Muslim center opens soon in Sugar Land

June 19, 2002
Houston Chronicle Religion Writer

The Aga Khan, philanthropist and spiritual leader of a branch of Islam, will open a Muslim house of worship and community center Sunday in Sugar Land.

The $10 million Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Sugar Land will sit on 11.5 acres of property on First Colony Boulevard. It will house a collection of Ismaili art, a cultural center, and conference and prayer rooms.

"It has a lot of art-Texas flavor, and it also has a lot of Islamic architecture ingrained," said Celina Charania, a lawyer and Sugar Land resident. "It is an interesting mix, and it is really quite pretty."

Gov. Rick Perry will attend the ceremony, which will not be open to the public because of limited space, organizers said.

One of the largest Ismaili Muslim centers in the United States, the new building also will serve as national headquarters for the Aga Khan's social-service and community networks in the United States, said Hanif Mamdani of Dallas, a volunteer with the Ismaili Council for the United States.

It is hoped the center will offer a mix of services for the Ismaili community in the Houston area, as well as act as a bridge to the greater Houston area, said Houston resident Rahman Ramzanali, who owns a software consulting company and has attended prayer services at the new center.

"We are very excited about the center," he said. "It will be the first large center in Texas that will do a lot of outreach. ... Our community -- we have been here for a while -- will have the opportunity to outreach and have the true American experience."

Members of the Ismaili Muslim community began arriving in the Houston area in large numbers in the 1960s, often to work or study at the Texas Medical Center, Mamdani said. Since then, the population has grown to about 15,000.

"Texas had a welcoming attitude," he said.

In addition to the United States, communities of Ismaili Muslims also live in India, Pakistan and countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam. The majority of Muslims are Sunni. Like most Muslims, Ismailis believe in one God, Allah, and consider Muhammad the messenger and last prophet of God. They view the Quran as the revelation of God to Muhammad.

Ismaili Muslims consider the Aga Khan the hereditary leader of the faith and a descendent of Muhammad.

The current Aga Khan, like those before him, has emphasized the faith's commitment to faith, self-reliance and service to the needy. The Aga Khan Development Network has created vast social service, cultural and spiritual programs that provide programs ranging from housing and agricultural development to architecture awards. Recently, the Aga Khan gave $75 million in aid to help rebuild Afghanistan.

"He is seen as a spiritual guide and more as a role model for the kind of ethics of Islam that the community would like to follow," Charania said.