President Al-Karim Alidina of the Ismaili Council for the USA welcomed guests to the luncheon hosted in downtown Houston, and expressed the Jamat’s gratitude to Mawlana Hazar Imam for establishing the first high-profile Center in the United States.
Soon after, guests were treated to an architectural flythrough video that offered a glimpse of what the newest Center and its gardens will look and feel like. The preview situated the Center among its surroundings and illustrated the scale of the venture.
“The Ismaili Center is an ambitious project not just for the Ismaili Muslim community, but for all Houstonians,” said Prince Amyn in his remarks. “What we are building on the site across the Buffalo Bayou is a Center dedicated to advancing pluralism, public understanding, and civic outreach.”
Today, Centers exist in London, Vancouver, Lisbon, Dubai, Dushanbe, and Toronto. These Centers have sought to create environments that encourage mutual understanding and facilitate the sharing of perspectives across peoples of diverse faiths, traditions, and origins.
“The Center is intended to be a resource for all Houstonians,” added Prince Amyn, “as a place to come together with local, national, and international partners — many of whom are here today — to enhance the vibrant nature and rich cultural tapestry of this city.”
Houston was recently declared the most diverse city in the United States. As the fourth most populous city in the country, it also boasts a fast-growing artistic and cultural scene. The Center will enable the Jamat to play a greater part in this growth.
“I have always believed that art and culture are effective ways to connect communities, and one of the Center’s objectives will be to offer the highest caliber of cultural programming and promote cultural dialogue, which are all key elements of enhancing one’s quality of life,” said Prince Amyn.
“The dialogue between cultures has forever existed as a result of man’s urge and need to travel, to discover, to meet people, to share experiences, to buy and to sell. Cultural dialogue unites by showing, by underlining what we share despite our apparent differences.”
Ismaili Centers are symbolic markers of the permanent presence of the community in the regions in which they are established. Architecturally unique, each building incorporates spaces for social and cultural gatherings, intellectual engagement and reflection, as well as spiritual contemplation.
Like its counterparts around the world, the new addition in Houston will be a representational building for Ismaili Muslims, and a place for dialogue, learning, and bridge-building across all communities. It will also seek to promote greater understanding about Islam, Muslims, and their history and civilizations, as well as of the Ismaili community, by highlighting shared values and experiences.
This aspiration is well-represented in the architecture of the building itself, which will combine contemporary technology with traditional Persian forms and ornament, and include influences drawn from Islamic traditions around the world.
“The Ismaili Center Houston will be a magnificent building,” said Mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner, “both physically – with its landmark architecture, picturesque gardens, and ingenious design – and societally speaking, through its impact on Houston, across Texas, and throughout the United States.”
“The Center will be a place where Houston’s communities come together to strengthen and forge new bonds, and work together based on our common values towards a future that shines even brighter than the present,” added Mayor Turner.
While being a place of contemplation and prayer, it will also host public programs that foster dialogue, explore new ideas, celebrate knowledge, and encourage civic activity.
In Houston specifically, the Mayor takes pride in the close ties our community has with the city. He particularly commended the Jamat for its ability to serve others, especially in times of turmoil.
“I do want to underscore the importance of the Ismaili community to the city of Houston,” said Mayor Turner in an exclusive interview with The Ismaili TV. “On every single occasion when we needed people to step up and be volunteers, the Ismaili community has been one of the first groups to raise their hand and say ‘Mayor, you can count on us.’ So for that, we are extremely proud and grateful.”
The Jamat in the region has on many occasions, both during and before the Covid-19 pandemic, organized food distribution, blood drives, and awareness seminars for their neighboring communities, and has become recognised as a major contributor to broader society in the city and beyond.
In the diverse city of Houston, this spirit of volunteerism has helped to bring people together around shared values. Through the permanence of the upcoming Center, the Ismaili community and its neighbors in the United States can anticipate many more generations of warm and friendly coexistence.
“We want to be diverse, but we want to be inclusive at the same time, and we want to celebrate that diversity of culture that exists,” added Mayor Turner before departing. “And you do that, in large part, by establishing venues that attract and appeal to the multiculturalism that exists within our city. And that’s why the Ismaili Center Houston is so, so important.”