Jama'at Khana

Jama'at Khana
A Jama'at Khana in Nishapur,Dizbad Region.

Jama'at Khana -literally, a "congregational place" an amalgamation derived from the Arabic word jama‘a (gathering) and the Persian word khana (house, place) is used by various South Asian Muslim communities to denote a place of worship or gathering. Among South Asian Sunni Muslims, the term is often used interchangably with the Arabic word Musalla, which is a place of worship that has not been formally sanctified as a masjid[1]. Nizaris, and other Ismailis use the term to denote their gathering places.


The Jama'at Khana as a place of gathering and worship

While the mosque, or masjid, is the religious building most often associated with Muslim piety, a range of spaces for worship and practice can be found throughout the breadth of the Muslim world.[2] Some are concentrated within particular geographic regions while others are in use by specific communities. Some of these include: husayniyas[3] (also known as ashurkhanas,[4] imambaras,[5] matams[6] or tekiyas[7]) used by Ithna ‘Ashari Shi‘i communities; ''khanaqas,[8] ribats,[9] tekkes[10] and zawiyas[11] used by mystically-oriented Muslim communities commonly referred to as Sufis; the cemevi[12] of the Turkish Alevi Muslims; and the majlis and khalwas of the Druze Muslims.[13] Other sites, such as shrines (dargah, astan, rawzah, maqbara, etc.), are a common feature of the Muslim religious landscape and can be found throughout the world. For Nizari Ismailis, the primary space of religious and social gathering is the jamatkhana. The jamatkhana is also the term used to designate spaces used by a number of other Muslim communities with bases in South Asia: the Chisti Sufi tariqa,[14] the Sunni Memon community[15] and various branches of the Musta’li Ismaili community[16] including the Dawoodi Bohras and Alevi Bohras.

The term jamatkhana is also shared with other Muslim communities in the Subcontinent to designate their communal spaces. These include members of the Chishti Sufi tariqa who utilize their jamatkhanas as a meeting space for conversation and counsel with the pir or teacher;[17] the Shi‘i Bohra Ismaili communities use the term to designate the space for social gatherings and communal meals;[18] the Sunni Memon jamatkhana is a space for cultural gatherings and special occasions.[19]

The term Jamaat Khana is commonly used by South Asian Sunni Muslims[1] and their diaspora[20] to describe a gathering place for communal prayer that has not been consecrated as mosque (masjid), although in formal usage, the term Jamaat Khana is often replaced by the term Musallah[20] (although musallah also can refer to a prayer rug). Spaces designated as jamatkhanas can also be seen in Mughal complexes, such as that of the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The Jama'at Khana in Ismailism

The exact origins of the use of jamatkhana in the Nizari Ismaili tradition are not as yet clear. However, communal memory, oral traditions and individual ginans (Indo-Muslim religious poems) narrate that Pirs Shams (fl. between 13th and 15th centuries)[21] and Sadr al-Din (fl. 14th century),[22] emissaries appointed by the Ismaili Imam in Persia and sent to the Subcontinent in the service of the faith, established the first such spaces for the nascent Nizari Ismaili communities in Sindh, Punjab, Kashmir[23] and China[24] during their lifetimes. Jannatpuri, a long composition known as a granth and belonging to the genre of the ginan, by Sayyid Imamshah (d. after 1473) situates one of the earliest of these jamatkhanas to a place by the name of Kotda, which is thought to be in modern-day Pakistani Sindh.[25] The same composition also mentions that the village headman, the mukhi (Sanskrit: mukhya) was closely associated with the jamatkhana as an official.[26]

The Earliest Ismaili Jamatkhanas

The jamatkhana was a space particular to several localized Nizari Ismaili communities of the Subcontinent, primarily in delta regions.[27] It was subsequently adopted by a wider range of Indian Ismaili communities in subsequent decades and centuries. These diverse groups, each with their own histories, identities and social organization identified themselves using various names such as Momin (or Mumna),[28] Shamsi,[29] Khoja[30] and Gupti,[31] and traced their conversion to Islam through various Ismaili pirs. Collectively these communities adopted the practice of Satpanth (lit. true path), a designation for Shi‘i Ismailism of this period in the Subcontinent which included communal congregation in the jamatkhana[32]

The term jamatkhana itself 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’ or ‘assembly house’. The term, however, seems to have come in use to designate the place of Satpanthi religious gathering fairly late, possibly not until the last decades of the 18th or early years of the 19th centuries.[33] The most common term used in the ginans to refer to these spaces is the term gat.[34]

The Evolution of the Jamatkhana

By the mid-19th century, however, as Ismaili communities migrated from towns and villages to urban centres throughout the Indian Ocean littoral, the khana seems to have become a distinct space housed in a separate structure, usually located within a mohalla, or enclave, of Satpanthi believers. Several of the oldest extant examples of jamatkhanas go back to this period. Most, however, have subsequently been renovated and added to, to accommodate the changing functional needs and ritual practices of the jamats (congregation) that they serve. The oldest of these urban structures can be found in places such as Gwadar (present day Pakistan), Zanzibar and Bombay (present day India). More modest examples that date from this period can also be found throughout Kutch and in Jerruk in interior Sindh, the residence of Aga Khan I upon his arrival to the Subcontinent. The architecture and organization of these spaces tell us that there was no single architectural template or model of the jamatkhana, but rather each was constructed based on a series of circumstances including such things as location, cultural environment, architectural practices of the period and resources available. The variations from one jamatkhana to the next also gives us clues to the nature of practices, the use and allocation of space and the nature and function of social relationships. Some of these were due to the cultural milieu in which the jamatkhanas were situated while others followed general traditions of pietic and religious culture, which in turn informed rules of decorum and etiquette within these spaces.

In 1870, the Bombay Jamatkhana in Khadak became the first jamatkhana assigned as a darkhana.[35] The term, was initially used to designate the chief residence of the Imam. In later years, however, it came to stand for the principal jamatkhana in a national context. Today, eight countries have darkhana jamatkhanas in the Nizari Ismaili tradition. These include India, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Canada, Pakistan, England and Portugal.[36]

The Jamatkhana as the Centre of Ismaili Practice

While the jamatkhana initially began as a space of congregation specific to Satpanthi communities, it eventually was adopted by Ismaili communities with different geographic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and historical experiences who before this congregated in spaces with different trajectories and nomenclatures.[37] During the seven decades of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III’s (d. 1957) Imamat, formal relationships with Ismaili communities living in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China, the Northern Areas of Pakistan, Persia and Syria, were strengthened.[38]

Ismailis of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, namely Chitral, Ghizr, Gilgit, Hunza, as well as the border regions of China, were some of the first communities to adopt the jamatkhana into their ritual life. The seeds of these institutions were planted in 1923 when a missionary by the name of Ramzanali Sabzali (d. 1938) was sent to these various communities by Aga Khan III.[39] Jamatkhanas were also introduced in Syria in the period of the 1940s. It was not however, until the tenure and leadership of the present Imam of the Ismailis, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan (b. 1936) that similar spaces were also introduced in Iran (1960s), Afghanistan (1960s and 2001) and Tajikistan (2009).[40] In parts of Iran, spaces referred to as khane-ye kolon[41] and khanqah[42] preceded the jamatkhana.

Ismaili Centres

In 1979, the foundation stone was laid for what was to become the first ‘Ismaili Centre’ in London’s South Kensington neighbourhood.[43] The high-profile building which was opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925; r. 1979-1990) in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan in April 1985 was an important chapter in a new era of Ismaili presence in Europe.[44] Several months later in August, another Ismaili Centre was opened in Vancouver’s Burnaby district (Canada) by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (b. 1939; r. 1984-1993).[45] Each architecturally unique, these purpose built centres constructed by internationally reputed architects occupy prominent places in their respective cities and include, in addition to the central prayer hall, spaces to facilitate intellectual and social gatherings, meeting rooms, educational facilities, libraries, gardens and water features. The buildings were not only meant to act as symbolic markers of the Ismaili community’s presence in England and Canada, but also as an ambassadorial bridge which would continue to help them develop and maintain relationships with other faith groups and civil society organizations. In 1998, the third such Ismaili Centre was opened in Lisbon, Portugal.[46] The Centre draws inspiration from regional influences of the Moorish architectural heritage such as the Alhambra in Granada as well as that of other Muslim cultural forms such as that of Fatehpur Sikri in India.[47] In particular, the interplay and combination of outdoor and indoor spaces gave the building a different aesthetic and feel from the other Ismaili Centres that had been designed two decades earlier, further demonstrating how time and space influence contemporary Ismaili religious architecture.[48]

The first Ismaili Centre in the Middle East was opened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on March 26, 2008 by the Aga Khan in the presence of senior members of the ruling family of Dubai.[49] The Centre, built on land donated by the Shaykh Mohammed b. Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler in 1982, is the first such Centre in the Middle East and reflects the centuries of Ismaili presence within the region. The building draws its inspiration from Cairo’s Fatimid architectural heritage, a dynasty founded by the Aga Khan’s forefathers and previous Imams of the Ismaili community in the 10th century.[50]

An Ismaili Centre in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, firmly located in the Persian-speaking Muslim world, reflects and marks the centuries of Ismaili presence in Central Asia and surrounding regions.[51] Opened on October 12, 2009 by Republic’s President, Emamoli Rahmon and the Aga Khan, its architecture blends a diverse range of artisanal and craft traditions of the region and draws upon as inspiration of the grand courtyards of Samarkand and Khiva in Uzbekistan as well as the 10th century Samanid mausoleum. Technical innovations include earthquake resistant roofing which transfers structural stress, a heating and air conditioning system based on water source heat pumps and a heat recovery wheel for energy efficiency.[52]

Further Ismaili Centres, in various stages of development – will follow shortly. The first of these, and the second such centre to be built in Canada, will be located in Toronto’s Don Mills area and follows the pattern of earlier buildings, representing functionally and symbolically the presence of Ismaili communities in Europe and North America. The Ismaili Centre in Toronto will be the largest such centre in the English-speaking world.[53] Centres in Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California are also being planned.


The Ismaili Centres Website (http://www.theismaili.org/cms/823/The-Ismaili-Centres)


  1. ^ a b Fiqh of Masjid & Musalla
  2. ^ Renard, John. Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious Life of Muslims. University of California Press, 1996, pp. 168-175
  3. ^ Deeb, Lara. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi‘i Lebanon. Princeton University Press, 2006, p. P. 144.
  4. ^ Pinault, David. The Shiites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community. Palgrave Macmillan: 1992, p. 80.
  5. ^ Das, Neeta. Architecture of Lucknow: Imambaras and Karbalas. B. R. Publishers 2008.
  6. ^ Fuller, Graham E. and Rend Rahim Francke. The Arab Shi‘a: The Forgotten Muslims. Palgrave Macmillan: 2000, p. 122-123.
  7. ^ Aghaie, Kamran Scot. The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi‘i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran. University of Washington Press, 2004.
  8. ^ Peters, Francis E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Conflict and Competition – Vol. 2 – The Words and Will of God. Princeton University Press: 2003, p. 278-279.
  9. ^ Bonner, Michael David. Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice. Princeton University Press, 2008., p. 136.
  10. ^ Norris, H. T. Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World. University of South Carolina Press: 1993.
  11. ^ Mojuetan, Benson Akutse. History and Underdevelopment in Morocco: The Structural Roots of Conjunture. Lit Verlag: 1995, p. 41.
  12. ^ Sökefeld, Martin. The Alevi Movement in Germany and in Transnational Space. Berghahn Books: 2008, pp. 144-177.
  13. ^ Abu-Izzeddin, Nejla M. The Druzes: A New Study of their History, Faith and Society. E. J. Brill: 1993.
  14. ^ Mohamed, Malika. The Foundations of the Composite Culture in India. Aakar Books: 2007, p. 179.
  15. ^ Cutchi Memon Jamat. Jamat Khana Golden Jubilee, 1981-1982. Bombay: 1982.
  16. ^ Roy, Shibani. The Dawoodi Bohras: An Anthropological Perspective.B. R. Publishing: 1984, p. 77.
  17. ^ In Fatehpur Sikri for example, on the eastern side of the tomb of Shaykh Salim Chisti is a red sandstone building surrounded by perforated screens, designated as a jamatkhana which was used by his disciples to pray and carry out their religious practices until his death in 1591. Another example can be seen at the tomb of Nizamuddin Awliya’ in Delhi.
  18. ^ It is customary amongst many Musta’li Ismaili communities in South Asia and their diasporas to have a jamatkhana in the same complexes as their masjids. While the latter is the primary site for formal religious activities of the various branches of the branches of the Bohras – including the Da’udi, Sulaymani and Alevi – the jamatkhana acts as a site for less formalized religious gatherings, weddings, feasts and other events aligned with special days.
  19. ^ See for example the history of the Cutchi Memon Jamatkhana of Bombay at <http://cutchimemon.org/cutchi_memon_students_circle_mumbai.>
  20. ^ a b Musjids & Jamaat Khana's
  21. ^ Kassam, Tazim R. Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Ismaili Saint, Pir Shams. SUNY Press: 1995.
  22. ^ Asani, Ali. Ecstasy and Enlightenment. I. B. Tauris: 2002, p. 33.
  23. ^ Daftary, Farhad. The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines. 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 443.
  24. ^ Pir Shams. “Mansamjhani,” (Khojki Script). Khoja Sindhi Press, 1912, p. 259, v. 4.
  25. ^ Sayyid Imamshah. Jannatpuri.Gujarati Language Composition written printed in the Khojki Script by Lalji-Bhai Devraj, Bombay: 1905, v. 84
  26. ^ Ibid
  27. ^ Bovin, Michel. Ismaeliens d’Asie du Sud: Gestion des Heritages et Productions Identitaires. Editions l’Harmattan: 2008, p. 85.
  28. ^ Ali Asani. Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia. I. B. Tauris: London, 2002, p. 2.
  29. ^ See for example, Dominique-Sila Khan’s Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia. I. B. Tauris: London, 2004, p. 47.
  30. ^ Azim Nanji. The Nizari Isma‘ili Tradition in the Indo–Pakistan Subcontinent. Delmar: NY, 1978.
  31. ^ See for example, Domique-Sila Khan’s Conversion and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailis of Rajasthan. Manohar, Delhi: 2003, p. 54.
  32. ^ Azim Nanji. The Nizari Isma‘ili Tradition in the Indo–Pakistan Subcontinent. Delmar: NY, 1978.
  33. ^ The prefix ‘jamat’ does not seem to appear in front of the term ‘khana’ amongst the Nizari Ismailis in oral renditions or the earliest written texts. The first reference in the English language to the jamatkhana appears to be in relation to a court case filed against the Khojas of Bombay by Aga Khan I in 1829, but which was later dropped, suggesting the term was in circulation by that point. See Aga Khan Case, pp. 352, 363, 363a. The term darkhana as applied to a jamatkhana and not simply the Imam’s residence was first seen in usage in 1870 when it was applied to a jamatkhana in Bombay’s Khadak district. Amongst the various branches of the Imamshahis, the term ‘khana’ is still used to designate the space used for congregational practices of the community. The term ‘jamatkhana’ is absent from their discourses. The term gatjamat referring to the congregation who gathered in this communal space can be found in many ginans.
  34. ^ One of the most commonly recited ginans that includes this reference is “Gat Maa(n)he Aavine” (Come to the Space of Communal Congregation) attributed to Pir Sadr al-Din in the Khoja Ismaili tradition and Sayyid Imamshah in the Imamshahi tradition. Numerous other ginans also make reference to the ‘gat’ as the congregational space of the community and the importance of the rituals that take place within it.
  35. ^ However, it is possible that the term was in use somewhat earlier. In Kahak, Iran, there are a number of gravestones which speak about one “Kamadia Datardina Wandani of Darkhana jamat” who came to visit the Imam. The Gujarati-language Khojki inscription places Wandani’s death in 1803. See Ivanow, W. “Tombs of Some Persian Ismaili Imams,” Journal of the British Bombay Royal Asiatic Society, New Serial, Vol. 14 (1938), pp. 58-59. In the contemporary period, the Ismaili Centre, London was dedicated as the first darkhana on April 24, 1985 upon its opening.
  36. ^ See Aga Khan IV, “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims”, Article 10 and Schedule 6. Original version in 1986 and revisions in 1998.
  37. ^ Daftary, Farhad. The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press: 2007, p. 474.
  38. ^ See Memoirs of Aga Khan:World Enough and Time. Cassel & Company, London: 1954 and reprinted as: World Enough and Time: The Memoirs of Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III in 2 Volumes as part of the series, “Karachi Under the Raj 1843-1947,” Dawn in collaboration with the Trustees of Mohatta Palace Museum and Pakistan Herald Publications, 2005. In the reprint, see for example, “Chapter VIII: The Islamic Concept and My Role as Imam,” pp II:1-39 and “Chapter XIV: My Recent Travels,” pp. II:177-189.
  39. ^ The diary of Missionary Sabzali, posthumously endowed with the title of pir by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, is extant. It was first published in Gujarati as “Alijah Missionary Sabzalibahi’ni Musafar,” in the weekly Ismaili (Bombay) between February 17, 1924 and December 5, 1926. A significantly edited version of the text was also published serially in the Ismaili Crescent (Dar es Salaam) between January 8, 1967 and April 2, 1968. This again was reproduced in the fortnightly community magazine Paigham (Karachi) between February 15, 1967 and April 15, 1970 and again in the Ismaili between March 21 and October 6, 1967. This version culminated in the publication of the serialisation of the journey as a book printed by the Ismaili Printing Press in Bombay in 1968, entitled Pir Sabzali’ni Madhaya Asia’ni Musafari.” A version prepared by Sabzali’s personal secretary, Ramzan Ali Alibhai first appeared in the Platinum Jubilee Bulletin (Bombay) between July 15 and October 1, 1953 and was edited by Jafar Ali H. Lakhani. An English translation is available online as “Voyage of Pir Sabzali in Central Asia,” translated by Mumtaz Tajddin at <http://www.ismaili.net/Source/pirsabzali/index.html>
  40. ^ Daftary, Farhad. The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, pp. 494-496.
  41. ^ Muʿizzi, Maryam. “The Ismailis of Iran: From the fall of Alamut up to the present time with a particular reference to the contemporary period”, MA thesis, Department of History, Mashhad University, Mashhad, 1992-3.
  42. ^ Keshavjee, Rafique. “The Quest for Gnosis the Call of History: Modernization Among the Ismailis of Iran,” Unpublished PhD Thesis. Harvard University, 1981, p. IV:10.
  43. ^ See Aga Khan IV, Speech on the occaision of the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, London, UK, September 6, 1979. Available at <http://www.amaana.org/agakhan/londonctr9-79.htm.>
  44. ^ See Notes from Press Release titled “His Highness the Aga Khan in the United Kingdom to mark Golden Jubilee Visit,” July 2, 2008 and available at < http://www.akdn.org/Content/674.> Photographs and the speech by Margaret Thatcher on the occasion can be found at <http://www.amaana.org/agakhan/londonctr9-79.htm..>
  45. ^ The Foundation Stone Ceremony was conducted on July 24, 1982 and the building was officially opened on August 23, 1985. See “Voices: Bruno Freschi, Architect of the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, in Conversation with Simerg,” at <http://simerg.com/about/voices-bruno-freschi-architect-of-the-ismaili-centre-in-burnaby-in-conversation-with-simerg/.>
  46. ^ See Aga Khan IV, “Speech at the Foundation Stone Ceremony of the Lisbon Ismaili Centre,” December 18, 1996, available at <http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=101402.> and Press Release dated July 11, 1998 on the occasion of the inauguration of Centro Ismaili, “Aga Khan and President Sampaio Speak on Faith and Civil Society,” available at <http://www.akdn.org/Content/527.>
  47. ^ Richardson, Phyllis. “Ismaili Centre, Lisbon, Portugal,” New Sacred Architecture, pp. 86-91. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2004. Also see Meade, Martin, "Islam in Iberia". Architectural Review (March 2003),at <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3575/is_1273_213/ai_99215195/.>
  48. ^ For images and design notes, see “The Ismaili Centre, Lisbon, Portugal,” Architectural Record at <http://archrecord.construction.com/projects/bts/archives/worship/ismailiCntr/overview.asp.>
  49. ^ See <http://www.theismaili.org/cms/252/Opening-of-the-Ismaili-Centre-Dubai> which includes links to speeches, press releases and photographs covering the event.
  50. ^ See “Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Foundation Laying Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre (Dubai, United Arab Emirates” on December 13, 2003 at <http://www.akdn.org/Content/594> and “Aga Khan Announces First Ismaili Centre in Middle East,” Press Release on December 13, 2003 at < http://www.akdn.org/Content/439.>
  51. ^ See “Address by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Foundation Stone Ceremony of The Ismaili Centre (Dushanbe, Tajikistan” on August 30, 2003. Available at <http://www.akdn.org/Content/592> and “Aga Khan Announces First Ismaili Centre in Central Asia”, Press Release on August 30, 2002 at < http://www.akdn.org/Content/488.>
  52. ^ “Press Release: First Ismaili Centre in Central Asia Opens,” http://www.theismaili.org/cms/887/Press-Release-First-Ismaili-Centre-in-Central-Asia-Opens.
  53. ^ See “Aga Khan to Establish Major Academic and Cultural Center and Museum in Canada” Press Release on October 8, 2002 at <http://www.akdn.org/Content/551.> The Ismaili Centre in Toronto will share a 17.3 acre plot with a major museum “dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, display and interpretation of artifacts relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic, and religious traditions of Muslim communities, past and present.”

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