From the roots of the “Kathiawadi Mitr Mandal” in 1912, the group was renamed to the modernised Ismaili Volunteer Corps (IVC), volunteers who over the span of 100 years have been enrolling with the desire to serve the Jamat, the Imam and the community. During its formal establishment in 1919 in the Indian subcontinent, the Ismaili Volunteer Corps was created with the objective of bringing an unparalleled level of professionalism to the structure and guise of the volunteers. In 1920, followed by the granting of the Coat of Arms by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, which was to be worn along with the uniform, he wore the volunteer uniform and Coat of Arms for the first time in 1921 as the ‘Colonel of the Corps.’ At this time, both Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Prince Aly Khan became patrons of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps.

After only a year of its formation, volunteers obtained their chance to serve the Jamat when Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah arrived in Karachi and thousands of Ismailis from all parts of the world came to receive their deedar. The volunteers facilitated the Jamat with such unity and discipline that Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, delighted by their services, gifted each volunteer a signed photo of himself. At the momentous occasion of the Takht Nashini of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, it was the Ismaili Volunteer Corps who had the immense responsibility of maintaining discipline and order which they fulfilled with the utmost dedication.

A few years after the establishment of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps, in 1924, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah offered a motto for the volunteers, “Work No Words.” To this day, a badge with this motto is worn by volunteers with their uniform reflecting their ethic of service within the Jamat as well as elsewhere. Intrinsically, it signifies the countless hours of time and knowledge pledged by every volunteer in service.

With aims like spreading cooperation within the Jamat, the provision of facilities, the promotion of healthy habits among the youth, as well as popularizing education and helping Jamati individuals in all aspects of life, the volunteers have remained the backbone of the Ismaili community worldwide. The Ismaili Volunteer Corps, since its institutionalization, has spread internationally in all regions of the world at a rapid pace, showing the zeal of members of the Jamat to help in any way possible. Similarly, in Pakistan the IVC has continued to grow. The Hunza and Chitral Volunteer Corps are two of the oldest established corps, dating back to the late 1950s.

The first major of Gilgit’s IVC, Bulbul Jan Shams, was enthusiastic about serving the Jamat from an early age. He admitted that during his period as the major, “There were many challenges. There were limited sources of communication and finances were not abundant either. However, even with minimal finances and a below average literacy rate, the members of the IVC had a high spirit of volunteerism.” Mr. Bulbul explained how volunteerism changed his life saying, “Whatever I am today, is because of this khidmat. Today my children are in very reputable positions and that is because of this khidmat. In my life, if I have acquired any respect, it is because of this khidmat.”

Starting from Aliabad and Hyderabad, Hunza, the IVC spread throughout the region of Gilgit-Baltistan. During Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to the northern areas of Pakistan in 1960, the Hunza Volunteer Corps played a pivotal role in facilitating the Jamat to navigate the treacherous roads despite unfavourable weather conditions. A recent event in Chitral showed the dedication of these volunteers to serve their fellow brothers and sisters when, due to calamities and other disasters, the irregular 400-kilometre road was successfully repaired by the IVC in preparation for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit in December 2017. Today, the IVC consists of thousands of Jamati members with an everlasting spirit to serve the Imam and his Jamat. Around 3700 volunteers, men and women, are working day and night in Karachi alone to ensure that the Jamat’s safety and security are ensured. With a total of 52 subcommittees, one for each jurisdiction in Pakistan, the vast number of volunteers is astounding. Nevertheless, every day more and more people enrol in the IVC to serve with the messages of peace and brotherhood.

The most unique aspect about these volunteers is that not only do they serve the Jamat to make the Imam happy, they do so because they believe it makes them happy. As Bibi Saima, the first lieutenant of Upper Chitral’s IVC said, “It is because of the blessings of khidmat that I am living a peaceful life. I feel happy and my khidmat also brings happiness and good health to my family.” She continued saying, “This khidmat has a lot of benefits. It brings you a life of peace and happiness individually and inside your homes.”

Time and time again, whenever Mawlana Hazar Imam has paid a visit to any of the regions nationally and internationally, the volunteers have always stood strong in their service. The brotherhood that these volunteers share is indescribable. There are various times when volunteers are unfamiliar with each other, especially in times of emergency and crisis, however, the mutual desire to serve binds them together. The IVC, although an Ismaili institution, break down barriers and boundaries; there are no exceptions to their service towards humanitarian causes. As Naeem Khowaja, the honorary secretary general of Garden Jurisdiction rightly states, “Volunteer Corps do not only serve the needs of Ismailis. It is an institution that operates for the good of mankind and in cases of emergency, the IVC fulfil their duties regardless.” He explained this by referring to an emergency occurred due to immeasurable flooding in Sindh in 2011. In this crisis situation, the IVC’s sole mission was the safety and security of all.

As the 1954 pledge of volunteer’s states, “Believing in the Omnipresence of God, I hereby solemnly give this pledge to ever remain faithful and leave no stone unturned to serve Mawlana Hazar Imam, our community, our country and our volunteer corps.” The aim of these volunteers is to serve and there has never been any kind of segregation made as to who they should assist. They have and continue to provide their services with the utmost dedication in any way that they can to every individual in need. To celebrate, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps and a global celebration to mark this momentous occasion has commenced.