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 Simergphotos, Barakah and 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.
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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