The world woke up to books during the pandemic and book sales even went up, but ITREB did not empower the Jamat to read by offering curbside pick up and online ordering of important books

This matter has been on my mind for 12 months, and this piece was prepared some 3 months ago. I have now decided to post it after patiently waiting for Jamati institutions, and specifically ITREB, to provide an absolutely essential service to the Jamat — availability of Farman books, important objects (eg. tasbihs) as well as Dua recordings with meanings, and copies of the Qur’an.

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor  SimergphotosBarakah and Simerg

ITREB Curbside pickup
If booksellers and communities can arrange for curbside pickup, the best volunteers in the world can offer this service to the Jamat. Image — imaginary but all is doable — Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Millions of Americans and Canadians turn to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Newshour every evening for solid and reliable reporting, insightful analysis as well as highly informative interviews that are conducted by the network’s team of outstanding reporters. PBS and its member stations across the USA lay claim to being “America’s largest classroom, the nation’s largest stage for the arts and a trusted window to the world.”

For some time now the Newshour program, which is anchored by Judy Woodruff, has been running special regular episodes under the banner “CANVAS, PBS’s Newshour art hub.” In a broadcast in late December, PBS reporter Amna Nawaz turned her attention to two American booksellers for their look at the year in books and the public response to books during the Covid-19 year of isolation and pain (read article).

Janet Webster Jones of Source Booksellers in Detroit told Nawaz, “We have been so busy…. that we can hardly answer the phone. We have had a very busy, busy season. We have been frantically doing our fulfillment orders, as well as greeting people by twos and threes as they come to the store.” Ann Patchett co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville added, “People have stepped up to help us out, ordering books online, ordering curbside. We have been running books out to people’s car. And now we’re letting a few people into the store at a time. We take everybody’s temperature. Everybody wears masks, hand sanitizer. And people have been really kind and compliant and supportive. It’s been a very heartwarming Christmastime.”

Thus, as we abide by social distancing guidelines to stay home, books suddenly have become more vital than ever! It is interesting to note that all across North America many religious organizations as well as bookstores have facilitated curbside pick-ups or ramped up their online platforms to service members of their communities (read article).

Shortly after the first shutdown of Jamatkhanas in mid-March (2020), following provincial or federal restrictions recommendations, I had proposed to the national leadership of ITREB (Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board) to facilitate curbside pickup of a selection of books and objects that are close to the heart of Jamat. I had personally offered my assistance to volunteer curbside pickup at the Ismaili Centre in Toronto. Remember, that after more than 40 years of waiting, the Jamat was finally presented with a 2-volume set of Farman books sometime in the middle of January 2020. By the time of Jamatkhana closures in mid March (2020), thousands had already acquired their copies of the Farman books. Yet there were an equal number who never acquired the set. Those who missed the opportunity during the 6-8 week between January and March would have hardly thought that the Jamatkhanas would remain closed for such a lengthy period, or that they would open with limited capacity. I was told that an online order processing system was being seriously considered to fulfill an important and vital need for the Jamat. It hasn’t materialized. I quote, “Do not let time pass….once it has passed it has gone forever.” (Mawlana Hazar Imam, India, 1973).

In addition to the Farman books, Jamati members would want Tasbihs, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s photographs, Du’a and Ginan books and audios, copies of the Holy Qur’an as well as a few other texts from the Institute of Ismaili Studies that are within the grasp of the Jamat’s understanding (Eagle’s Nest?). The pandemic would have provided the opportunity for the Jamat of all ages to begin to become more literary oriented at home. Also, parents would have been able to spend some time teaching their children to recite Du’a properly, and to request them to learn the meaning of the Du’a (“How many amongst you can tell me what the word qul is?” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Atlanta March 17, 2018. One hand went up!). Memorization by phrases would be excellent, for starters.

Indigo (Chapters-Indigo), the largest bookseller chain in Canada, offering curbside pick-up and even in-store purchase when provinces were not in total shutdown.

Yes, the curbside pickup would have required devotion of time by Jamati members and volunteers of a few hours every week, say at parking lots of selected Jamatkhanas across Canada or in large spaces within the Jamatkhana premises. But where there is a will there is a way, just as our institutions and volunteers around the world organized food and water distributions for their respective communities, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, during the pandemic. Their efforts were highly appreciated in the communities they served.

The sad part is that once Jamatkhanas re-opened in Canada last summer with limited capacity, the literature counters continued to remain closed. Social distancing could have been instituted at Jamatkhana literature counters or at appropriate larger areas (such as social halls) during this window that was available. Curbside pick-up should have been facilitated for those unable to attend Jamatkhanas. The summertime window closed! Autumn once saw Jamatkhana closures due to the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Then, last month we saw the re-opening of some Jamatkhanas in Ontario, which are now once again closed down, as of the week of April 5th due to lockdown measures. So when windows of opportunities are available, however brief, we have to take advantage of them. And friends can purchase for their family members who might not attend Jamatkhanas for sometime.

In addition, an online shop should be strongly considered where authenticated Jamati members, who are in the Jamati data base, may be able to order books and then do curbside collections at selected hours. This is not rocket science, just as registration for Jamatkhana attendance is not. If other communities and institutions can take appropriate measures to serve their constituents with energy and some creativity, there is no reason why we can’t equal their enthusiasm, with the best volunteers in the world we have.

Can we be prepared for such eventualities, as well as opportunities that come our way, and not let time pass without being aware that once it has passed, it has gone forever?

Date posted: April 9, 2021.

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9 thoughts on “The world woke up to books during the pandemic and book sales even went up, but ITREB did not empower the Jamat to read by offering curbside pick up and online ordering of important books

  1. Do you need a book or publication from your local Literature Counter?

    Select publications are available from your local Literature and Library resources. Just send an email with your request to your local contact and someone will be in touch!

    BC – literature-bc@iicanada.net
    Prairies – prairies.literature@iicanada.net
    Edmonton – shafana.mitha@iicanada.net
    Ontario – Lailah.hajiyanee@iicanada.net
    Ottawa – shairoz.rupani@iicanada.net
    Quebec – waheed.khedri@iicanada.net

    • The announcement that Chimina has mentioned above was posted in a larger format on April 9, 2021 in the Ismaili Canada. See https://iicanada.org/news/faith-traditions/literature-counter-books-and-publications-available.

      It has appeared previously in a less publicized format.

      But it asks members of the Jamat to communicate via an email to find out what is available. This step is totally unnecessary, as a list of books and objects that are available should have been posted with the announcement.

      An on-line ordering system with (a) mailing option or (b) curbside collection is what we we recommend most, along with the availability of books at literature counters at Jamatkhanas that are opened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course all the health guidelines would be followed just as they are in small and large bookstores that are permitted to open.

      The above “send an email with your request” is not the way to go! Yes, the better publicized initiative will be helpful in increased interest among Jamati members. But assuming no other suggestions that we have offered will be considered it is to be hoped that “Friday Reflections” will regularly reference the availability of books and list some of the books that are available – and ask a scholar or an avid reader to highlight specific texts that are being made available and say why we should read them. The availability of Farman books should be constantly mentioned as well as our suggestion to parents that while children are at home they should be asked to learn the recitation of the Du’a and its meanings properly. Articulating these by our very capable anchors of “Friday Reflections” will have a greater impact on everyone tuning in.

      Again we repeat: (1) ITREB must make on-line availability of books a reality; (2) open up literature counters when Jamatkhanas are open during the Covid-19 pandemic; and (3) facilitate the availability of books at selected Jamatkhanas across Canadian cities a couple of times a week during the daytime. This can be done safely in larger spaces within the Jamatkhana premises.

      Thank you
      Malik, Simerg.com

  2. The world is moving forward but those in charge are very slow in changing.
    They are not willing to move. This is nothing new.
    Technology is passing us by and we are slow to adopt to it.
    It is like pouring water on stone.
    I know your intentions are for change but it will happen when they have no other choice.
    I commend you for your excellent work.
    I wish you well.

  3. Malik, Well done and well said. I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to our leaders since, in many situations, they are limited by any directives that may come from one or more higher offices. However, I would also like to support your position since the leadership must push the higher offices to work with the Jamat to put together a strategy to support initiatives like the selling of the books.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. ITREB needs to ask itself “What is our core mission with respect to our duty to the Jamat?” and “Are we doing our best to serve the Jamat?” “Do we have the passion and commitment to do this?”. Make no excuses – just do it. Rise above the ticking the checkboxes and the bureaucratic report writing.

  5. Regrettably this literary need of the Jamat has been totally ignored, with occasional references to the availability of books posted in the newsletters i.e. ordering by sending an email request. As Malik has rightly pointed out the books should be available when Jamatkhanas are open. Nizartravels has pointed out there is complacency in the Jamat and institutions therefore have to push, market and reach out in every way possible. When we are made da’is, we need to do more.

  6. This is a good idea. I didn’t know there was a new two volume set of Farman books. I would love to purchase it.

  7. Malikbhai, my whole hearted compliments, adapting and inventive is the key in any changing circumstances. There is only complacency in the Jamat instead of boldness and energetic action. Leaders have to lead.

    Nizar Harji.

  8. Excellent article………..I wholeheartedly agree with your ideas, need more people like you in our Jamati hierarchy.

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