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.
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.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.