In olden days, one could read the number of meals served by McDonalds restaurant chain just by looking at the iconic golden arches. These days, just like many other things, they round the numbers up saying: “billions served.”
There were no such signs at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in July 2019. It was the site of the 71st US Ahmadiyya Annual Convention – Jalsa Salana, as it is known to many Urdu speaking folks – where over 9,000 participants gathered for a traditional three-day spiritual gathering. Feeding such a large gathering is quiet a monumental effort, especially when it is done by volunteers alone.
“I will see you soon,” said Tahir Chaudhry – known as Mamu Tahir to friends and family – after the Isha prayers at the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, VA on Monday July 8, 2019.
“To the Jalsa site in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,” replied Mamu Tahir. He had to go because he is the Manager of Langar Khana, the Team and the Department, which provides three meals for the thousands of Jalsa participants.
That was more than three days before the Jalsa would start. To some it would be surprising but for Mamu Tahir this has been a way of life since about 1988, when he started working for the Community’s Hospitality – known as the Ziafat – Team.
Too keep costs low and a cardinal principal, Waqar-e-Amal – in other words pride of performance – for a very long time now in the United States, the Community feeds itself without relying on outside contractors. Teams are organized for specific roles.
In 1994, Mamu Tahir became the Manager for Gas burning cookers when the Jalsas were held at the Bait Ur Rehman Mosque in Silver Spring. As numbers of Jalsa participants increased, Jalsa moved to larger facilities like the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA. Beginning in around early 2000s, Mamu Tahir became the Manager of Langar Khana, a key role he has had in the Jalsas ever since.
Mamu Tahir’s day job is in Information Technology, though he has worked in many fields ranging from hospitals to owning an auto repair shop.
His father Ashraf Chaudhry served in the British Army during World War II and after Independence in Pakistan’s Forestry Department. Mamu Tahir’s older brothers have had distinguished professional careers and have inspired his urge for selfless community service.
Each year, the Jalsa provides opportunities to recharge spirituality in the hustle and bustle of modern life. Both participants and the organizers take the annual gathering seriously and attendees get to meet more people than they would otherwise do in a year.
The organizers, who are volunteers like Mamu Tahir, carry the burden of preparing and planning. For Mamu Tahir and his Team, there is an added responsibility of meeting the Health Department’s guidelines for food safety and sanitation. In addition, they have to make food ready and available during the scheduled meal times.
An important part the execution of the plan is to ensure that the food halls are not a mob scene with long lines snaked out all over the Jalsa site. To accomplish this, the Ziafat Team sets up multiple stations manned by volunteers, mostly from Virginia this year, to serve traditional desifood. Unsurprisingly, most desirable food selections are good old daaland aalogosht.
The lines move at a decent pace, with four to five volunteers at each serving station. At Jalsa time, they wear disposable aprons and gloves while dispensing food to fellow community members. Though in real life they might be wearing scrubs or executive bespoke business suits.
Among the food servers are Dr. Nadeem Khan, a distinguished gastroenterologist in Leesburg, Virginia and Waseem Haider, a successful entrepreneur in Great Falls, Virginia, Tariq Amjed, a senior technologist advising governmental organizations and many more entities. With their smiling faces and the generous portions they pour onto the diners’ plates is the common denominator – their motto: serving the community is a blessing from God from which they seek no reward.