American Ismailis gathering for US Games over Thanksgiving weekend

Nearly 1 000 athletes will compete at the United States Ismaili Games over the upcoming Thanksgiving Day weekend. The sports tournament will take place in Dallas, Texas between 26–29 November.

Athletes receive a hero's welcome from Ismaili youth at a pep rally held at Dallas Headquarters Jamatkhana ahead of USIG2015. Umair Ali
Athletes receive a hero's welcome from Ismaili youth at a pep rally held at Dallas Headquarters Jamatkhana ahead of USIG2015.
Umair Ali

Dallas, 24 November 2015 — Athletes will compete in a diverse set of sports including basketball, cricket, squash, and soccer. Sports such as dance, flag football and volleyball have helped boost female athlete registration beyond levels seen in prior tournaments.

Matthew Marchant, the mayor of Carrollton, Texas, has signed a proclamation recognising the tournament and its participants for their service.

“The Ismaili athletes’ and over 500 volunteers’ time and dedication are a true testament to how ingrained the notion of service is within the Ismaili community,” says Danish Charanya, Chairman of the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for the Central United States.

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Lighting the torch as one Jamat: US Ismaili Games officially open

With rain pouring outside and Dallas under a flash flood watch, the US Jamat came together to open the 2015 United States Ismaili Games Thursday evening. Nearly 1 000 athletes are competing in the Games over the Thanksgiving long weekend, supported by hundreds of volunteers.

The American Jamat comes together on the dance floor during the Opening Ceremonies at the 2015 US Ismaili Games. Pervez Jindani
The American Jamat comes together on the dance floor during the Opening Ceremonies at the 2015 US Ismaili Games.
Pervez Jindani
With rain pouring outside and Dallas under a flash flood watch, the US Jamat came together to open the 2015 United States Ismaili Games Thursday evening.

“We could see the excitement even before we walked in,“ said Dr Barkat Fazal, President of the Ismaili Council for the United States after the ceremony. “Whatever the weather is outside, the Jamat will have a great time. It’s about coming together as one Jamat.”

The festivities began with messages to the athletes from local city leaders, including Matthew Marchant, mayor of the host city Carrollton. “It is an honour to host you here in our community,” Marchant said in a video played during the ceremonies. “We recognise the hard work and effort you have put in to be at these games, and we are pleased to be your host.”

Torchbearers representing each of the seven regions came together to light one flame, a symbol of the frontierless brotherhood of Jamati unity. “I think that there’s a sense of pride when you’re the hosting city,” said Shahzil Amin, the Central US torchbearer. “You work just that little bit harder to make sure everyone has a great time.”

The crowd’s energy skyrocketed when a group of 40 senior ladies performed a hip hop dance. Hundreds of spectators and athletes joined them.

“It’s amazing to see the seniors’ ability to excite the Jamat — unbelievable,” President Fazal exclaimed. “Seeing the Jamat dance together is the first of the many ways the Games will continue to unite the Jamat.”

— Sameer Assanie

Volunteerism is the fabric of "One Jamat"

The Ismaili volunteers’ dedication is showcasing the US Ismaili Games’ slogan — One Jamat — highlighting how the community achieves unity through service. Nearly 1 000 athletes have gathered in Dallas to compete this Thanksgiving long weekend.

Local volunteers plan for the Unity Mural and closing ceremonies at the 2015 US Ismaili Games. Alykhan Lalani
Local volunteers plan for the Unity Mural and closing ceremonies at the 2015 US Ismaili Games.
Alykhan Lalani
“The best part of tonight was the rain,” chuckled Noor Moosa. Moosa along with several other safety volunteers spent over five hours in the downpour as Thursday’s opening ceremony carried on.

The volunteers’ dedication showcased the Games’ slogan — One Jamat — highlighting how the Ismaili community achieves unity through service.

Mayor of Plano, Texas, Harry LaRosiliere, welcomed the Jamat to Dallas through a video message at the opening ceremony. “The Ismaili Muslim faith community idea of service and giving back through volunteerism weaves into the fabric of Plano,” he said in the video.

Mairaj Manji, a volunteer with the videography team said he has built a close connection with his team and is happy to give back to the Jamat through a field he takes pride in. He and hundreds of other volunteers will continue to serve over the weekend, upholding core values of unwavering service for the upcoming events at the Games.

Amreen Bhanwadia, Florida’s torchbearer, had a simple explanation for why she volunteers: “Community. One Jamat. It’s my identity.”

— Raahina Malik

Dedicated badminton player reschedules wedding to be at US Ismaili Games

Nothing was going to get in the way of Salma Amlani playing badminton at the United States Ismaili Games. She rescheduled her wedding to ensure she could make it.

Salma Amlani returns a serve in badminton at the 2015 US Ismaili Games. Azim Maknojia
Salma Amlani returns a serve in badminton at the 2015 US Ismaili Games.
Azim Maknojia
Nothing was going to get in the way of Salma Amlani playing badminton at the United States Ismaili Games. She rescheduled her wedding to ensure she could make it.

After placing second representing India at the Golden Jubilee Games in 2008, Amlani continued playing when she moved to the US in 2011. Now living in Washington, DC, she is one of the few players in Dallas representing the Northeastern US.

“It’s my passion,” says Amlani. “I love playing badminton. It’s more than a sport; it actually helps me de-stress and it rejuvenates my energy levels. It just comes from within.”

Amlani’s passion was tested when her wedding was originally set to take place during the same weekend as the 2015 US Ismaili Games. Once the badminton tournament was scheduled, Amlani’s then-fiancé showed his support by agreeing to move the wedding to an earlier date. As a result, the newly-weds travelled straight from their honeymoon in New Orleans to Dallas for the Games.

Looking forward to the Jubilee Games next summer, Amlani’s experience competing at an international level has provided some perspective on how she will continue to train. “There are more players coming in, and I was just thinking that there are a lot of younger players, so they motivate me to keep up my game”.

While competing internationally, Amlani noticed the incredible talent from Jamats all around the world. “In some countries, especially in Canada, it’s really rigorous and they are much better players, so I also have to think about the competition for the Jubilee Games in Dubai. It’s going to be really tough because they have a lot of female participants from Canada who play really, really well.”

For the competition at the US Ismaili Games, Amlani and her badminton partner, Annum Gulamali, are undefeated so far and will continue playing with hopes of representing the USA in Dubai next year.

“She’s already booked her tickets for Dubai,” remarks Amlani’s husband, Akbar Hajiani, jokingly.

— Natasha Ladhani

Football really is family

At first glance, the Central Gold flag football team looks like any other team — a group of individuals of different backgrounds, with different personalities, and different strengths. But look closer and it is evident that they are more than just a team.

Central Gold Team X, playing flag football at USIG 2015. Neelum Meghani
Central Gold Team X, playing flag football at USIG 2015.
Neelum Meghani

At first glance, the Central Gold flag football team looks like any other team — a group of individuals of different backgrounds, with different personalities, and different strengths. But look closer and one thing is evident.

“This team is more than just a team,” says Omar Bhagat, the captain. “It’s a brotherhood. It’s our family.”

When Bhagat formed the team, he brought his brother Salman and his cousin-in-law Bryson Murphy into the mix. “Bryson is family,” Bhagat says. “As soon as I met him, I knew we were going to be brothers for life.”

Murphy’s wife Shermin and three-year-old daughter Khaliza joined in to support the team. Seeing him interact with the Jamat at the Games is a memory that they will both cherish.

For Murphy, he had wanted to play after seeing past Ismaili sport events. One day into this tournament, he says it’s been well worth it.

“It feels good because it’s community,” he says. “I’ve seen the brotherhood of the team. I’ve made some brothers on and off the football field. Everyone accepts you as you are.”

— Sameer Assanie

Victory: The creation of the theme song

Creating a successful opening ceremony takes the concerted efforts of many people. One group, whose resolve is an inspiration to others, is the musicians who wrote and produced Victory — the theme song of the 2015 US Ismaili Games.

Team Victory performs "Victory" at the opening ceremonies of the 2015 US Ismaili Games. Umair Ali
Team Victory performs "Victory" at the opening ceremonies of the 2015 US Ismaili Games.
Umair Ali

Creating a successful opening ceremony takes the concerted efforts of many people. One group, whose resolve is an inspiration to others, is the musicians who wrote and produced Victory — the theme song of the 2015 US Ismaili Games.

Symbolism shines through the production of the song, which was itself a victory, as it was made in four days when it usually takes a month. “It feels like building a whole house,” says Aftab Ali, executive producer of Victory.

The song was written by Fez Meghani and mastered by Randy Merrill (who has worked on many songs including Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk). Meghani was behind the Golden Sunrise album released during the Golden Jubilee year.

The group, now called Team Victory, consists of Meghani and Ali as well as Arshad Rais, Tina Ali Mohammad, Ayaz Ismail, and Shariq Lalani.

Meghani was inspired to write Victory following the 2012 National Sports Tournament.

“We didn’t just write it for the athletes, we wrote it for the global Jamat,” says Rais, who brought 10 years of musical experience to the project. Victory features lyrics in Farsi, Arabic, Urdu as well as English.

“It was an honour to share my talent…and give back to a programme that can really make you into something,” says Lalani, the musical arranger and producer who played with the Ismaili Salimahabad Orchestra in Karachi, Pakistan.

Spectators sang along to the lyrics. Ali says one audience member told him: “I’m not part of the sports tournament, but I’m feeling the same [spirit] as the athletes.”

— Haseena Punjani

Zumba offers everyone a chance to stay fit

Athletes and non-athletes alike have had many opportunities throughout the weekend to stay active and healthy. Along with watching the sports and performances taking place, Jamati involvement activities such as Zumba allow everyone a chance have fun and stay fit.

Jamati members participate in a Zumba class at the US Ismaili Games. Farhnaaz Ramji
Jamati members participate in a Zumba class at the US Ismaili Games.
Farhnaaz Ramji

Athletes and non-athletes alike have had many opportunities throughout the weekend to stay active and healthy. Along with watching the sports and performances taking place, Jamati involvement activities such as Zumba allow everyone a chance have fun and stay fit.

Samira Amlani, a dietician by profession, who often teaches Zumba at Tri-Cities Jamatkhana in Dallas, was asked to host a session at the Games.

“Fitness and food work hand-in-hand,” says Amlani. “Physical activity plays an important role as well as the mental aspect.

“It gives you a good release of hormones, makes you feel happy, and there is less chance of depression, so it is overall relieving and beneficial.”

Azim and Sharon Punjani, a couple from Houston, participated in the event Saturday afternoon. Azim is competing in table tennis and he used Zumba to prepare for an upcoming match.

“I wanted to get warmed up and didn’t want to run,” says Punjani. “I saw them moving around so I decided to join.”

As a spectator, Sharon has been keeping busy supporting her husband and taking advantage of the many Jamati involvement activities taking place this weekend. She has also been impressed with the energy of the host city.

“There’s a great support from the Jamat and I’m really enjoying that aspect,” she says.

The Zumba class was popular and had a great mix of male and female participants. Additional Jamati involvement activities will take place at the Advantage Sports Complex throughout the weekend, including yoga and various volunteer initiatives as part of the I-CERV programme.

— Natasha Ladhani

Athletes mixer gathers friends, both old and new

Take 950 athletes, add them into a gym full of activities, mix in good music, and the outcome is simple: new memories with friends — both old and new.

Athletes enjoy a game of Jenga at the athlete mixer at USIG 2015. The mixer offers an opportunity for athletes to bond with athletes from other regions. Zohaib Ali
Athletes enjoy a game of Jenga at the athlete mixer at USIG 2015. The mixer offers an opportunity for athletes to bond with athletes from other regions.
Zohaib Ali

Take 950 athletes, add them into a gym full of activities, mix in good music, and the outcome is simple: new memories with friends — both old and new.

After two days of registering athletes and playing flag football herself, Saara Sayani made her way to the Athletes’ Mixer on Friday night. She spent time with Ashrine Sattani, a spectator from Atlanta, to whom she was introduced by a teammate. Although they had heard of each other on social media, the two had never met before the mixer.

Sattani says she came to the sports tournament to support the friends she made in college. Playing in her third tournament, Sattani says “it’s cool to see the different cultures.” The diversity of athletes that comprise the Games — like the diversity of the US Jamat — is best part about the event.

For Faiz Jiwani the Games is a chance to reunite with counselors and participants he met at Camp Al-Ummah this past summer. “It’s fun,” says Jiwani, who is from the Midwest Region. “You get to meet new people, too.”

“It was the thing to do tonight,” agrees Zohaib Mevawalla. The six-time volleyball competitor says he returned this year because he wants to qualify for the Jubilee Games next year in Dubai. The mixer is a bonus to the competition for the Chicago-native.

Through dinner, dancing, and everything in between, the mixer brought the athletes closer together. Aqil Momin from San Antonio noted how the spirit of One Jamat is evident everywhere you look.

“The theme ‘One Jamat’ is really working. You can see it.”

— Sameer Assanie

Mother-son tennis teams bring experience and effort to the court

Two mother-son mixed doubles tennis teams share their perspectives on competing together at the 2015 US Ismaili Games.

Tennis players of all ages put their abilities to the test at the US Ismaili Games. USIG2015
Tennis players of all ages put their abilities to the test at the US Ismaili Games.
USIG2015

Tennis players hoping to clinch playoff spots on Friday ended up modeling their on-court antics after the words of tennis star Serena Williams: “Tennis is just a game. Family is forever.”

Shams Sohani and his mother, Ambreen Sohani, competed as a mixed doubles team at the Games.

“It’s been cool playing together with my mom, because, well, it’s my mom,” says the smiling son. “Since there is no accounting for each other's mistakes, we are able to cooperate and do our best and have fun — that’s the most important part.”

Ambreen says she especially appreciates “the encouragement and pluralistic approach of the Ismaili community’s games that unite the Jamat through all generations.”

For their first match Friday, the pair from Chattanooga, Tennessee played against a team of Dallas, Texas players that have only known each other for a week.

Still, 50-year-old Farah Patel and Ali Arab, 21, say they developed a similar mother-son bond during practices and used that bond to stay on top of their game.

“It’s amazing to see the calibre of the athletes here,” says Patel, who also competed in the Golden Jubilee Games in 2008. “Similarly, Ali and I are willing to put ourselves out there and compete.”

“Just got to keep trying, practicing, and working together to improve our game,” Arab adds.

To her, Arab is more than “a second son to play tennis with,” Patel says. “The incredible and special part of these games is that the person competing in front of you is your fellow brother or sister, giving you motivation to simply do your best.”

For some of the younger athletes, experience and camaraderie seemed to matter more than age. Uzma Issa from Birmingham, Alabama began playing tennis when she was nine.

“I’m nervous, but also excited to try and perform well,” she says. “Still, whether I win or lose doesn’t matter. I just hope to have a great experience and learn from others.”

— Raahina Malik

Blankets for Syrian refugees among I-CERV volunteer initiatives benefiting those in need

Volunteers, athletes and spectators spent their time spreading love through warmth by knotting together blankets for Syrian refugees.

Volunteers making blankets for Syrian refugees, one of many I-CERV activities at the USIG 2015. Zain Ali
Volunteers making blankets for Syrian refugees, one of many I-CERV activities at the USIG 2015.
Zain Ali

Volunteers, athletes and spectators spent their time spreading love through warmth by knotting together blankets for Syrian refugees. The blankets produced by the Knots of Love initiative will be delivered to the Memnosyne Institute who will facilitate the donation.

“This project has been fun and relaxing so far, and also allows me to help others in the surrounding area,” says Ashraf Mitha, a spectator from Dallas.

In addition to the blankets, volunteers created over 900 hygiene care packages with donated items including toothpaste, mouthwash, lotion, chapstick, deodorant, and children's books to aid those less fortunate during the holidays.

“It's nice to see that even one of these items will mean a lot to the people receiving them, even though we take these items for granted,’ says Maheen Chranya, a volunteer from Atlanta.

I-CERV has been strongly involved in local civic engagement prior to the US Ismaili Games as well. At the Metrocrest Services Food Pantry, Zarin Hameed, along with many other volunteers, recently assisted families with shopping, picking fresh produce from the garden and loading groceries. “While I am still mobile, I need to give back as much as possible,” says Hameed.

“I am very impressed by how quickly the Ismaili volunteers picked up the tasks,” says Tom Cook, a supervisor of the Pantry. “It touches my heart. Deeply."

Matthew Marchant, mayor of Carrollton, Texas, recommended volunteering with Metrocrest Services to local I-CERV members. The mayor mentioned the Ismaili community’s service to the food pantry in his proclamation shown by video at the Games’ Opening Ceremonies.

Before Thanksgiving, Ismaili volunteers -- along with members of the North Texas Food Bank -- rallied to donate forty turkeys to ensure a hearty holiday meal for local, underprivileged children and adults. Volunteers sported colourful turkey hats to celebrate the festivity of the holiday. Some individuals even stopped their cars on the road and donated funds, supporting the turkey drive's slogan: “One dollar can save three children.”

The value of service has always been ingrained among Ismaili Muslim volunteers who work tirelessly and diligently not only with I-CERV events, but also on Jamati events such as the US Ismaili Games.

“For these projects, no matter where you live, everyone comes together and works hard to serve the community, one step at a time,” says Chranya, smiling.

— Raahina Malik

One Jamat: Legacy of the 2015 US Ismaili Games

Excitement for the U.S. Ismaili Games peaked during the Closing Ceremony Sunday as athletes, volunteers, and spectators gathered to congratulate each other on a weekend that embodied the spirit of unity present within the Jamat.

Many athletes who competed will represent the United States at the international Jubilee Games in Dubai next summer.
Many athletes who competed will represent the United States at the international Jubilee Games in Dubai next summer.
USIG2015

Excitement for the U.S. Ismaili Games peaked during the Closing Ceremony Sunday as athletes, volunteers, and spectators gathered to congratulate each other on a weekend that embodied the spirit of unity present within the Jamat.

“This is what the power of the community is,” Dr. Barkat Fazal, President of the Ismaili Council for the US, told the crowd. “The next step for us is Dubai.”

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