Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 14 December 2015.Phone: 281-242-5545
Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, generally known as the Ismailis, and also known as Nizari Muslims, constitute the second largest Shia community in the world. There are some 15 million Ismailis globally, living in over 25 countries, with significant presence in Central and South Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East, as well as United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. As Shia Muslims, the Ismailis contend that after the Prophet’s death, the authority of the guidance of the Muslims was vested in Hazrat Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Hazrat Ali thus became the first Imam, or spiritual leader of this Shi’a community. Ismailis believe that the Imamat continues by heredity through Ali and his wife, Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter. Currently, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, in direct lineal descent from the Prophet through Ali and Fatima. The Aga Khan’s role is to guide followers in their search for the spiritual meaning of the revelation, the Qur'an, and to secure and safeguard the quality of life of his followers and the societies in which they live.
Houston, Texas has a substantial population of Ismailis and, while physically located in the suburb of Sugar Land, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center Houston serves as the principal house of worship for Ismailis in the United States. While there are subsidiary jamatkhanas located in many cities in across the country, this facility is the largest and serves also as the administrative center for the community. Around the world there are Ismaili Centers in Burnaby, British Columbia, London, Lisbon, Dubai, Dushanbe, and Toronto, with others in the planning phase. While a mosque or masjid is a religious building most often associated with the Muslim community, for Ismailis, a jamatkhana is the main space for religious and social gathering. The term jamatkhana itself is derived from the Persian word jama’a, “gathering,” and khana, “house or place.” Together, it is translated as “a place of congregation” or “assembly house.”
The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center Houston’s design seeks to balance the spiritual and temporal through expressions of Islamic architecture. In designing the Center, architect Ramesh Khosla, whose work includes the former World Trade Center in New York and structures in Montréal and New Delhi, was tasked with creating a building that expresses Ismailic values of pluralism, intellectual pursuit, and service to humanity in a modern Western context. This is integrated in the building design which
…incorporates spaces for social and cultural gatherings, intellectual engagement and reflection, as well as spiritual contemplation. They serve as ambassadorial hubs, representing the Ismaili community's attitude towards the Muslim faith and modern life, while extending a hand of friendship and understanding to enhance relationships among faith communities, government and civil society. Through their design and function, the Ismaili Centres reflect a mood of humility, forward outlook, friendship and dialogue.
The building, which was completed in 2001, also incorporates elements from the Southwestern U.S. and Texas in particular through its architecture and materials. The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center Houston sits among landscaped gardens on 11.5 acres and includes a collection of exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, prayer spaces, and administrative offices. It was built to be in harmony with its existing environment, taking full advantage of the water channel, the natural beauty, and other characteristics of the site. While the building occupies an important place in the social and religious life of the Ismaili community, it also serves as a symbol for understanding between Islam and the West. Two separate halls are housed in the building—one that serves as a private prayer hall for the Ismaili community (also known as jamaat) and another that serves as the social hall where educational, cultural and social events, including seminars, exhibitions, conferences, and receptions for civic and other organizations are hosted. Public events have included “Sacred Songs, Sacred Sites,” an initiative by the Houston Arts Alliance, and tours of the Center organized by the Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston. The Center has also coordinated various lectures, films, and family days with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in an effort to highlight the significance of Islamic art and culture.
In his speech for the inauguration of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center Houston in 2002, the Aga Khan shared his vision:
The Center will be a place of peace, humility, reflection and prayer. It will be a place of search and enlightenment... It will be a center which will seek to bond men and women of this pluralist country to replace their fragility in their narrow spheres by the strength of civilized society bound together by a common destiny. It is already a symbol of the hopes of people who lived through change and turbulence, and have ultimately found security and opportunity here in the United States, the majority of whom have chosen the State of Texas.The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center has classrooms for early childhood education programs and for weekend religious instruction to provide information on faith and community history to children. Volunteer teachers and administrators use a curriculum known as Ta’lim, (“knowledge”) which takes a civilizational approach to understanding the Ismaili faith and its ethics and is produced by the Institute for Ismaili Studies.
The second floor in the Center houses the administrative headquarters of the Ismaili Council for the United States of America, and other institutions of the community. The Ismaili Council administers community programs related to health, education, economic development, youth mentoring, senior assistance and social assistance. These programs are undertaken at the national and local level in various regions of the United States. The hallways of the second floor of the building are adorned with pictures from various projects facilitated by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is one of the world's largest private, non-denominational development organizations and works primarily in Africa and South and Central Asia. Focusing on economic development, social development, and culture, the AKDN aims to improve living conditions and opportunities for people regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. One of the most prominent local initiatives of the AKDN is the annual Aga Khan Foundation Walk. The Partnership Walk aims to increase awareness in the Houston community about, and raise funds to help reduce poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and poor health in Asia and Africa. The Partnership Walk takes place annually in Austin, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Orlando, San Antonio, and many other cities around the world.
The Aga Khan contends that “the inability of human society to recognize pluralism as a fundamental value constitutes a serious danger for our future.” The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center Houston is one of many endeavors of the Aga Khan to integrate the Ismaili community into the modern world. Others include the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, and the Tolerance Statues, a public art project in Houston created to represent the pluralistic nature of the city. The Tolerance Statues are located directly across from a planned site for a new Ismaili Center in Houston and were made possible through a partnership between the Aga Khan, the Houston Arts Alliance, and the City of Houston.
This new Ismaili Center, when constructed and opened, will expand on the many opportunities currently provided by the Center in Sugar Land to engage with the wider Houston community. The goal of the Center is to engage and inspire Houstonians, through events, dialogues, community initiatives, and educational activities that seek to promote peace and tolerance through the expansion of knowledge and understanding. “I believe the Aga Khan's vision is always to bring people together,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, prior to the Tolerance Statues dedication ceremony. “And as the Aga Khan opens his centers around the world, I know that each Ismaili Centre finds a way to not only bring the community in, but also to open out to the community.” In the same way these hopes are being built into the new Ismaili Center Houston, the existing Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center has already made significant strides towards promoting the Ismaili value of pluralism in its own community.
This profile was written in consultation with the Ismaili Council for the United States of America.
 “Pluralism Facilitated Founding of Diverse Places of Worship. IsmailiMail Blog. 11 December 2014. https://ismailimail.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/pluralism-facilitated-the-founding-of-diverse-places-of-worship/The term jamatkhana is also used by a number of other religious communities such as Christian Sufis, Sunni Memons, and Bohras.
 “About the Ismaili Centres.” The Ismaili. http://www.theismaili.org/ismailicentres/about-centres. Accessed 17 November 2015.
 “Muslim Art and Cultural Expression Opens Doors to Interfaith Dialouge in Houston.” The Ismaili. http://www.theismaili.org/heritage-expressions/muslim-art-and-cultural-expression-opens-doors-interfaith-dialogue-houston. Accessed 17 November 2015.
 “Aga Khan Foundation USA Annual Report 2011.” Press Centre. Aga Khan Development Network. http://www.akdn.org/publications/2011_akf_usa_annual_report.pdf. Accessed 17 November 2015.
 “Mawlana Hazar Imam partners with the City of Houston in commissioning a landmark sculpture celebrating tolerance.” The Ismaili. http://www.theismaili.org/heritage-expressions/mawlana-hazar-imam-partners-city-houston-commissioning-landmark-sculpture. Accessed 17 November 2015.