Africa’s first Jamatkhana: Established in Zanzibar in early 1830s

The first Nizari Ismaili Jamatkhana in Zanzibar was established in the 1830s, with the appointments of mukhis and kamadias, during the time of Imam Hasan Ali Shah.

Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah officially opened the Darkhana Jamatkhana on August 16, 1905 and established the first Ismaili school there in 1905.

Entrance door to the Zanzibar Jamatkhana. <br /> The carved wooden doors were specially made for the Jamatkhana and shipped from India. <br />The Zanzibar Jamatkhana and the beautifully carved doors are over 100 years old.
Entrance door to the Zanzibar Jamatkhana.
The carved wooden doors were specially made for the Jamatkhana and shipped from India.
The Zanzibar Jamatkhana and the beautifully carved doors are over 100 years old.

The earliest Ismailis to immigrate to East Africa first established their foothold in Zanzibar. Khoja Ismaili merchants and other traders based in Western India had been trading in western Indian Ocean since at least the seventeenth century. Communities began to settle in the 1800s when Zanzibar  served as a gateway between Western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and Europe.  The early Ismailis who settled in Zanzibar were farmers, who were compelled to emigrate due to successive droughts and famines that had caused economic hardships. Eventually large numbers of community members of diverse backgrounds began to emigrate.

When Zanzibar became the Omani capital, it provided political stability and security as well as enhanced economic opportunities for traders to expand their businesses. India-based merchants became politically and economically important for the rulers who appointed them to the post of chief customs inspectors, including Tharia Topan, Allidina Visram, and others.

The first Nizari Ismaili Jamatkhana in Zanzibar was established in the 1830s, with the appointments of mukhis and kamadias, during the time of Imam Hasan Ali Shah. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah officially opened the darkhana Jamatkhana on August 16, 1905 and established the first Ismaili school there in 1905.

An advertisement poster produced circa 1930 Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History
An advertisement poster produced circa 1930
Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History

By the end of the nineteenth century, when the interior of East Africa was becoming more accessible through the construction of roads and railways, an increasing number of trading establishments moved from Zanzibar to the East African mainland. In 1918, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah established the first Aga Khan Boys School in Mombasa, Kenya and in 1919, the first Aga Khan Girls School, also in Mombasa.

By the early 1920s, new centres of economic activity had appeared on the mainland, where the Nizaris had gradually moved with encouragement from the Imam. Having lost its importance as the main commercial centre of the region, Zanzibar ceased to be the seat of the East African Nizari community.

Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah established over 200 schools East Africa, India, Pakistan, and Syria. In 2000, Mawlana Hazar Imam initiated a program to establish a network of schools, the Aga Khan Academies, in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The program is dedicated to expanding access to education of an international standard of excellence. The first such school, the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, began operating in August of 2003.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has been involved in restoration and revitalization work in Zanzibar beginning in 1996.

For more information, visit
Aga Khan Academy, visit  http://www.agakhanacademies.org/
Aga Khan Education Services http://www.akdn.org/akes.asp
Zanzibar Stone Town Projects http://www.akdn.org/hcp/zanzibar.asp

Reference:
Farhad Daftar, Zulfikar Hirji, The Ismailis: An Illustrated History http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=109727

Research by Nimira Dewji


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