Posted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:45 am Post subject: ACTIVITIES AT THE ISMAILI CENTRE LONDON
Live Webcast: Former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to speak at the Ismaili Centre, London
The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada. Photo: Courtesy of the Canadian High CommissionThe Ismaili Centre, London has partnered with the Canadian High Commission to present a lecture by The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada. Titled Needing Each Other: Human Beings and the Challenge of the Environment the talk will take place on 21 October 2009 at the Ismaili Centre, London. The presentation, which is expected to start at 8:30 PM BST (London time), will simultaneously be available at TheIsmaili.org website via live webcast.
As Canada’s 26th Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson transformed and revitalised the office through her energy and passion for Canada. Now a best-selling author and Co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, her personal trajectory from WWII refugee — arriving from Hong Kong at the age of 3 — through her trailblazing career as a CBC broadcaster, author, publisher, and diplomat, to holding the highest office in the land, is an inspiration to millions of Canadians.
In an age when the overwhelming message of individualism distorts our vision, Clarkson asserts that we must come to terms with the network of ideas and actions which will help us to enhance our common humanity. Her talk will focus on Canada’s experience of evolving into a welcoming, pluralistic, post-modern society in the 21st Century, and how it can inform the creation of a new global citizenry based on openness, generosity, and mutual respect and well-being.
On Wednesday, 21 October 2009, the Ismaili Centre, London and the Canadian High Commission presented a lecture by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada, titled Needing Each Other: Human Beings and the Challenge of the Environment.
As Canada’s 26th Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson transformed and revitalised the office through her energy and passion for Canada. Now a best-selling author and Co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, her personal trajectory from WWII refugee — arriving from Hong Kong at the age of three — through her trailblazing career as a CBC broadcaster, author, publisher, and diplomat, to holding the highest office in the land, is an inspiration to millions of Canadians.
In an age when the overwhelming message of individualism distorts our vision, Clarkson asserts that we must come to terms with the network of ideas and actions which will help us to enhance our common humanity. Her talk focused on Canada’s experience of evolving into a welcoming, pluralistic, post-modern society in the 21st Century, and how it can inform the creation of a new global citizenry based on openness, generosity, and mutual respect and well-being.
Dr Farid Esack, Professor in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg, delivered the 2010 Milad-un-Nabi Lecture at the Ismaili Centre, London on 4 March 2010. Professor Esack’s lecture explored the idea of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) as a thinker who sought to live out the numerous Qur’anic exhortations to "reflect", "explore" and "ponder".
About Dr Farid Esack
Professor Farid Esack is a South African Muslim Theologian who cut his teeth in the South African struggle for liberation. He studied in Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Germany, and is the author of Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism, On Being a Muslim, An Introduction to the Qur’an, and Islam, HIV & AIDS – Reflections Based on Compassion, Responsibility and Justice. He has published on Islam, Gender, Liberation Theology, Interfaith Relations, and Qur’anic Hermeneutics.
Professor Esack served as a Commissioner for Gender Equality in South Africa and has taught at the Universities of Western Cape, and Hamburg, the College of William & Mary and Union Theological Seminary (NY) and at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He has recently returned to South Africa after serving as the Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islam at Harvard University.
Farid Esack is now Professor in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg.
Looking back on 25 years of the Ismaili Centre, London
“This building is more than simply a place of congregation. Through the quality of its design and workmanship, it will be a bridge between the culture of the community’s roots and that of its future as well as a symbol of the hopes of people who have lived through change and turbulence and have ultimately found security here in Britain.”
— Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Opening Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, London, 24 April 1985
Video: Twenty-five years of the Ismaili Centre, London
A visual journey through photographs and quotations that highlights memorable moments and images from the past 25 years of the Ismaili Centre, London.
Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim. This invocation — central to the Muslim faith — greets visitors as they enter the Ismaili Centre in London. Water ripples from a seven-sided marble fountain, drowning out the hubbub of Central London traffic outside.
“[I] felt the silence and the reverberation of something that is very special,” said Adrienne Clarkson, the former Governor General of Canada after touring the Centre for the first time. “I could feel my blood running in my veins, it was so silent. And that’s a very great privilege in the centre of a very great metropolis.”
When the Ismailis first settled in the United Kingdom, their presence was imperceptible to the wider society. Today, that is no longer the case. While Ismailis still only make up a small fraction of the country’s population, the community’s contributions to society have increased exponentially. Within and beyond the walls of the Ismaili Centre, the community regularly hosts a variety of initiatives that are open to the general public, including exhibitions, lectures, and debates.
“I can only applaud your emphasis on intellectual and cultural exploration as a means of integration, and your determination to discharge your obligations as citizens of this country without losing your own distinctive traditions,” said Prince Charles, speaking of the Ismaili community during his visit to the Centre for the inauguration of Spirit and Life, an exhibition of the Aga Khan Museum collection. “I have no doubt that the existence of shared values is a key defining factor. These values celebrate humility, greatness of soul, honour, magnanimity and, indeed, hospitality. They form the bedrock of the excellent outreach work of the Ismaili Centre.”
Twenty-five years ago, Mawlana Hazar Imam, accompanied by his family, presided over the Opening Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre which was conducted by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Minaz Jamal, who was head of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps at the time, recalls it as “a truly memorable event for the Jamat.” He adds: “When we think about the small and mobile Jamatkhanas that most of the Jamat were gathering in at the time, the opening of the Centre gave us, for the first time, a real sense of identity, a sense of belonging and a sense of pride.”
Welcoming Londoners and the world
In the years since the opening, tens of thousands of people have experienced the building through guided tours conducted by trained volunteers. Counted among them are royalty from various countries, prime ministers and senior political figures, leaders of industry, religious leaders, and famous personalities.
Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, visits the roof-top garden while touring the Ismaili Centre, London. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UKSince 2000, the Ismaili Centre has participated annually in London’s Open House, which has brought thousands of visitors to the Centre. Nizam Abdulla, a former Vice-President of the Ismaili Council and a Mukhi of the Darkhana Jamat, has been a volunteer tour guide since the building opened.
“The roof garden on the third floor is often the space that completely takes people by surprise,” says Abdulla. “The idea of a garden, designed on the model of classic Islamic gardens, in the heart of Central London, in a space from which you can look up to the domes of the Victoria and Albert museum, and at the same time be totally unaffected by the sounds of the traffic below, is something that they just don’t expect. It is often a space where people stop to reflect and to listen to the sound of the water from the five inter-connected fountains.”
Members of the Jamat from all over the globe often travel through London — considered the cross-roads of the world — and the Ismaili Centre is a must-see destination. “As you enter the Jamatkhana, you immediately sense the serenity and tranquillity, which at once attracts one to meditative prayer” commented one visitor. “Although designed 25 years ago, the space feels timeless and allows one to leave the material world behind.”
First Ismaili Centre
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher officially opens the Ismaili Centre, London in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Nick HewerThe building at Cromwell Gardens in South Kensington was the first high profile religious and cultural centre to be specially designed and built for the Ismaili community in the West, and was followed by Centres in Vancouver, Lisbon, Dubai and Dushanbe. Four others are at various stages of planning and development in Toronto, Houston, Los Angeles and Paris. These architectural masterpieces are bridges between communities and cultures, providing spaces for peaceful dialogue, contemplation, education and exchange. They embody the values and ethics of the Ismaili Muslim community.
At the Foundation Stone ceremony for the Ismaili Centre, London in 1979, Mawlana Hazar Imam said: “It is my conviction that the building of this Centre is symbolic of a growing understanding of Islam. ... This building and the prominence of the place it has been given indicate the seriousness and the respect the West is beginning to accord Muslim civilisation, of which the Ismaili community, though relatively small, is fully representative. May this understanding, so important for the future of the world, progress and flourish.”
With its open plan and inviting space, the Social Hall at the Ismaili Centre has hosted a variety of events and activities that have contributed to this understanding. For example, the Ismaili Centre Lecture Series, which has been running for over a decade, brings together guests from a multitude of backgrounds to hear high profile speakers discuss topical issues.
The Ismaili Orchestra performing in the Social Hall at the Ismaili Centre, London in 1987. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UKThe Ismaili Centre also takes part in Exhibition Road Music Day — London’s expression of the international music festival, Fête de la Musique — held annually in June. Naseem Jivraj has been involved in this for a number of years: “For me, Music Day has many outcomes. Most importantly, this free event attracts members of the public and foreign visitors to engage with Muslim Heritage by visiting the Centre, attending workshops on Muslim music, art and literature, and listening to concerts performing music reflecting our diverse musical heritage.”
The Ismaili Centre has also hosted a number of historic milestone events for the global Jamat. During Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to the UK Jamat in 1994, a number of gatherings and ceremonies were held at the Ismaili Centre — the memory of which is dear to many Ismailis. In 1997, the leadership of the global Jamat gathered to meet with Mawlana Hazar Imam on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his accession to the Imamat. Mahmood Ahmed, then President of the Ismaili Council for the UK recalls the event:
“By 1997, more than 12 years after the formal opening, the full implication of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s vision for such high profile [Ismaili Centres] was becoming clearer to the international leadership. We were all gathered on the third floor and reflected on how the London Ismaili Centre, the first of all the Centres, was playing such a key role in consolidating the international Jamat, and inspiring excellence in everything that took place within it. The sense of occasion was powerful indeed, and in the evening all the leaders attended prayers in their robes of honour — the prayer hall packed to capacity. What was felt by everyone in the Centre that day and evening was a sense of overwhelming gratitude.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam reviews an exhibition at the Ismaili Centre, London on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of his accession to the Imamat. He is accompanied by the then President of the Ismaili Council for the UK, Mahmood Ahmed and then Chairman of the Leaders’ International Forum, Dr Zulfikar Esmail. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UKIn 2003, The Institute of Ismaili Studies held a colloquium on the Holy Qur’an at the Centre, as part of the Institute’s 25th anniversary commemorations. Speaking at the conference, Mawlana Hazar Imam noted that: “The venue for this international colloquium is particularly appropriate. In its architectural design and definition of broader functions, the Ismaili Centre in London, like its counterparts in other countries, has been conceived in a mood of dialogue, of humility, of friendship and of harmony. These Centres reflect a commitment to premiate excellence of endeavour in the realms of the intellect and the spirit.”
In addition to high profile events, the Centre has also hosted thousands of gatherings for the Jamat in the UK, including lectures, debates, parties, weddings, exhibitions, fairs, conferences, training sessions, and workshops. Aliyyah Giga, a member of the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the UK, recalls her first volunteer committee appointment within the Jamat. “It was in 2000, and it was a debate with the motion: This House believes that it is better to be self employed than employed. My role was to be the timekeeper on the day,” she recollects. “I had just finished school and was getting ready to go to university. This was an exciting way to volunteer and at the same time be able to discuss issues that were important to me at the time — and in fact still are today.”
A home away from home
For many, the Ismaili Centre is an intrinsic part of life; a home away from home that harbours special personal memories. “Aged ten, I attended a family wedding in the Jamatkhana at the Ismail Centre,” recalls Shafina Dhanani. “I remember looking up at the incredibly beautiful inscriptions in wood repeating Allah's name, at the traditional oil-lamp-shaped lights, thinking, this is where I want to get married. Seventeen years later, my dream came true! Every time I walk into the Ismaili Centre the hairs at the back of my neck stand up and I am immediately taken back to that special day.”
The geometric designs and symmetry are visible in the décor and furnishings in the Social Hall. Photo: Crispin BoyleThose who have grown up with the Ismaili Centre over the last 25 years recall running around the Gulgee portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam as young children, never quite comprehending how his eyes could constantly follow them. They have fond memories of attending New Year’s eve youth festivities in Centre Space as young teenagers who were only allowed to ring in the occasion there, or as older teens who attended with friends who were on the organising committee. There were also sleepless nights spent in basement committee rooms preparing for Partnership Walks, Imamat Day socials, National Sports Festivals and other Jamati activities.
“The importance of the Ismaili Centre is not in its form but in the meanings it conveys,” observes Amin Mawji, President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. “It speaks to our notions of beauty. It speaks to the value we put on community cohesion. It speaks to the value we put on equality – between men and women, young and old, rich and poor. And anyone who comes to this building can see these things – we don’t need to articulate them.”
In the 1990s, the Ismaili Centre, London hosted two major theatrical productions: Conference of the Birds, based on the fable by celebrated Persian poet Farid al-Din Attar, and Island of Animals, adapted from the Epistles of the Ikhwan al-Safa, an encyclopaedic work by a group of 10th century Muslim intellectuals.
In 1937, the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee acquired the island site upon which the Centre is presently built, for the purpose of constructing a National Theatre. Photo: Courtesy of John Stokes“
Conference of the Birds was an opportunity for cross cultural collaboration, to work with a company of professional actors, to create a beautiful work of art and storytelling,” says Salima Bhatia, one of the performers. She recalls with pride how the Centre was transformed with lighting, sound and theatre seating, as stories from Muslim culture and heritage were shared with the wider community. “It was ground breaking — we had never done something like this before, and it opened up the Centre in a whole new way.”
But it wasn’t the first time that the grounds of the Ismaili Centre had entertained thespian ambitions. In 1937, the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee acquired the island site upon which the Centre is presently built, for the purpose of constructing a National Theatre.
Situated at Cromwell Gardens in South Kensington, the parcel of land — which was described to be “shaped like a bay window” — had also been in danger of becoming a petrol station. “Are we to have petrol pumps on this site — within the shadows of the three Royal Colleges of Music, Science and Art, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum?” a Kensington resident is reported to have asked in 1937.
In the 1860s, John Spicer erected seven “first rate” houses on the parcel of land now occupied by the Ismaili Centre, London. He called the development “Cromwell Gardens”. Photo: Courtesy of John Stokes
The history of the site can be traced back even farther to the early 1860s, when John Spicer had designs on building “first-rate” houses on the site. His land and plans were curtailed somewhat by neighbouring residents, who secured the right to keep the eastern apex of Spicer’s triangular plot free of building — it would eventually become a public garden. Nevertheless, by 1867 seven houses — dubbed Cromwell Gardens — were erected on the site, one of which was occupied by Spicer and his family.
By 1912, heavy traffic surrounding the property made the private residences unattractive. They were purchased by the Office of Works, with a proposal that they house a new Royal College of Art. That plan never materialised and in 1920 the houses were leased to the Institut Français, before being purchased for the National Theatre project.
The great British architect Sir Edward Lutyens and Cecil Masey were appointed to design the theatre building to be housed on the 16,000 square foot plot of land. A building committee was also established, and counted among its members the English actor and theatre director Sir Lewis Casson. Incidentally, it would be an architectural firm bearing his name and established by his nephew, Sir Hugh Casson, that would eventually design the Ismaili Centre.
The title deeds of the Cromwell Gardens were presented to the National Theatre Committee in 1938 by Bernard Shaw as part of a custom known as “The Ceremony of the Twig and the Sod”. Photo: Courtesy of John Stokes
The title deeds of the Cromwell Gardens were presented to the National Theatre Committee in 1938 by Bernard Shaw as part of a custom known as The Ceremony of the Twig and the Sod. In keeping with ancient tradition “a sod of Kensington earth and a twig from a Kensington tree” were given over with the deeds.
But the theatre was never to be built on the site. The Second World War broke out in 1939, delaying the project. In time, it was realised that the site was too small for the ambitions of a National Theatre, and in 1942 the land was exchanged by the National Theatre Committee in favour of a site on the South Bank of the Thames.
By the time Mawlana Hazar Imam had secured the land in the late 1970s for the establishment of the first Ismaili Centre in the Western world, it had become a derelict site, hosting a car-hire depot and a pre-fab office. Yet, according to journalist Christopher Long, the land between Thurloe Place and Cromwell Road was “arguably the most prominent and prestigious plot of development land in West London.”
The Lord Soames, Lord President of the Council, addressing the guests at the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, London. Photo: Julian Calder
Even after the Centre’s Foundation Ceremony was performed by Lord Soames, the Lord President of the Council, in 1979, the site’s development continued to face challenges. Construction involved digging six metres into the ground, and attracted the attention of the palaeontology department of the Natural History Museum down the road, whose scientists would conduct weekly site checks. An archaeological find of any sort would have brought construction to an abrupt halt. Fortunately, the only bone to be found was brought in by a worker, who had rolled it around in the dirt and used it to play a practical joke on the inspecting scientists!
A more serious matter was securing acceptance by the local residents for a Muslim community centre to be built on such a prime piece of London real estate. But from its inception, the Centre was conceived to foster greater understanding between peoples.
“When this Centre is completed,” said Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Foundation Ceremony, “it will be, both by its presence and the function it fulfils, an important addition to the institutions of London, a source of pride to all who took part in its creation, and a pledge and token of understanding between East and West.”
By September 1982, with construction well underway, the Ismaili Centre, London had begun to take shape. Photo: Courtesy of John Stokes
Since its opening in April 1985, the Ismaili Centre has been fulfilling that pledge. Architecturally respectful of its surroundings while emanating a distinctly Islamic character, it reaches out to Londoners and invites them to contemplate a thinking and thoughtful Muslim community, one that is rich in history, culture and ideas, and has many stories to tell.
It is not the National Theatre, but the Ismaili Centre has become a place where stories are told — a stage for fostering an ever greater understanding between East and West.
Ismaili Community Ensemble features in London music festival that pays tribute to Ismaili Centre 25th anniversary
Vocalists from the Ismaili Community Ensemble recite uplifting poetry in a concert titled “Expressions of Devotion”. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UK
Exhibition Road Music Day, an annual festival of live, international music concerts and workshops in London, renewed itself on 20 June with participation from the Ismaili Community Ensemble. This year’s festival also paid tribute to the Ismaili Centre, London, which is marking its 25th anniversary and has been part of London’s celebration of Music Day since the festival’s inception.
Participants were invited to experience the rhythm and melodies of the Indian Subcontinent firsthand with Flux at Centre Space in the Ismaili Centre, London. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UK
Celebrating the diversity of international culture in the area, a range of indoor and outdoor stages were used to host over 100 performances and workshops featuring a variety of genres from urban, folk and rock melodies to classical, jazz, opera and world music.
The Ismaili Community Ensemble, which has featured prominently in the festival since 2008, performed a 45 minute repertoire titled Expressions of Devotion that sought to convey the notion of one faith expressed across many cultures. This is reflective of the Ismaili community, which practices a single faith that is articulated through different traditions and cultures in countries around the world.
Riaz Rhemtulla leads the kathak dance workshop in Centre Space at the Ismaili Centre, London. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UK
“Exhibition Road is the cultural heartland of London” commented Exhibition Road Cultural Group chief executive Paul Cutts. “Music Day brings together the world’s leading arts, cultural, scientific and academic organisations for a fantastically diverse programme of music of all kinds and from all traditions. And, for the first time, we’ve commissioned some amazing new music too. There’s truly something for everyone.”
In 2005 Exhibition Road became home to London’s annual celebration of Music Day, the city’s contribution to Fête de la Musique, the worldwide musical celebration of the summer solstice. The day is organised by the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, a partnership of the leading cultural and educational establishments in the UK, including Imperial College London, the Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Westminster City Council, and the Ismaili Centre, London. In 2008 Music Day partnered with London Festival of Architecture to present Explore Sites and Sounds, a celebration of music and architecture. Music day also presents an opportunity to bring music, literature, art, and science alive through the concerts and workshops it offers at the festival.
A lively and interactive debate takes place between the creatures of God, in a workshop titled “Stories from Muslim Lands — The Debate Between Animals and Humans,” based on the 10th century writings of the Ikhwan al-Safa. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UKTo mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Ismaili Centre, London, the Exhibition Road Cultural Group presented the world premiere of Flow, a commission by composer Craig Vear. Flow was composed to reflect the diversity of the Ismaili community and the tranquillity and harmony of the Ismaili Centre.
Flow incorporates the voices, songs, words and melodies of the community, of which the Ismaili Community Ensemble is an integral part. Performed in the peaceful surroundings of the Ismaili Centre’s stunning roof garden, the musicians’ melodies are surrounded by silence and moments of tranquillity. The presentation allows the building — the fountain, the flow of water and energy, and London itself — to have a voice in the music.
The Ismaili Centre, London is the only faith-based organisation situated in the Exhibition Road cultural heartland. The festival is an opportunity for the Centre to open its doors and invite the public to engage with Muslim traditions and heritage. Having participated in Music Day since 2005, the Centre has nurtured understanding and dialogue through concerts and workshops featuring music, literature and art from different Muslim traditions.
“Flow” specially composed for the 25th anniversary of the Ismaili Centre, London, is performed by Jonathan Eato and Thomas Maternik from Royal College of Music together with members of Ismaili Community Ensemble. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UK
Firoz Rasul, President of the Aga Khan University will speak on Thursday, 8 July at the Ismaili Centre, London. President Rasul’s talk will look ahead toward the University’s next 25 years.
The event, which will begin shortly after 8:10 PM BST (London time), will be broadcast live at TheIsmaili.org/live.
In the next 25 years, AKU will take an important evolutionary step, to become a comprehensive university. With a vision for the University “to be on the frontiers of scientific and humanistic knowledge,” President Rasul will discuss AKU’s plans to offer programmes in the liberal arts, media and communications, law and public policy, and government. He will also talk about the University’s plans to build several new campuses and introduce integrated health care strategies in South and Central Asia and East Africa.
About the Aga Khan University
Chartered in 1983, Aga Khan University is a private, autonomous university that promotes human welfare through research, teaching and community service. Based on the principles of quality, access, impact and relevance, the University has campuses and programmes in Afghanistan, East Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria and the United Kingdom. Its facilities include teaching hospitals, Nursing Schools and a Medical College, Institutes for Educational Development, an Examination Board and an Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations. It occupies a pivotal place within the Aga Khan Development Network.
About Firoz Rasul
Firoz Rasul joined Aga Khan University as its President in 2006. Previously, he served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in fuel cell technology, and has held other leadership positions in the private sector. Mr Rasul’s past voluntary roles include serving as Chairman of Focus Humanitarian Assistance Canada, as a member of the University of British Columbia’s Board of Governors and as a Director of Science World British Columbia. He was also President of the Ismaili Council for Canada for six years, and led the development of various high level projects for the Aga Khan Development Network, including the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
Firoz Rasul holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and a Masters degree in Business Administration from McGill University in Canada. Simon Fraser University in British Columbia conferred the Degree of Doctors of Laws, honoris causa, on Mr Rasul in 2001.
VIDEO: AKU President Firoz Rasul speaks on next 25 years of the Aga Khan University
The 2010 Yawm-e Ali Lecture at the Ismaili Centre, London was delivered on 14 July by Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi, Reasearch Fellow at The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. In his lecture titled Imam Ali and the Power of Compassion, Dr Shah-Kazemi explored the role played by Rahma — divine compassion — in the teachings of Hazrat Ali.
He stressed the relationship between intellect and compassion as one of the key polarities in the thought of Imam Ali. Just as the operation of the intellect requires the participation of all the cardinal virtues — compassion above all others, says Dr Shah-Kazemi, likewise, the deeper meaning and transformative power of the virtue of compassion can only be unlocked by the spiritual and moral application of the faculty of the intellect.
About Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi
Founding editor of the Islamic World Report, Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi studied International Relations and Politics at Sussex and Exeter Universities before obtaining his PhD in Comparative Religion from the University of Kent in 1994. He has authored and translated several works, including Justice and Remembrance: Introducing the Spirituality of Imam 'Ali (I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2006) and Doctrines of Shi'i Islam (I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2001). He has also edited a number of collective volumes and published many articles and reviews in academic journals.
Formerly a Consultant to the Institute for Policy Research in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, Dr Shah-Kazemi is presently a Research Fellow with the Department of Academic Research and Publications at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, where he is editing the English translation and edition of the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia (from Persian).
Decked in whites, light greys and blues, the religious, social and cultural hub for UK Ismaili Muslims is a place of tranquil, ethereal beauty. In addition to a magnificent central prayer hall there are classrooms for religious instruction, offices, and a multi-purpose social hall. Open Saturdays, its peaceful roof garden, in traditional Islamic style, is one of London's best-kept secrets.
London, 18 November 2010 — Earlier today, Mawlana Hazar Imam received His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at the Ismaili Centre, London. The Prince’s visit commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Centre, which was opened in 1985.
To mark the occasion, a tea party was held at the Centre. In addition to Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prince Charles, leaders of the United Kingdom Jamat — including some whose service goes back 25 years — were also in attendance.
Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prince Charles in conversation at the Ismaili Centre, London. The Prince of Wales visit to the Centre was in commemoration of its 25th anniversary. Photo: Nadia Bettega
Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prince Charles in conversation at the Ismaili Centre, London. The Prince of Wales visit to the Centre was in commemoration of its 25th anniversary. Photo: Nadia Bettega
The Prince of Wales last visited the Ismaili Centre in July 2007 for the opening of Spirit and Life, an exhibition of the Aga Khan Museum collection. During his remarks at the event, he commended the Ismaili community for “the contribution they make to modern British society.”
“I can only applaud your emphasis on intellectual and cultural exploration as a means of integration, and your determination to discharge your obligations as citizens of this country without losing your own distinctive traditions,” said the Prince. He attributed the community’s succesess to “the existence of shared values.”
“These values celebrate humility, greatness of soul, honour, magnanimity and, indeed, hospitality,” said the Prince. “They form the bedrock of the excellent outreach work of the Ismaili Centre.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam stops to speak with volunteers at a tea party for Prince Charles’ visit commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Ismaili Centre, London. Photo: Nadia Bettega
Mawlana Hazar Imam stops to speak with volunteers at a tea party for Prince Charles’ visit commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Ismaili Centre, London. Photo: Nadia Bettega
The Ismaili Centre in London was the first religious, social and cultural space specifically designed and built for the Shia Ismaili community. Its foundation was laid in 1979 by Lord Soames, then Lord President of the Council, and it was formally inaugurated six years later by then Prime Minister, the Baroness Margaret Thatcher.
“The Ismaili Centre is a symbol of the Ismaili community’s permanent presence in the United Kingdom,” said Amin Mawji, President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. “It is a matter of great honour for the community to have His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales join us in celebrating this significant milestone.”
In the 25 years since it opened, tens of thousands of people have visited the Ismaili Centre in London. The building, situated at Cromwell Gardens in South Kensington, realised an important vision of Mawlana Hazar Imam, and has both reflected and shaped the aspirations of the Jamat in the United Kingdom.
The article below was written 25 years ago when the Ismaili Centre was opened. It provides useful information for reflection....
The Ismaili Centre, South Kensington
London Portrait Magazine
CHRISTOPHER LONG visits the Aga Khan's religious and cultural centre for his 8,000 Ismaili followers in Britain.
If anything seems calculated to cause consternation among London's population it's the sudden appearance of a new building on the skyline. The reaction is hardly surprising. For 30 years we have had one monstrosity after another foisted upon us and almost always they have added insult to the injury of losing once-familiar, often affectionately-regarded streets, houses and public buildings.
Which is why the new Ismaili Centre in South Kensington can be greeted with relief, admiration and much pleasure.
The island of land between Thurloe Place and Cromwell Road, opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum, was a hideous eyesore for as long as many of us can remember. For years it was a derelict site, fit only for use as a car-hire depot behind tatty hoardings and a pre-fab office. And for years the authorities agonised over what would be an acceptable scheme for what was arguably the most prominent and prestigious plot of development land in West London.
It is almost ludicrous to remember that once, in the 1980s, it was thought that this 1,730 sq. m. site would make a suitable home for the National Theatre. One look at the building eventually put up on the South Bank – the acres of space it covers, the massive height and bulk of it and the parking space it needed to provide – shows how inadequate either the site or the theatre would have been if the plan had been executed in South Kensington. Yet it was some measure of the importance of the site, prominently visible on London's main east-west thoroughfare and set in the heart of museum-land, that Bernard Shaw even got as far as laying the foundation stone there.
After that plan was dropped, there were the inevitable applications to build towering blocks of offices and shops that would have dwarfed the quiet, elegant Victorian charm of Thurloe Square and South Kensington as a whole.
Perhaps all along there had been some divine architectural destiny for the Thurloe Place site. When the Aga Khan first saw it as a potential location for a religious and cultural centre for his 8,000 Ismaili followers in Britain, it did not escape his attention that the triangular plot conveniently faces south-east not so much towards Knightsbridge as towards Mecca. But at the same time he was acutely aware that establishing the very first Ismaili centre in the Western world on such an important site as this was fraught with potential hazards.
How would Londoners react to a small, little-known and little-understood religious community taking over such a prestigious position at the centre of the institutional and cultural heart of Britain? Furthermore, what sort of building could possibly answer the needs of both the Ismailis and the English?
Fortunately, by the time the local authorities had granted planning permission, and Lord Soames had laid the foundation stone in the presence of the Aga Khan in 1979, two important things happened in favour of the Ismailis.
First, a remarkable architect had been found. Neville Conder and his team at the Casson Conder Partnership not only won the architectural competition with a design that deeply impressed the Ismailis, but also had a unique knowledge of the site and its environment. By chance their offices were in Thurloe Place, not 50 yards from the site. In addition Conder was also a resident of Thurloe Square.
The second fortuitous event was the sudden interest in Islamic art and culture that developed in Britain as a result of the World of Islam Festival in 1976. Until then it's probably fair to say that very few people in Britain had any clear idea about Islam and the intricate historical and cultural threads that link Shia Muslims with Sunni Muslims and how they in turn have spread, adapted and fragmented their culture throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East with only the one word 'Allah' to represent those threads today.
Still less did the British know how much British/Christian culture owes to Islam and how, ever since the Middle Ages, much of what we proudly regard as 'English' in fact has direct or indirect roots in the phenomenal and vastly underrated Islamic cultural empire.
Put at its simplest, what the Aga Khan and his community wanted was a modern meeting of East and West. The Ismaili Centre was to be a modern building inspired by traditional Islamic concepts but not a reproduction of Islamic shapes and styles. It was to be a building that contained a cultural meeting place in a succession of public rooms, combined with a Prayer Hall and Council Chambers, which would speak for and identify a small and highly sophisticated group of British Muslims while acknowledging ancient and Eastern origins.
And that's precisely what they got.
In the polished granite surfaces and the jewel-like facets of hundreds of teak-framed panes of bevelled glass, the exterior of the oh-so-un-English Ismaili Centre picks up and perfectly reflects the images of surrounding buildings such as the oh-so-English V&A.
The vertical flame-striped lines etched deep into almost white granite take the eye up to a chamfered sloping roof that throws light (occasionally blue skies) through the stucco-fronted windows of Victorian terraced houses. Yet the sabre-sharp angles of the facade and broken roof-line produce a stark contrast of light and shade that makes the centre look as if it's standing in searing Asian sunlight rather than under a tepid English sky!
Nowhere is there a cross such as we take for granted in usual Christian and Western architecture. Nor are there any of the Greek or Roman references that we are accustomed to see. But everywhere there are surprises: windows, arches, angles and recesses that combine with an almost bizarre juxtaposition of materials to tease and delight the eye. What holds that up? Why is there a window there? What on earth goes on inside?
The last question is a good one. Nothing on the outside tells you what on earth to expect inside – no minarets, no bells to summon the faithful. The only dome in the vicinity is on top of the V&A.
What it does contain is a succession of halls, staircases and landings that draw the visitor further and further towards the heart of the building.
Everything, from the outer entrance hall with its seven-sided fountain, seven-sided pillars and cool, geometrically decorated stone floor, impels the visitor onwards and upwards to a vast Prayer Hall capable of accommodating 1,250 worshippers. To the initiated there are innumerable tiny indicators (such as a minutely changing pattern in the carpet) which progressively prepare the visitor for his approach to this immense inner sanctum.
Between the outer entrance hall and this second-floor Prayer Hall even the uninformed visitor senses an atmosphere of anticipation without knowing quite why. The bright atmosphere becomes more muted as brilliant shafts of seven-sided light descend from unexpected light-wells throwing the simple white plaster walls into dramatic contrast. A repetitive blue-line motif carries one on and up, past a huge Social Hall towards a Shoe Hall where a three-dimensional blue and white honeycomb drops a little lower. Here worshippers exchange their shoes for a coloured cloakroom token before moving on towards the stairs which lead up to the Prayer Hall.
For the first time truly Islamic taste reveals itself in the ornate, carved and mirrored doors that lead into what must be one of the most awe-inspiring rooms to be found in any building in London.
A vast expanse of carpeted floor stretches away to tiled walls, pierced screens and stylised calligraphy. Hundreds of tiny lamps low overhead create an extraordinary and unworldly atmosphere that suspends all sensation of time and place. Ahead, due east, there is no altar, nothing to distract the eye except the constantly repeated word 'Allah', nothing to disrupt the cool, calm and contemplative aura of peace. It's hard to imagine that just three feet beyond the sound-proofed walls of this enormous space there is the busiest thoroughfare of a capital city thousands of miles from the heart of Islam.
Designed by Karl Schlamminger, a German Muslim, this extraordinary room is only flawed by a wall clock that plays a vital part in the religious observance but which might be better suited to the waiting room at Victoria Coach Station.
All in all the Ismaili Centre is a remarkable building that presented Conder and his partners with a site and a challenge that probably come only once in a life-time. For Londoners too the building represents a challenge.
The first question most people have asked is "How much must it all have cost?"
The Ismailis themselves are very reticent on the subject.
The building contract cost in January 1980 was approximately £6.5 million and may have risen by now to as much as £9 million after inflation and final accounts are rendered. But that still doesn't include architectural fees and the furniture and furnishings. The greatest unknown factor is how much the Ismailis paid the GLC for the freehold site in the first place.
What is certain is that the Aga Khan played a considerable part at every stage in the development of his prestigious project and was clearly prepared to invest many millions in this focal point for British Ismailis who used to congregate in cramped quarters in Palace Gate.
The Aga Khan opens and dedicates the building this month. We can be grateful that East and West have met so felicitously in South Kensington.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum