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Monthly Archives: July 2014

This Eid, give back!

Published: July 28, 2014

Food distribution at Rafah Camp in Gaza. PHOTO: PCRF.NET

As the official number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) post operation Zarb-e Azb crosses a jarring one million mark and the death toll in Gaza looks ready to touch a thousand, Eid celebrations are laced by an underlying guilt and helplessness. Fortunately, people from across the world are coming up with ways to make it more meaningful for those in the straits of war.

While the world looks on in horror at the genocide in Palestine, each one of us is processing it in our own way. We, in Pakistan, protest on streets in small numbers and purge on social media in large numbers but only a committed few attempt to boycott products that directly benefit the perpetrators. Some creative youngsters like Saad Shahid and Hassan Iqbal are doing their part by selling T-shirts.There’s is a charity with a refreshing twist. Saad, founder of 9Lines, is the entrepreneur while Hassan is the creative genius. The two partners could not sit and watch what was happening and  came up with a collection of six T-shirts with catchy phrases, highlighting the Gaza cause. “The project has done extremely well. We get orders in large numbers, never single orders. People buy them to gift to others,” Saad says. They have sold more than 850 shirts already.  “All the proceeds go to our brothers and sisters in Palestine who deserve monetary and emotional help. This is our small contribution towards people who should be remembered, loved and cared for.”

Relief bags for IDPs prepared by Owais Sheikh and his team.

PHOTO: 9LINES.SHOP.WEB.PK

While 9Lines is a commercial set-up, focused primarily on selling fashion and lifestyle products, the dynamic duo have gravitated towards including charitable causes apart from helping Palestine as well. For instance, they have recently conducted a similar venture for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust wherein they had a stall and sold notebooks of Imran Khan for Rs600. The proceedings went back to the hospital. “Our future plan also includes a school to educate and place eunuchs at respectable jobs. They shouldn’t be mocked; instead they should be acknowledged as a respectable minority of Pakistan,” Saad says.

When it comes to charity, there is hardly a dearth of outlets one can take if they wish to give back. There is a general perception that the IDPs of North Waziristan have not been able to garner the kind of wave of charity that we saw after the earthquake of 2005 or floods of 2010. But the ‘Directory of Organizations Providing Relief to IDPs of North Waziristan’, complied by the Pakistan Centre for Development Communication (PCDC), sets the record straight by enlisting more than 60 NGOs, UN agencies and volunteers. The directory also identifies where exactly the donations will be going and provides information about donors, NGOs, social groups and volunteers that are providing relief to the affected families.

Owais Sheikh’s name may not be listed in the directory but this banker-cum-businessman has used each moment of the holy month of Ramazan wisely. Thanks to him and the many volunteers that helped, some 500 families in Bannu will not go hungry on Eid. Shaikh is hardly a novice at giving back to society. He spearheaded a similar drive in the wake of the disastrous floods as well.

“We don’t wake up till something becomes real,” Sheikh says about the lack of help from Pakistanis this time. He believes that people are now coming around and want to help but don’t know how to go about it. Not to mention, if the organisation leading the drive is deemed trustworthy, people would not hesitate to give back as much. “We have to understand the seriousness of the IDP issue. There are no camps as such. The displaced people are all staying at homes of their relatives,” he says, confirming that while the open-hearted hosts have welcomed the displaced, most of them lack adequate resources for themselves. And if the host has no food to offer, both families go hungry. “The tribals are a prouder race so they don’t want to beg. We have to help them out without their asking,” says Shaikh. The bags made by Shaikh and his team cost Rs 1,833 each, and are to last a family of five a week, with 12 items in each bag. Hailing from a military background, Shaikh is taking the help of rangers and using it to his advantage. “If we do not look after the IDPs, the vicious cycle will continue and more extremists will be created. This is our final run as a country. If we don’t help them out, tomorrow they will be against us.” Unlike many who feel charity begins at home and should stay at home, Shaikh emphasises that the two concerns, that is the one for IDPs and the one for Gaza, are not mutually exclusive.

A design by 9Lines. PHOTO: 9LINES.SHOP.WEB.PK

Disconnecting ourselves from what is going on around us is not an option this Eid. While our efforts maybe tiny drops in the ocean, taking a single step and being generous will help make Eid better for everyone around the world.

How You Can Help

The number of registered families of IDPs is currently 49,857. This is expected to rise to 60,000.

IDPs of North Waziristan:

•  Check out this directory at https://sites.google.com/site/thecivilsocietyforumofpakistan/list-of-donors-ngos-providing-relief-to-idps-of-waziristan

•  Look out for individual drives and volunteers leading donation drives.

•  Get in touch with people of the area and once you have found credible contacts, start a donation drive yourself with your friends. The IDPs will need our help for a long time to come.

Gaza:

•  Buy T-shirts for the Gaza cause from 9Lines at http://9lines.shop.web.pk/

•  Get money across to the Palestine RED CRESCENT. One way of sending funds to them or other credible organisations is to get in touch with the Embassy of the state of Palestine in Pakistan at palestine.pk65@hotmail.com or palestineembassy.com.pk

•  Donations can be made online to The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) at http://www.pcrf.net/

•  Be on the lookout for individuals and groups collecting funds for Gaza but make sure you have checked out credibility.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, July 27th, 2014.

 

http://tribune.com.pk/story/740601/this-eid-give-back/

Can I Give Charity to a Thief, a Prostitute or a Non-deserving Person During Ramadan?

 

By Farahnaz Zahidi

Published in Huff Post Religion on July 9, 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farahnaz-zahidi/can-i-give-charity-to-a-t_b_5553031.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Pakistan is internationally known for many things. For the surge of extremism. For the footballs we supplied to the World Cup. For an often exaggerated emphasis on the “miseries” of its people. But it is lesser known for being one of the most charitable nations in the world. It is amazing how much the people of this country give and share. The sense of giving back to one’s community is deeply ingrained in our system. We give whether we are rich or poor. We share whether we ourselves have enough or not. If you are in Pakistan in Ramadan especially, on every signal you will be handed over boxes of dates and bottles of water. Outside homes, on sidewalks or in mosques, makeshift feasts await you. At a recent journalism moot in Mexico, a friend from South Africa nailed it when she said “I think it has a lot to do with how much Islam stresses charity.”

PAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN

This is true. We take the idea very seriously that charity washes away sins, wards off bad luck, wins us the pleasure of Allah and lands us in Paradise. In Ramadan, the reward, as per our belief, is multiplied into 70. So Ramadan is when all good causes like education, public health and food insecurity make enough money to last the next 11 months.

Yet, in the same country, I have witnessed communities waiting for hand-me-downs and food, with not a rupee of charity flowing towards them. The reason has been nothing but misplaced judgment.
More than once, my research as a journalist led me to the most infamous red light district in Pakistan. Heera Mandi, in Lahore, has since the time of Mughals housed courtesans, dancers and commercial sex workers. But time has been unkind to the people here. Today, most of them have moved away to better, more lucrative localities as escorts. What remains is a ghetto of very poor women, runaway or orphaned children and some scattered members of the marginalized transgender community. And no one wants to give charity to the people of Heera Mandi.

“We are dirty. We are in the filthy business. So no one gives us anything,” said a disgruntled 20 something sex worker when I visited. It was a Friday, the holy day of the week for Muslims. Incense burnt in her shoddy apartment to create an ambiance of purity. The woman had bathed and prayed that day. Ramadan was a few days away. “I wish someone would give me enough food or money that I can at least not have to do this work in Ramadan. I need a break, too to pray to God.”
On my return, I asked around if anyone wanted to donate for them. No one opted.

This attitude is not reserved for sex workers only, and not specific to Pakistan. Neither is this brand of judgment or ostracization specific to Muslims. A friend from Manchester shared that a project trying to collect donations for inmates in jails got a similar response. “They would say, ‘will our charity go towards feeding a killer or a thief?'”

For years, as both a student and teacher of Islamic Studies, I have wondered why we pass judgments on the ones we give charity to. Is their “good character” a pre-requisite to give them charity?

Thus, in giving, we place ourselves on a pedestal of piety. And this idea is not in synch with what the Qur’an endorses or what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practically did.

There is a prophetic tradition narrated in the Saheeh Bukhari that tells us that there was once a man who decided that that very night he would give charity. Accordingly, he set out with his charity and gave it to a thief. The next day people began to say, ‘Last night a thief was given charity!’ So the man supplicated, ‘O Allah, to You belongs all the praise. I shall give some more charity again.’

Once again he set off with his charity and gave it to a prostitute. The next day people began talking, ‘Last night charity was given to a prostitute.’ So the man supplicated again, ‘O Allah, I praise You for enabling me to give charity to even a prostitute; I will give some more charity yet again.’

He set out again with his charity and this time put it in the hands of a rich man. The next day the people talked again, ‘Last night charity was given to a rich man.’ The man supplicated, ‘O Allah, all praise is Yours, I thank you for enabling me to give charity to a thief, a prostitute and to a rich man.’
Then, in a vision he was told, ‘The charity you gave to the thief might persuade him to stop stealing; your charity to the prostitute might persuade her give up her way of life. As for the rich man, he might learn a lesson from your charitable giving and start to spend from the Bounty that Allah has given him in charity.’

In the Battle of Badr between Muslims and the pagans of Mecca, the Muslim camp won and ended up with 70 prisoners of the pagans. These were people thirsty for their blood. But the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted the Muslims to treat the prisoners well. So much stress was placed on showing compassion that the captors would give the captives their own bread, even at the risk of going hungry themselves.

What I have learnt from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) is simple. That when I give, I give, without judging whether that person is deserving and pious, or not. It is not my place to do that. It is only God’s right to judge. Because my Merciful Lord continues to give me, whether I am deserving or not.

Farahnaz Zahidi, Pakistan – A trailblazer for the voiceless

Nomination – N-Peace Awards 2014:
Category – Breaking stereotypes: Women in Media
n-peace.net/candidate/candidate-333
Farahnaz Zahidi is an academic, travel writer and photo journalist. Her work examines the field of human rights, peace and gender from an Islamic perspective.
FNZ pakistanFarahnaz writes on topics few dare to write about. She undertakes journeys into Pakistan’s far flung areas, at times risking her security, to bring forth true stories, particularly untold and unheard stories of women. Her trailblazing work includes highlighting the issue of female genital mutilation and providing insight into reproductive health issues of women in conflict zones. Her stories on the role of mothers in de-radicalizing youth have received great respect and acclaim. Farahnaz writes extensively about the rights of minorities and has had considerable influence and impact. Farahnaz’s feature story about the gang-rape of a poor Hindu woman in the underprivileged district of Tharparkar caused the Chief Justice to take suo moto notice. Consequently, a precedent for justice was set with the sentencing and imprisonment of the culprits.Farhnaz also works as a teacher of Islamic studies. Her classes concentrate on teaching ethics, tolerance, moderation and peacebuilding. Currently Farahnaz is working as the head of the Features Desk at The Express Tribune. Her dream is to earn a post-graduate degree in peace, gender and Islam. “The voice of peace-loving emancipated Muslim women needs to be part of the collective narrative. It’s about time,” she claims.

Useful links to examples of Farahnazs work:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farahnaz-zahidi/post_5381_b_3806457.html

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/644/farahnaz-moazzam/

http://tribune.com.pk/author/3381/farahnaz-zahidi/

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Karachi’s heritage: Qawwal gali

5 lanes in Karachi, 800 years of history.

In a cup-sized chai dhaba, off a constantly flowing street near Shoe Market in inner Karachi, a deal is taking place. Agents of event organisers are talking to young men who have barely grown facial hair. These are the sons of the Qawwal bachchay, men who shoulder the task of taking forth a centuries’ old tradition.

This year the suffocating Karachi summer has coincided with the Islamic calendar months of Rajab and Sha’ban, which are peak season for the Qawwals. Rates and dates are being decided. Diaries are being feverishly filled and numbers are being exchanged on inexpensive worn-out cell phones. Paans pass from hand to hand in the spirit of sharing. So too are lines of spiritual poetry, effortlessly woven into the negotiations, for after all, this is part of creating amaahol or ambiance.

The paan-and-poetry infused sweet-talking is a particular form of marketing. The young Qawwals are vying for the prominent programmes and anxiously keeping an eye on who will be signed up the most. Name-dropping ropes in ancestors long dead who were in some way connected to the man who started it all: Hazrat Ameer Khusro. Also making an appearance in the conversation are celebrities and politicians who are the shaagird or students of the great Ustaads. It is also a source of pride that the artists here can say they have performed at Ajmer Shareef in India.

This is Karachi’s Qawwal Gali or lane, which actually refers to a neighbourhood of five streets. They are named after five of the most celebrated Qawwals: Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal, Moeen Niyazi Qawwal, Kallan Khan Qawwal, Jaafar Hussain Nizami Qawwal and Bahauddin Qawwal.

Its residents are the Qawwals who refuse to let this art form die. “That is what we want to do,” says Toqeer Ahmed, who is in his 20s and belongs to the Khurja Gharana’s Nohar Bani branch of classical singers. “I know of no one in my community who wants to leave this art. This is what I was created for.”

Thus, the Qawwal bachchay, as they proudly refer to themselves, fiercely guard their heritage. Indeed, conversation in Qawwal Gali always goes back 800 years. These families have been celebrities for centuries. They may physically live in the present, but live in the grip of a glorious past. Names of their ancestors are medals that they wear every day of their lives. Each family claims to be the gharana and most of them know their family shajra or tree by heart.

Housing in Qawwal Gali. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

Most of them moved here in the 1950s and 1960s from India. Every second person in this galiclaims to belong to an authentic gharana or household. Research shows that not all of them belong to the original 12 families, but have learnt the art from them. The mishmash of interconnected lineages and where they inherited the musical art form of the Qaul, all seem to lead back to Hazrat Ameer Khusro. The father of Qawwali, as he is often called, was a 13thCentury Sufi musician, poet and scholar and a spiritual disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Qawwali, originating from the word Qaul or the uttered word was a form of expressing religious reverence. “Some 805 years ago, our ancestor Miyan Saamat learnt this musical art from Hazrat Ameer Khusro,” explains Saifuddin Qawwal, who is part of the Najmuddin Saifuddin Qawwal Brothers ensemble. “Twelve young Qawwals were trained by Hazrat Ameer Khusro. The original Qawwal bachchay are descendants of those 12.”

Qawwal Gali. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

Qawwal Gali is home to many families but according to Saifuddin, those who are the Qawwal bachcha gharanas are about five to six. Fareed Ayaz, the Saami brothers, Najmuddin Saifuddin brothers, Abdullah Niyazi, Subhan Nizami are the main names, he says. When asked how one can differentiate between the gharanas and Qawwals in general, he explains that it all boils down to lineage. “This heritage of all the genuine gharanas connects to our ancestor Tanras Khan; his time was about 134 years ago.”

As can be expected with the passage of such time the number of original families has changed as has the type of music performed. The Qawwali you will hear today is a much diluted version of the original shudh Qawwali. The new synthetic versions merely entertain or provide a quick spiritual fix and lack the original reverence and deliberation that was once a pre-requisite. According to Saifuddin, the modern audiences are mainly responsible for this sea change. “We give what they demand,” he says. “I am not satisfied with where Qawwali is going today; this is not what our ancestors introduced,” he adds. “Innovations are taking it to a point where we are losing the original Sama that was sung. Magar such baat hai, pait kee khaatir karna parta hai. The truth is that we have to do this to earn a living. Even those of us who are trained to sing the authentic Qawwali have begun innovating for commercial reasons.” He gives the example of his family’s Hamza Akram to argue that changes are still being seen as acceptable as long as they keep the art within the framework of original teachings.

Some of the activities in Qawwal Gali. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

Saifuddin’s assertion that audiences are to blame is generally shared. But qawwals such as Rauf Saami, the eldest son of the living legend Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, react differently to this reality. “We have to bring up the taste of listeners once again, and sensitise them to better listening,” he says as he believes that true Qawwali is an acquired taste. The responsibility of carrying forward and stemming the tide of degeneration of the art form is acutely felt. It is a collective responsibility, as Rauf Saami’s use of the pronoun ‘we’ indicates.

The sense of community runs parallel to the pride in heritage. Qawwal bachchay cannot and do not lead solitary lives or perform individually. They need each other, not just to provide the rhythmic background clapping and chorus, but also for moral support. And even if one member of a troupe is the star during a performance, the limelight will be shared. Qawwal bachchay survive in numbers, and they know it.

“Our survival is in community existence. We perform in packs,” says Rauf Saami.

Azeem, son of Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, with a taanpura. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

The Saami Brothers belong to one of the most renowned and authentic Qawwal bachchagharanas that is recognised for its repertoires, tans and alaaps. Rauf is the grandson of the world renowned Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal after whom a street is named here. Their ancestral house in Qawwal Gali has witnessed many changes. The architecture of the house is reminiscent of styles found in old Peshawar or inner Lahore. Other homes in the neighbourhood are located in apartment buildings typical of the over-crowded Saddar area in Karachi. The ground floors of each building are generally taken up by shops for paan, chai and groceries. As the Qawwals stand around and talk in the street, the women peek from balconies with shy smiles. Washed clothes hang out to dry on every balcony.

“Our women don’t sing. Just like women cannot enter a mosque, they are not allowed to sing Qawwali,” explains Saifuddin. “Our older women sometimes sing within the four walls of our house; but they should only sing tunes that are created by our family or ancestors.” The Qawwal bachchay do not marry outside the community either: “No one else will understand our sensibilities and lifestyle.” The young Toqeer sheepishly nods in agreement. “I will marry only within my community,” he adds. “Otherwise the girl will not be able to adjust to my family.”

A chai dhaba near Shoe Market in inner Karachi. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

This sense of protectiveness of a culture is understandable. As the epicenter of a complex art form, Qawwal Gali has become a hub of eager laymen who have a burning desire to learn the art, and enter the coveted space by apprenticing as shaagirds of the Ustaads. The sons who have learnt the techniques passed down for centuries become the teachers of these students across Karachi. They set off each day on their motorcycles to give “tuitions” after a late afternoon meal, which is breakfast for them, owing to a nocturnal lifestyle. But once in a while, a chosen student with potential will get a chance to visit the main Ustaad, usually the father or an uncle of the juniors, at their home in Qawwal Gali. The hierarchies here are well-defined.

The Qawwals are territorial; their turf consists of their students and fan base. They are fiercely competitive and will try and outdo the others on stage as well as in claims of authenticity. “Professional jealousy does exist among us,” concurs Saifuddin. “Like in a market if there are shops of many cloth-sellers, each will try and attract the customer.” The neighbourhood’s curiosity over a new visitor to one family is ample proof of this.

Ustad Ghulam Khusro Khan of the Nohar Bani family claims that to classify as a truegharana, one must have a grip of the 12 genres of classical singing. This is the criterion:DhurpatSaadhraHoriTirwatChatranTaranaTappaKhayalChannParbandSargam,Ba Maani Sargam — and one must know them all. “Those who don’t are just those who pretend to be genuine,” he says. Breadth of knowledge of the art form and its trajectory are also important markers of authenticity. He reels off the names of his ancestors, of festivals they have been invited to and of celebrities who are his students. Tough rivalry with other Qawwals and a feeling of being under-appreciated on television has left Ghulam Khusro bitter. The competition here is cut-throat.

Yet, as a community, they stand by each other in times of trial. The men travel extensively to perform worldwide, especially with the upsurge in global interest for Qawwali in the last decade or so. In their absence, the other men of the community are there to see that families are well protected.

Patrons of this devotional form of music world over reward Qawwal bachchay generously. Hence, most of them can afford to live in better, less crowded and cleaner localities but choose not to. Saifuddin explains it simply: “This is Karachi’s safest area. This part of the city never closes. We sit out here in the street all night. Our people are here. Why would we go anywhere from here?”

Farahnaz Zahidi heads the Features desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 29th,  2014.