The Ismaili Centre, Dubai was opened on 26 March 2008 by Mawlana Hazar Imam in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, senior members of the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates. Like other Ismaili Centres around the world, the Ismaili Centre, Dubai incorporates social, cultural, and spiritual spaces, and extends a hand of friendship to other communities.
“This building exists fundamentally as a place for peaceful contemplation, but one that is set in a social context,” said Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Centre's opening ceremony. “It is not a place to hide from the world, but rather a place which inspires us to engage our worldly work as a direct extension of our faith.”
Over the past decade, the Centre has realised the vision Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke about. In 2018 alone, the Centre hosted numerous events showcasing the work and impact of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) including exhibitions, lectures, and seminars. The recent Ethics in Action exhibit impressed visitors with a display of the positive long-term impact of AKDN’s work around the world.
In May 2018, the Ismaili Centre, Dubai in collaboration with Art Week, the Aga Khan Museum, Roshan (the largest telecom operator in Afghanistan), and the Consulate General of Canada in Dubai, hosted an event in celebration of the opening of a photographic exhibition by the award-winning British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson entitled “Skate Girls of Kabul.” The exhibition documented young girls skateboarding in the unique setting of Skateistan — an international NGO founded in 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan, to provide girls with a place to skate safely and a route into education.
In September, Dr Karen Armstrong presented the inaugural Ismaili Centre International Lecture in Dubai, calling for increased compassion and harmony in an uncertain world. The lecture was attended by His Excellency Sheikh Mohamed Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, who acknowledged the Ismaili community for bringing Dr Armstrong to the United Arab Emirates to speak at the event, and engage with distinguished guests.
Earlier this month, a cultural evening of Flamenco at the Centre showcased this captivating and characteristic part of Spanish culture, while bringing together the Spanish Ambassador to the UAE, various diplomats from Spain and other countries, dignitaries and journalists — many of whom were visiting the Ismaili Centre for the first time — and the leadership and other members of the Ismaili community.
Throughout 2018, the Centre held a number of programmes related to engaging youth in the field of science and technology. The Aga Khan Education Portfolio in the UAE organised a series of courses on coding for students aged 13-18 years. The courses aimed to introduce students to computer science and basic programming concepts. Classes were designed to build logical thinking skills and help students write programmes to solve basic and advanced technical problems. Ismaili youth from a range of schools and backgrounds also gathered at the Ismaili Centre Dubai in March 2018 to participate in i-Robotics, an event held to prepare participants to enter an international competition which introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus and research on.
The Aga Khan Early Learning Centre is an important element of the Centre, making a marked impact on Early Childhood Development. The Early Learning Centre has been educating children from various backgrounds and nationalities in both English and Arabic. It has elevated best-practice standards in the UAE, and was the proud recipient of the 2018 International Nursery of the Year Award.
The resource centre houses a range of books from children’s stories, to Islamic philosophy and history, while the sports room supports indoor activities from table tennis to chess. Across the road, the Dubai Park, developed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, fosters health and well-being, human connections, and engagement with all the elements of the environment.
Since its inauguration, a steady stream of prominent guests have visited the Centre including members of Mawlana Hazar Imam's family, national and regional leaders, international ambassadors, and members of the global Jamat. Visitors are often struck by the magnificent architecture of the Centre, including its indoor and outdoor spaces.
“I am very honoured to have been received at the Centre today. It is a lovely centre architecturally, and an important centre for the promotion of education and tolerance. I look forward to further cooperation between the USA consulate and the Ismaili Centre,” USA Consul General Philip Frayne said of the Centre.
Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Hinder said, “Very impressed by the outstanding architecture, the spirit of openness and tolerance, and the care for people who are the most in need.”
At the Foundation Ceremony in December 2003, Mawlana Hazar Imam expressed his wish for the Centre to “be a place of peace, of order, of hope and of brotherhood, radiating those thoughts, attitudes and sentiments which unite, and which do not divide, and which uplift the mind and the spirit.”
As the Ismaili Centre, Dubai concludes its first decade, we can reflect on how it has proudly served as an ambassadorial building, providing a sense of identity, pride, and belonging to the Jamat, while also acting as a worthy host and partner to the greater community. We are inspired and grateful for the enrichment over the past decade, and look forward to furthering this growth through friendships and brotherhood in the coming years while honouring the strength of diversity and blessing of pluralism.