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Ismaili means followers of the faith. The Ismaili community is one of Alberta's important Muslim communities with a distinct history. Ismailis speak many different languages. Those who came to Canada and Alberta from African countries speak Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi, and English. The community's spiritual leader is the hereditary Imam, the Prince Aga Khan. For many Ismaili people, no matter where they go, they retain important traditional values such as the emphasis laid on marriage and family life.

Because of political persecution in Iran in the late 1830s and early 1840s the Imam, Aga Hasan Ali Shah, immigrated to the Indian subcontinent. He was the first Imam to bear the title of Aga Khan, which had been previously given to him by the Persian Emperor, Fath Ali Shah. He settled in Bombay in 1848 where he established his headquarters. The community gained a greater sense of confidence and identity as Shia Ismaili Muslims. It also marked the beginning of an era of more regular contacts between the Imam and his followers.

In the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Ismailis from the Indian sub-continent migrated to East Africa in significant numbers. It was the rise of African nationalism in the early '70s in Asian and African countries that led to the arrival of large numbers of Ismailis in Canada and Alberta. As many former African colonies asserted a national identity, the Ismailis and their businesses and properties were subject to appropriation by dictatorial leaders such as Idi Amin in Uganda. For many Ismailis, they received only a few days notice that they would be expelled from their African homelands.

Calgary Muslim mosque The arrival of the Ismaili community in Alberta is a remarkable story of adaptation and cultural capacity. Education as one's 'passport' has been a significant aspect of the Aga Khan's teaching and direction to the community. Consequently, the Ismaili community is generally well educated and entrepreneurial in its work. As well, the English school systems of many of the former African colonies meant that language was not a barrier in moving to Canada's English-speaking regions.

It is estimated that nearly 20,000 Ismailis live in Alberta. The Ismaili community has created a number of organizations and institutions to support the community and to educate younger generations in the understandings of the community. Many of these organizations are led by volunteers under the guidance of His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council of Canada.

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