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.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, skied for Iran in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria

As the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing come to a close, Zahir Dharsee and Malik Merchant reminisce about Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s passion for skiing and sports in general. The piece appears on Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. The piece also includes an excerpt from an excellent narrative on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Iringa that mentions a skiing accident that had taken place earlier. Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived in Iringa with a cast on his foot. Please click MEMORIES or on photo below.

Aga Khan playing ice hockey in Switzerland, Simerg and Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam playing ice hockey. Please click on photo for article.

Date posted: February 19, 2021.

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Photographs and Description of the 85th Birthday Gift Presented to His Highness the Aga Khan by His Worldwide Ismaili Community

[A similar version of this piece also appears on Simerg’s sister website Barakah that was inaugurated in 2017 to celebrate the Hereditary Leadership (or Imamat) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The origins of the Divine Institution of Imamat that His Highness leads go back to the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) who designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali (a.s.), to continue to govern the Muslim community in spiritual and temporal matters. His Highness is the 49th Imam in this succession of Hereditary Imams — Ed.]

Compiled and Prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergphotosSimerg and Barakah

In the Talika Mubarak (holy written message) of December 10, 2021 that was sent to the world-wide Jamat on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday on December 13, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, said: “I am most touched that on the occasion of my birthday, senior Jamati leaders have presented a beautiful gift on behalf of my global Jamat, which I accept with appreciation and gratitude.” 

Porcelain vases Aga Khan birthday present Simerg Malik Merchant
Porcelain vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: The Ismaili.

The ‘beautiful gift’ referred to by the Imam was a pair of porcelain vases, and The Ismaili provided a brief description and photograph of the two vases in a post dated December 12, 2021.

However, the happiest moment was for the Jamats worldwide to see Mawlana Hazar Imam himself holding one of the two vases in a garden setting at his Lisbon residence, with what appears to be an orange or clementine tree in the background. What a beautiful photo Fernando Costa captured for all of us to see, and give us so much joy.

Aga Khan holding gift of porcelain vase presented to him on his 85th birthday
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, is seen holding one of the two 19th century porcelain vases that was presented to him by leading Ismaili leaders on behalf of the global Ismaili community on the occasion of his 85th auspicious birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: Fernando Costa / IPL via The Ismaili.

This pair of porcelain lavender-ground vases were made in 1874 at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, which became the preeminent porcelain manufacturer in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, the Sèvres factory’s output reflected an ongoing desire for technical innovation as well as a wide embrace of diverse decorative and historical styles. The shape and design of these vases is based on a Persian metal prototype and, as such, they are recorded in the Sèvres Archives as ‘Vase Bouteille Persane’. Eighteen similar vases were entered for sale in January 1874 and described as ‘fond sous couverte et décor en or’ (under cover and gold decoration) at a cost of 95 francs each. [1]

Gift to Aga Khan from Ismailis on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.
Detail of vase presented by the worldwide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.

Of Islamic shape, the ovoid body of each vase continues in a long narrow elongated tapered neck, all made in three sections and each joined with two slender fillets of ormolu. The vases are decorated with elaborate Persian gold-powder motifs  in the form of interlacing scrollwork and arabesques on the body and ornamented fillets on the neck in heightened relief against a pale lavender or ‘fond changeant’ ground. Designed by the important Parisian sculptor, Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887), the vases exist in several versions that differ according to their colour and decoration.

The lavender colour of the vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam is very unusual — it changes according to the light under which it is placed, from purple/grey in daylight to pale pink in artificial light. This change of colour according to its exposure to light is due to a mixture of vanadium oxide and cerium oxide. This use of the ‘chameleon’ paste was invented in 1848 by the Sèvres factory chemist Alphonse Louis Salvetat for the 1862 Universal Exhibition held in London to promote the savoir-faire (know how) of the world’s rapidly expanding industries.

Close up of the vase presented by the world wide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.
Detail of vase presented by the worldwide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.

While similar vases in blue and white are to be found in private and museum collections, vases in this pale lavender colour are exceptionally rare. The vases bear, on the underside, green printed lozenge and iron-red decore marks, as well as various incised potters inscriptions, of the Sèvres factory. The vases, each of which is 55 cm in height, are in extremely fine condition. Using the same techniques pioneered during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres continues to produce some of the most high quality works of porcelain art — vases, painted plaques, dinner services, figures — to this day, and it is therefore not surprising that Sèvres is such an integral part of the landscape of the decorative arts today.

Date posted: December 25, 2021.

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[1] Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres Archive, Registre Vr, 1 iere serie, vol.2, fol. 247.17.

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Simerg welcomes your feedback. 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.

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.

This map reveals the status of the telegraph network as it existed in the U.S. in 1853

19 December in World History: In 1846, Canada’s First Telegraphic Message; In 1961, India’s Invasion of Goa; Plus Samuel Morse and the Aga Khan on the Power of Instant Communication

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

December holds many significant historical memories for me. The month is of particular importance for Ismailis around the world. On December 13, 1936 Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Muslims was born in Geneva, Switzerland. Ismailis celebrated their Imam’s 85th birthday (or Salgirah) last week and presented him with two beautiful porcelain vases. My dad Jehangir, who died in May 2018, was born on exactly the same day in 1928. Were he alive, he would have celebrated his 93rd birthday this year.

Also in December, in 1961 India annexed the Portuguese territories of Goa, Daman and Diu, in what the Portuguese called an invasion, while the Indians called it a liberation. A consequence of this action by India was that all its citizens in Mozambique, a Portuguese colony, were interned for more than 5 months in a camp located a few miles outside Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). My parents, Jehangir and Malek Merchant, were the only Ismailis in Mozambique carrying Indian passports, and were severely affected by this measure. My dad was taken to the camp with 5,000 other Indian citizens. Being a teacher, he was able to conduct special classes for young children and other students during his stay. During the same month, my mother gave birth to my brother Alnoor (pictured below with our parents). She was thus spared from the camp, and was looked after at a hospital for the entire period that my dad was in internment. Then, following their release from internment, Indian nationals were asked to leave the country within 90 days. My parents left for Tanzania (then Tanganyika), where they continued their service to the Imamat and Jamati institutions as religious education teachers and honorary missionaries.

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Alnoor Merchant and Jehangir and Malek
Alnoor, centre, pictured with his parents Jehangir and Malek Merchant, during the Silver Jubilee visit of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to London, England in July 1983. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Going much further back in history, December 19, 1846 marked the inauguration of the telegraph in Canada, with a line from Toronto to Queenston carrying the first message. A plaque marking this historic day has been placed outside on the entrance wall of St Lawrence Market located in Toronto’s Front Street (see photo, below).

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Plaque commemorating the inauguration of the telegraph in Canada on December 19, 1846, Malik Merchant, Simerg
Plaque commemorating the inauguration of the telegraph in Canada on December 19, 1846, on the front entrance wall of Toronto’s St Lawrence Market; December 18, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

It may be noted however, that the first telegraphic message was sent by its inventor, Samuel Morse, two years earlier in May 24, 1844 which simply read: “What God Wrought?” He credited the message to his friend’s daughter, Annie Ellsworth, who found it in the Bible. It is an expression of awe for God [for inspiring the invention].

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When decoded, this paper tape recording of the historic message transmitted on May 24, 1844 by Samuel F. B. Morse reads, “What hath God wrought?” Morse sent it from the Supreme Court room in the U.S. Capitol in Washington to his assistant, Alfred Vail, in Baltimore. Photo: US Library of Congress.
This map reveals the status of the telegraph network as it existed in the U.S. in 1853
Telegraph stations in the United States, the Canadas & Nova Scotia, 1853. This map reveals the status of the telegraph network as it existed in the U.S. in 1853, only nine years after the first message, shown in the previous image. By this time, only one state east of the Mississippi, Florida, was not connected by telegraph. The legend on the left offers the list of message rates from Pittsburgh. By 1861, telegraph lines crossed the American continent; by 1866, the transatlantic cable connected America and Europe. Credit: Chas. B. Barr, Pittsburgh, Pa. Wegner & Buechner lith., 1853. Col. map 59 x 85 cm. Scale ca. 1:4,200,000 Geography and Map Division, via US Library of Congress.

Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah was a frequent user of the telegraphic services. On December 29, 1948, he sent a telegram conferring Count Jindani with the title of Diwan for his great services. There are numerous other examples of telegraphic messages that the late Imam sent to Ismaili individuals and institutions. A few from Ismaili magazines appear on this website.

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A telegram from Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, 48th Imam of the Ismailis, conferring the title of Diwan on (Count) Gulamhussein Mohamed Naser Jindani.
A telegram from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan conferring the title of Diwan on (Count) Gulamhussein Mohamed Naser Jindani. Photo: Mohamed Jindani Collection, London, UK.

In a brief historical overview on communications technology as they have evolved over the last few hundred years, a piece on the website of Elon University states:

“The printing press was the big innovation in communications until the telegraph was developed. Printing remained the key format for mass messages for years afterward, but the telegraph allowed instant communication over vast distances for the first time in human history. Telegraph usage faded as radio became easy to use and popularized; as radio was being developed, the telephone quickly became the fastest way to communicate person-to-person; after television was perfected and content for it was well developed, it became the dominant form of mass-communication technology; the internet came next, and newspapers, radio, telephones, and television are being rolled into this far-reaching information medium.”

In response to the invention of the telegraph, Charles F. Briggs and Augustus Maverick wrote in their 1858 book “The Story of the Telegraph”:

“Of all the marvelous achievements of modern science the electric telegraph is transcendentally the greatest and most serviceable to mankind … The whole earth will be belted with the electric current, palpitating with human thoughts and emotions … How potent a power, then, is the telegraphic destined to become in the civilization of the world! This binds together by a vital cord all the nations of the earth. It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth.” (emphasis added)

Morse, however, had anticipated much earlier that a communications technology such as the one he had invented could be misused. In a letter to Francis O.J. Smith in 1838, Morse wrote:

“This mode of instantaneous communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to be wielded for good or for evil, as it shall be properly or improperly directed.”

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Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, delivering Brown University’s Ogden lecture on March 10, 2014.

Looking at the power the internet holds today, how accurate was Morse! And let’s elaborate on this by studying what Mawlana Hazar Imam has said with regard to the innovation of technologies and different disruptive forces that are at play. In his March 10, 2014 Stephen Ogden Lecture at Brown University, he said:

“We often think about technological innovation as a great source of hope for the world. We hear about how the internet can reach out across boundaries, helping us all to stay in touch, and giving us access to information from every imaginable source.

“But it is worth remembering that the same affirmations have greeted new communication technologies for centuries, from the printing press to the telegraph to television and radio. Yet in each case, while many hopes were fulfilled, many were also disappointed. In the final analysis, the key to human cooperation and concord has not depended on advances in the technologies of communication, but rather on how human beings go about using – or abusing – their technological tools.

“Among the risks of our new communications world is its potential contribution to what I would call the growing “centrifugal forces” in our time – the forces of “fragmentation.” These forces, I believe, can threaten the coherence of democratic societies and the effectiveness of democratic institutions.

“Yes, the Information Revolution, for individuals and for communities, can be a great liberating influence. But it also carries some important risks.

“More information at our fingertips can mean more knowledge and understanding. But it can also mean more fleeting attention-spans, more impulsive judgments, and more dependence on superficial snapshots of events. Communicating more often and more easily can bring people closer together, but it can also tempt us to live more of our lives inside smaller information bubbles, in more intense but often more isolated groupings.

“We see more people everywhere these days, standing or sitting or walking alone, absorbed in their hand-held screens. But, I wonder whether, in some larger sense, they are really more “in touch?” Greater “connectivity” does not necessarily mean greater “connection.”

“Information travels more quickly, in greater quantities these days. But the incalculable multiplication of information can also mean more error, more exaggeration, more misinformation, more disinformation, more propaganda. The world may be right there on our laptops, but the truth about the world may be further and further away.”

Mawlana Hazar Imam then discusses some of the conflicts that are taking place in the world today, and asks, “How can we respond to such tendencies?” He says:

“The response, I would emphasise today is a thoughtful, renewed commitment to the concept of pluralism and to the closely related potential of civil society. A pluralist commitment is rooted in the essential unity of the human race. Does the Holy Qur’an not say that mankind is descended from “a single soul?” In an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it is essential that we live by a “cosmopolitan ethic,” one that addresses the age-old need to balance the particular and the universal, to honour both human rights and social duties, to advance personal freedom and to accept human responsibility.”

Please read Mawlana Hazar Imam’s complete speech by clicking HERE, in which he recommends ways to overcome the challenges of miscommunication and misinformation we are dealing with.

Date posted: December 18, 2021.

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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.

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 Beautiful Gift Presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, and a Reflection for His 85th Birthday on a Gorgeous Blue Sky Morning

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

I went to bed late last night and my eyes did not open for me to be able to attend this morning’s (December 13, 2021) Baitul Khayal Salgirah Majlis for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 85th birthday. When I woke up at 5:45 am and looked out, the skies in Toronto were covered with clouds, except in the horizon where it was clear. The weather forecast had called for a clear sunny day, and trusting it I set forth in my car for the Port Union Waterfront Park. When I reached there, the sky situation was reversed. The horizon was cloudy but the skies above me were clear. Really, nothing can beat the twilight when there are some clouds in the horizon.

Sunrise Port Union Waterfront Park
Shortly after sunrise, Lake Ontario, Port Union Waterfront Park, Toronto, 7:51 AM, December 13, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I reached the Park 45 minutes before sunrise. The clear waters of Lake Ontario and strong waves added to my excitement and anticipation of the sunrise. When the sun rose at exactly 7:42 AM, 147 million kilometres from earth, it created a beautiful streak on the clouds that were in the horizon. Birds flew around joyfully.

Porcelain vases Aga Khan birthday present Simerg Malik Merchant
Porcelain vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: The Ismaili.

Before I had left home, I had read the Ismaili piece about the world wide Jamat presenting Mawlana Hazar Imam with the 85th birthday gift consisting of a pair of porcelain vases made in the nineteenth century in Paris. The article mentions that the vases “are decorated with elaborate Islamic Persian motifs of gilt scrollwork, arabesques, and stylised flowers in heightened relief against a pale lavender background.”  It further says: “The lavender colour of the vases is extremely unusual — changing according to the light under which it is placed, from purple/grey in daylight to pale pink in artificial light.” I thought about this gift and wondered as I was taking photos of the twilight and the sunrise, how the vases might look if they were placed on a piece of rock near where I was standing, with the morning sunlight shining on them.

Ismaili Flag at Aga Khan Park. Play video and also listen to Nashid al Imamah. Video by Malik Merchant/Simerg, December 13, 2021. The Nashid played by the 116th Army Band during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival in Atlanta, USA, 2018, for his Diamond Jubilee.
The crystalline dome of the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana, Toronto, December 13, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
The crystalline dome of the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana under blue skies, Toronto, December 13, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Driving back home, the sun was now higher up, and the sky was blue everywhere without a cloud in sight. How could I not stop at the Aga Khan Park to see my favourite objects — the Ismaili Flag and the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome? The flag was shining under the sunlight, and the dome was particularly inspiring under blue skies. Seeing the flag, I felt particularly proud and recollected the recording of the Nashid al Imamah played by the USA 116th Army Band when Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived in Atlanta for his Diamond Jubilee visit in 2018. I took a video of the Ismaili flag and incorporated the recording of the Nashid into the video (watch video above).

Lourenço Marques, 1958: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and current 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims is seen taking a keen interest as Alwaez Jehangir explains the Gujarati history texts that were used to impart religious education to Ismaili youth in Mozambique. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Today, as Mawlana Hazar Imam celebrates his 85th birthday, my beloved late papa Jehangir would have turned 93. He died in May 2018 at the age of 89. And of course I remembered my late mum Malek (Mrs. Merchant), who would write loving cards for him on his birthday. Together, they had served the Imam of the Time, the Jamat and its institutions for more than 60 years. I did one thing at Port Union Waterfront Park. I walked an extra 174 steps, the sum of the two birthdays my family is celebrating today. Fortunately, I have good recollections of my childhood. When I was very little, aged less than 5 years and in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), I one day asked my dad very innocently, how come Mawlana Hazar Imam was much younger than him. And his reply was that the age of the Imam was immaterial because he is the bearer of the Noor of Imamat, and all the Imams are the same because they have the same Light. He also gave me a little history lesson that Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was only 7 when he became the Imam in August 1885. That faith and belief have been with me ever since, and you can read more about the philosophical and historical perspective on the Noor of Imamat HERE.

Happy Salgirah Mubarak to Ismailis around the world.

Date posted: December 13, 2021.

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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.

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.

His Highness the Aga Khan is the Bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat; and a Beautiful Calligraphy for His Auspicious 85th Birthday

Simerg’s sister website Barakah which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat, is pleased to present a profound reading on the subject of Imamat along with a special piece of art by Karim Ismail on the auspicious occasion of Hazar Imam’s 85th Salgirah. The post includes the singing of the Ginan (Hymn) Dhan Dhan Aajno by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji, and also has links to its explanation as well as 25 other recitations of the same Ginan by Ismaili singers from around the world. Please click 85th Salgirah Mubarak or on the image below.

Aga Khan 85th birthday Salgirah of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Simer
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is in his 65th year of Imamat and celebrates his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Please click on image for Imamat reading.

Date posted: December 11, 2021.

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Featured image at top of post: In centre, a calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail and on either side of the art work two paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam by Vancouver based artist Azeez Khanbhai, who was featured recently in Barakah.

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.

Ismaili Center Houston Featured Image

Video, Report and Photos: A Preview of the 7th Ismaili Center in the World to Be Built in Houston

What made the project especially rewarding was the close alignment between the client and the architect’s aspirations. What made it very challenging was my knowledge of the high standards that His Highness has set for architecture for many many years — Architect Farshid Moussavi, text transcription from video shown below

Presentation by Farshid Moussavi on the Ismaili Centre Houston, November 15, 2021

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

After many years of anticipation, designs of the forthcoming Ismaili Center in Houston were presented on Monday, November 15, 2021 by design architect Farshid Moussavi at a special event hosted in Houston, TX, and streamed live around the world on Ismaili TV.

The caption for the brief video shown above on Youtube notes that a full event video will be made available on Ismaili TV. We sincerely hope that the full video is also made available on the Ismaili’s Youtube video channel.

The following text is adapted from the press release issued by His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the USA. (Read original press release HERE).

Ismaili Center to be Houston’s Newest Cultural Asset

Note: All images may be clicked on for enlargements

Ismaili Centre Houston Simerg
At left, aerial view of the empty site of the Ismaili Center Houston, and at right an aerial view of the Ismaili Center and its gardens as it will look when it is completed in three years time. The center’s site is in the heart of the City of Houston across from Buffalo Bayou Park to the left. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The design for the Ismaili Center to be built in Houston’s Buffalo Bayou watershed was presented to the public on November 15, 2021 at a gathering of government and civic officials, community representatives and leaders from civil society organizations. Situated on Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard, the Ismaili Center is commissioned by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

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Ismaili Centres around the world Simerg
Top row (from left): Ismaili Centre London (Opened April 24, 1985), Ismaili Centre Vancouver (August 23, 1985), and Ismaili Centre Lisbon (July 11, 1998); Centre row: Ismaili Centre Dubai (March 26, 2008), Ismaili Centre Dushanbe (October 12, 2009), and Ismaili Centre Toronto (September 12, 2014); Bottom row: The 7th Ismaili Centre Houston (future date). Collage: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

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Dedicated to advancing pluralism, public understanding and civic outreach, the Center in Houston joins its counterparts established in London, (UK), Lisbon (Portugal), Dubai (UAE), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Vancouver and Toronto (both in Canada). Each of these buildings — designed by architects of international standing and multi-cultural sensitivity — is reflective of their own geographies and contexts. As ambassadorial buildings around the world, they are symbolic of the Ismaili community’s presence, pluralistic outlook and ethos of volunteering. The Ismaili Center Houston, with its openness of both purpose and structure, will seek to express these values. Speaking in Sugar Land, Texas in 2002, Mawlana Hazar Imam observed that “since all that we see and do resonates on the faith, the aesthetics of the environments we build and the quality of the interactions that take place within them reverberate on our spiritual lives.”

The Ismaili Center Houston will be a venue for educational, cultural and social events, to encourage understanding and facilitate the sharing of perspectives across peoples of diverse backgrounds, faiths and traditions. It will aim to build bridges through intellectual exchange by hosting concerts, recitals, plays, performances, exhibitions, conferences, seminars, conversations, book launches and community gatherings. The building will also provide space for quiet contemplation and for prayer, as well as serve as the administrative headquarters of the Ismaili community in the USA.

In presenting the design, Iranian born Farshid Moussavi, an internationally acclaimed architect, who also designed the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, observed: “What made this project especially rewarding was the close alignment between the aspirations of the client and architect. What made it especially challenging was my awareness of the rigorous standards that His Highness the Aga Khan has established for architecture! We have tried to work with Islamic design philosophy, and celebrate its singularity and unique qualities as well as the features it has in common with Western design, so that the building, both through its fabric and through the way it is used, would act as a symbol of dialogue.”

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Ismaili Jamtkhana and Center Houston, Simerg
The Ismaili Center Houston will serve as both a Jamatkhana for the Ismaili community to come together for prayers, spiritual search, and contemplation; as well as an ambassadorial cultural center. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The building is designed with a compact footprint, leaving large portions of the site to be used as gardens. Given the frequently hot and humid climate of Houston and the prominence of the site in the city, it is designed with a tripartite form with each of its volumes hosting a soaring eivan (veranda) to enable social and cultural gatherings to occur outdoors throughout the year. The eivans are supported by forty-nine slender columns reminiscent of those used in Persepolis and seventeenth century palaces in Isfahan, Persia. In being open on all sides and visible from all approaches to the site, the eivans will make the Ismaili Center open and inviting in every direction. At night, they will transform it to a beacon of light along Montrose Boulevard and Allen Parkway.

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

The Center’s design, contemporary in its expression, is reflective of a historically rooted, rich architectural heritage. It combines contemporary architectural technology — its light steel structure — with traditional Persian forms and ornament, including ceramic mosaics and screens drawn from Islamicate traditions around the world. Its design for sustainability includes assuring enhanced energy performance and longevity and durability of materials, by encasing exposed steel with concrete for a 100-year lifecycle, and using stone for the building’s exterior walls.

Conceived as a tapestry in stone, the exterior walls will transition from solid areas to porous screens that will provide shade and privacy, and from flat surfaces to deep alcoves to permit shady repose fronting the gardens. The building exterior will therefore be defined by simplicity of form, openness, and an abstract decorative character.

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Ismaili Center Houston
Central atrium and staircase at the Ismaili Center Houston. Each atrium is designed in such a way as to fill the heart of the building with natural light. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The building interior will include three atriums that will act as common, non-exclusive flexible spaces between rooms dedicated to specific events. Each is located adjacent to an eivan to bring in natural light and views of the sky to the heart of the building. The central atrium’s stepped structure clad in ceramic screens, celebrates the heritage of the cupola dating back to 3000 BCE, dominant in both the architecture of the Sasanian period in Persia and the Christian buildings of the Byzantine empire. The west and east atriums will give access to a theater, a large hall and learning spaces.

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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.

The Center’s landscaped gardens will provide a sense of serenity and peace, offering a respite from its urban surroundings. The gardens will include tree canopies, fountains, shaded footpaths, flowerbeds, lawns and walkways. These will be spaces of solace, providing for the rejuvenation of the mind and the spirit.

In his remarks, Houston Mayor Turner reflected, “The Center will elevate, yet again, Houston on the world map as a global city where people of all backgrounds can come together. This notion of learning about and accepting differences amongst peoples and communities, what we call pluralism, is central to the Aga Khan’s vision for the survival of an increasingly interconnected world. The Ismaili Muslim community in Houston and the United States continues to actualize the values that these Centers aim to promote – friendship, service, and mutual understanding.”

Speaking at the ceremony, President Al-Karim Alidina of the Ismaili Council for the USA acknowledged the role of the various teams: “This project, would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, AKT II – Structural Engineer and DLR Group the architect and engineers of record. We also look forward to working with the construction manager McCarthy Builders and the numerous local contractors who will build and craft this building over the next three years.”

The Ismaili Center Houston will offer a new dimension to the cultural life of the city and a place of gathering for the Ismaili community where visitors will be welcome.

Date posted: November 19, 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. Please also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos.

His Highness the Aga Khan’s Portrait Renditions by Vancouver Ismaili Artist Azeez Khanbhai

Azeez Khanbhai’s first portrait rendering of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, was completed in 1959 and presented to the 49th Ismaili Imam in 1959 during his visit to Nairobi, Kenya. Mawlana Hazar Imam signed the painting, with his blessings. Khanbhai has continued his passion of painting Mawlana Hazar Imam’s portraits over the past 60 years, and Simerg’s sister website Barakah, which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat is pleased to present a selection of Khanbhai’s amazing works that also include portrait renditions of Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain. Please click HERE or on image below to view the Khanbhai collection in Barakah.

Aga Khan by Azeez Khanbhai
Please click on image for portraits of Mawlana Hazar Imam by Azeez Khanbhai

Date posted: October 30, 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. Please also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos.

A Brief Reflection on the Late Premier Bill Davis and His Highness the Aga Khan’s 1978 and 1983 Visits to Toronto During His Premiership

Zahir Dharsee was already settled in Toronto when Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, visited Canada in 1978 and 1983. Bill Davis was Ontario’s Premier during the two visits and Zahir reflects on his leadership as well as the warmth with which he welcomed the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) Please click HERE or on photo below to read Zahir’s historical recollection, published in Barakah.

Bill Davis and Aga Khan
Premier Bill Davis receives Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at Queen’s Park on November 20, 1978. Please click on photo for story.

Date posted: September 28, 2021.

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A Visit to the Rooftop Terrace of the Ismaili Centre Toronto: Views of the Jamatkhana Prayer Hall’s Crystalline Glass Dome

What we dedicate today is what we identify as an Ismaili Centre — a building that is focused around our Jamatkhana, but which also includes many secular spaces…..And soaring above it all is the great crystalline dome that you have observed, through which light from the prayer hall will provide a glowing beacon, symbolising the spirit of enlightenment that will always be at the heart of the Centre’s life.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Opening Ceremony of Ismaili Centre Toronto, September 12, 2014.

Simerg’s Malik Merchant visits the rooftop terrace of the Ismaili Centre, and comes as close as possible to the unique dome of Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana located on 49 Wynford Drive. Click HERE or on image below to see photos of the dome and the area surrounding the Ismaili Centre.

Crystalline glass dome of the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana Toronto
Please click on image for photo essay

Date posted: September 28, 2021.

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