Lt. Governor Casey Cagle welcomes His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslim Community, as he arrives at Fulton County Airport. CURTIS COMPTON/CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims, arrives in Atlanta

The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world’s approximately 20 million Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, arrived in Atlanta Tuesday evening as part of a year-long celebration commemorating 60 years of leadership, also known as his Diamond Jubilee.

Upon invitation from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, the Aga Khan was greeted at the Fulton County Airport by local officials Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle; Abby Turano, state deputy commissioner for international relations and City of Atlanta chief operating officer Dan Gordon.

More than 200 Ismaili Muslims from around the country also awaited the Aga Khan at an exclusive arrival ceremony, which featured an official salute from the Atlanta police department Honor Guard and a lively performance of the U.S. national anthem from the 116th Army Band.

The Aga Khan has been traveling throughout the Diamond Jubilee year to countries where his humanitarian institutions operate to launch new programs that alleviate poverty and increase access to education, housing and childhood development.

In recognition of the longstanding support of government leaders and other partners in the vision for his institutional work, the Aga Khan will meet with Gov. Deal among other state officials during his stay in Atlanta to discuss areas of mutual interest and collaboration before continuing on to Houston, Texas to meet with Gov. Greg Abbott.

More than 60 years ago, the Aga Khan founded the Aga Khan Development Network, a web of private, non-denominational development agencies across the globe aimed at empowering communities in need through social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. The AKDN works in 30 countries, including in the United States, and employs more than 80,000 people.

Among its many contributions to raising the quality of life of populations in the developing world, the AKDN’s initiatives have given more than 2 million students access to education and provided humanitarian aid to those affected by global disasters.

“We want to demonstrate that being a local citizen doesn’t preclude you from being a global citizen,” Aleem Walji, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation and Georgia native, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Emory University alum previously worked as director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs to improve information technology services to the poor and as head of global development at Google, where he primarily focused on increasing transparency and accountability in government in regions of eastern Africa.

“Through all the work I did, I found the AKDN was the most bottoms-up in implementing development, and the most impactful,” Walji said.

Over the last six decades, the Aga Khan has received multiple accolades for his global service. Most recently, in 2017, the Aga Khan was awarded the Foreign Policy Association Medal; the President’s Medal by the Architectural League of New York; the Champion for Global Change Award by United Nations Foundation and the Asia Game Changer Lifetime Achievement Award by the Asia Society.

“The Diamond Jubilee provides an opportunity to reflect on His Highness’s six decades of tireless work to improve the human condition for people around the globe,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms wrote in a welcome letter to the Aga Khan, who was formally granted the title of “His Highness” by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. “The city of Atlanta is honored and proud to be one of two communities to welcome His Highness during his visit to the United States.”

During his 10-day visit to the U.S., the Imam will also be holding closed sessions with thousands of members of the Ismaili Muslim community, or Ismailis. Ismailis believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the last and final prophet of Allah and that after his death, the prophet’s cousin, Hazrat Ali, became the first Imam (or spiritual leader). The Aga Khan is their 49th hereditary Imam.

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