Toronto, 25 November 2013 – The University of Toronto's Trinity College held a special convocation this evening, to bestow upon Mawlana Hazar Imam the degree of Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa.
In a glowing citation, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, an alumna and Honorary Fellow of the College, presented Mawlana Hazar Imam before the Honourable William C. Graham, Chancellor of Trinity College, and the convocation.
“We are welcoming you into a place that combines the sacred with the secular with educational values that have seen its graduates take their place in the modern world and in Canada in a meaningful and committed fashion,” said Madame Clarkson in her address.
Trinity College is reputed today for the strength of its programmes in International Relations, Ethics and Society and Law. But its roots are to be found in the Anglican Christian tradition, whose values have continued to guide it since its founding in 1851 by John Strachan, the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto.
“In this College the ideal and the beliefs we hold dear are held within the same ethical framework as that of His Highness,” said Madame Clarkson.
“He is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. He is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), through the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali, the first Imam, and his wife Fatima, the Prophet's daughter.”
She went on to describe the long tradition of service to humanity that Mawlana Hazar Imam's family has upheld for generations, recalling that Hazar Imam's grandfather, Hazrat Sultan Mahomed Shah, was President of the League of Nations; that his father, Prince Aly Khan, served as Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations; that the Imam's uncle, Prince Sadruddin, was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and that Prince Amyn, the Imam's brother, served at the UN prior to his work with the AKDN.
She also looked back upon the history of the Ismaili Muslim community.
“Historically, the Ismailis developed a state that concentrated on arts, science and trade centered in Cairo for a number of centuries. But in the 13th century, the Ismailis were dispersed, a diaspora that spread to Persia, Central Asia, Syria, India, and eventually Africa.
“Through the physical dispersal of their community through the centuries, their spiritual allegiance to the Imam and their adherence to the Shia Imami Ismaili branch of Islam was their greatest strength.”
Clarkson also serves on the Board of Directors of the Global Centre for Pluralism, a partnership between Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Government of Canada that is based in Ottawa. The Centre and the forthcoming Aga Khan Museum in Toronto were cited as examples of the ways in which the Imam has enriched the country.
The convocation ceremony took place in the presence of a number of distinguished guests, including the current Anglican Archbishop of Toronto, the Most Reverend Colin Johnson, and Professor Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President and Provost of the University of Toronto, who congratulated Mawlana Hazar Imam on receiving the Trinity College honour, his second honorary degree from the University of Toronto.
“By your peerless example of tolerance and compassion, we are proud to have you count as a member of the University of Toronto family,” she said. “Your life work exemplifies the core values which unite all of us – values that we in particular aspire to by our academic admission.”
Themes of interfaith dialogue, mutual respect and understanding between peoples resonated throughout the evening. The gathering enjoyed a performance of the opening movement of Creeds from Constantinople, a multimedia theatrical work that celebrates cultural diversity, spirituality and pluralism. Performed by Maryem Tollar, Patricia O'Callaghan and the Gryphon Trio, it brought together voices of Islam and Christianity, demonstrating the shared strengths and passions of the faiths in their embrace of the universal spiritual quest.
“In this place which all of us here who call ourselves Trinity graduates so treasure,” said Clarkson, “it is deeply moving and appropriate for us to welcome as an honorary graduate a man who is perhaps the only person in the world to whom everyone listens.”