Ismaili Muslims in Richmond, Virginia, Celebrate Official Opening of Glen Allen Jamatkhana

Glen Allen Jamatkhana opening
Photo: Tom Lappas/Henrico Citizen. Please click on image for article.

The nearly 1000 members of the Ismaili Muslim Jamat (community) residing in and around Richmond, Virginia, have a new 12,780 square foot Jamatkhana in Glen Allen, in Henrico County. The official opening of the Jamatkhana took place on May 6, 2022. Glen Allen is 13 kilometres from Richmond, the state capital, and 141 kilometres (appx. 88 miles) south of the US capital, Washington, DC. In a fine piece for the Henrico Citizen, Tom Lappas reports on the Jamatkhana opening. He notes that the Ismaili Jamat in Richmond is composed of members from Africa, South Asia, Syria as well as Afghanistan. Sitting on three acres of space, the Jamatkhana building was extensively madeover, and now reflects traditional Islamic geometric designs. It houses a room for prayer (the Jamatkhana itself), as well as classrooms, meeting rooms and an interfaith room for family members who are not Ismailis. Please read and listen to the piece by Tom Lappas by clicking New Jamatkhana for Ismailis in Glen Allen. Lappas is the founder and publisher of T3 Media, LLC, the parent company of the Henrico Citizen and HenricoCitizen.com.

Date posted: May 12, 2022.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Two Insightful and Profound Interviews of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, the other branch being the Sunnis who form the Muslim majority. His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th Hereditary spiritual leader or Imam of the Ismailis and is directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) through his son-in-law, Ali (A.S.), who was married to the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima (A.S.). Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali were also first cousins — their respective fathers Abd al-Muttalib and  Abu Talib were brothers.

According to Shia Muslims, the Prophet had designated Ali to succeed him as the Imam. The Sunnis dispute this, and Muslims have remained divided over this contentious matter for centuries. However, in their book, “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: 

“Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ 

“This became the proof text for the Shia claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” 

The authors, Cohen and Major, sum up by stating that through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Over the course of history, the Shia Muslims split into a number of branches over the succession of Imams descended from Ali. The first major split occurred during the 8th century, two centuries after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, following the reign of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, when one group considered his son Musa Kazim as the rightful Imam. The other group regarded Imam Ja’far’s elder son, Ismail, as the rightful successor. Musa Kazim’s successors continued until the 12th Imam, who is then said to have gone into hiding. This group of Shia Muslims, awaiting the re-appearance of the hidden 12th Imam to take part in the final judgement, forms the Shia majority in Iran and Iraq. They are known as the Twelver Shias or Ithnashries.

The group that held to Imam Ismail became known as the Ismailis and continue to thrive today under the Hereditary leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by his Ismaili Muslim followers as Hazar Imam (the present living Imam). Thus, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan.

Naheed Nenshi Mayor Calgary Simerg
Naheed Nenshi, left, at an event in Ottawa.

Having recently re-established myself as a resident of Alberta after 40 years, and to put the Ismailis and their Hereditary 49th Imam, the Aga Khan, into an Albertan perspective, I should like to mention that Naheed Nenshi, who served as Calgary’s mayor for three terms from 2010 until 2021 is an Ismaili Muslim. Readers are invited to read his piece in the Globe and Mail, Why I’m grateful for the Aga Khan’s extraordinary service to humanity (a subscription or registration may be required to read the article).

Salma Lakhani, 19th Lieutenant Governor Alberta, Simerg
The Honourable Salma Lakhani

It is noteworthy that Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, who was installed as the 19th Lieutenant Governor on August 26, 2020, is also an Ismaili Muslim, and her profile can be read on this website by clicking HERE. The piece also has a link to an interview that Canadian Geographic conducted with her.

In Edmonton, the spectacular 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden within the University of Alberta’s Botanic Garden was gifted by the Aga Khan as “a symbol of the continued intellectual, educational and cultural collaboration between the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan Development Network.” The Botanic Garden will open for the 2022 season on May 7th, and is a MUST visit site, according to Hundreds of Google and Tripadvisor reviews. I look forward to publishing a special photo essay in the near future on the Botanic Garden, with a focus on the Aga Khan Garden.

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Aga Khan Garden Edmonton, part of Aga Khan interviews piece in Simerg
Views of the beautiful Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton. The Garden is scheduled to open for the 2022 season on May 7. Photos: Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

And elsewhere in Canada, His Highness the Aga Khan’s projects include the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, both located on Sussex Drive in Ottawa; the Aga Khan Museum, the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre on Wynford Drive in Toronto; and the Ismaili Centre Vancouver on Canada Way in Burnaby.

Canada is home to more than 100,000 Ismailis, with around 12,000 in Calgary.

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Aga Khan Projects Canada Simerg
Clockwise from top left: Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum, both in Toronto (ponds in foreground in both photos are part of the Aga Khan Park); Ismaili Centre Vancouver, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Global Centre for Pluralism, Ottawa, and Aga Khan Park Toronto. Collage: Simerg.

With these preliminary remarks on the Aga Khan and his Ismaili Muslim followers, I now invite you to read two excellent interviews that France’s Politique International and Canada’s Peter Mansbridge conducted with the Aga Khan. Both the interviews have appeared on this website with the publishers’ permission.

The Aga Khan’s Absorbing Interview with Politique International

Aga Khan, Politique Internationale, Simerg
Click on image for “Power of Wisdom”

“We are a long way from the democratization of nuclear energy. Maybe I’m naïve but I advocate another approach, which I call “positive proliferation.” The positive proliferation that I would dearly love to see happen is based on a simple principle: yes to energy, no to arms” — To read full interview, click Politique Internationale: The Power of Wisdom

The Aga Khan’s One on One Interview with Peter Mansbridge

Aga Khan University of Alberta, Simerg
Click on image for “One on One”

Peter Mansbridge: What is the quality that you most admire about this country?

The Aga Khan: I think a number of qualities. First of all, it’s a pluralist society that has invested in building pluralism, where communities from all different backgrounds and faiths are happy. It’s a modern country that deals with modern issues, not running away from the tough ones. And a global commitment to values, to Canadian values, which I think are very important. — To read the interview and the story behind the interview, please click Peter Mansbridge: One on One.

Date posted: May 6, 2022.
Last updated: May 9, 2022 (caption updates and typos).

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. 

Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Cover page, Dr. Tammy Gaber's beautiful new book "Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design", Hardcover, pp. 304 with 306 photos and 135 drawings, colour throughout, February 2022, pub. McGill-Queen's University Press, simerg

Simerg in Conversation with Dr. Tammy Gaber, Author of a Stunning and Insightful New Book on Canadian Mosques Over the Past Century

We recently read Professor Tammy Gaber’s new book “Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design” and found it to be beautiful and impressive — its design brings together pictures, text, and architectural drawings in a clean and easy-to-read layout. Her analysis covers a lot of ground, quite literally. Simerg presented a few questions to Dr. Gaber about her book, with the focus on women’s presence and participation in mosques. She kindly obliged and we are pleased to present the following interview which was conducted via email.

Simerg: You write that your investigation began two decades ago. Please tell our readers a little about your journey, intellectually in that time and geographically across Canada.

DR. GABER: In my acknowledgements I was hinting at the fact that my research on mosques began with my Bachelor of Architecture thesis (at University of Waterloo completed in 1999) for which I designed a mosque in Canada. It was a struggle to find information on the subject and to approach the design as critically as I had any other building type in my education. I was also hinting at my Masters (Cairo University, 2004) in which I examined qualities of design of ‘Western’ mosques and my PhD (Cairo University 2007) in which I examined the historical roots, development and contemporary impact of women’s spaces in mosques. This specific project, the examination of mosques in Canada began in 2015 with a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) funded grant.

Simerg: Beyond your studies at these important institutions in Canada and Egypt, how far and wide have you travelled as designer, educator and author of a truly beautiful book.

DR. GABER: I travelled to 53 cities to see 90 mosques in the space of 2.5 years while I was full-time teaching — so all travel took place during holidays or study weeks and were focused on the examination of mosque spaces. A large number of the mosques I studied were in converted buildings, some of which used to be other places of worship. As an architecture educator I am very interested in excellent architecture and when I could I would visit other buildings I did.

Simerg: The title Beyond the Divide speaks of an existential search for a more equitable presence for women in mosques. Their points of view are central to this endeavor. You use a captivating term room sometimes with a view. As an architect you classify mosques into those with no view, with a partial view, and with a full view. An astonishing 46% of mosques you studied had no view for women and only 15% had a full view, and the colour coding you use in the architectural drawings illustrates the stark divisions with clarity. 

DR. GABER: It was important for me to relay the architectural facts about women’s spaces in mosques with data on the proportion, location, materials and recurrent patterns so that the issue would become very clear.

Simerg: You write about the Ka’ba in Mecca as exhibiting equal access. Men and women have prayed there without separation for 14 centuries and continue to do so. And yet, in the Canadian mosques you have studied, the allocation of spaces is tending towards more separation. Indeed, mosques with equal access have become gendered spaces with women allocated about a third only of the built spaces. Often, the spaces are of inferior quality. Edmonton’s Al-Rashid Mosque began as an equitable space. Not any more. Others like the Sudbury mosque have resisted this change to gendered spaces. The Ismaili jamatkhanas are full view and divided equally by default. 

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Dr. Tammy Gaber''s beautiful new book "Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design, Interview with Simerg
Cover page, Dr. Tammy Gaber’s beautiful new book “Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design”, Hardcover, pp. 304 with 306 photos and 135 drawings, colour throughout, February 2022, pub. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

DR. GABER: My apologies, but I am tempted to reiterate all of chapter 7 [of the book] here.  It was important for me to relay the architectural facts and that architecture has agency and affects behaviour in both positive and negative ways: spaces that do not welcome women lead to less attendance by women; spaces that welcome women equally not only leads to more attendance but more participation in all aspects of the communities use of the spaces and sustained attendance over generations. Additionally there is a disjunction between women’s ability to use spaces of the mosque and other public spaces like schools or shops — this becomes an accessibility issue. 

Simerg: Mimar Sinan from the 16th century is generally spoken of the glowing terms. Yet you uncover this divide in his architecture. His students follow with similar designs. Please explain how this inequity built into stone has become a “tradition” with vocal defenders.

DR. GABER: Mimar Sinan’s mosques borrowed and greatly developed structural forms and ideas inherited from Byzantine architecture (for example Hagia Sophia). It was common in Byzantine architecture to include a designated women’s balcony in the church space. That practice was abandoned in subsequent periods of church architecture but was adopted again, centuries later, by Ottoman mosque architecture including Sinan’s works. The impact of this introduction was very far reaching: during the Ottoman empire hundreds of mosques were constructed across vast geographies placing in stone designated spaces for women that were much smaller in proportions (height and floor area) and made common the cultural adoption that this was the ‘norm’.

Simerg: Apparently, it is new immigrants to Canada from many different countries who are not so accommodating of equitable spaces for women and are pushing for regressive changes.  Are the critiques of Zarqa Nawaz and others fostering  better counter conversations?

DR. GABER: The spaces for women in the Canadian mosque is an unfolding conversation as users (and mosque governance) modify spaces over time. Additions or subtractions to spaces are a result of these conversations. Zarqa Nawaz’s film, book, and publications have brought attention to this matter which is important. During the exhibition of this research in 2017 at the Noor Cultural Centre many people spoke to me how surprised they were at the range and quality of women’s spaces in mosques. My hope is that by demonstrating the architectural facts of the breadth of mosque spaces in Canada and the impact these spaces have that there can be further conversations.

Simerg: Coast to coast is the term often used when speaking of Canada. However, the third coast, in the extreme north, has two mosques. There is one in Iqaluit (Nunavut) and another in Inuvik (North West Territories) delightfully named Midnight Sun Mosque. Having the North Pole as your neighbour brings its own challenges. Apart from the cold at the extreme latitudes, there are the orientation of the qiblah and fasting in Ramadan. Please could you tell us more.

DR. GABER: I like this phrasing of a ‘third coast’, you are very right! It was incredible to travel to Iqaluit and Inuvik and to meet the communities who created the mosques in each of these northern cities. There are many challenges associated with location and its impact on fasting and prayer — I have outlined in detail in chapter 6 the facts relating to the calculations and the conversations that are influx with respect to adaptation.

Simerg: You write about the disjunction between users and designers. In what areas do you hope your book will contribute to bridging the divide? Can this happen without women in the governance structures of the mosques?

DR. GABER: It is my hope that the survey in my book will demonstrate the inspiring possibilities of architecture to users, governance and architects  – and that the agency of each (users, governance and architects) is important and amplified when in dialogue.

Date posted: March 23, 2022.

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Purchasing the Book

Dr. Tammy Baker's beautiful new book "Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design, Interview with Simerg

Tammy Gaber’s “Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design” is available for on-line purchase at the publisher’s website McGill-Queen’s University Press (it has more details about the book including its table of contents) as well as Indigo, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobles among other on-line booksellers.

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About Dr. Tammy Gaber

Tammy Gaber, Laurentian University, author of Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design, interview with Simerg Malik Merchant
Dr. Tammy Gaber

Dr. Tammy Gaber is Director and an Associate Professor at Laurentian University’s McEwen School of Architecture (MSoA), where she teaches architecture design and theory courses. Dr. Gaber joined MSoA as founding faculty in 2013 and previously taught at University of Waterloo, American University in Cairo and the British University in Egypt.  Dr. Gaber completed a SSHRC funded research project which led to her book Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design and has published on gender and architecture with a chapter in the forthcoming Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture  (Bloomsbury press). Dr. Gaber has also published chapters on vernacular and regional architecture in Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet (Thames and Hudson) and Diversity and Design: Perspectives from the Non-Western World (Fairchild Publishing), and has two chapters in The Religious Architecture of Islam (in 2 volumes; 2021, Brepol Publishing). In 2019 Dr. Gaber won the Women Who Inspire Award from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and in 2020 she was awarded Laurentian University’s Teaching Excellence Award for a Full-time professor.  During her 2020-2021 academic sabbatical Dr. Gaber  completed a two-month academic residency in Finland for her research on Alvar Aalto in the fall of 2020 and was an invited scholar at the Centre for Theological Inquiry at Princeton University for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Ismaili Jamtkhana and Center Houston, Simerg

A Must Read Article in the “Texas Monthly” on Houston’s New Ismaili Center: A Lush Centre and a Spiritual Retreat for All

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

An excellent piece by Molly Glentzer on the Houston Ismaili Center appeared in the Texas Monthly shortly after the lead architect Farshid Moussavi came to the city in November 2021 to unveil her design for the building. Subscribers to Texas Monthly can click on the link provided in this post and read Molly’s piece. If you are not a subscriber, Texas Monthly allows you to read 2 free articles. Many readers might qualify for the two free reads, and may even consider subscribing. Please click Texas Monthly on the Ismaili Centre Houston or on on any of the two images shown below. This is a great piece, with wonderful insights by the architect as well as leaders of the city.

Ismaili Centre Houston Imara Aga Khan Simerg
The new Ismaili Center in Houston will feature beautiful spaces, intricate geometry, and highly crafted work In this photo. In this depiction, the forecourt garden with its reflecting pool at the entrance of the building creates a contemplative atmosphere. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via the Ismaili

Ismaili centers are an invention of the Aga Khan. “They are places that reflect his belief in the power of architecture to improve lives,” Moussavi says. Each holds a jamatkhana, or prayer hall, but also serves as a brick-and-mortar ambassador for expressing the Ismailis’ commitment to uniting diverse people and cultures. Houston’s center will be the most public-focused yet — Excerpt from Texas Monthly

Ismaili Center Centre Houston Simerg Imara
From wherever one enters the site, visitors will be welcomed by garden spaces. The Center’s landscaped gardens will provide a sense of serenity and peace, offering a respite from its urban surroundings. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili

Date posted: February 22, 2022.

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Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also, visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos that features photos and videos from around the world.

Malik, the founding publisher and editor of the 3 websites, may be reached at his email address, mmerchant@simerg.com.

Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments.

David Rumsey Map Collection: Historical Map Showing 600 Years of Islamic Monuments in Cairo from the Rise of the Fatimid Empire in North Africa in 909

Compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergSimergphotos and Barakah

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection focuses on 16th through 21st century maps of North and and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Atlases, globes, school geographies, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps including pocket, wall, children’s and manuscript maps are present on the website. The depth and breath of the digital collection is impressive, and is continuously growing. The website notes that the actual physical map collection is housed at the David Rumsey Map Center at the Stanford University Library.

My search on the website using the term “Fatimid” yielded one result. It is a map produced in 1924 by the Survey of Egypt, which was once regarded as “one of the most professional mapping agencies in the World, predicated upon the synergy of the most authoritative topographical and urban mapping combined with the latest archaeological surveys.”

Simerg is pleased to reproduce the map, along with an interesting narrative that accompanies the map on the David Rumsey Map Center website. We also invite readers to click on the link to enrich their viewing experience of the map, download the map (by using the Export Function) as well as to explore other maps that may be of interest to readers or to provide them with further information in their specific area of research.

Cairo During the Islamic Golden Age

Please click on image for enlargement

Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments.
Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments, with the ‘Fatimid and Pre-Fatimid Monuments’ (909 – 1171), shaded in Red; the ‘Aiyubid [Ayyubid] Monuments’ (1171 – 1260), shaded in Green; and the ‘Mameluke Monuments’ (1260 – 1517), shaded in Blue. Credit: David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Cairo was the greatest centre of culture, learning and commerce during the ‘Islamic Golden age’. Commencing in the early 20th Century professional archaeologists as well as art and architectural historians became interested in scientifically recording Cairo’s sensational Islamic buildings and monuments.

The map employs colours to denote sites built across the city during the eras of the three great Islamic empires that controlled Cairo prior to the arrival of the Ottomans in 1517: the ‘Fatimid and Pre-Fatimid Monuments’ (909 – 1171), shaded in Red; the ‘Aiyubid [Ayyubid] Monuments’ (1171 – 1260), shaded in Green; and the ‘Mameluke Monuments’ (1260 – 1517), shaded in Blue.

These mosques, palaces, madrassas, and fortifications appear amidst the otherwise buff-coloured city which generally consisted of buildings built during the subsequent Ottoman and British Protectorate periods.

The map shows that many of the greatest edifices from the periods of the three great Islamic empires have survived, although only traces of the vast Fatimid Place can be found amongst the foundations of newer buildings. Each of the historical sites is named in Gothic script and features a corresponding numeral which refers to that which appears upon the plaques affixed to each building by the civic authorities. The two insets on the left-hand side showcase sites in areas outside of the city proper. We understand that the first edition the map was issued in 1924, while an Arabic language version was published in 1948. The present revised, official edition was issued in 1950-1 (correction, this copy is the first edition, issued in 1924), while several facsimile (unofficial) versions have been issued since then. The Survey of Egypt followed the initial production of the present issue of the map with a small booklet, Index to Mohammedan monuments appearing on the special 1:5000 scale maps of Cairo (Cairo, 1951), that is not present here, but seems to have been issued with the latter-releases of the map.

Cairo during the ‘Islamic Golden Age’ Cairo was traditionally the largest and most culturally and economically important city in the Islamic world. The Muslim conquest of Byzantine Egypt occurred between 639 and 646 AD. While the Cairo area has been settled for thousands of years, with the key Ancient Egyptian cities of Giza and Memphis located nearby, the city proper was not founded until 969, when it became the principal city, and sometimes capital, of the Fatimid Caliphate, a Shia Muslim empire which controlled much of North Africa, the Levant and Hejaz between 909 and 1171.

Cairo rapidly rose to become a centre of great wealth, at the nexus of global trade routes as well as home to some of the world’s foremost centres of education and the arts. Befitting its importance, great monuments of Islamic architecture were built across the city.

The Al-Azhar Madrassa (no. 97 on the map), which later grew into a university, was founded in 970-2 and today remains the world’s most prestigious institute of Islamic learning. The map notes some Islamic monuments made before 969, as the pre-Cairo rural landscape featured some small mosques, houses and fortifications.

The Fatimids were replaced by the Ayyubid Dynasty (1171 – 1260), a regime of Kurdish origin, founded by the legendary conqueror Saladin, whereupon Cairo remained the prosperous centre of an empire spanning much of the Middle East.

The Mamelukes were an elite class of soldier-bureaucrats descended from former Christian slaves. In 1250, they took over Egypt, the Levant and Hejaz, forming the Mameluke Sultanate, with its capital in Cairo. It was during the early part of their regime that Cairo reached its zenith as the principal centre of the Islamic Golden Age.

The epicentre of a global trading network that spanned from India to Spain, Cairo far surpassed all European cities in wealth and cultural sophistication, and many exquisite works of architecture were built to reflect this glorious state. The Mameluke Sultanate was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517 and Cairo ceased to be an imperial capital. However, while technically subject to the Sublime Porte, Egypt maintained a high degree of autonomy and was the wealthiest and most prosperous part of the Ottoman Empire; Cairo remained a highly important centre.

Fortunately, as the repent map reveals, the survival rate of Cairo’s great works of Islamic architecture from the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mameluke periods is impressively high, and many sites can be visited today. References: OCLC: 17543226. (Alexander Johnson, 2020).

Date posted: February 22, 2022.

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Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also, visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos that features photos and videos from around the world.

Malik, the founding publisher and editor of the 3 websites, may be reached at his email address, mmerchant@barakah.com.

Gulshan-i rāz or The Garden of Mystery: A Rare 20th Century Ismaili Work at the US Library of Congress; Downloadable

Article reproduced and adapted from the website of the US LIBRARY OF CONGRESS (LOC)

Gulshan-i rāz (The garden of mystery) is a 20th century text on the Nizari Ismaʻili belief system, written by Nadir Shah Kayani (circa 1897 – circa 1971), a leader of the Ismaʻili community in Afghanistan.

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Ismaili work Gulshan-i rāz, Library of Congress LOC, Simerg
Page 1 of 42 of the Ismaili work Gulshan-i rāz. Photo: LOC.

The title of this work deliberately echoes a celebrated Ismaʻili book of verse of the same name composed by Mahmud Shabistari in 1317. Nadir Shah’s work is organized in 14 sections, each of which discusses a philosophical or religious topic such as nafs (the soul) or namaz (prayer). The first section, on tafakkur (the faculty of thought), is written as a commentary on a verse from the original Gulshan-i rāz.

Article continues below, click image to download PDF

Ismaili work Gulshan i Raz at LOC, Simerg
Page 12 of 42 of the Ismaili work Gulshan-i rāz. Photo: LOC; please click on image to download the work in PDF format.

Much remains to be discovered about the Ismaʻili community of Afghanistan during this period. What is known is that Nadir Shah belonged to a family of Ismaʻili leaders based in the Kayan valley in northern Afghanistan. He was a prolific author who wrote both poetry and philosophical texts. The present work is a manuscript, most likely produced in Afghanistan.

Aga Khan III, Library of Congress LOC, Simerg
Aga Khan III. Photo: LOC.

Kayani’s leadership of the Ismaʻili community coincided with the reign of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957; Imam from 1885-1957).

The script is nastaʻliq, written in black ink, 11 lines to the page, on a light-cream paper. The “third” in the title probably refers to Shabistari’s original work as the first Gulshan-i rāz. The identity of the second Gulshan-i rāz is not clear; it could be a reference to the well-known commentary by Shams al-Din Lahiji, written in 1472-73.

Please download Nadir Shah’s work in PDF format by clicking HERE.

Summary of Work

Contributor Names: Kiyānī, Nādir Shāh.
Created/Published: Between 1900 and 1999?
Notes: Manuscript; Nastalīq script; 11 lines in written area 21.5 x 14 cm; Paper is light cream; black ink; Probably written in Afghanistan; Also available in digital form (PDF and JPEG, click HERE for PDF); In Persian; Acquired for LC only.

Date posted: January 18, 2022.

(Read the article at source by clicking HERE)

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Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also, visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Swahili – “Tanzania’s Gift to the World:” UN Designates July 7 as Kiswahili Day; and a Brief Note on Ismaili Swahili Scholar Farouk Topan

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Dr. Farouk Topan was very well known to my parents Jehangir and Malek Merchant, and as a teenager it was always a privilege to meet him when he visited my dad at the Ismailia Association offices located on the ground floor of Dar es Salaam’s Darkhana Jamatkhana. His discussions with my dad and “Din” who was also from Dr. Topan’s home town, Zanzibar, were illuminating and thoughtful. Some years later when I embarked on my computer career in the UK, and travelled to Southampton twice a week for an assignment, Dr. Topan and his family hosted me for dinner each Tuesday or Wednesday for several months. That was truly heartwarming.

Farouk Topan, Swahili literature expert
Late Jehangir and Late Maleksultan Merchant with Farouk Topan (left) and Late Gowar Bhatia (right). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Who would have thought that an Ismaili would become a specialist in the language and literature of the Swahili people? Indeed, Dr. Topan was that outstanding Ismaili individual. He is a renowned expert on Swahili literature, religion, spirit possession, and identity in East Africa and has extensively published on these subjects. He pioneered the study and teaching of Swahili literature in Kiswahili at the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Nairobi. Dr. Topan also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and was one of the founder editors of the departmental Journal of African Cultural Studies. Columnist Freddy Macha recently celebrated the life of Dr. Topan in an op ed piece for the Tanzanian daily, The Citizen. The piece was in response to an event organized by the Aga Khan University in London in October 2021 honouring Dr. Topan.

I have introduced a beloved friend of my family in this piece because I think no one would be more happier than Dr. Topan on the news that the United Nations has designated 7th July of each year as the World Kiswahili Day.

Tanzania’s Late President Julius K. Nyerere had once envisioned a Swahili-speaking utopia. While that didn’t work out, it is interesting to note that Swahili is becoming popular in many parts of the world, and becomes the first African language to be honoured by UNESCO. With regard to this announcement, Vivian Lisanza of Africa Renewal has written a fine report in the December issue of the monthly magazine. Please read Lisanza’s complete article here or listen to the audio version of the article below. The news will be welcomed by Kiswahili speakers around the world, and bring them immense pride and happiness.

Featured image at top of this post: Ohio University students write a welcoming message in Swahili. It is one of the universities in the United States that teaches Swahili. Photo: Ohio University.

Date posted: December 16, 2021.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Ismaili Jamtkhana and Center Houston, Simerg

Reflections on the Design of the Ismaili Center Houston

By KARIM H. KARIM

The Ismaili Center Houston (ICH) promises to be an architecturally innovative building. It draws inspiration from several design traditions and will likely generate discussion and debate about present-day Muslim architecture. The confluence of Muslim and non-Muslim motifs in the Center very much reflects the centuries-long Ismaili openness to diverse cultures (e.g. see my article Ismailis: A Pluralist Search for Universal Truth). It is fascinating how the building’s architect, Farshid Moussavi, has intermingled features from the Zoroastrian Sassanid, Christian Byzantine, Muslim Isfahani and secular Western societies in a contemporary Ismaili American edifice.

However, some vital considerations seem to be missing from the building that aspires to stand as “a symbol of dialogue” in responding to its “geographies and contexts.”

  • An architectural conversation with the first peoples of Texas would have been far-sighted, especially at a time when indigeneity is of rising importance in North American contexts. For example, the challenge of dealing with Houston’s heat and humidity could have turned to the history of the local Akokisa people who built airy beehive-shaped structures to cope with the climate.

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The prominent "chorkhona" skylight in the Ismaili Centre Dushanbe. The chorkhana is the main defining symbol of the traditional structure of the Pamiri House
The prominent “chorkhona” skylight in the Ismaili Centre Dushanbe. The chorkhona is the defining symbol of the traditional structure of the Pamiri House, whose design principles reflect pre-Islamic philosophical symbols of the Central Asian region. Photo: Karim H. Karim.
  • A vital principle of architectural practice is attention to the cultural heritage of the proposed building’s daily users. The vast majority of Houston’s Jamat are families that have either arrived directly from India and Pakistan or from the South Asian Ismaili diaspora in Africa. But South Asian architecture appears to have been downplayed in ICH. On the other hand, conscious efforts were made to reflect Pamiri design in Dushanbe’s Ismaili Centre. The databases of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Aga Khan Program in Architecture are rich with information about Muslim architecture in India and Pakistan. Given that the cupola is celebrated in ICH’s design, a nod to the innovative and distinctive chattri in the Indo-Muslim style of Gujarat would have been particularly apropos.
  • The American Ismaili Jamat’s dominantly South Asian provenance holds other potential that could have been explored through ICH’s architecture. Among the possible partners for dialogue in local and global contexts for Muslims in the USA are diverse Indian American associations. They have strong presence in the American political establishment and are also key players on the transnational scene, including the ties of some with India’s ruling Hindu nationalists. A truly path-breaking pluralist dialogue in the United States holds far-reaching potential for transforming the two diasporic communities’ engagement with each other and charting steps that address the concerns of India’s Muslims with integrity. The AKDN’s calibrated engagement with Afghanistan’s Taliban government is instructive in this regard. One can only imagine the profound diplomatic symbolism of an Islamic architectural pluralism that incorporates design from ancient Indian civilization, as ICH’s architect has creatively done with pre-Islamic Persepolis of her native Iran.

Date posted: November 26, 2021.

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Karim H. Karim
Karim H. Karim

About the author:  Karim H. Karim is Chancellor’s Professor and Director of Carleton University’s Centre for the Study of Islam where he held an International Ismaili Studies Conference. He previously served as Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) and Director of Carleton’s School of Journalism & Communication. Dr. Karim has held visiting scholarly appointments at Harvard University, Aga Khan University/Simon Fraser University, and the IIS. He has also been an advisor for the AKU and the Central Asian University and has served as a member of the AKDN’s Higher Education Forum. Professor Karim is an award-winning author, whose globally-cited writings include publications on culture, architectural design and pluralism as well as on Ismaili communitiesinstitutions, and leadership. He and his wife have established The Karim and Rosemin Karim Prize that recognizes research excellence in understudied areas of Ismaili Studies.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Please also visit Simerg’s sister websites  Barakah and Simergphotos.

Photo Essay: Celebrating the Ismaili Flag and the Personal Standard of His Highness the Aga Khan Through 70+ Historical and Memorable Photos from Around the World

An artistic rendition of the Ismaili Flag. Please click on image for photo essay.

Under the new Ismaili Constitution that was ordained by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in 1986 — and revised in 1998 — the popular flag of the Ismailis that had been referred to by many Ismaili Jamats around the world for decades as the “My Flag” officially acquired a new name, “The Ismaili Flag.” There was no specific Imamat flag before 1986 — the “My Flag” with its red and green colours was used during ceremonial and other events where Hazar Imam was present. But with the new constitution, the crest (or taj) of Mawlana Hazar Imam was incorporated into the “The Ismaili Flag” and this flag with the crest is referred to as the “Personal Standard of Mawlana Hazar Imam.” Barakah’s photo essay seeks to explain the colours red and green in “The Ismaili Flag” and, through dozens of photos from around the world, illustrates the usage of the “Personal Standard of Mawlana Hazar Imam.”

Read and share Barakah’s post by clicking on Celebrating the Ismaili Flag and the Beautiful Personal Standard of Mawlana Hazar Imam; the Ismaili Ethos of Valour and Peace Are Representative of the Flag’s Red and Green Colours.

Flag of the Ismaili Imamat Aga Khan portrait by Jean-Marc Carisse
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, poses in front of his Personal Standard bearing the gold crest of the Imam. Photo: © Jean-Marc Carisse, Ottawa. Please click on photo for photo essay

Date posted: August 7, 2021.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Video: His Highness the Aga Khan and the Vision Behind the Aga Khan Historic Cities Program by Cameron Rashti

The Edinburgh International Culture Summit held virtually from August 24-26, 2020 brought together the world’s leading minds in the fields of culture, the sciences and politics to discuss issues which effect nations around the world. Cameron Rashti, the Director of Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, was one of the participants and reflected on “Culture in Vibrant Communities” providing interesting insights into the goal and purpose of the Aga Khan Historic Cities programs in Central Asia, the Middles East, South Asia, and Africa.

As well as watching Rashti’s 14:41 minute Youtube presentation, below, may we suggest that readers also click on STORIES and ARTISTS IN CONVERSATION IN THE AGE OF COVID which are two other important and inspiring components of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit website.

Date posted: July 16, 2021.

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Cameron Rashti

Cameron Rashti joined the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in 1994. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Pratt Institute and Columbia University, he is a registered architect in the USA and the UK. Prior to joining the Trust, he held senior positions on major architectural and urban redevelopment projects in New York (1979-89) and in London (1989-94), as Vice President of Perkins & Will International. On behalf of AKTC, Rashti oversees a portfolio of diverse urban conservation and redevelopment projects in historic cities and heritage sites across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the Far East and teams of dedicated professionals in each location. He has served since 2010 as Delegate of the President of the Foundation of Chantilly, mandated with the safeguarding and redevelopment of the Domaine de Chantilly. Rashti has coordinated and contributed to a series of publications produced with Prestel on the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme’s work and development models.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.