One of the ways in which Ismailis have expressed their identity wherever they have lived is through their places of prayer, known today as the Jamatkhana. Other Muslim communities give their religious buildings different names: from ribat and zawiyya to khanaqa. And, in addition, there are other places where Muslims of all interpretations can come together, such as non-denominational mosques.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Toronto Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony, Toronto, September 12, 2014, Read at NanoWisdoms)
Bay‘ah is the spiritual contract or covenant that every Ismaili Muslim or murid has made with the Ismaili Imam of the Time. Bay‘ah gives the murid the right to access the Imam’s teachings, guidance, blessings, and spiritual medicine, and the Jamatkhanah is the private space where the Imam makes these available to his murids. The bay‘ah, a word which means “buying/selling”, is a two-way contract that includes a commitment from the murid and a commitment from the Imam. Thus, the bay‘ah between the murid and the Imam is a spiritual “transaction” or “contract” in which the murid commits his allegiance, devotion, and obedience in exchange for the Imam’s spiritual guidance, intercession, blessings, and purification – in this world and in the afterlife.
You perform bay‘ah, but you must first understand it’s meaning and then offer bay‘ah. When you offer me bay‘ah it means that you extend your hand to me with a promise…He who obeys me and promises to follow me after offering me bay‘ah I also give him my promise that I shall hold his hand in the Hereafter. The trials and tribulations of the Day of Judgment are very frightening and painful. I will keep him away from this.
The custom of meeting in closed sessions, at specially designated places, to learn about and practice their own interpretations of faith, has been part of the Ismaili tradition from pre-Fatimid times. During the Fatimid period, the Ismailis used to participate in majalis al-hikma(sessions of wisdom), which were accessible only to those who had pledged their allegiance to the Imam-of-the-time.
Karim Jiwani, (Muslim Spaces of Piety and Worship, Read at IIS Website)
Bay‘ah as a religious practice goes back to the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an mentions it in numerous verses (48:10, 16:91, 48:18, and 60:12) in which the believers give bay‘ah to the Prophet Muhammad when they become his followers or reaffirm their loyalty to him. The Qur’an stipulates that the Prophet should only provide guidance, blessings, and intercession to people after they give him their bay‘ah. The Ismailis have continued this Qur’anic protocol of bay‘ahthroughout their history:
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