Apr 11, 2008

S.A. to sparkle in Golden Jubilee of the Aga Khan

Web Posted: 04/10/2008 11:10 PM CDT
Jeorge ZarazuaExpress-News
Aisha Dharani was only 5 years old and remembers little about the visit by the spiritual leader of her faith to Los Angeles, where she was growing up in the 1980s.
Dharani, now 30 and a San Antonio businesswoman, never imagined being in an audience again with the imam, Prince Karim Khan. Especially not in the Alamo City.

After all, the Shiite Ismaili Muslim community here is relatively small compared with other places, such as Houston, New York and Chicago. Some estimate the number of local Ismailis to be about 1,000 or so, nothing near the more than 15,000 who live in Houston.
"The probability of it even happening here, it's unthought-of," Dharani said.
So imagine her surprise when it was announced three weeks ago that the imam, Aga Khan IV — a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad — was coming to San Antonio as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations marking his 50th anniversary as the Ismaili spiritual leader.
The Aga Khan was to have kicked off his U.S. celebration tour in Houston, but organizers said because of unavailable space at convention centers there, they had to relocate the Golden Jubilee event to San Antonio.
More than 30,000 Ismailis from across the U.S. and the world are expected to attend the private, three-day celebrations. Today and Saturday, the event is at the Alamodome and Sunday it's at the Convention Center
The local celebrations culminate Sunday, the day of the darbar, when the Aga Khan is scheduled to have an audience with his followers.
"We never really dreamt that such a small Jamat (congregation) would host so many people," Dharani said.
Waheeda Kara, a San Antonio real estate agent and a spokeswoman for the local Ismaili community, said ever since the announcement, thousands of volunteers have been working to prepare for the celebrations.
She said they had only 21 days to complete the job.
Dharani said local Ismailis are doing their part to ensure a successful Golden Jubilee for the Aga Khan.
"People have come from all over to help out, which is truly remarkable," she said.
Nazim Karim traveled from Los Angeles to help.
"Obviously for us, it's a very significant event," said Karim, who also edits the Ismaili, a national magazine. "It's historic because in our 1,400-year history, there have only been eight imams, spiritual leaders, who have celebrated their 50th anniversary as imams."
The Aga Khan's last visit to Texas was in June 2002 when he spoke at the inauguration of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the facility is a $10 million house of worship and a community center in Sugar Land. It's one of the largest Ismaili Muslim centers in the United States and serves as the national headquarters for Aga Khan's social service and community networks in this country.
Aga Kahn IV was only 20 years old when he became imam in 1957. He was in his final year at Harvard University, where he went on to receive a bachelor's degree with honors in Islamic history in 1959.
To those outside the religion, he's considered a fabulously wealthy individual with a particular fondness for raising fine thoroughbreds and racing speedboats. He's also the stepson of actress Rita Hayworth, who became his father's second wife.
Ismailis view the Aga Kahn as an infallible imam who's not only a spiritual leader, but guides them on temporal matters as well. They also stress his philanthropic work and that of the Aga Khan Development Network, considered one of the world's largest private, international agencies working to improve living conditions for people in Third World countries.
"It's been his responsibility to take care of two things, and we need to be very clear about what the role of imam is, which is different from the general Christian perception of a spiritual leader," Karim said. "In Islam, a Muslim leader is not just a leader who guides in spiritual matters, he is responsible of the material welfare of his community. So he's a leader spiritually as well as temporally."
Karim said that when Ismailis gather to celebrate the jubilee, they will reaffirm their faith and strengthen ties within their own community, as well as reflect on the many accomplishments of the Aga Khan.
"He's guided our community through all kinds of political and economic turmoil, helped with material welfare, and, at the same time, helped us with our faith and to maintain our traditions," Karim said.
Other U.S. cities hosting Golden Jubilee events are Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Chicago and Los Angeles, where Dharani remembers him visiting, also hosted Silver Jubilee celebrations for the Aga Khan in 1983.


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