Gov. Greg Abbott was on hand Tuesday as Ismaili Muslims community members opened their first purpose-built interfaith center in Cedar Park.
The Ismaili Jamatkhana at 2401 South Lakeline Boulevard is the newest prayer and gathering place that community leaders say was built specially to promote an understanding of Islam and other religions.
“Their value is bringing people of different backgrounds together and building knowledge of one another and their religious traditions,” said Omar Sanji, communications coordinator for the Aga Khan Council for the Southwest United States. “So it’s a place for Ismailis to get to know our neighbors from all walks of life better and for them to know us better.”
The Ismaili community is a branch of Shiite Muslims led by the Aga Khan, their 49th hereditary spiritual leader and who is believed to be a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad. The Aga Khan visited Houston and met Gov. Abbott in March.
Abbott, the headliner at Tuesday’s Cedar Park event, told the more than 150 attendees that “Texas is forever thankful” for the contribution of about 2,500 Ismaili volunteers to relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey.
“One of the most powerful things that we saw that reverberated not just across the state of Texas, but reverberated across the entire globe was this simple fact: When you saw someone in a boat who helped someone who needed to be rescued out of that water, there was no litmus test,” Abbott said. “All that mattered was that you needed help and there was going to be a Texan there to help you.”
While no census data is available on Ismaili Muslims, Texas is home to the largest population of Ismaili in the United States, said Azim Panjwani, a member of the Aga Khan Council.
Sanji estimated that tens of thousands of people in Texas are part of the Ismaili community and a sizable number live in the Austin area. Because the community in Austin had grown, “the desire to have a facility to do more than congregate has grown,” Sanji said.
He said Ismaili Muslims have gathered in at least a few dozen community centers across the state, but only a handful were built specifically as a Jamatkhana.
Austin has had a Jamatkhana off North Lamar Boulevard for years, Sanji said, and the rented space has been used as neighborhood gathering place for outreach and civic programming, including voter registration drives, food drives and guest speakers, Panjwani said. Before the Cedar Park location, “we didn’t have a place to really be able to bring the community together,” he said.
The new Jamatkhana in Cedar Park will serve the principal place of congregation and prayer for the Ismaili community in the Austin area, Sanji said.
“It serves as a place where you can connect with people outside of the community as well as in the community,” said Sehr Charania Lalani, an Ismaili congregant. “So it feels like a warm, welcoming safe home for us in many ways.”