“The Ismaili Center is by far one of the most beautiful building in Dushanbe.
… If there is anything to match the Ismaili Center’s beauty and strength, it is the religious devotion of the Ismaili community.”
– Scott Goldstein, majoring in Persian Studies at the University of Maryland
By Scott Goldstein for Ismailimail, an exclusive special report.
Image credits: Scott Goldstein & Desiree Halpern.
In a city comprised mostly of uniform Soviet-era buildings, one structure stands out for its breathtaking architecture: Dushanbe’s Ismaili Center. The Center, which opened in 2009, serves Tajikistan’s thousands-strong Ismaili community.
Built thanks to the largesse of His Highness Aga Khan, Dushanbe’s Ismaili Center has four major areas. In addition to its prayer hall, the structure has education, social, and administrative halls too. Altogether, the prayer room can accommodate 1,500 Muslims for religious services, and the education room features fourteen classrooms for students, as well as a knowledge center and multipurpose hall.
Architectural cues to both Shi’a themes and Central Asian motifs abound throughout the impressive structure. The Shi’a inspired large central courtyard and turquoise-glazed clay bricks are some of the Center’s most stunning features.
The Ismaili Center benefits from Tajik and Central Asian contribution as well: the ceiling’s wooden beams were carved by artists from Khorog; the beautiful plaster work on the walls were designed by craftsmen from Dushanbe; and carpets hand-made throughout Central Asian adorn the walls. Taking a tour throughout the ingenuous building makes the attention to detail apparent to one and all: the Center’s 3 million bricks are all symmetrical down to one millimeter or less!
However, it was the content of the tour that impressed me most, even more so than the exquisite building.
My tour guide relayed fact after fact about the religious symbolism of the Center’s wall, ceiling, and floor patterns. He also spoke about the building’s environmental sustainability and expressed his wish that all of Tajikistan benefit from the Ismaili Center’s religious, intellectual, and cultural offerings. At the end, when I asked my guide how much it cost to maintain the Center’s upkeep, he responded that Ismaili volunteers are responsible for most of the upkeep. The guide himself came in once a week to give tours and help keep the Center clean and well equipped.
If there is anything to match the Ismaili Center’s beauty and strength, it is the religious devotion of the Ismaili community. Though the community may be small in Sunni-majority Tajikistan, it is strong and the group’s efforts to give back to Tajikistan and Central Asia are praiseworthy.
Anyone finding oneself in Central Asia ought to make the trip to see Dushanbe’s Ismaili Center. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
About Scott Goldstein
Scott Goldstein is a current student of Persian Studies at the University of Maryland. While studying International Politics at Georgetown University, Scott became fascinated with the Persian speaking world. Last summer, he traveled to Dushanbe, Tajikistan to practice his language skills and gain familiarity with Central Asia, when he came across the Ismaili Center. He hopes to visit again soon!
Earlier & Related
Previously on Ismailimail…
Life Lived: Ted Teshima, architect of record for Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre in Toronto and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa