Jamatkhanas are one of the many types of spaces of gathering and worship found among the world’s various Muslim communities. Today, Shia Ismaili Muslims use jamatkhanas as their primary space of worship and gathering, under the authority of the Ismaili Imam-of-the-Time.
Jamatkhanas in Muslim History
The term jamatkhana means “the house of the community.” It is made up of two words: the Arabic word jama‘a (or its Persian derivative jama‘at), meaning “gathering” or "community," and the Persian word khana, meaning “house.”
Muslims in different parts of the world and belonging to different communities of interpretation use a variety of spaces for prayer and gathering. Spaces of gathering called jamatkhanas have been used by a number of Sunni and Shia communities throughout history, including among communities of Sunni Memons, Shia Bohras, and Chishti Sufis. Mughal complexes in South Asia, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, often included spaces called jamatkhanas.
Shia Ismaili Muslims around the world use jamatkhanas today as their main place of worship and gathering. Ismaili jamatkhanas are inclusive of ethnicity and gender, enabling Ismaili men and women to sit in separate but side-by-side sections during ritual prayers and ceremonies.
As private spaces, formal congregational practices are reserved only for those who pledge their allegiance (bay'a) to the living, hereditary Ismaili Imam-of-the-Time. The Imams are descendants of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) through the lineage of the Prophet’s cousin and the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Ali, and his wife, Hazrat Bibi Fatima (peace be upon them), the Prophet’s beloved daughter. The Imam has the sole authority to determine what practices occur in jamatkhana.
Jamatkhanas are also a place in which the values of the Islamic faith are put into practice. These values include humility, generosity, kindness, compassion, pluralism, search for knowledge, and service to others. Ismaili community institutions, including jamatkhanas, are largely run by dedicated volunteers who offer their time and knowledge out of love and devotion to the Imam and the community.
Outside of formal prayer times, Ismailis seek to build bridges with wider society by welcoming members of wider society for educational and cultural programmes at their jamatkhanas, particularly the Ismaili Centres.
The Ismaili Centres are high-profile buildings that represent the pluralist ethos, traditions, and values of the Ismaili community. Each centre incorporates a jamatkhana, as well as spaces for welcoming people from wider society for social, cultural, and educational programmes. There are Ismaili Centres in London, Vancouver, Lisbon, Dubai, Dushanbe, and Toronto, with a new centre under construction in Houston.
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
Speech: Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Dubai, 2003 by His Highness the Aga Khan