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Memories of Jamatkhanas: Upanga, Kabul, China

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PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2016 4:59 am    Post subject: Memories of Jamatkhanas: Upanga, Kabul, China Reply with quote

AS RECEIVED from nurmuhammedone [at]

My memory of a jamatkhana goes way back to my childhood. I remember one jamatkhana, one with a 'baandaa' roof (corrugated iron?), between rows 5 and 7 occupying the space in the middle of row 6. These rows were called Jamat Flats.

A memory that stands out is that of being inside the jamatkhana with light bulbs swaying at the end of the electrical chords that hung from the ceiling and the rain pitter patering on the roof. The whole ceremony under dim flickering light was from a different world.

And then of course were the rounds we made to collect ice cubes from homes surrounding the jamatkhana during the hot season so people could have a glass of cold water. Under the direction of ami and abu we would get a pail and a wooden staff. With the pail balanced in the middle of the staff the two of us would hold each end of the staff.

This Jamatkhana served the housing schemes that were built in Upanga in the early fifties with names such as aliabad, sadrabad, aminabad, diamondabad, omhabibabad and much later fidai and yakimour. These housing schemes among many other projects, were started after the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah. This was all about the Quality of Life which the present Imam continues to emphasize.

Right next to the Jamat Flats, a new Jamatkhana was built on the grounds where the present Imam Shah Karim al Husseini had his Takht Nashini.

While this Jamatkhana was being built, it became my playground. And after it was built, the intimacy grew to a point where one could say it was my second home. In addition to the water service, there was the shoe service, ginan and dua recitation, attending baitul ilm classes, decoration, clean up, and coming to know each and every nook of the jamatkhana. Of course my favourite spot was high up in the dome of the 'minaret' where the star faces were. Later, these star faces were replaced by the clock faces.

I would go to the room of the minaret to see the mercury electrical switching system which controlled the light bulbs switching on and off on the round clock faces. From the outside, an observer would see the light bulbs going around in circles on a continuous basis. If I recall correctly there were five tubes filled with mercury inside. At each end of the tube was metal; the metal on both sides were wire connected to the light bulb circuitry and when each tube was in a horizontal position the circuitry was completed and the bulbs would light.Each tube circuitry controlled the light bulbs in sequence. And thus when each tube was in the horizontal position in sequence, the light bulbs would switch on giving it the appearance that the light was moving around in a circle. I really believe this and other observations probably made me take up engineering.

There are many other events that are attached to this jamatkhana

The harsh winters of Saskatoon (1984-7) were not a deterrent; small in number, yet the jamatkhana was open every evening and twice a week in the morning; shoveling snow to clear the entrance as no problem even at 30 below.

Talking about the scent of sandalwood and ecstasy and enlightenment, The Ismaili Centre London 1985, Scarborough and Etobicoke Jamatkhanas, and the Old Kinshasa Jamatkhana 2003 bring about maturity and wonderful memories

The main Nairobi City Jamatkhana 2003 is special as well. With windows open, a cool breeze blowing in, dua being recited; and all the while birds would fly in and out the windows tweeting and chirping. Words fail me; it was as if I was in garden; and on the main floor pictures and plaques, reminders of Imam Sultan Muhammed Shah.

The Jamatkhanas (Nakustin, Charkalaa, Hassan Sabah and Taimini) of Kabul 2004 were special; that even though there were security issues, they were open, people came, and we were able to go. Of considerable happiness is when I was able to visit both buildings of the Ummumi Jamatkhana at a time when there were issues; within a month those issues were over and the Jamat became one; a special talika from the Imam on the first day.

Returning to Vancouver in 2003 and sitting in the courtyard of the Ismaili Centre Burnaby, facing the front facade, the symphony of the water fountain and the fragrance of the flowers every summer evening before prayer time was a blessing. Jasmine were my favourite.

And on Friday nights around ten pm when the spot lights were switched on the quarter sphere recess of the front facade, one could see the material and the spiritual symbols created by the lights and the shadows right in the middle of the recessed quarter sphere; and right at the top in the middle of the sphere the light filled tunnel passage opened up to the sky above. I invite all of you to take time to watch this imagery unfold as night sets in and the combination of light and shadows reveal.

The basement provided classrooms, offices and meeting and conference rooms. The social hall upstairs provided opportunities for holding seminars, presentations, art displays, song and dance performance not only for the community but for bridge building with the communities at large.

And the main prayer hall, fully rose color carpeting, stain windows, calligraphy and skylight domes in the high ceiling above brought natural light in; and once again light and shadow create an mystical ambiance. Prayers and hymns recited in sonorous, melodious voices beckon the presence of Grace time and time again.

And this is found in all jamatkhanas all over the world; from the rooftops of the Pamirs in Central Asia (China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan), Iran, The Middle East, India, East Africa, Australia, Europe and Americas.

I invite readers to reflect upon Ayats 24:35,36,37 and 38 of the Qur'an.

With body, mind and soul and not forgetting the heart, yes and not forgetting the heart.

And let me remind readers that similar experiences are there to be had in mosques, temples, churches and other places of worship.
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