The Jamat of Afghanistan celebrated the opening of the first purpose-built Jamatkhana in the Ishkashim district of Badakhshan. Hundreds gathered for the official opening, which was attended by a number of distinguished guests including the Governor of Badakhshan Province and the President of the Provincial Assembly.

On 15 May 2008, the Jamat of Afghanistan celebrated a significant milestone with the opening of the first purpose-built Jamatkhana in the Ishkashim district of the province of Badakhshan. Set in a spectacular location, the Jamatkhana overlooks much of Ishkashim, with views of the Panj River and neighbouring Tajikistan. The Jamatkhana will house the offices of the Ismaili Council for Badakhshan and other local Jamati institutions.

Members of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps line up outside Ishkashim Jamatkhana and await the arrival of the guests. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan Members of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps line up outside Ishkashim Jamatkhana and await the arrival of the guests. Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan

As hundreds of members of the Jamat gathered for the official opening, a small team from the Ismaili Volunteer Corps of Ishkashim gave the interior a final polish. The pride on their faces was evident as they prepared for the arrival of the dignitaries who had been invited for the opening.

From the Jamatkhana's hilltop location, the convoy of vehicles carrying distinguished guests – including the Governor of the Badakhshan Province, the President of the Provincial Assembly, the Chairman of the Badakhshan Religious Affairs Department – as well as the President of the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan, could be seen long before they reached the site, amplifying the excitement among members of the Jamat.

Following a recitation from the Qur'an-e-Sharif and the rendition of a beautiful qasida, the Governor of Badakhshan addressed the Jamat in the large prayer hall. The Governor, who had travelled for seven hours from the provincial capital city of Faizabad to attend the opening, spoke passionately about the freedom of religious practice in Afghanistan and the importance of faith in the lives of all people. In a moving analogy, he compared the diversity of interpretations in Islam to the differently coloured flowers in a beautiful garden, noting that it was this variety that made the garden so beautiful.

The Governor was followed by the President of the Provincial Assembly, who emphasised and built upon the theme of religious pluralism, observing that there are multiple, equally legitimate forms of prayer. The Chairman of the Badakhshan Religious Affairs Department also spoke, and encouraged the Jamat to be regular in their daily attendance at Jamatkhana.

Finally, the Governor's spokesperson spoke about his profound admiration for Mawlana Hazar Imam's work in Afghanistan and Badakhshan. He praised the Jamat in Badakhshan, and the district of Ishkashim in particular, for its reputation as a place of inter-communal tolerance and peace.

Following these speeches, Shair Baz Hakemy, President of the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan, delivered a brief address, thanking the invited guests for their presence at the opening, and elaborating on the significance of the opening of this first Jamatkhana for the large Jamat in Badakhshan. Traditional gifts of Afghan chapans (robes) were then presented by various Jamati leaders to the large number of distinguished guests who had gathered for the opening, including District Governors and other senior government officials from across Badakhshan Province. To the sustained applause of the gathered Jamat, the Governor of Badakhshan, President Hakemy, and other leaders, Jamati and non-Jamati, cut a symbolic ribbon and declared the building opened.

In the afternoon, the Ismaili Council hosted a lunch for all of the guests, while the Jamat in turn celebrated the opening of the new Jamatkhana, and prepared to attend prayer services for the first time in their new building that evening.