The Aga Khan and Cultural Historian Oleg Grabar

“Oleg Grabar has done more to define the field of Islamic art and architecture than almost anyone else alive. The questions he has asked, the hypotheses he has proposed and the theories he has developed, over a career that now spans more than six decades, have shaped and defined the way we understand the Islamic world’s rich architectural heritage” — Chairman’s Award Citation, Aga Khan Award for Architecture Ceremony, November 2010, Qatar

January 8, 2023, the date of this post, marks exactly 12 years since the passing of Professor Oleg Grabar at the age of 81. Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, presents 3 rare photographs connecting the late Harvard and Princeton scholar with His Highness the Aga Khan and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA ) as well as includes the full citation of the honour that was bestowed on Grabar by the Aga Khan during the presentation ceremony of the world’s biggest architecture prize on November 24, 2010 — READ MORE

Aga Khan Award for Architecture Lifetime Achievement Award to Oleg Grabar, Simerg
His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the then Emir of Qatar, presents a certificate to Professor Oleg Grabar who was awarded the Chairman’s Award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the field of Islamic art and architecture, as Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and His Highness the Aga Khan look on. The Award ceremony took place in Qatar November 24, 2010. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte. Please click on photo for Citation and more photographs.

Date posted: January 8, 2023.

Featured photo at top of post: The Aga Khan and his younger brother Prince Amyn with Oleg Grabar. Photograph: © Christopher Little.



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 SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at

Gülru Necipoğlu, Harvard’s Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture, to Receive Freer’s 2023 Lifetime Achievement Medal; Oleg Grabar, 1st Aga Khan Professor was Honoured with the Freer Medal in 2001

Compiled and adapted from News Release, National Museum of Asian Art, January 3, 2023

The National Museum of Asian Art has announced its 2023 recipients of the Freer Medal, a lifetime achievement award that honors individuals who have substantially contributed to the understanding of the arts of Asia throughout their career. This year, the institution’s centennial, the honor will go to Vidya Dehejia, the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor Emerita of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University, and Gülru Necipoğlu, the Aga Khan Professor and Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University’s History of Art and Architecture Department. They will be honored for their lifetime work in South Asian art and arts of the Islamic world, respectively. The medal will be presented to Dehejia April 28 and to Necipoğlu Oct. 27.

Named after the museum’s founder, Charles Lang Freer, the Freer Medal has been awarded 14 times since its inception in 1956. This is the first time that a scholar of South Asian and another of Middle Eastern descent will receive the award. Only two other women have previously received the Freer Medal: It was awarded to Dame Jessica Rawson, professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Oxford, in 2017 and to Stella Kramrisch, Czech art historian and leading specialist on South Asian art, in 1985.

“The Freer Medal is an important way in which our museum encourages and exemplifies excellence in Asian art scholarship,” said Chase F. Robinson, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Asian Art. “We are pleased to recognize the enormous contributions that these scholars have made to their fields. It is long overdue that women of Middle Eastern and Asian heritages receive the Freer Medal. The museum congratulates Vidya Dehejia and Gülru Necipoğlu on this award during the landmark occasion of our centennial.”

About Gülru Necipoğlu

Gülru Necipoğlu, 2023 Freer Medal, Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, Simerg, News
Gülru Necipoğlu. Photograph: Via National Museum of Asian Art

Necipoğlu earned her doctorate from Harvard University in 1986 and has served there as the Aga Khan Professor and Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture since 1993. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University and a Master of Arts from Harvard University. Necipoğlu specializes in the arts and architecture of the pre-modern Islamic lands, with a focus on the Mediterranean world and the cross-cultural and artistic exchanges between the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires in the 16th and 17th centuries. Grounded in rigorous archival research, her multi-disciplinary studies have addressed the aesthetic interconnections of Byzantium and Renaissance Europe, pre-modern architectural practices and the role and function of ornament in the Islamic world and beyond, offering new and highly original perspectives on the arts and architecture of the region. Throughout her illustrious career, Necipoğlu has also trained and mentored numerous students, who have continued to transform the field. 

Since 1993, Necipoğlu has also served as editor of Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World and its supplements, the pre-eminent publication in the field, which has transformed the study of the arts and architecture of the Islamic world. Her own publications comprise studies in monumental architecture to intricate designs on portable objects and have changed the understanding of the arts of the Islamic world. They include Architecture, Ceremonial and Power: The Topkapı Palace (1991), The Topkapı Scroll–Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture (1995), The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire (2005, 2011), Treasures of Knowledge: An Inventory of the Ottoman Palace Library (1502/3–1503/4) (2 vols, 2019, coeditors Cemal Kafadar and Cornell H. Fleischer), The Arts of Ornamental Geometry: A Persian Compendium on Similar and Complementary Interlocking Figures (2017), A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, in the Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Art History (coeditor F. Barry Flood, 2017) and Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local (coeditor Alina Payne, 2016).

In recognition of her distinguished scholarly career, Necipoğlu is an elected member of the British Academy, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza, Italy.


Oleg Grabar: One of 14 Previous Recipients of the Freer Medal , was Instrumental in Founding Harvard’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture

The following piece about Oleg Grabar includes material from a memorial meeting held by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences on May 1, 2012Co-incidentally, we are publishing this piece almost 12 years to the day of Grabar’s death on January 8, 2011.

Oleg Grabar. Photograph: Archnet
Oleg Grabar. Photograph: Archnet

Among the fourteen previous recipients of the Freer Medal is Professor Oleg Grabar (1929-2011), who received the eleventh presentation of the medal on April 5, 2001. A special award booklet dedicated to Professor Grabar was published and can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

On November 24, 2010, at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture ceremony held in Qatar, His Highness the Aga Khan presented the Chairman’s Award to Professor Oleg Grabar in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the field of Islamic art and architecture. Less than two months later, on January 8, 2011, Oleg Grabar passed away at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, at the age of eighty-one.

Professor Grabar was recognized by the Islamic art and architecture community as one of the field’s most influential and insightful scholars. He was professor emeritus of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, and Aga Khan Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

Professor Grabar, who taught in the Harvard Department of Fine Arts (now History of Art and Architecture) for twenty-one years (1969–1990), was instrumental in founding Harvard’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. There are few, if any, Islamicists who have not profited from the scholarly contributions of this extraordinary man, who was larger-than-life. He was the first Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art at Harvard (1980–1990) — a position now held as mentioned in the previous section above by Gülru Necipoğlu — and subsequently joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained active in research and publication until his second retirement in 1998, and over the following thirteen years as well. Grabar’s continuing post-retirement intellectual productivity and capacity to inspire were officially recognized when he received His Highness the Aga Khan’s Chairman’s Award in Doha, Qatar, in 2010.

Please click on photo for enlargement

Aga Khan Award for Architecture Lifetime Achievement Award to Oleg Grabar, Simerg
His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the then Emir of Qatar, presents a certificate to Professor Oleg Grabar who was awarded the Chairman’s Award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the field of Islamic art and architecture, as Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and His Highness the Aga Khan look on. The Award ceremony took place in Qatar November 24, 2010. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte.

Date posted: January 6, 2023.



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 SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at

World Premiere 90 Days by Salim Rahemtulla article in Simerg

Salim Rahemtulla’s “90 Days” is Set for World Premiere September 8 in Vancouver – the Play Tells the Story of an Ismaili Muslim Family’s Forced Exodus from Uganda 50 Years Ago

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Uganda’s former dictator, Idi Amin, expelling the 80,000-member Asian community. Vancouver’s Salim Rahemtulla, who never set out to be a playwright, is releasing a special play “90 Days” that tells the story of an Ismaili Muslim family’s forced exodus from Uganda in 1972. Salim Rahemtulla’s father waited until two days left before the deadline before getting the remaining family members out of the country. He made this decision after Amin signalled his intention to disperse all Asians left in Kampala to other parts of the country. It was a harrowing experience for his father and mother. “They didn’t even know where they were going,” Rahemtulla says. “They were told on the plane…and they ended up in Malta — my parents and my two younger brothers. One brother ended up in Austria” — PLEASE READ MORE IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT

90 Days By Salim Rahemtulla Western Gold Theatre
Poster announcing the world premiere in Vancouver of a new play 90 Days.

A Brief Statement on “90 Days”


“I started writing the play three years ago and my goal was to have it completed and performed for the 50th anniversary of the Uganda Expulsion. The play is set in 1972 in Kampala, and Idi Amin, then President of Uganda, has had a dream he should expel all Asians from the country and give them 90 Days to leave. Yusuf Rahim, a Kampala shopkeeper, is disbelieving of the order and refuses to uproot his wife and two children. He decides to stay. As the family navigates the uncertainties of the ninety days that follow and come into conflict with each other about what to do, the dangers of staying in Kampala become too clear to ignore. As the family makes hard choices about whether to seek asylum in countries that do not want them, the traumatic expulsion is brought to life through the lens of a modest Ismaili family grappling with the pains of separation and tearing themselves away from a country they thought was home.”

Writing to his friends around the world, Salim says:

“I hope you can come to Vancouver and celebrate the play with me and my family and all the wonderful people at Western Gold Theatre and the very talented and experienced cast, the director and all others involved in the staging of this play.”

For more details and to purchase tickets please visit the website: The Western Gold Theatre focuses on sharing and celebrating the talents of senior professional theatre artists. In conjunction with the performances, the theatre is also presenting a series of supplementary educational and social activities under the umbrella term, Recounting 90 Days.

Date posted: September 8, 2022.


As a note to our readers, Salim Rahemtulla and his daughter Zahida worked together to prepare The Aga Khan’s View of the World for our sister website Barakah during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click on Leave a comment. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters. Simerg’s editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at

“Symphony of Courage”: A Documentary of the Dramatic Journey of Afghan Music Students From Kabul to Qatar to Lisbon

Voice of America’s (VOA) 52 DOCUMENTARY is a new documentary series that connects you with the global community through human interest stories. The compelling films allow you to explore new places via spectacular visuals and brilliant storytelling, empowering you to engage with the world in new ways. To watch previews of the 52 DOCUMENTARY series, click HERE. We are pleased to share one such documentary, “Symphony of Courage”, that premiered on VOA+ on August 24, 2022.

About Afghanistan Symphony of Courage: The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), the first of its kind, closed down in August 2021 as its members faced fear for their futures as musicians under the Taliban. Founded in 2010, ANIM was renowned for its inclusiveness. It became a symbol of a new Afghanistan, with boys and girls studying together and performing to full houses in the United States and Europe. Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, the institute’s founder and leader, fearing that music was not welcome in Afghanistan under Taliban, teamed up with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and worked tirelessly to secure safe passage out of the country for the institute’s nearly 300 students, including its all-female orchestra  whose 250 members range in age from 12 to 20.

“Symphony of Courage” follows the dramatic journey of two students and sisters, Farida and Zohra, as they navigate life in hiding under the Taliban rule, and eventually made their escape to Qatar and eventually to Lisbon, Portugal, where they are free to make music once again. ​

Date posted: August 30, 2022.


We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click on Leave a comment. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Simerg’s editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at

Mansoor Ladha A Portrait in Pluralism - Aga Khan's Shia Ismaili Muslims Ismaili authors series by Simerg

Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims” by Mansoor Ladha of Calgary

Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with Calgary based Mansoor Ladha’s book “A Portrait in Pluralim: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.” Mansoor is being featured in the series for the second time, following our interview with him on March 6, 2021 on his more recent work, the highly acclaimed “Memoirs of a Muhindi” that was published in 2017. We follow the same Q/A format as our earlier presentations of books written by Azim Jiwani (Vancouver), Naznin Rahemtulla Hébert (Montreal), Shairoz Lakhani (London, UK), Shelina Shariff Zia (New York), Ali Lakhani (Vancouver), Nizar Sultan (Toronto), Nargis Fazal (Vancouver), Nazlin Rahemtulla (Vancouver), Azmina Suleman (Calgary), Alnasir Rajan (Mississauga), Shafeen Ali (USA), Mansoor Ladha (Calgary), Zeni Shariff (Toronto) and Shamas Nanji (Edmonton). We encourage Ismaili authors from around the world to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses accordingly to Simerg’s editor, Malik, at


Simerg’s Interview with Mansoor Ladha

Mancoor Ladha and family with His Highness the Aga Khan III, Simerg Ismaili author series.
A memorable family photograph with the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (d. July 11, 1957) from the dedication page of Mansoor Ladha’s book “A Portrait in Pluralim: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.” Ladha dedicated the book to his parents (Zera and Hassanali Ebrahim Ladha) and grandparents (Count and Countess Ebrahim Ladha), and mentions that his family’s record of service to the Ismaili Imamat started with his grandfather Count Ebrahim Ladha of Zanzibar, who devoted several years of service to the Imam-of-the-Time. Seated (from left): Late Kamadia Hassanali E. Ladha, Late Countess Jenabai Ebrahim Ladha, MAWLANA SULTAN MAHOMED SHAH, Late Kamadiani Zera Hassanali E. Ladha, and Count Ebrahim Ladha. Standing is Kassamali Ebrahim Ladha. Seated in front of the 48th Imam is the author, Mansoor Ladha, when he was two year old. Photo: Mansoor Ladha Collection.

Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book?

Mansoor Ladha: “A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims” was published to coincide with the Golden Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. By the time of his Golden Jubilee celebrated during 2007-08, Ismailis had been established in Canada for more than 30 years, but Canadians had many sincere and honest questions about who we were, where we came from and so on. Thus, in the book I have attempted to answer these questions and give additional information about Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Canadian projects and his philosophy on pluralism. In addition to that, I was able to interview some Uganda refugees who settled in Canada starting in the autumn of 1972 after being forced to flee from their homeland by Idi Amin. I also talked to Canadian officials who were responsible for processing refugees in Kampala. The book is a portrayal of the Ismaili community.

I may note however that at the end of his Golden Jubilee Mawlana Hazar Imam established and opened with Prime Minister Stephen Harper the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building in Ottawa, and over the past decade we have seen the opening of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, all in Toronto, the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa and the beautiful Aga Khan Gardens in Edmonton.

Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?

Ladha: A Portrait in Pluralism and my more recent second book, Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West that you interviewed me on in March 2021, contain historical events affecting the Ismaili community. The book provides history, background, culture as well as success stories of Canadian Ismailis. Hence, they should be compulsory reading not only for adults but especially for the younger generation who didn’t experience what their parents went through. It’s important to educate our youngsters about our past. In this regard, I find it appropriate to quote a paragraph from Dr. Nizar Motani’s review of the Memoirs of a Muhindi:

“Besides being a valuable addition to one’s own library, it would be a suitable gift for your colleagues and neighbours who often ask the diasporic muhindis: “What is your nationality?” But they actually are curious about your country of origin, why you are not black if you came from Africa, and reasons for being in “their” countries.”

Simerg: What inspired you to write A Portrait in Pluralism?

Ladha: A couple of major events had taken place at the beginning of this century. In 2001, there was the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. Then some years later we saw the publication of a series of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in Denmark. Both events created a lot of controversies and incorrectly presented Muslims in a very negative manner. These two events and other negative depictions about Muslims provided me with an opportunity to particularly highlight the Ismaili Muslims, who through the guidance of their Imam, the Aga Khan, were quietly revolutionizing the world and improving the lives of people all around the world by establishing schools, hospitals, universities, factories, and power through AKDN (Aga Khan Development Network). This was also a time when Ismailis were celebrating Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee and hence I was proud that the book was published as a Golden Jubilee Edition, becoming a collector’s item.

Article continues below

A Portrait in Pluralism, Aga Khan's Shia Ismaili Muslims, by Mansoor Ladha, journalist, Simerg Ismaili author series
Cover page of Mansoor Ladha’s book “A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.” Published by Detselig Enterprises Ltd., Calgary, 2008, 238 pp., limited availability at Amazon and (signed) copies directly from the author.

Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?

Ladha: The book is now a rare item, but readers may be able to acquire a new or used copy at as well as at affiliated Amazon stores around the world. I have very limited copies still available, and will be pleased to mail out signed copies at a special price (plus postage and packaging). Please write to me at

Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?

Ladha:  Writing a book is an enormous project but publishing it is a mammoth undertaking. Most book publishers will not accept any submissions from an author unless the query and proposal come through a literary agent. It is very difficult to get a literary agent interested in your submission. There are authors whose submissions have been rejected by 20 literary agents, which is not considered to be unusual. I researched for publishers who would accept individual submissions and was fortunate to get Detselig Enterprises based in Calgary to publish A Portrait in Pluralism. The University of Regina Press published the second book Memoirs of a Muhindi

Those authors who have not been successful to get their books published through a traditional publisher can resort to getting their books published by self-publishing companies, such as Amazon, Friesen etc. You do not have to pay anything if your book is published by traditional publishers and the author gets a portion of the revenue while one must pay the entire cost of publishing when self-publishing.

Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?

Ladha: Once a publishing company accepts your manuscript, it is contracted to provide all editorial services, including an editor and graphic designer. The editor would suggest some revisions/alterations and seek your approval until the final document is ready. The designer would suggest a couple of book covers for your approval. I was fortunate in that as a copy editor on daily newspapers, my job involved editing stories written by reporters. Hence, this background helped me to send a clean, edited submission to publishers.

Simerg: Which was your first book and how many have you written?

Ladha: My first book, Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims, is the subject of this interview. It was published in 2009. Then approximately ten years later I got my second work Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West published by University of Regina. I was also among a group of journalists and scholars invited to contribute a chapter in a book called “The Story that Brought Me Here” published by Brindle & Glass.

May I also note that I have just finished another non-fiction and a novel — my first novel — that I plan to publish sometime in 2022.

Simerg: How long did it take you to write Portrait of Pluralism — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Ladha:  As a writer, one must be disciplined and follow a regular writing schedule. I try to write every day but take breaks in between to revitalize. You also must revise what you have written. There is no set time to finish the manuscript.

Marketing is another major problem for writers. Your traditional publisher will provide some help in sending the book to bookstores, arranging interviews with the media, and sending out review copies to newspapers, but the main responsibility of promoting the book lies with the author. I held book launches in various parts of the country at my expense, and I also ended up selling my own books. Often Ismaili stores in Calgary will keep my books for sale. Indeed, I have sold more books on my own than the publisher, who has a staff assigned to promote their publications.

Simerg: Would you like to offer further thoughts about your work?

Ladha: With regard to A Portrait in Pluralism, I was deeply touched to hear from Dr. David Zaborac of Iowa who sent me a personal note. He said:

“I have got a lot of reflections after reading A Portrait in Pluralism – Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. I feel I was greatly educated by my reading. Muslims were an alien world, not just to me, but also to many people whom I shared your story with. It was inwardly comforting to discover that a religion I once felt was extremist, was not necessarily so. The humanism displayed by the Ismailis is astounding. The way the Ismailis meld theology and sociology is inspiring. Most comforting of all was how it dawned on me how similar the goals of the Ismailis and my branch of Christianity are…helping fellow man, creating a better world, involvement with community life, etc.”

Comments such as this should make all Ismailis very proud and I feel all the members of the Jamat can play their own individual part by articulating our ethics and values to Canadians and the world at large.

Date posted: June 8, 2022.


Mansoor Ladha Ismaili author series, Simerg
Mansoor Ladha

Mansoor Ladha has held senior editorial positions as a copy editor in Canada (Edmonton Journal & Calgary Herald), features editor (The Standard in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania), copy editor (Daily Nation, Nairobi, Kenya) and was the only owner/publisher of colour of a mainstream English newspaper in Canada for 25 years. Since retiring, he has been travelling around the world as a travel writer on assignments and has published travel features in leading Canadian newspapers and magazines. He has numerous awards to his credit including being a Citizen of the Year in the Town of Morinville, Alberta; Silver Quill Award by the Alberta Weekly Newspapers for distinguished service to newspapers as well as Canada’s Caring Canadian Award for “outstanding and selfless contribution to your community and Canada” by the Governor General of Canada. He has most recently completed another non-fiction book and a novel, both of which are scheduled to be published in 2022. Ladha was also contributor to Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There with a remarkable piece His Name is Jawhar. He was among the first of the Ismaili journalists to have ever interviewed Mawlana Hazar Imam; please click to read Ismaili Journalist Mansoor Ladha’s Precious Moments with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click LEAVE A COMMENT. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Calling all Ismaili Authors

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as has been done in the post above. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.

The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):

  1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji (series start, February 10, 2021)
  2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff (February 25, 2021)
  3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha (March 6, 2021, and see also 15, below, by the same author)
  4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
  5. “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan (April 13, 2021)
  6. “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman (April 28, 2021)
  7. “RSVP Rice and Stew Very Plenty” by Nazlin Rahemtulla (May 28, 2021)
  8. “Coughdrops” by Nargis Fazal (June 12, 2021)
  9. “The Roots and the Trees” by Nizar Sultan (June 25, 2021)
  10. “Faith and Ethics: The Vision of the Ismaili Imamat” by M. Ali Lakhani (July 4, 2021)
  11. “Nairobi Days by Shelina_Shariff Zia (July 21, 2021)
  12. “Shine Brighter” by Shairoz Lakhani (December 8, 2021).
  13. “This is My Life” by Naznin Rahemtulla Hébert (February 26, 2022)
  14. “Humanizing Medicine – Making Health Tangible” by Dr. Azim Jiwani (March 9, 2022)
  15. “A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims” by Mansoor Ladha (June 8, 2022, and see also 3, above, by the same author)


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.

The editor may be reached via email at

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

Date posted: May 12, 2022.


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

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).


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

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.


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.


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.


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,

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

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.


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,