims who believe that their spiritual leader, the hereditary Imam, Prince Aga Khan, receives his authority directly from the prophet Mohammed. To escape religious persecution, the Ismailis moved from Iran to the Bombay area of India in the 1830s and 1840s. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ismailis were forced to move again, this time to East Africa, settling mostly in the modern-day countries of Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. People of the Ismaili faith strongly value marriage and family life and, like other Muslims, do not eat pork.

In the 1970s, the African countries received their independence from British colonial rule and African nationalism became very strong. Many of the countries did not want people from India — Ismailis — living and making money in their country. When Idi Amin became dictator in Uganda, he forced all the Ismailis to leave. The British government asked Canada to help Ismaili refugees and Prime Minister Trudeau decided to accept 5,000.

Ismailis have generally been very successful at establishing themselves in Alberta. There were English schools in Africa; therefore, the language barrier was not a problem. In addition, many Ismailis went to England when they left Africa and came to Canada only after completing a university degree. The Aga Khan believes that education is the key to success, and most Ismailis have a university education. There are over 20,000 Ismailis currently living in Alberta. Many have started their own successful businesses while others have entered politics or become lawyers or doctors. Ismailis are also firm believers in volunteerism and spend much of their time working for non-profit organizations. In order to preserve their religious traditions, Ismaili children attend religious classes on Saturday mornings.

Learn more

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Ismaili

Knowles, Valerie. Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1990. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1992. pg. 163.

Aga Khan Development Network: Ismaili Community History


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