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VOLUNTARY SERVICES

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The English word voluntar is borrowed from Latin, voluntary-ius or French, voluntaire means freely undertaken. It is a feeling arising or developing in the mind without external constraint having a purely spontaneous origin or character. Voluntary service refers to a work done with an intention of assisting others without expectation of its reward. Voluntary service is a universal concept and not confined to a specific culture, group or region. It is probably as old as mankind. Being a social animal, man has lived with other people in society since ancient times.

For some of the services that we received from our fellow society members, we pay in cash or kind. But often there are occasions when we expect to be served or we offer to serve without any thought of remuneration. For instance, if there is an accident or any other emergency where help is needed, no one prevents to consider or demand payment for assisting in such critical moment. Both the giver and recipient of help accept the giving and taking as a matter of course, as part of their share as members of a society. This is voluntary service in its basic term i.e., work done with an intention of helping someone in need without expecting any reward or remuneration.

The Koran says: "O you who believe! If you help God, He will help you and make firm your feet" (47:7). Immediate question arises from this verse. When God is al-Samad (The Needless One), how it is possible that He seeks human help, or He is in need of it. To search the answer to this question, we have to go through another Koranic verse: "O ye who believe! Be God's helpers, even as Jesus, the son of Mary said unto the disciple: who are my helpers for God? They said: we are God's helpers" (61:14). Thus, in the prophetic mission of Jesus, his disciples became the helpers, means "the helpers of God", and this act of helping was their selfless services in the cause of God. One who serves, he is the helper of God. The Koran says, "God will certainly aid those who aid His cause" (22:40). In the beginning, God asks the believers to become His helpers. But it is also necessary that they may also be shown the proper way as to how they can help God. In the second verse, God says that they can help Him by listening to the call of the prophet, i.e. Jesus, who calls them to help him for God. In the last phase when they listened to Jesus call and helped him in conveying divine message, they became indeed the helpers of God.

The helping or supporting the Prophets and the Imams implies an act of helping and supporting God: "And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends (awliya) of one another, they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong" (9:71) and "Lo! those who believed and left their homes and strove with their wealth and their lives for the cause of God and those who took them in and helped them, these are protecting friends of one another" (8:72). Means the service to people is the greatest deed, whose greatest unprecedented and everlasting reward is the friendship and love of God: "And God loves those who do good deeds" (5:93), and "He who volunteers to do good things, does the best things for himself" (2:184).

The Prophet also emphasized the helping nature of Muslims: "Believers are to one another like a building whose parts support one another." He then interlaced his fingers., "I witness to the fact that all servants of God are brethren to one another" (Bukhari, 8:84). "Mankind are God's dependents (iyal Allah), so the most beloved of people in the sight of God are those who do good to His dependents" (Ibn Majah, 2:45) and "Most liked by God is the man who is most beneficent to the people in general. And the most liked act is that of pleasing a Muslim or relieving him of some grief, or paying off a debit incurred by him, or saving him from hunger" (Masnad, 4:118). The Prophet also said, "People are God's household, and the most beloved to God is the one who helps His household and makes them happy. And to walk with a Muslim brother in order to fulfill his need is dearer to God than the i'tikaf of two months in the Kaba" (Daim al-Islam, 2:310). The Prophet said on another occasion, "Every good deed is a charity" (kullu ma'rufin sadaqah). It means that the service to the country, community and humanity is a good deed, rather a great charity. The word sadaqa is derived from sidq means truth, and also comes to denote charitable or voluntary deed. The Koran not only lays stress on such noble deeds as the emancipation of slaves (90:13, 2:177), the feeding of the poor (69:34, 90:11-16, 107:1-3), taking care of orphans (17:34, 76:8, 89:17, 90:15, 93; 107:2), etc. The hadith is much more explicit. To remove from road anything, which may cause hurt is also called sadaqa or charitable deed (Bukhari, 46:24). According to another hadith, "there is a sadaqa on every limb with every new sun, and to do justice among people is also a sadaqa (Ibid. 53:11). Another gives yet more detail: "On every limb there is a sadaqa every day; a man helps another to ride his animal, it is a sadaqa, or he helps him to load his animal, this is also a sadaqa; and so is a good word; and every step, which a man takes in going to pray, is a sadaqa; and to show the way is a charity" (Ibid. 56:72, 128). Examples of other charitable deeds are "your salutation to people," "your enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong" (Masnad, 2: 329), "refraining from doing evil to any one" (Ibid. 4: 395), "whoever tills a field and birds and beasts eat of it, it is a sadaqa" (Ibid. 4: 55) and so on.

Thus, the scope of voluntary action is not confined to the supply of economic goods and services only. It encompasses non-material needs also. We have the vision of a society, in which individuals care for the interest of others also, and everyone helps everyone else materially as well as morally, so that all live a life that would please God. The redistributive and allocative roles of the voluntary sector in an Islamic society can easily be gleaned through this vision, as can be its implications for such new concerns of social policy as protection of the environment, supply of information and social cohesion.

Voluntary services and voluntary charity in cash or kind played a big role in the Prophet's society at Medina. The Prophet's Mosque was constructed by voluntary labour. The Prophet himself carried stones on his shoulders like any of his Companions. Everyone was carrying one stone, but he noticed that one humble believer was carrying two. The Prophet then called him and said, "On the last day, every worker will receive a reward, but you shall receive two" (The Quranic Phenomenon, Kuala Lumpur, 2001, p. 93). Muslim residents of Medina accommodated the migrants from Mecca and hosted them, even shared their properties with them, till they were able to find work and established themselves. The numerous battles to ward off the attacking Meccans were all fought by voluntary forces. Thus, the entire fabric of the early Islamic society was built around voluntary services.

In this changed scenarios the concept of voluntary service has also undergone a marked change. Previously, a good voluntary worker was one who devoted most time to voluntary service, but this criterion does not apply any more. It is not how many hours a person devotes to voluntary service that is now important, but how much productive time is devoted for the benefit of the institution and the community. In past, a good leader was often one who was the most senior in terms of age or experience, but today a good leader is one who can lead a team, who can set realistic goals and who can ensure the timely attainment of those goals. Even the concept of the role of institutions has changed considerably. Institutions are no longer expected to merely address the basic day-to-day needs of the community; they are expected to play a more dynamic and proactive role, and are required to assess and address the needs and problems of the jamat before these get translated into issues. Not only has the concept of voluntary service changed but the expectations of the jamat from institutions have also undergone a metamorphosis. Today, the awareness level in the jamat has risen, and consequently, they have begun to expect more from the institutions. They no longer just accept health care facilities and educational institutions, but they want cost effective and quality service.

It is astonishing living example of a special brand of human behaviour, which one finds in the Ismaili community in the world. From the day break to the dark of the night, there are zealous, enthusiastic, eager persons engaged in any number of activities that involve the community in almost all spheres concerning spiritual or temporal matters. They include executive officers, young boys and girls either in Shoes or Pani Companies or Scouts or Guides or Volunteer Corps and various other voluntary works connected with the jamats. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor and the learned or the learner, all join together for a single purpose to offer their spontaneous, un-invited, unsolicited free services. On the slightest pretext, yes on the frailest indication of a task to be performed, we find them thronging to offer their services. They are on the lookout for any opportunity in which they can be of help-where their efforts can be used. One can understand this kind of human effort, where people expect to be paid for their services, where something is received in return for every effort made. But it is extremely encouraging to observe such human behaviour when no worldly return is envisaged


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