Pluralism facilitated the founding of diverse places of worship

The devotional life of Muslims has consisted of a variety of interpretations, expressions, and spaces. This plurality of interpretations has facilitated diversity in the spaces of worship. The masjid is the most prominent symbol of Muslim presence and can be found in most parts of the world. Literally meaning ‘a place of prostration’, the masjid was the formal space established for the collective performance of prayers as well as to fulfill the social needs of the ummah (community). The ribat, khanaqah, zawiyah, and tekke are places of gathering generally associated with Sufism. The term zawiya is from the Arabic meaning ‘a corner.’ This Sufi place of worship can refer to the corner of a mosque where a worshiper would isolate himself 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.

Ismaili Centre Dubai

Among the diverse places of worship and gathering is the jamatkhana. The term jamatkhana is derived from the Arabic word jama‘a (gathering) and the Persian word khana (house, place), which together can be translated as ‘a place of congregation.’ In the predominantly South Asian Chishti order, the institution for Sufi activity was also called jamatkhana and was centred at the residence of the shaykh. The term is also used by other communities of the Indian subcontinent including the Alevi and Dawoodi Bohra communities The Sunni Memon communities of India also gather in jamatkhanas to worship.

The jamatkhana is also a gathering space for the Musta‘lian and Nizari Ismailis. The architecture of the Nizari Ismaili jamatkhanas, as with other Muslim spaces of gathering, is not a single uniform type; the forms vary depending on the cultural context, geography, materials available, technology and varieties of functions required. The larger jamatkhanas contain not only prayer halls, but also meeting areas, classrooms, libraries, as well as recreation and social spaces.

Mawlana Hazar Imam speaking at the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Dubai
Image: Otte

At the foundation ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Dubai on December 13, 2003, Mawlana Hazar Imam reflected upon the co-existence of the diverse places 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.”

Read the speech at
Visit to view the diverse architecture of the Ismaili Centres.

Adapted from Muslim Spaces of Piety and Worship by Karim Jiwani The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Islam: Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius. Cologne, Konenmann, 2000

Research by Nimira Dewji

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