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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful commited citizens can change the world – indeed it is the only thing that ever does” -Margaret Meade

Forsaken?: In Thar, depression claims what drought spares

Published: October 29, 2014

Dozens of children have reportedly died of malnutrition in this drought-stricken desert district of Sindh this year alone. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: “Dhia Bheel was a beautiful young woman but always looked gloomy and frail. She couldn’t put up with hunger and domestic violence. She jumped into a well with her six-month-old child. I’ve witnessed two suicide cases in the last two months in my tiny village,” says Lado Meghwar, resident of village Meghi Jo Tar in Tharparkar.

Dozens of children have reportedly died of malnutrition in this drought-stricken desert district of Sindh this year alone. And psychiatrists believe the persisting famine is creating psychological disorders among the Tharis, leading to suicidal tendencies.

In the past 10 months, 40 people have committed suicide in Tharparkar, including two cases of mothers killing themselves along with their children, according to a report prepared by a local NGO, AWARE.

More worrisome are the two cases of minors committing suicide. Thirteen-year-old shepherd Savaee Ghazi Meghwar of Kasbo village, district Nagarparkar, killed himself when his parents did not give him his pocket money.

The second case narrated by Marro Meghwar, a resident of Chapar Din village, is of a boy called Raimal, son of Chaman, aged 12, who threw himself into a well some 20 days back. “The child was mentally challenged. With such poverty how could they have even considered treatment?”

Psychiatrist Dr Lakesh Kumar Khatri confirms that suicide cases are on the rise in Tharparkar, and he links it mainly to depression. With the drought in Tharparkar prevailing for a third consecutive year, there is much to be depressed about.

This affects women and children the most, according to Khatri. Seventy-five per cent of patients of mental illnesses here are females, he claims.

“Problems overlap. Abject poverty leads to malnutrition, which affects sanity. Even if I do try to counsel a patient, it’s useless because malnutrition will lead to mental challenges. Such cases are more prone to suicide,” says Khatri. “They laugh when doctors suggest they eat fruits. ‘Our standard diet is dried red chilies with roti’, they say.”

Because of poverty, most depression cases go undiagnosed. “They don’t have money to feed themselves. How can they commute to Umerkot where we hold our free clinics?”

Thari women are malnourished. Their average hemoglobin level is eight to 10, which means they are also anemic. And their problems keep multiplying. More and more Thari men are moving to cities to try and earn a living, leaving their women lonelier and sadder.

Conversion Disorder, a mental illness in which psychological illness starts producing physical symptoms, is also common among Thari women. The realisation of their plight is equally painful. “While this awakening is a good thing, it is also painful, because the Thari people are realising how far behind they are,” says one doctor.

The state, however, is in a state of denial. Dr Lekhraj, who works at the state-run hospital in Chachro, denies any of these deaths were due to suicide. MPA Mahesh Kumar endorses Dr Lekhraj: “Maybe the women slipped and fell” into the wells.

That is because many blame the government for the depressing state of affairs in Tharparkar. Defending his government’s report card, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah this week claimed in a speech in the provincial assembly that his administration has recently arranged wheat worth Rs2 billion for the drought-hit areas of Tharparkar.

Ironically, he denied anyone had died of hunger over the past five years, and also contradicted reports of an unusual increase in child deaths in Tharparkar. Unofficially, more than 100 drought-affected children reportedly died in the region this year – 32 in the month of February alone.

MPA Mahesh Kumar concedes the drought situation this year ‘is worse’ than 2013, but he denies poverty could be blamed for the deaths and depression. “Other reasons like illicit affairs and family feuds can also be a reason,” claims Kumar. “Malnourishment is not just a problem of Tharparkar. It exists in other parts of Sindh and in Balochistan too. But now the media magnifies even the smallest incidences.”

Officials say they are giving 50 kg of wheat, free of cost, to every family. But local NGO’s insist very few families ever received the entire 50kg allotted to them. With the government insisting all problems will be solved with a 50kg bag of flour, the future looks bleak for the people of this neglected part of Pakistan.

Suicide in numbers

• 40 is the number of cases of suicide in Tharparkar district in the first ten months of 2014.

• A tehsil-wise ratio of suicides shows that 42% of the cases were in Mithi, 23% were in Nagarparkar, 20% in Chachro and 12% in Islamkot.

• 50% of the cases were men and 50% were women and children.

(Source: AWARE)

The reasons for suicide in order of most cases to least

• Poverty and unemployment

• Family feuds

• Domestic violence

• Mental disorders

• Mismatched marriages

(Source: AWARE.)

Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2014.

Narrative around VIP-ism

Published: October 11, 2014

The writer is a senior sub editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @FarahnazZahidi

It was long before Rehman Malik was offloaded from flight PK-370. I was driving in a one-way lane of Khadda market, Karachi. I was on the correct side. From the wrong side came an entourage of cars. Two police vans in the front, one at the back and an SUV in the middle. A security guard hopped over to me and said, “Madam back karain. Aap ko pata naheen gaari mein kon hai.” I was tired and wanted to get home. This was too much hassle. So I backed off, let them pass, the sirens and flags et all. Who knows, if I would have dared to push my way in, I may have been shot at, even though I was not a threat.

The recent incident of the young man, Malik Tahir, being shot dead by the guards of ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son has once again made the debate over what is being termed ‘VIP culture’, a burning issue. This is shortly after Arjumand Hussain and other passengers offloaded Senator Malik and MPA Ramesh Kumar for making them wait aboard the PIA flight. Without taking away any due credit from Hussain, who possibly lost his job due to this show of bravery, the fact remains that this nation has had enough. These incidences are now being seen as a metaphor for the ideal of equality. Ironically, the very champions of democracy have harmed this ideal the most in the past.

Such is the norm in Pakistan: queues are broken, traffic signals are disregarded, palatial mansions of absentee politicians are guarded by blocking off entire areas with containers, and we all stay quiet with resigned acceptance, seething with anger inside.

As a bureaucrat’s daughter, I grew up travelling in a flag-bearing car of the government of Pakistan. I never stood in lines at the airport and my luggage was whisked off by the ‘protocol’ hours before I casually reached the airport’s VIP lounge 30 minutes prior to the flight. Over time, I grew an aversion to this. It was all too unfair, too senseless and also too fleeting. The same people, who would go out of their way for you, couldn’t care less once you were out of service.

Societies evolve, inevitably. Muffled voices of an anti-VIP culture began with political parties promoting the welcome trend of middle class leadership questioning these practices. With Imran Khan’s slogan of ‘tabdeeli’, which essentially means questioning the status quo at all levels, the May 11, 2013 elections saw irate voters pushing back VIPs who tried to break the queue. “All this is not acceptable in Naya Pakistan.”

However, a problematic and confused narrative is building up around the term ‘VIP culture’. Questions need to be raised about what is exactly meant by the term. Affluence is being misconstrued as VIP-ism.

It is important to differentiate between the two because everyone with an SUV does not disregard traffic signals or overtake others on basis of having a bigger car, which has become a symbol of arrogance. Gilani’s family cannot be without security guards, and that is a fact. Everyone hiring security guards on personal expense or owning licenced weapons for safety concerns cannot be viewed as oppressors. De-weaponisation and getting rid of the dependence on security personnel still remains an unrealised dream in Pakistan, which will take time and systemic efforts to be realised. It would not be prudent for any political leader or a person in a position of power to take unnecessary risks. They owe it to their followers and people who look up to them to stay safe.

The problem arises when public property is infringed upon, when money the public pays as taxes is used to protect VIPs, when arrogance becomes the order of the day and when someone goes one-up on the common man using unjust means. The issue is when respect for human life becomes subjective, and when the life and honour of a senator or an MNA becomes more important than mine. And the anger is justified when Abdul Qadir Gilani’s life or Rehman Malik’s time is considered more precious than mine.

Sadly, we live in a society where value of human life depends on your financial and social status. We are used to a system where people in power literally get away with murder. This lack of accountability is where the problem lies. This is precisely what makes security guards armed with weapons so reckless.

But this pent-up anger is both dangerous and blinding. If economic and social disparity starts being viewed as VIP-ism and each one of us becomes a hero wanting to fight it, there will be chaos without order. When narratives become jumbled, activism becomes anarchy, and that, too, not anarcho-pacifism, but the full-blown kind. In these dangerous and angry times, it’s important we understand the difference.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2014.

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The Goodwill Ambassadors – Shining brighter than ever

Published: October 1, 2014

These people who are making this world a better place include those who are off the silver screen and performing stage, but are remarkable human beings.

For a moment, I felt star-struck, as Alicia Keys entered the room bustling with journalists from world over. We, a varied group of journalists, had been invited by the United Nations Foundation (UNF) to report on and learn from the experience of being in the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York for the UN General Assembly and the Climate Summit 2014.

All of us are fans of the many celebrities that we saw all around us in those few days. But once done with the initial gushing and surreal feeling of being in the presence of “stars”, we not only saw these goodwill ambassadors in a different light, but rediscovered them as bigger celebrities than we thought.

Anyone who has been inside the UN knows that the gray concrete flooring and white lights give it a formidable and cold ambiance. The warmth, then, came through these stars and the work they are doing. These people who are making this world a better place include those who are off the silver screen and performing stage, but are remarkable human beings. Like celebrated humanitarian Graca Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela, who punctured the bubble of world leaders by criticising their speeches over the issue of climate change.  Or like the lesser known unsung female hero from Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova, who has pioneered an environmental movement that will save lives of generations.

Among the many celebrities from the performing arts who have embraced real life heroism by contributing to worthwhile causes, here are a few who made the mark this year at the UN:

1. Leonardo DiCaprio

“Honoured delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living but you do not.”

Photo: Reuters

With an overgrown beard, a caveman look, DiCaprio looked different. But for once, it was not about his looks, his acting or his personal life. While friends sent messages asking why he had the bearded look, all I could hear was words that will go towards changing the life of millions.

His speech on the issue of climate change has been hailed as a game changer, calling upon world leaders for understanding and action. He began by saying,

“I stand before you not as an expert but as a concerned citizen, one of the 400,000 people who marched in the streets of New York on Sunday, and the billions of others around the world who want to solve our climate crisis”.

DiCaprio was referring to the People’s Climate March in Manhattan that brought attention to the issue like never before.

“I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe that mankind has looked at climate change in that same way,” said DiCaprio, ruffling just the right feathers.

2. Alicia Keys

“It’s not about me. It’s about we.”

Photo: Indrani Basu

As she sang the song We are here… for all of us, the theme song for her campaign, sniffs from the audience were audible. She told the crowd to hold the neighbour’s hand, a human chain, and we all did, experiencing a powerful moment.

“The song We are here is born from a very special place. The backdrop is everything that is going on in the world. There has been one issue after another: Syria, Nigeria, Gaza, Israel, Ferguson. I wanted to do something but did not know what. I used to have anxiety hearing about all of this. I would literally ache. There was a lot of what if, could we, would we! This work and this song is a dream come true,” said a visibly pregnant and highly motivated Keys.

Here, Keys pledged a million dollars to her We Are Here Movement at the fifth annual Social Good Summit. This Summit is defined as a convening of world leaders, media and technology leaders, activists working on grassroots, UN experts and voices from around the globe.

3. Emma Watson

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Photo: AFP

We always knew that this young woman who played the genius Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series is brilliant. But her masterstroke came as she redefined feminism as the UN Female Goodwill Ambassador. Watson extended an invitation to the men of the world to fight sexism. She spoke at the launch of the #HeForShe campaign which is a solidarity movement for gender equality.

“Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend you a formal invitation,” she said.

“Gender equality is your issue too.”

“For the record, feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,’” said the remarkable young woman.

Watson has become, through this, a champion not just for women’s rights, but also a hero of many men world over, who agree with her that equal opportunities between the sexes cannot come around if only half of humanity is invited to participate in the conversation. Watson touched upon how feminism is often misconceived and associated with “man-hating”.

4. Kajol

“Help a child reach five.”

Photo: Twitter

Championing the cause of maternal and child health, Kajol graced the 69th annual UN General Assembly summit. She has been part of an active hand-washing campaign, Help A Child Reach Five, that aims at improving health of children and guarding them against illness and death in infancy and the age group under five years.

Kajol, in a tech savvy manner, used Twitter well to get the message of propagating this life-saving habit across.

“The cause is getting requisite attention through social media. It is reaching out to a lot more people.”

5. Linkin Park

“We encourage our fans to be more vocal about these things.”

Photo: United Nations Facebook page

Humble, sober and focused, Linkin Park singers Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda are very serious about making the world a better place, and they mean it. At the Climate Summit, they renewed their continued support for sustainable energy.

“Our message is very clear. Be bold and strong. We are counting on you guys to make the change. A fan is not someone who just thinks you are hot. It is someone whose trust you have won,” said Bennigton and Shinoda.

Their organisation Music for Relief does miscellaneous work for disaster relief and renewable energy causes.

Worries pile up as waste grows in Pakistan

Pakistan generates about 20 million tonnes of solid waste annually, and its dumps have become a hub for child labour.

 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html
Last updated: 11 Aug 2014 

Some four million children, die each year from waste-related diseases in Pakistan [EPA]
Karachi, Pakistan – In the economic hub of Karachi, Ali, an 11-year-old child, awakens at dawn while the rest of his family sleeps next to burners and barrels that will be used to disintegrate metal waste.

The barrels contain acid, and wires and circuits will be burned in the open air, releasing harmful emissions. But Ali’s impoverished family needs whatever money they can get from this dirty business.

Muhammad Ishaq, 12, is another child hostage to the rubbish he collects for a scrap dealer. In return, the scrap-dealer gives his parents fixed Rs 2500 ($25) a month.

“My shed broke in the recent rains. Where will I live now?” is his recurrent concern, as he refers to the shed made also of, ironically, pieces of wood and cardboard he finds in the trash.

These children get food and clothes from NGOs or common people… They eat at charities and bathe in mosques. They are very susceptible to scabies and infected wounds. They suffer from diarrhoea all year round.

– Rana Asif, Founder of Initiator Human Development Foundation

A waste of a nation

Both Ishaq and Ali are among thousands of Pakistani children who work as scavengers, combing through piles of rubbish for a daily pay that maxes out at about $2.

Besides being out of school, these children face severe health hazards from the unsafe handling of waste.

“These children get food and clothes from NGOs or common people… They eat at charities and bathe in mosques. They are very susceptible to scabies and infected wounds. They suffer from diarrhoea all year round,” said Rana Asif, Founder of Initiator Human Development Foundation, that works for the welfare of street children.

Copper remains the most lucrative find for these boys. It is sold at Rs 500 ($5) a kilo, and aluminium at Rs 100 ($1) a kilo, and all of this is found in electronic waste.

These children – 95 percent of whom are male – are often found at Karachi’s biggest markets for e-waste in the Shershah, Lines Area and Regal neighbourhoods.

“We find computer monitors, and buyers buy them from us for a pittance, but sell it for much more. We get nothing,” said Yaargul Khan, 14, older brother of Ishaq.

Even as child labour remains rampant in Pakistan, almost 5.2 million people; including four million children, die each year from waste-related diseases in Pakistan.

A report by Triple Bottom-Line found that globally, many people did not know their old computers and televisions were shipped to countries such as China, India and Pakistan for “recycling”.

Manually dismantling electronic devices comes with a slew of health hazards, including exposure to toxic substances called furans and dioxins.

Burning these materials is even worse: A burning computer releases dioxins, lead, chromium and other toxic substances. Ali has no choice in the matter, and no gear to protect him from the fumes.

Pakistan generates about 20 million tonnes of solid waste annually, according to the country’s Environment Ministry, and that number is growing by about 2.4 percent each year. The waste management methods in Pakistan, however, remain poor.

The country’s most populous city, Karachi, generates an estimated 9,000 tonnes of waste daily, and garbage collectors cannot keep up.


Recycling is not widely practiced, and in many urban areas, dumping and trash burning are daily occurrences.

Asif Farooqi, the CEO of Waste Busters, a Pakistani waste management and recycling firm, says a big part of the problem is improper waste collection.

His team goes door-to-door collecting garbage bags – in Lahore alone, the company services 70,000 homes – and repurposes the contents. From inorganic trash, Waste Busters derives a form of fuel; from organic waste, they create compost.

Sadly, no organised or satisfactory system of solid waste management has been developed till now. The facilities are much too few compared to the waste generated.    

– Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui ,Commissioner of Karachi

“What we need from people is to stop open dumping and use garbage bags,” Farooqi told Al Jazeera. “And from the government all we need is administrative support. They should at least not create hurdles for us.”

Shifting the blame

While the administrator for the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), Rauf Akhtar Farooqui said the solid waste management is the responsibility of the District Municipal Corporations and not of KMC, the Commissioner of Karachi, Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui told Al Jazeera that it was, in fact, very much the responsibility of KMC.

“Sadly, no organised or satisfactory system of solid waste management has been developed till now,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The facilities are much too few compared to the waste generated.”

Siddiqui expressed hope that things will get better as a result of the recent formation of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board.

“This applies to e-waste management as well,” he said.

In neighbouring Punjab province, where over half of Pakistan’s population lives, the Environment Protection Department openly acknowledges the shortfalls, stating on its website: “Environmental legislation is still not well developed in Pakistan, especially in comparison to the developed world. For example, there are no National Quality Standards for [solid waste management].”

Still some hope

The situation has created openings for environmental organisations such as Gul Bahao, which literally builds homes out of rubbish, using materials such as bubble wrap and thermocol.

“Attitudes are changing,” Gul Bahao’s Nargis Latif told Al Jazeera.

“Youth have joined hands with us. Students help us collect funds for this. I am very hopeful.”

Even as the south Asian giant struggles to manage its solid waste, its children continue to scavenge trash for petty income at the cost of their childhood, health and education.

Names of some children have been changed to protect their identity.

Follow Farahnaz Zahidi on Twitter: @FarahnazZahidi

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.

Boko Haram: “If it can happen in Nigeria, it can happen here in Pakistan”

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim / 13 May, 2014
http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/05/boko-haram-anything-islam/

More than three weeks after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok by Boko Haram (BH), an Islamist militant group, the world is finally awake to the tragedy.

While Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of herself displaying the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, Angelina Jolie said she was “sickened” by the “unthinkable cruelty” and has expressed her anger.

“I heard about it just a few days back when a friend posted an article on Facebook. I was stunned beyond words,” said 19-year old college student Iqra Moazzam, in Karachi, who cannot get over the fact that the girls may have already been sold.

Last week, BH’s leader Abubakar Shekau, threatened to “sell [the girls] in the market” into slavery.

“Not only was the Muslim community slow to respond but the West was also slow to respond,” pointed out Aurangzeb Haneef, who teaches Islamic Studies at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He said there was also some discussion on whether the response would have been quicker had the girls been white.

Boko Haram came about in 2009 in an attempt to impose Islamic law in all 36 Nigerian states. It has been behind killing of thousands of people in Nigeria in recent years and known to have links with other radical Islamist groups in North Africa and Sahel.

“I think they have defiled the name of Islam and added one more stain on the Muslim Ummah. I’m infuriated they are calling themselves Muslims; there is not a shred of Islam in their evil deed,” Moazzam said.

And yet surprisingly, there has been no word of condemnation from any religious institution, no indignation from the pulpit by imams during the weekly Friday sermons and no remonstration from the people in the Islamic world.

In September 2012, video-sharing website YouTube put up a 14-minute clip of Innocence of Muslims, produced by an American that was disrespectful of Islam, Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad, which sent a wave of protests throughout the Muslim world. In Pakistan, complete mayhem broke out: 30 people were killed and over 300 were injured.

The 12 cartoons published on 30 September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of Prophet Muhammad, and which the Muslims found extremely and deliberately offensive, led to attempts on the life of the cartoonist and arson attempt made on the newspaper office.

Khalid Zaheer, an eminent religious scholar and vice-president of Al-Mawrid, a foundation for Islamic research and education, explained: “People come to the streets for issues about which they are sensitised by their scholars. Blasphemy is a topic that concerns the ulema (scholars) more because they have literature speaking against it.”

But he said: “Killing in the name of Islam is either considered an exaggerated propaganda, justified jihad, or atrocities done by some enemies who have conspired to malign Islam.” He said the narrow view of the world that is taught in madrassas and promoted in mosques causes non-issues to be made a matter of life and death and real issues to be ignored as if they don’t exist.

Haneef also attributed the inaction on the street to lack of response to the episode by the religious parties. He added: “Since the victims in this case are not Muslims (although some reports suggested that a few of them were Muslims) and since the accused here claim some kind of Islam, therefore, there has been understandable inertia on the part of Islamic parties to criticise BH.”

Unfortunately, pointed out Haneef: “Common Muslims are reluctant to take up issues involving atrocities against non-Muslims. Few people understand that these atrocities are in the name of Islam — Islam is being hurt here — yet they don’t feel compelled enough to raise their voice against BH.”

The same sentiment was endorsed by peace activist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is also an academic. “I am sure that most Muslims do not approve of Muslims killing non-Muslims or other Muslims, but this does not raise passions in the same way.”

He also said: “Most Muslims today do disapprove of the mass abduction and sale of the Nigerian girls, but they prefer silence. There is vague discomfort that being too loud might cause Islamic fundamentals to come under scrutiny, something that is best avoided in these dangerous times.”

Hoodbhoy explained that with BH at war with those they consider infidels: “Women captured during tribal wars were part of the war booty and the Holy Quran is completely explicit on the distribution of every kind of booty, including women. Of course, as with slavery, most Muslims regard these verses as meant for those times only.” He said that was the takfiri (a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy) philosophy of the BH.

Khadeja Ebrahim 12, studying in Class 7, at a British school in Karachi likened the Nigerian militant group to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “They seem like the Taliban we have in Pakistan, who attacked Malala and believe those seeking western-style education are committing a sin,” she told Index. Asked if she felt scared she nodded saying: “If it can happen in Nigeria, it can happen here in Pakistan and in Karachi too.”

Still, Hoodbhoy, finds the Taliban quite gentle when compared to the BH. “While the TTP does mount suicide attacks, and makes video tapes football matches played with the heads of decapitated Pakistan soldiers, the techniques employed by BH are brutal beyond description.”

This article was updated at 11:46 on 13 May, 2014.

This article was posted on May 13, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org