For Ismaili Muslims, service and pluralism shine after Ramadan

This was originally featured in the Houston Chronicle’s HouWeAre newsletter on race, culture and identity. You can register here.


Many of us outside the Islamic faith may only think of fasting or know it as the holiest month in Islam, a time to show grace and support to Muslim friends, peers and family during their spiritual recharge. collective.

But Ramadan is a lunar cycle in which the fundamental tenets of Islam are meant to shine – especially with acts of service.

For Ismailis and other Muslims, giving is more than volunteering in a charity program; it’s a way of life to pay it off in perpetuity.

“Ramadan emphasizes the practical aspects of our values ​​in regards to faith and materializes in service,” says Alim Adatia, who volunteers as a member of communications and publications for the Ismaili Council for the South. -western United States.

Numbering in the tens of millions worldwide, Ismaili Muslims are a culturally diverse community living in more than 25 countries around the world – in Central and South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America and Australia – who adhere to Shia Muslim values ​​and traditions , the second largest theological branch of Islam next to the Sunni tradition. Throughout its 1,400-year history, the Ismaili community has followed a living and hereditary Imam, the Aga Khan, who claims a direct lineage to the cousin and brother-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Greater Houston area is believed to be home to the largest Ismaili community in the United States, with six jamatkhanas, or places of worship, serving tens of thousands of people throughout the metro area, from Clear Lake to Sugar Land. The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Sugar Land is one of the most active in the United States, hosting food drives, blood drives, interfaith programs and community initiatives throughout the year and playing a role prominent in civic spheres that uplift, educate and serve the community.

In fact, Houston was chosen several years ago by His Highness the Aga Khan as the site of America’s first Ismaili center, apparently because of its active and thriving Ismaili community and the region’s overall cultural diversity, which ‘Adatia says the Aga Khan nurtures an overarching philosophy of pluralism that has become a “trademark of faith”.

“Over the years, the Aga Khan has rooted pluralism in our faith,” says Adatia. “We can all be members of different groups and come from different backgrounds (racial, ethnic, religious) – and retain those identities – but at the same time come together as one civilization.”

Plurality is guided by Ismaili teachings of balancing worldly and spiritual life, Adatia explains. The ethos of our faith, such as service and a commitment to improving the quality of life for all, must permeate all aspects of our being, he says.

If you live in Houston, you’ve probably seen the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center’s name and involvement in everything from Hurricane Harvey and Winter Storm Uri recovery to COVID mobilization. It’s hard to ignore the strong tendency of the Ismaili community to collaborate not only with other community groups and other faith-based organizations, but – perhaps most importantly, especially during Ramadan, Adatia points out – with d other Muslim brothers and sisters.

As further proof of the community’s commitment to connection, on Saturday the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center will host a Sugar Land City Council Forum for candidates for At-large 1 and 2 positions. The forum is open to the public and is a joint effort between the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States, the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce, and the League of Women Voters of Houston and will be held at 10 a.m. at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center at 1700 First Colony Blvd.

“Our commitment to the ethic of service is, ultimately, the foundation of our faith values,” adds Adatia, “and really directs us toward improving the quality of life in the communities in which we live.” .


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James C. Tibbs