Abbott joins Ismaili Muslims in opening Cedar Park community center
Gov. Greg Abbott was on hand Tuesday as Ismaili Muslims community members opened their first purpose-built interfaith center in Cedar Park.
The Ismaili Jamatkhana at 2401 South Lakeline Boulevard is the newest prayer and gathering place that community leaders say was built specially to promote an understanding of Islam and other religions.
Texas Governor and community officials inaugurate new Ismaili Jamatkhana
Nestled just outside Austin, the city of Cedar Park is now home to a new, permanent Ismaili Jamatkhana. On 7 August 2018, state, city, and local leaders from across Texas joined Jamati leaders and volunteers to open the new purpose-built space, and share its vision.
Upon arriving at the new Jamatkhana, visitors were struck by its gleaming white facade. Many walked into the building for the first time on 7 August and saw its iconic circular motif of eight overlapping circles, which adorn the exterior walls and outdoor waterfall feature.
The Mayor of Cedar Park, Corbin Van Arsdale, addressed the assembled guests, noting that “Cedar Park is a diverse community … and the Ismaili community brings additional diversity, professionalism, and a servant-hearted ethic that adds great value and quality to our experience in our community.” He recounted attending a Jamatkhana tour a few weeks earlier, and being “struck by the warmth of the people here as well as the architecture and the feeling of the building itself.”
Dr. Barkat Fazal, President of the Ismaili Council for the United States, welcomed the guests and provided a context on the functions of the Jamatkhana: “This centre is envisioned to be a place to build bridges and encourage dialogue between our civic organisations, civil society, and faith communities,” he said.
Following President Fazal’s remarks, Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivered a keynote address in which he also acknowledged the Jamatkhana as “a place of civic and interfaith engagement — a place to share knowledge, to learn, and unite cultures.” He also recognised the Ismaili community’s dedication to volunteerism. He thanked the 2,500 Ismaili volunteers who dedicated more than 13,000 hours to the evacuation and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, telling the 150-plus attendees present, that “Texas is forever thankful for the way these volunteers came together to help those in need.”
Following the remarks, Governor Abbott, Mayor Van Arsdale, and President Fazal stood together to unveil a commemorative plaque. Governor Abbott then presented a signed proclamation recognising the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Jamatkhana.
After the opening ceremony concluded in the social hall — designed to accommodate educational and social events such as seminars and conferences — the guests gathered to greet one another under the Jamatkhana’s rotunda, which features a large skylight to let in natural light. Here, they were able to view the Ethics in Action exhibit, depicting the work of the Aga Khan Development Network, and join guided tours of the building, to learn about its architecture and many functions.
Attendees at the event included elected city, county, and state officials, as well as leaders from academic and healthcare institutions, interfaith leaders, and representatives from diverse civil society organisations.
Many marvelled at the circular motif found in details from the Jamatkhana’s carpeting to the metal latticework. The tessellating motif symbolises unity and diversity in nature, and is inspired by both traditional Islamic geometry and the clean, modern lines of mid-century architecture prevalent across the Austin area.
The total Jamatkhana space of over 28,000 square feet, designed locally by the renowned Austin company, Pfluger Architects, includes dedicated areas for early learning classrooms, a library, religious education classrooms, and a small conference room, alongside a 7,000-square-feet prayer hall.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the event was that individuals from across diverse communities had all come together under one roof for this momentous occasion.
“I’m very impressed with the community, the centre, and the outreach into the broader community. Just a minute ago, we had individuals from the Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu communities all in one circle of conversation,” noted Earl Maxwell, CEO of St. David’s Foundation, an organisation addressing the most pressing health challenges in the Central Texas region.
“It warms my heart to see a community that is all about inclusivity and gives it such a high value,” remarked Simone Flowers, the Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas. “This is such a beautiful place … there’s so much light, and the energy is really positive. I can’t wait to have an interfaith event here.”
Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Khorog opens its doors to the Jamat
Nestled amid flourishing trees, a flowing river, and a formidable mountain range, the newly opened Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Khorog is a long-awaited blessing for the Jamat of Tajikistan.
Up close, a jewel is made up of a number of facets, each producing intriguing patterns, which help the gem to shine. Shimmering bright on the evening of 12 December 2018, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, Khorog opened its doors to the Jamat on the eve of Salgirah.
At the foot of the Pamir mountains, and situated beside Khorog City Park and the Gunt River, the Centre provides a purpose-built space for congregation, contemplation, and contribution to civil society.
In his remarks at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, Khorog in 2008, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “It is my hope that the town of Khorog will become the Jewel of the Pamir.”
On that significant day, Mamadnazar Mamadnazarov thought to himself that whomever is involved in the building of the Centre would be very lucky indeed. Little did he know that he himself would be involved, as the site manager.
“Our people dreamt of their [own] place of worship for years. It was Monday, 3 November 2008 when Mawlana Hazar Imam laid the foundation stone for the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Khorog. This day became a happy and special day to our people.”
Construction began in April 2016 with a focus on benefiting the local community and utilising local building materials. For example, approximately 1.5 million pieces of granite were used to clad in the interior and exterior walls of the building. Most of the floors have also been tiled with local granite.
Several local companies were involved in the building project, from site excavation, timber cladding, to stone production. In addition, at its peak, up to 400 local craftspeople worked on the construction of the building, which in the process provided them with new skills for future employment opportunities.
The completed Centre offers tranquil spaces for both spiritual and secular endeavour. Its focal point is the prayer hall, which features a Pamiri roof, stone walls, stained glass windows, and carved wood pillars. The Centre also houses a social hall, library, meeting and multipurpose rooms, a foyer, a covered veranda, an amphitheatre, and courtyards.
This Centre is the latest in a series of projects which have contributed to the development of the city of Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in Tajikistan.
Mawlana Hazar Imam remarked on these plans for progress at the foundation stone ceremony in 2008.
“And we will seek to improve, all of us together, the quality of the environment in which we live, bringing clean water to everywhere where the people live, bringing energy to all the places where people live, improving the schools and health facilities, improving and restoring our historic buildings which are representations today of our cultural history,” he said.
“We today have a new park in Khorog, inshallah we will build the University of Central Asia, we will build this Centre, and while working together, step by step, we will make Khorog the Jewel of the Pamir.”
Since then, the revitalised Khorog City park was inaugurated in 2009, and includes a river promenade, a pond, a children’s play area, and a restaurant and teahouse. In addition, the University of Central Asia’s Khorog campus was officially inaugurated earlier this year, becoming UCA’s second operating campus, attracting students from across Central Asia.
The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre Khorog is the latest in this series of developments, representing a long-awaited blessing for the people in the Pamirs, and which will serve the flourishing of the Jamat and the surrounding communities for decades to come. Glimmering at the heart of Khorog, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre adds another facet to the ‘Jewel of the Pamir.’
Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center opens in the “Jewel of the Pamir”
The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center has opened in the “Jewel of the Pamir”, Khorog, the capital of the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO).
The project costs 15 million U.S. dollars and the construction of the Center was funded by the Aga Khan Foundation.
The Center consists of three parts, including the prayer halls that can accommodate 1,500 worshipers. The Center also features administrative and meeting facilities, classrooms, library and social halls that can accommodate 450 people.
The Center is located in the center of Khorog near City Park on the bank of the Ghund River.
The foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Khorog took place on November 3, 2008 but the active phase of construction of the Center began in 2016.
Common Ground - The Ismaili Centres as Enablers for Holistic Engagement.
“The Holy Quran commands humankind to shape our earthly environment, as good stewards of the Divine Creation...We hope that the Aga Khan Award for Architecture will always point towards an architecture of optimism and harmony, a powerful force in elevating the quality of human life.”
Speech by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Ceremony, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2016.
Across history, the public space has physically and symbolically consolidated the presence of civilizations and societies throughout the world.
Unique to the architectural traditions of Muslim Cultures, however, has been the masterful, and at times playful, balance of this aesthetic expression with functional utility. In doing so, this creates a lasting impact for the communities who live and work amongst these public spaces.
And of course this is not a compromise between practicality and creative ambition - it is a rich fusion between the two. By doing so, the ‘Public Space’ does not only act as a representation of a community’s heritage and values, but it in fact becomes the focal point around which the social and cultural life of a community can revolve.
The Ismaili Centres act in the same way, both as ambassadorial or cultural symbols, but also as spaces with the capacity to facilitate all aspects of the daily life of the Ismaili community.
Traditionally, the space established for congregational prayer has been referred to by many Muslim Communities as masjid ( a term derived from the Arabic sajada, meaning to bow or prostrate).
Derived from the Arabic Jama‘a (Community) and the Persian khana (House), the Jamatkhana similarly serves as a place for congregational and personal prayer, whilst also providing capacity and facility for the various cultural, social and educational needs of the community.
It is with this intention of facilitating inclusive and active social engagement that a variety of architectural features, inspired by the traditions of Muslim Civilizations, can be seen across all of the six Ismaili Centres.
The alcove, for instance - a small pocket of space placed at an indent from the usual wall or corridor - is not just a feature of aesthetic value; it encourages groups of people to sit together and engage, with an added quietness from the sound-muffling qualities of the way the windows are shaped.
This smaller retreating space compliments the wider atrium-style spaces commonly referred to as ‘social halls’. These larger multipurpose spaces utilise natural light, open plan design, and various floor elevations to provide larger spaces where the entire community can come together, with the addition of, and a warm welcome towards, non-Ismaili guests and visitors.
Another key design consideration present in the Ismaili Centres is accessibility. Designers of public spaces, furniture and interiors are often faced with the challenge of ensuring that those with all ranges of ability are able to participate in an equally immersive experience, across the entire journey of being in the public space. At the Ismaili Centre London, enclosed built-in ramps on the sides of the entrance provide privacy and comfort for wheelchair users to travel up to the social space, where this ramp rejoins with the shared walkway. Moreover, the shape and form of the staircase railings are able to provide sensory cues to aid visitors with visual impairments to find their way upstairs to the social and prayer halls.
Not only does this suggest the high level of consideration given for people of all levels of ability, but it also reinforces the notion of unity within the community, as all individual members can all take part in a collective experience within the community space.
This notion of accessible engagement for all members of the Jamat is evident in the emphasis Mawlana Hazar Imam places on our Jamatkhanas and Ismaili Centres as spaces for fostering unity within the Jamat, and stronger, collaborative ties with the communities amongst whom we live.
“These are places where Ismailis and non-Ismailis, Muslims and non-Muslims, will gather for shared activities… they will also, we trust, be filled with the sounds of enrichment, dialogue and warm human rapport, as Ismailis and non-Ismailis share their lives in a healthy gregarious spirit!
Yes! We are a community that welcomes the smile!”
Speech by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Opening Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Toronto, September 2014.
USA Jamatkhanas play important role in diversity and pluralism
Jamatkhanas and Ismaili Centres play an important role in the lives of the Ismaili community in the USA but they also play a very important role in promoting diversity and pluralism in the communities where they exist.
Jamatkhanas share a natural affinity with many places of worship. Throughout the country, local Ismaili Councils have engaged with various faith communities, inviting them to tour Jamatkhanas to participate in programmes.
In the Midwest, the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Glenview has hosted children from the neighboring Glenview Community Church Sunday School, St. David's Episcopal School, and 300 students from Springman Middle School, as part of their social studies curriculum. They toured the building and participated in a discussion about Islam and the Ismaili tariqah.
For almost two decades, the Council for the Midwest has also participated in the annual Thanksgiving service organized by the Edgewater Community Religious Association, an alliance of roughly 20 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations in north Chicago. The celebration this year was held at the Ismaili Jamatkhana. Rabbi Craig Marantz remarked on the “similarity of our compassion,” and said that, “Even though we are all created in God’s image, we come out in diverse ways.”
The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston, has held an Eid luncheon for many years, and this year over 130 people, including state and city officials and people of diverse faiths and backgrounds attended the event, which also featured musical entertainment by renowned sitar maestro Ikhlaq Hussain Khan, and tabla artist Shantilal Shah.
Also in Texas, the Ismaili Jamatkhana, Plano, hosted an interfaith event where 150 people of diverse faiths were invited to learn more about the Shia Ismaili Muslim community and to build bridges with the greater Plano community. The event offered tours of the facility, featured a performance by the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, and a visit from Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere who remarked, “There’s a sense of warmth and acceptance I feel when I come here, a sense of belonging immediately.”
For several years, Atlanta's Lovett School students, teachers, and parents have been visiting the Ismaili Jamatkhana while exploring diverse places of worship in Islam, and to learn about Islamic architecture, ethics, and values.
Said Mary Beth Walker, the Lower School Chaplain, “Our main goal was to not just talk about how we are the same, but also how are we different.”
Literature, art, and music have been avenues through which to share culture for centuries, and offer an entertaining and educational medium through which to understand each others' traditions, faiths, and histories. Cultural programmes provide a safe space through which to explore the diversity of the world around us.
With this in mind, musical performances are recurring events offered by the Jamat, and Plano Jamatkhana has hosted the musical heritage of Central Asia, performed by the trio Ancient Moods, co-sponsored by the Aga Khan Music Initiative and the Ismaili Council for the Central US, as well as the HUM Ensemble, with sitar player Sandeep Das.
A qawwali performance was organized at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Houston, featuring the group Fanna-Fi-Allah. From the Indian Subcontinent, the audience was flown on a musical magical carpet to Spain, as the country's premier flamenco group, Solero Flamenco, illustrated the rhythms of this captivating art form.
Every year in New York since 2011, the Jamat has organized a Roz-e-Nur (Day of Light) event at the New York Headquarters Jamatkhana. The occasion is a celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Tajikistan in May 1995. It is a time when Tajik families celebrate by cooking palau and sweets, sing songs, maddoh and qasidas, and share memories and experiences.
Additional cultural programmes and interfaith collaborations are planned for the future at Jamatkhanas across the United States, and are expected to intensify following the opening of the Ismaili Center in Houston. They have provided a valuable opportunity for communities to come together and appreciate each other's traditions, and have allowed for lasting relationships to be built.
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