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Ismaili Centre, Dubai

25 May 2016

An oasis amid Bur Dubai’s sprawling office towers, the Ismaili Centre and its verdant gardens, Dubai Park, offer welcoming respite from the busy city streets.

Something of a hidden gem in the heart of Dubai, the peaceful gardens are maintained as a gift to the city’s residents. This is one of six centres around the world – each as architecturally stunning as the last.

A great option if you’re visiting the city, it’s regularly open for cultural events and architectural tours. Open Skiesspoke to the president of the Ismaili Council UAE, Amiruddin Thanawalla, to discover more.

The centres are symbolic markers of the permanent presence and core values of Ismaili communities around the world. Architecturally unique, they are bridges of friendship and understanding, and serve to enhance relationships among communities, government and civil society.

The main purpose of the centre is to encourage mutual exchange and understanding between diverse peoples, communities and faiths. Each building incorporates spaces for social and cultural gatherings, intellectual engagement and reflection, as well as spiritual contemplation. Through its design and function, the centre reflects a mood of humility, forward outlook, friendship and dialogue. The centres [globally] are not only places for spiritual search, but also spaces for broadening intellectual horizons and fostering an appreciation of pluralism.

The centre hasn’t yet conducted a census of its community, but whenever it hosts a special congregation or a high-profile event, it witnesses a gathering of around 2,500 people.

Egyptian architects Rami El-Dahan and Soheir Farid sought inspiration from the Fatimid mosques of Cairo. Maintaining their focus on the human scale and the recent past, they also drew on the insights of the late Hassan Fathy, who was renowned for his “architecture for the people”. Architecture is very important to His Highness the Aga Khan (the imam of Ismaili Musims). He founded the Aga Khan Award For Architecture in 1977 to highlight architectural projects of excellence in communities where Muslims have a significant presence. The prestigious global award unveiled its shortlist of 19 nominees at the Ismaili Centre, Dubai, in May.

The gardens are a gift to Dubai’s residents. Extending what the Aga Khan suggested at the foundation-stone laying ceremony, the centre seeks to create a sense of equilibrium, stability and tranquility. This sense of balance and serenity finds its continuum in the wealth of colours and scents in our adjacent Islamic garden, which the Aga Khan Trust For Culture helped to develop as a public park.

Ismaili Centres seek to foster knowledge and understanding both within Muslim societies and with other cultures. Events include musical performances, book launches, seminars, lecture series, professional training for early childhood educators in our early learning centres, exhibitions, suhoor, museum previews and architectural tours. The centre was also recognised by the Dubai Culture And Arts Authority, with the inaugural Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons Of The Arts Award in 2010 for its significant contribution towards the development of Dubai’s cultural sector.

Ismaili Centre, Dubai, Oud Metha, Bur Dubai, +971 4 336 5566

Words and Images: Sandra Tinari

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