The Calgary Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre was officially opened on 15 January 1997, commemorating its twenty-fifth anniversary.
The groundbreaking ceremony of this first purpose built Jamatkhana in Calgary, designed by Farouk Noormohamed, was performed by then Premier of Alberta Ralph Klein and then Mayor Al Duerr, presided by then President of the Council for the Prairies Salim Sumar.
From the Arabic word jama‘a (gathering) and the Persian word khana (house, place), a jamatkhana is a place of gathering for worship as well as social and educational activities for the Nizari and Mustalian Ismailis. The Chisti Sufis, among other communities, also gather in jamatkhanas.
During the time of the Prophet, the community congregated in the masjid, a place of prostration (from the Arabic root sa-ja-da, meaning ‘to prostrate’). In the early Islamic era, the word masjid meant a place of prayer which could be any clean spot on earth. The first masjid, built in Medina in 622 CE, was primarily a designated space for the offering of canonical ritual prayers by Muslim congregations. Besides its religious function, masjid is also used as the centre of community life which can serve social, political and educational roles (IIS).
Over time, as Islam expanded and diverse interpretations arose, a variety of spaces of worship and gathering developed, with architectural styles reflecting the respective local cultures and materials.
Khaniqa/Khaniqah – from Persian, lit. ‘residence,’ the khaniqa is a term for a Sufi meeting house which serves as a residential teaching centre for Sufi disciples. A famous khaniqa was established by Muhammad ibn Karram (d. 839 CE) the founder of the Karramiyya tariqah. Khaniqahha are usually designed to house Sufis, provide places for communal worship, and feed the residents, guests and travellers (IIS).
Ribat – from the Arabic root ra-ba-ta meaning ‘to attach’ or ‘to link’; and for in certain Sufi traditions it means strengthening the heart. Ribat as a building could describe a small fort, a fortified place, or an urban establishment for mystics who gathered there to study, pray, and write. The earliest foundations of this kind of building date back to the first half-century of the ‘Abbasid period (750-1258 CE) (IIS).
Zawiya – from the Arabic meaning ‘a corner,’ it is a Sufi place of worship referring to the corner of a mosque where a worshiper would isolate to perform dhikr, or may refer to a mausoleum of a saint or the founder of a specific Sufi tariqah. The names of these centres have varied according to location: zawiya and ribat were used mostly in the Maghrib (present-day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia); khanaqah in Egypt, Syria, and Iran; khanagah from Iran to India (the term dargah is also used); and tekke in Turkish-speaking areas.
At the foundation ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Dubai on 13 December 2003, His Highness Aga Khan IV reflected upon the co-existence of the diverse spaces of worship:
“For many centuries, a prominent feature of the Muslim religious landscape has been the variety of spaces of gathering co-existing harmoniously with the masjid, which in itself has accommodated a range of diverse institutional spaces for educational, social and reflective purposes. Historically serving communities of different interpretations and spiritual affiliations, these spaces have retained their cultural nomenclatures and characteristics, from ribat and zawiyya to khanaqa and jamatkhana.
The congregational space incorporated within the Ismaili Centre belongs to the historic category of jamatkhana, an institutional category that also serves a number of sister Sunni and Shia communities, in their respective contexts, in many parts of the world. Here, it will be space reserved for traditions and practices specific to the Shia Ismaili Tariqah of Islam.”
Karim Jiwani, Muslim Spaces of Piety and Worship, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Oleg Grabar, “The Mosque,” Islam: Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius. Cologne, Konenmann, 2000
Images: Rania Walli, Smiley Ismaili
Contributed to Ismailimail by Nimira Dewji. Nimira is an invited writer although she has contributed several articles in the past (view previous articles). She also has her own blog – Nimirasblog – where she writes short articles on Ismaili history and Muslim civilisations. When not researching and writing, Nimira volunteers at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and at a women’s shelter. She can be reached at email@example.com.