Banners commemorating 50 years of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Imamat decorated the streets and bridges of downtown Vancouver. Green and red Ismaili flags graced the entrance of the Burrard Street Bridge, the oldest in town. Exuberant members of the Jamat waved Canadian and Ismaili flags as they gathered in the city's core to welcome Hazar Imam.
For the Canadian Jamat, a year-and-a-half of anticipation, planning and hard work culminated in Mawlana Hazar Imam's Golden Jubilee visit to the country in November 2008.
A visit to Canada had been expected during the 18-month celebration of the Golden Jubilee, so core planning teams were already in place. With the timing confirmed, the teams moved into high gear.
The focal point of the visit was the Golden Jubilee Darbars that Mawlana Hazar Imam would grant in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Some 20 000 volunteers ensured that the experience would be a happy and memorable occasion for Hazar Imam and the Jamat.
In Calgary, facilities constraints and a shortage of space made the preparation of the Darbar and celebration halls particularly challenging. Ismaili trades people, some having traveled from Edmonton and farther afield, worked around the clock to make sure that everything from lights, wiring, framing, insulation, carpets and plumbing were installed and finished on time.
Volunteers also constructed an engineered pavilion that served as the entrance for the Calgary Darbar facility. The Round-up Centre, once a concrete shell, was adorned with flowing white curtains and flowers.
“When I saw the final result, I thought, wow – what a serene space we had helped to create.” said one Calgary volunteer. “The sleepless nights had paid off.”
It was also important that the Darbar experience be accessible to all. Ismaili doctors, nurses and others volunteered their services to enable those suffering from illness to participate. Special care facilities were setup in Darbar halls for members of the Jamat who suffered from debilitating conditions and required critical care.
“I felt elated, especially in assisting the most vulnerable segments of the Jamat,” said a member of the medical volunteer team in Toronto. “My goal was that every Ismaili should take part in this historic occasion.”
In the days leading up to the visit, Jamatkhanas were teeming with celebration. Dandia, raas and garba were performed, musical expressions and devotional singing from many Jamati traditions took place, and food and sharbat were served. Young Ismailis came together for Journey to Darbar, a national programme that prepared the youth, intellectually and spiritually, for the historic visit.
The occasion also provided opportunities for younger and older members of the Jamat to come together. In Vancouver, Ismaili youth visited long-term care facilities to share the news and excitement of the visit. They, in turn, were treated to the stories of past Darbars recounted by Ismaili seniors.
Hours after Mawlana Hazar Imam's plane touched down in Ottawa on 18 November, Jamat from coast to coast gathered to watch a video of the ceremonial arrival. An immense sense of joy and pride spread across the country.
“My heart was beating 200 times faster,” said a 28-year-old nursing student from Regina. “I wanted to give all I had and do my best to serve the Jamat and Mawlana Hazar Imam. It was also a time of personal reflection for me.”
For many the culmination of the Golden Jubilee visit did not mark an end; it was the continuation of a journey. “The Golden Jubilee has added passion and excitement, but I want volunteering to be a lifelong thing,” said a Vancouver volunteer. Another in Toronto, agreed: “For me, this is one small way I can reciprocate for all the hard work our Imam does on our behalf.”