The Aga Khan speaks to students and educators interested in international baccalaureate programmes in 2008.
John Amis/Associated Press
LONDON //Amid a noisy debate about the merits of multiculturalism, particularly the position of Muslims, leaders of the 14,000-strong Ismaili community in Britain are quietly planning their expansion across central London.
The Aga Khan, Prince Karim Al Hussein, is the spiritual leader of Ismailis, who constitute one of the main offshoots of Shia Islam.
Completion of the new centre will take several years and its approval stands in contrast to almost a decade ago, when the Aga Khan had to abandon plans for an Islamic art museum at another site because of opposition by officials who favoured the expansion of public health facilities.
“We’ve always lived comfortably side-by-side with others in British society,” Amin Mawji, president of the UK’s Ismaili Council, said in an interview at the South Kensington centre. “I wouldn’t say we’re particularly close to the British establishment. But we add to the pluralistic tradition of British society.”
The community has been lauded in Britain for its charity and professionalism. Mr Mawji, like other Ismaili leaders, is a volunteer as well as a partner at the accountancy firm Ernst & Young.
Ismailis liked to characterise their voluntary work as simply part of their faith, not “philanthropy” which, in the West, often implied an extra rather than central activity, said Salma Lalani, who is te group’s communications co-ordinator in addition to her full-time job as a criminal barrister.
The main focus of Ismaili expansion was within international development, said Mr Mawji. He pointed to last week’s opening in Nairobi of a new heart and cancer centre, the Aga Khan University Hospital. School and health care facilities are opening all over Africa, Central Asia as well as in more traditional Ismaili strongholds in the subcontinent and Asia, he said.
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