11:36 PM CDT on Sunday, August 20, 2006
By LINDA STEWART BALL / The Dallas Morning News
When he first stepped into the sparkling Muslim worship and community center recently, the Frisco man was in awe.
“It was mesmerizing,” said Mr. Sadruddin, one of scores of Ismaili Muslims in Collin County who had eagerly awaited completion of this $7 million gathering place.
“It reminded me so much of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris,” he said, referring to a popular Catholic landmark in France. “I felt the same serenity when I walked in there.”
Ismaili Muslims follow the Shia tradition of Islam, which is a sect of the Shiite group. As such, they believe in one God and consider the Quran the holy text through which God’s words were revealed to the prophet Muhammad. They believe that Muhammad was the last of God’s messengers to mankind.
Unlike other Muslims, Ismailis don’t refer to their place of worship as a mosque.
The new Jamatkhana is scheduled to officially open Aug. 30 in a major ceremony with various dignitaries – including Gov. Rick Perry and Plano Mayor Pat Evans. However, Collin County Ismailis recently held an inaugural prayer meeting there and are busy organizing and getting settled.
“It’s like a hub for us,” said Andrea Merchant, a Plano resident who converted to Islam from Catholicism when she married 17 years ago. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Located on 8.5 acres on the northeast corner of Alma Road and Seabrook Drive, the 30,000-square-foot building conveys the Ismaili interpretation of their faith in a dynamic, contemporary way.
Carrollton-based architect Hidell & Associates designed the Jamatkhana. The entryway is a 32-foot-high wall of glass windows. Geometric patterns, mainly octagonal shapes and concentric circles, are featured throughout.
“We believe there is a balance between the religious side of things and the temporal side of things,” said Jalal Babool of Plano, who conducted tours of the center last week.
So the northwest side of the building is for worship. There’s ample storage area for shoes. And the 10,000-square-foot carpeted prayer hall, which faces Mecca, can easily accommodate 1,400 people praying on their knees. There are no pews, just a few chairs in one corner for the elderly. The biggest prayer service of the week is Friday night.
“It’s nice and simple, and it’s very, very calming and peaceful to pray there,” Mrs. Merchant said.
The center’s southeast wing features classrooms and a social hall for community activities, a food preparation area and administrative offices.
A gurgling fountain greets visitors on either side. A walled courtyard sits in back with lushly landscaped gardens – an oasis in triple-digit heat.
The Jamatkhana is the first in Collin County and one of five in North Texas.
The Ismailis’ spiritual leader, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, chooses sites very carefully, followers said.
Plano’s increasingly diverse society, with its reputation for quality schools, safety, economic growth and proximity to Dallas, made it a desirable location.
“His followers can contribute and thrive in such an environment,” said Mrs. Merchant, stressing that their faith strongly encourages volunteerism and community involvement.
“You’re dealing with smart professionals, smart people who want to help,” said Mrs. Merchant, a mother of two and a project manager for Sun Microsystems.
An estimated 20,000 Ismailis live in Texas, half of whom live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Most came from East Africa, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Until the new building was completed, hundreds of congregants were commuting to an Ismaili center in Carrollton or gathering at a temporary site in Plano.
In addition to charitable acts, followers say the faith promotes tolerance and understanding.
“I don’t see this center as just a place of worship and gathering for Ismaili Muslims,” said Mr. Sadruddin, an immigration lawyer. “In these troubling times, this will provide an opportunity for people of different faiths to come together and have a better understanding of Islam.”
Mrs. Merchant agreed, saying that her Methodist friends are eager to visit the Jamatkhana.
“We really so needed this,” she said.