Participation in formal prayers in Ismaili jamatkhanas is restricted to those who pledge their allegiance (bay‘a) to the Ismaili Imam-of-the-Time. In Shia Islam, the authority of the Imam is rooted in the notion of hereditary succession from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), and the practices observed in jamatkhanas are the sole prerogative of the Imam-of-the-Time.
Jamatkhanas as tariqa spaces
The jamatkhana, meaning “house of the community,” is among the different types of spaces of worship and gathering used by Muslim communities around the world.
Ismaili jamatkhanas are private tariqa spaces. Tariqa is an Arabic word meaning “path” and refers to a path to spiritual enlightenment and union with God. Tariqas are communities of Muslims that follow a path guided by a spiritual leader, such as a Shia Imam or a Sufi murshid. They guide their community’s interpretation and practice of the Islamic faith as part of an inward search for spiritual enlightenment. The Imam-of-the-Time has the sole authority to determine Ismaili tariqa practices in jamatkhana at any time.
Ismaili practices in jamatkhanas are expressions of the spiritual bond between the Imam and his followers, as conveyed in the bay‘a that each Ismaili pledges to the Imam-of-the-Time. Ismailis reaffirm their bay‘a daily in various prayers and jamatkhana practices.
Those who do not pledge their allegiance to the Ismaili Imam are not able to participate in formal congregational prayers and rituals. If they were present, they could only be spectators, which would compromise the private nature of such practices.
Public and private spaces
Just as we keep our homes and families private, religious communities that see themselves as a large family may also seek privacy to allow their members to perform prayers and rituals without the intrusion of spectators. Many religious communities have boundaries between public and private, in which participation in certain spaces, practices, and prayers are restricted to members who are formally initiated into that particular community.
Outside of formal prayer times, many Ismaili jamatkhanas, particularly the Ismaili Centres, welcome multi-faith family members and members of wider society to participate in educational, cultural, and social programmes. This is part of an effort by Ismailis to build bridges with wider society.
Gallery: Muslim Spaces of Worship and Gathering, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Article: Muslim Spaces of Piety and Worship by Karim Jiwani
IIS Secondary Curriculum: Faith and Practice in Islamic Traditions, vols. 1 and 2
Book: Beyond the Mosque: Diverse Spaces of Muslim Worship by Rizwan Mawani
Website: The Ismaili Centres
“What Is Shi’a Islam?,” Dr Farhad Daftary and Professor Azim Nanji, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
“Muslim Spaces of Piety and Worship,” Karim Jiwani, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Rizwan Mawani, Beyond the Mosque, London: I.B. Tauris, 2019.
“Ismaili Jamatkhanas, Congregational Practice and Privacy,” The Ismaili Canada.