British Columbia

Thousands of Ismaili Muslims in B.C. prepare for Aga Khan visit

The Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader arrives in Ottawa May 1 and comes to Vancouver May 5 for his diamond jubilee tour.

Spiritual leader visits Vancouver on May 5 as part of diamond jubilee tour

The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world's Shia Ismaili Muslims will be in Vancouver May 5-6 as part of his Diamond Jubilee tour. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Thousands of Ismaili Muslims in Metro Vancouver are preparing for the arrival of their spiritual leader, the Aga Khan.

Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, the 49th hereditary leader of Nizari Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam, is coming to Canada to celebrate 60 years — his diamond jubilee — as Imam.

Kahleel Meghji says the Aga Khan's arrival will be special.

"It's a really personally special time for every member of the community to spend time with someone who has really dedicated his life to improving the quality of life for Ismailis and for people who share our communities," he said.

Volunteers at an event in Burnaby to prepare for the arrival of the Aga Khan in Vancouver. (CBC)

The Aga Khan has held the position since 1957 and is an advocate for eliminating global poverty, promoting secular pluralism, advancing the status of women and honouring Islamic art and architecture. He was named an honorary Canadian in 2010.

The Aga Khan will be in Canada May 1. The trip includes a dinner at Rideau Hall in Ottawa and then stops in Vancouver and Calgary, according to Global Affairs Canada.

He was a figure in an ethics scandal involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after Trudeau stayed at the Aga Khan's home on Bell Island in the Bahamas over the 2016 Christmas holidays.

Saira Suleman, right, is one of thousands of Ismailis in Metro Vancouver volunteering to help prepare for the Aga Khan's visit in May. (CBC)

In Vancouver, he will host around 20,000 people from across the province at B.C. Place over Saturday and Sunday.

Saira Suleman is one of around 5,000 volunteers working to make sure the visit goes well.

"I think it's a really special time," she said. "I think with all of he joy and excitement that's been going around the community, I think being able to help and being able to give back and support one another through this journey is really important."

Shelina Dilgir says volunteering is a big part of being an Ismaili Muslim. (CBC)

Many like Suleman say volunteering is an important part of their faith and His Highness, the Aga Khan, is their inspiration for that.

"You just have to serve," said Azim Raghavji. "I mean how can you not? And it can be simple as like ... serving a glass of water to a senior.

"It's in my DNA and it's something I will forever continue as it brings me quite a bit of joy and happiness," said Shelina Dilgir.

With files from Chad Pawson.


  • An earlier version of this story stated that the Aga Khan was leader of the Shia branch of Islam. In fact, he is leader of Nizari Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam.
    Apr 30, 2018 10:11 AM PT


Zahra Premji


Zahra Premji is a host/reporter for CBC News Vancouver. She has worked as a host for CBC Alberta News in Edmonton, and a reporter in B.C. and Manitoba on various stories from racism to health and crime to asylum seekers and immigration. You can reach her at