Dushanbe’s Ismaili Centre Through the Lens of Muslim Harji
Editor’s note: Muslim Harji’s series on Central Asia continues with a superb collection of photos of Dushanbe’s Ismaili Centre, which was inaugurated on October 12, 2009 by His Excellency Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan, and His Highness the Aga Khan, the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims.
A map of Tajikistan with surrounding countries. Among the places Muslim and Nevin Harji visited during their adventurous and heart warming trip to Tajikistan were Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, and the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan which is inhabited by Ismailis in very large numbers. Image: United Nations, with Dushanbe and Gorno Badakhshan highlighted in red by Simergphotos.
For preceding photo essays in this spectacular special series by Harji, please click:
- The Ismailis of Badakhshan Through My Lens by Muslim Harji
- An Ismaili Wedding in the Pamirs Through My Lens by Muslim Harji
- An Anthology of the Silk Road Through the Lens of Muslim Harji and Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival
- Prayer Houses of Badakhshan, Tajikistan, Through the Lens of Muslim Harji
THE ISMAILI CENTRE, DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN
BY MUSLIM HARJI
(Special to Simergphotos)
With the grace and the guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farouk Nurmohamed and his team brilliantly designed the Ismaili Centre of Dushanbe — a jewel in the landscape of Tajikistan.
Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
The Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe is the first such Center in Central Asia — a region that has been home to Ismaili Muslims for more than a thousand years. The site of the Ismaili Center Dushanbe is located on Ismoili Somoni Avenue, named after the founder of the Samanid dynasty (early 10th Century) and considered Tajikistan’s national hero.
The Centre was designed by Farouk Noormohamed Design Associates from Canada. The direction was to design a building that represented the great architectural traditions of Central Asian regions, including its construction techniques, materials, and decorative motif. It is in this context that clay bricks, punctuated with blue and turquoise glazed bricks, have become the most distinctive visual aspect of the overall complex.
This view from the majestic main entrance shows a seating alcove on the left, a reception desk on the right, and the axial corridor of the administration area leading to the Great Courtyard. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Under the resplendent canopy, a more humble design draws on the traditional Pamiri chorkhon. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
DUSHANBE ISMAILI CENTRE FEATURES (1)
The Ismaili Centre utilized over three million bricks and the neatness of the brick work is a result of passing each of these 3 million bricks through cutting machines to match an exact template with a tolerance of less than 1 millimeter. This level of quality control has resulted in the very accurate horizontal and vertical joints that one can see throughout the building. The glazed bricks play a role in creating patterns of repetition and remembrance. One other way in which this is done is through the calligraphic renderings they permit. The towers, as the first distinctive features of the building, exhibit these colored bricks. The stylized patterns represent la ilaha illallah (there is no god but God) and Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest).
This skylight, in the foyer of the entrance to the Social Hall, is based on the traditional design of the roof of a Pamiri home. The design incorporates four concentric square box-type layers known as ‘chorkhona’ (‘four houses’) representing, respectively, the four elements — earth, water, air and fire, the latter being the highest, touched first by the sun’s rays. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
The ceiling above the foyer at the main entrance in the administration area. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
The glazed bricks play a role in creating patterns of repetition and remembrance. One other way in which this is done is through the calligraphic renderings they permit. The towers, as the first distinctive features of the building, exhibit these colored bricks. The stylized patterns represent la ilaha illallah (there is no god but God) and Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest). Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Intermediating natural radiance from above, masharabiyya, continually transform shadows according to a circadian rhythm on either side of the corridor. Mashrabiya is the Arabic term given to a type of projecting oriel window enclosed with carved wood lattice work located on the second storey of a building or higher. The mashrabiya is an element of traditional Arabic architecture used since the Middle ages up to the mid-20th century. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
DUSHANBE ISMAILI CENTRE FEATURES (2)
Like other Ismaili Centres around the world (London, UK, opened April 24, 1985; Burnaby, Canada, August 23, 1985; Lisbon, Portugal, July 11, 1998; Dubai, UAE, March 26, 2008; and Toronto, Canada, September 12, 2014) the Centre in Dushanbe consists of four spaces which broadly correspond to its functions. The Administration area, with its offices and meeting rooms, provides space for the institutions of the community; the Youth and Education area provides intellectual spaces for learning and education; the Social Hall is a space for community interaction offering modern and well equipped facilities for lectures, seminars, conferences, recitals and exhibitions; and finally the Jamatkhana or Prayer Hall is a space for contemplation and practice of the faith for the Ismaili Muslims.
A rythm of floor patterns at the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
A view from the inside looking out into the beautiful and contemplating garden. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Surrounded by classrooms and teaching resources and open to the sky, this tranquil courtyard space facilitates interaction with a knowledge centre that is furnished, wired and connected. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN ON HIS COMMUNITY IN TAJIKISTAN
“The Tajik Ismaili community has roots in this region that extend back more than a thousand years, as long ago as the second century of Islam. The community holds a recognised and admired position in the history of human endeavour here, contributing some of the greatest names in the fields of theology, philosophy, poetry and the sciences. This new Centre will be a place for looking back on that rich and powerful history in grateful and solemn remembrance. It will be a place, as well, for peaceful contemplation of the spirit, and of the world, as we live our lives in the present moment. And it will be a place to think about the future and how this profound heritage can shape and inform tomorrow’s world. This Centre aspires to give physical form and spiritual space for pursuing all of these objectives.”
On October 12, 2009, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and His Excellency President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, jointly inaugurated the first Ismaili Centre in Central Asia – a region that has been home to Ismaili Muslims for more than a thousand years. Photo: Gary Otte/The Ismaili
“One of the beauties of ceremonies like this one is that they link us to people in other places – and to people of other ages. I remember, to mention just one example, how the 1000th anniversary of the birth of Syedna Nasir-i-Khusraw coincided with our foundation stone ceremony five years ago. It is a tribute to Tajik culture that the legacy of such figures, even from the distant past, is held in such high esteem, promoting a strong sense of history and a strong spirit of social harmony.
“This ethic of connectivity with others has deep spiritual roots – in Islam as for other faiths. It stems ultimately from humankind’s sense of humility in the presence of the Divine. In this light, human diversity itself is seen as a gift of Allah, cultural differences are embraced as a blessing, and different interpretations of faith are seen as a mercy, one that nourishes the Ummah’s vast identity, and its constructive interface with society at large.
“In this spirit, it is our prayer that the Centre will always radiate an inviting mood of friendship to one and all, proclaiming Islam’s message of one humanity, and joining its voice with so many other voices in this city and this country in affirming our shared responsibility for advancing the common good.” — October 12, 2009.
Ismaili children engaged in a classroom activity at the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
A group portrait of happy children taken in a classroom at the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Ismaili youth engrossed in a presentation at the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Library and resource centre at the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Enthusiastic team of volunteers help to maintain the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Nevin Harji, centre, pictured at the Ismaili Centre with members of Dushanbe Jamat. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
The visitor follows gradations upstream along a soothing watercourse to the main entrance. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
A view of the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright
The Harjis pictured at the statue of Nasir Khusraw on their way to Raushan. “Nasir Khusraw was among the premier thinkers whose contributions will be celebrated in the space that we initiate today,” said His Highness the Aga Khan during the inauguration ceremony on October 12, 2009. Photo: Muslim Harji Collection.
A statue of Rudaki at Dushanbe’s Rudaki Park. His Highness the Aga Khan described the Ismaili Centre’s intended role in revitalizing the inheritance of “Rudaki, as also of Firdawsi, al-Biruni and Ibn-Sina, amongst other giants of learning” who flourished in the region during the 9th and 10th centuries. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Date posted: Sunday September 27, 2015.
Copyright: Muslim Harji. 2015.
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