The first Ismaili Centre in the Middle East will be formally opened on Wednesday in Dubai by the spiritual head of the Ismaili community, the Aga Khan. The centre has been built on 13,000 square metres of land in the Oud Metha area and the foundation stone was laid in 2003.

The land for the centre was presented by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to the Aga Khan in 1982, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the latter's accession to the leadership of the Ismaili community, a release stated on Monday.

Designed by Rami El Dahan and Soheir Farid of El Dahan and Farid Engineering Consultants from Cairo, the building, inspired by Fatimid architecture of old Egypt and Syria, emanates the spirit of Islam, the release said. Adjacent to the Centre, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has developed a 3,000 square metre park, as a gift from Aga Khan to Dubai. The park was designed by renowned landscape architect Maher Stino, who also designed the 74- acres Azhar Park in Cairo Egypt, another AKTC project.

The Dubai centre is the fourth Ismaili Centre in the world, comparable in scope and noted architectural standing to existing major centres in London, Vancouver, and Lisbon, Portugal. Plans for Ismaili Centres in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Toronto, Canada are in advanced stages of development.

The Aga Khan is travelling to a number of countries around the world to launch and inaugurate major development projects and to meet with members of the Ismaili community as part of his Golden Jubilee celebrations. He is currently in the United Arab Emirates on a four-day visit to the country.

Aga Khan became the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims in 1957 after the death of his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan. He is founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East.