“Through centuries, we have read and heard about Ismailis who have given of their wealth, they’ve shared, they’ve taught, they have written, they have given of their expertise and skills.” said Dr Nadia Eboo Jamal, a historian with the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS). “They have looked after the poor and the elderly and the weak, particularly when it came to offering refuge to those in need.”
It is this long tradition of voluntary service and the ethic of a common humanity that led to the creation of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps (IVC) a century ago, says Hussain Jasani, also with the IIS. He explained the origins of the IVC can be traced back to India in the early 20th century.
History gave new expression to this ethic of service as members of the Ismaili community began to settle in new parts of the world, including Canada, Europe, and the United States. Informal groupings of volunteers in these countries were quickly followed by the establishment of a formal Volunteer Corps, first in the United Kingdom in 1967, and in the United States in 1969, and in Canada in 1972.
Speaking at the Inaugural Session of the Enabling Environment Conference in Nairobi, in 2014 Mawlana Hazar Imam remarked:
“I have repeatedly stressed the theme of voluntarism. Let me conclude with a personal vision of the human energy contained in that idea. We have all seen examples of God’s most wonderful creature, the person – whether in a government bureau, a business, or a private development agency – who is inspired to give generously of himself, to go beyond the mechanical requirements of a task. Such men and women, paid or unpaid, express the spirit of the volunteer – literally the will to make a product better, a school the very best, a clinic more compassionate and effective. Their spirit, generating new ideas, resisting discouragement, and demanding results, animates the heart of every effective society.”
This spirit of volunteerism would find renewed spark and creativity during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee Year in 2007, when a National Task Force in Canada introduced an initiative then entitled Ismaili CIVIC (Challenging Ismaili Volunteers in Communities) to encourage Jamati members to become ambassadors for the spirit of volunteerism, engage in acts of service in the communities in which they lived, and realize the social conscience of Islam through individual action.
The idea was taken a step further in Canada for Ismaili CIVIC 150, a Diamond Jubilee Initiative in which members of the Ismaili Community contributed over 1.2 million hours of voluntary service to Canada on the 150th anniversary of its Confederation.
The seeds these early initiatives planted took root and blossomed into what would be known as Ismaili CIVIC, now present in over 30 countries around the world – all united in a mission of serving communities in need.
The year 2021 marked another milestone in the history of Ismaili CIVIC, with the launch of the first ever Global Ismaili CIVIC Day (GICD) a landmark event when members of the Ismaili community around the world united in their actions to contribute meaningfully to the societies in which they live. GICD 2022 will be yet another day and milestone in this long history of service, an international endeavour reflective of the ethic of civic engagement, good citizenship, and the values of peace, service, compassion, and care for those in need. It will be a day of hope, optimism, and inspiration.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, in a speech made in Washington in 2014, observed:
“The opportunity exists to create… an enabling environment to bring out the very best of the human potential. An Ayat in the Qur'an says: Verily, God does not change man's condition unless they change that which is in themselves. We must show greater faith in the ability of the individual to be creative… We all share a responsibility to help create an environment to make this possible.”