For Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee, Kenya’s Ismailis use saadhri, the reed mat, as branding for their national arts festival; reed mat important in the Fatimid period

Compiled and prepared
by ABDULMALIK MERCHANT (editor Barakah)

Thousands of Ismailis around the world are participating in their respective countries to showcase their talent in art at local and national levels that will culminate in an International Jubilee Arts Festival to be held during July 2018 at a venue to be announced later. The Canadian National Jubilee Arts Festival will be held at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto on March 24 and 25.

The Canadian event, like other such events around the world, will be a celebration of art and artists of all forms. Singers, dancers, musicians, painters, sculptors, film directors, actors and others selected from Regional Jubilee Arts Festivals held in recent weeks across Canada will showcase their work to highlight a cross-section of the exceptional talent within our Jamat. 

A brief note on the Saadhri – the Reed Mat

The Saadhri Reed Mat Aga Khan Jubilee Arts Festival Kenya

We have been particularly impressed by the focus on the reed mat or the saadhri as the branding for the Kenyan version of its Ismaili National Arts Festival.

For those who may not be familiar, the saadhri is the floor mat that is used in Jamatkhanas in Africa  on which people sit and perform their prayers.

According to the website of the Kenya Ismaili Arts Festival, “the traditional Gujerati Indian reed mat – the saadhri, has been used as a focal point in the design of our National Arts Festival brand.”

The website further explains that the saadhri was brought to Kenya by the first Indian traders at the turn of the twentieth century. It became a unique identifying feature in the aesthetic of Jamatkhanas, and continues to be a central part of interior spaces where large Ismaili congregations gather in East Africa.

It notes the saadhri as a symbol of humility, authenticity and tradition, with a utility that continues to be applied in the 21st century. The saadhri has a powerful association with the spirit of volunteerism – hundreds of hands working together to stitch the distinctive mats into hundreds of combined metres for congregational seating at special events. The basic pattern of the reed mat creates a tessellated pattern reflecting vibrancy, continuity, timelessness – qualities reflected in the Imamat and the global Ismaili Jamat.

Reed Mats and the Fatimids

Floor coverings made out from reeds were once highly esteemed, as the historical writings of medieval Islamic authors — among them al- Muqaddasi (before 985–86), the eleventh-century Persian Ismaili traveller Nasir al-Din Khusraw, and the twelfth-century  geographer al-Idrisi — tell us.

Such mats were used within the Fatimid court in Egypt, as documented by a passage in  an account of the life of Imam al-Mu‘izz’s most important secretaries, Jawhar, written by his assistant, Abu ‘Ali Mansur al-‘Azizi al-Jawhari. It describes how Imam al-Mu‘izz asked Jawhar to order reed prayer mats from Mahdiya, which were to be inscribed with a text chosen by the Imam himself. Further references to reed mats at the Fatimid court can be found in the historian al-Maqrizi’s description of the contents of the khaza’in al-farsh, a treasury of furnishings that contained tents and their contents as well as reed mats.

Date posted: March 5, 2018.


The material for this piece was compiled and prepared from the websites of (1) the National Ismaili Arts Festival, Kenya,; (2) Jubilee Arts Canada National Festival; and (3) Reed Mat – The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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This website, Barakah, is a special project by and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan as he marks his Diamond Jubilee or 60 years as Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.


  1. Hey Malik, You have been doing a fabulous job of making this historic occasion of our beloved Imam’s Diamond Jubilee so alive and exhilarating€ with vineats and stories and historical facts! Thank you for all your research and outstanding work. When the full history of this period is written, your works will no doubt feature prominently.
    With kind thoughts,


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