Ismaili Culture and Transnationalism
Sharmina Mawani and Anjoom Mukadam
Articulating National and Religious Identities through Architecture: The Ismaili Centre, Toronto
This paper focused on the Nizari Ismaili Muslim community of Gujarati ancestry who migrated to Canada, beginning in the 1960s.
In order to foster a sense of ‘home’, the Ismailis established temporary jamatkhanas that were places of worship, and social spaces that offered psychological, educational, economic, as well as networking benefits. The eventual establishment of permanent jamatkhanas is indicative of the community planting its roots in Canadian soil and making it their home.
Taking the case study of the Ismaili Centre, Toronto (ICT), this paper discussed how the physical structure of the ICT, acts as a visible representation of the religious and national identities of the Ismailis.
It is clear in contemporary society that the formation of identities is a complex process as individuals lack one fixed identity; there exist multiple identities, hybrid identities and new identities that are continuously evolving. As the world becomes smaller and the notion of globalisation becomes more real than ever before, acts of extremism, terrorism and Islamophobia become key factors that shape the identities of global Muslims. For certain communities, such as the Ismailis, religion is an integral aspect of their identity. Although one’s religious identity may be more salient in given contexts, an individual can exhibit several identities at the same time.
Following the guidance of their spiritual leader (Aga Khan IV) to be loyal to the faith of Islam and the country in which they reside, this paper explored what it means when the ICT is referred to as an ‘ambassadorial building’ and the role that it plays to help ‘demystify’ Islam. Places of worship serve to mirror the ethos of a community and this paper also examined how the ICT embodies the Canadian values of multiculturalism and pluralism.