Before moving to Chicago with his family in the 1970s, Ramzan Ali Kapadia had learned the importance of volunteerism at home in Bangladesh. By 1974, the Jamat in Chicago had grown from about 14 people to more than 100, and Ramzan worked with other volunteers to create the IVC there to assist members with Jamatkhana activities and to manage the facility. In 1979, a new building was procured for a Jamatkhana.
“The volunteers became the backbone as we had to remodel the building, including painting, plastering, woodwork, lighting, and so on. That brought in the real volunteer camaraderie,” Ramzan says.
At 105 years of age, Fatima Jamani, affectionately called Maaji by all, is a familiar sight to all in Atlanta, where she sits on a chair in her volunteer uniform, still on duty. Born in India in 1914 during the First World War, she remembers her call to service as a light that has sustained her until this day. Enduring the loss of her son at an early age and losing her husband by the age of 44, she was left to care for her nine-year-old daughter. With no consideration for the prospect of remarriage, she raised her husband’s siblings, managed the household, and still found time to dedicate her time for teaching in the Religious Education Center (REC). She has been a volunteer continuously since 1949.
Hafeez Rangwala, 58, began his service within the Volunteer Corps in 1972 at the age of 11 as a Cub Scout in India. With 47 years in service to the Jamat, he has been a trainer and lead in safety and security, crisis and disaster management, and currently is the manager for Uniformed Volunteer Training.
Through service, Hafeez has developed self-confidence, inner strength, and self-esteem, enabling him to live a happier and fulfilled life. For Hafeez, “serving others is the finest attribute of human character, being a volunteer and getting opportunities to serve the Jamat, the institutions, and above all, to serve the Imam-of-the-Time is the best reward of life.” During his years of service, he has served during the 2002 Houston Mulaqat, and the subsequent Jubilees.
Serving the Los Angeles Jamat since 1981, Salim Virji became the first Major of the Volunteer Corps in the US, and was honoured to hold this position during Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee. Salim served as a member of the Western Council, and today, he can still be seen in uniform at all major events as the Jamati Food Coordinator.
“Volunteerism helps me build new skills and counteract the effects of stress and anxiety,” Salim says. “Helping and working with every segment of our Jamat gives me personal satisfaction and a sense of pride and Identity. It is my wish and desire that I could serve the Jamat and the Imam with dedication and devotion for a long time to come.”
Becoming a volunteer in 1982 in New York, Karima Rajan recalls the adrenaline rush she felt during the Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit. She says engaging with other volunteers “sparked a fire in me. The night before Hazar Imam was due to arrive, we were so charged that we only slept for an hour or two. We also had up to 10 enthusiastic, youth volunteers in one room. Who could sleep with all the energy?”
Karima became a Captain of the IVC and her proudest moment was being presented with the IVC 75th anniversary badge in 1994, and remembering her parents words: “If you are going to offer seva, do it with your heart. Be humble.”
For Anam Sherali, 27, her journey began at the age of eight and has led to her serving as Regional Youth Administrator for Greater Houston. Being a beneficiary of mentoring herself, she today encourages adolescent uniformed volunteers who are embarking on their journey as a volunteer for the first time. Her favorite moment was when she received her own badge, following in the footsteps of her mother, who had been serving as a volunteer for 19 years.
As a high school and college student, Anam also volunteered at Memorial Hermann Hospital, sitting on the Junior Volunteer Board for five years. Every year, on Thanksgiving Day, she serves the homeless or delivers meals to senior citizens. Through her volunteering, she has recognized that “faith and service are intertwined. I’m driven to serve because it makes me feel more connected to the community; it’s a way to express my faith beyond the rites and rituals that we observe in Jamatkhana.”
Altamish Daredia, 23, from Birmingham, Alabama, has been a youth volunteer since 2002. His earliest memory of being a volunteer is when he was eight years old, and he joined the Cadets. During the 2018 Diamond Jubilee Celebration in Portugal, he provided water bottles and granola bars to the Jamat waiting in lines, and assisted at the first aid and healthcare stations.
By carrying on a family tradition of service, he hopes to inspire fellow volunteers with the message, “we are all part of a tradition and an organization that has been in place for generations. We are following in the footsteps of so many volunteers that came before us. We each carry an amazing responsibility to our Imam and the Jamat.”
The eagerness of youth to serve was recognized and formalized in 1924, leading to opportunities for junior volunteers under the name of the Ismaili Scouts. In a community guided by the Imam’s passion for service, Rehan Farista, 16, became an active Ismaili Youth Volunteer at the age of eight. He started his service by assisting the elderly in Jamatkhana. Through service, he derives immense happiness, saying that “the word ‘volunteer’ symbolizes taking the time and effort to help others.”
The motto “Work No Words,” given by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in 1924 to the Volunteer Corps, has resonated as a symbol of service with humility. More recently, the motto and duty were enhanced with training for “Service with a Smile.” Over the past decades in the USA, the Jamat’s training and service has continued to evolve, and is a tradition that will endure for many years to come.