Prince Karim Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Shiite Ismaili Muslims, yesterday said the Ismaili Centre in Dubai will be a symbol of confluence between the spiritual and the secular in Islam.
"The centre in Dubai, the first in the Middle East, will be a place for contemplation and search for enlightenment where people come together to share knowledge and wisdom.
"It will be a place of peace, of order, of hope and of brotherhood, radiating those thoughts, attitudes and sentiments which unite, and do not divide, and which uplift the mind and the spirit," the Aga Khan said before laying the foundation stone.
The ceremony was attended by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Department of Civil Aviation and Chairman of Emirates Group, representing General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister.
The centre, a project likely to cost around $18 million, is being built on 13,200 sqm of land gifted by Sheikh Mohammed. It will be operational in two years. Adjacent to the centre, an 'Islamic Garden' will also be developed at a later stage as a public park by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
Thousands of prominent Ismaili community members from around the world also attended the ceremony. An estimated 2,500 Ismaili people live in the UAE out of a worldwide population of over 12 million.
Diplomats from various countries, leading businessmen and religious dignitaries also attended. Sadruddin Ali, President of the Aga Khan Council in the UAE, welcomed the guests.
Aga Khan, who is 49th hereditary Imam of the Shiite Ismaili Muslims, added: "At a time, when the search for mutual understanding remains essential to assuring peace and stability, the creation of spaces that will enable that search become a greater imperative than ever. The centre is being established for that very purpose amongst others."
"On behalf of the Ismaili Muslim community worldwide and myself as their Imam, I sincerely thank His Highness for a noble gesture that epitomises attitudes and values which, for almost a millennium and a half, have defined the outlook and gracious disposition of an Ummah (community), historically diverse, yet bound by the ethics of common faith," the Aga Khan said while thanking Sheikh Mohammed for donating the land for the centre.
The centre, he said, will provide facilities to promote cultural, educational and social programmes from the broadest, non-denominational perspective within the ethical framework of Islam.
"Amongst them will be an early learning centre where the Aga Khan Education Service, a philanthropic agency, will draw on its own extensive experience in many parts of the world to offer broad, holistic, early childhood education on a secular and non-denominational basis at the highest standards of excellence."
Salient features of the new centre The Ismaili centre in Dubai is planned with a view to becoming a landmark in the cosmopolitan cultural picture of the city.
In addition to multipurpose areas within the complex including courtyards and gardens, there will be facilities for exhibitions, lectures, performing arts and music recitals, classrooms and meeting rooms and designated areas for contemplation and prayers.
Adjacent to the centre, an Islamic Garden will also be developed at a later stage as a public park.