The law of Generosity Combatting Coronavirus in Pakistan
As Pakistan imposes greater social distancing measures to combat coronavirus, a Muslim law of generosity helps to save lots of those out of labor .
Outside grocery stores in Karachi, an interesting scene has been unfolding over the past fortnight . Instead of rushing home after shopping to avoid being exposed to coronavirus, many Pakistanis are pausing outside to supply food, money or other charity to the various people on the street with no “place” to shelter-in-place. These generous offers are often accompanied with an invitation to the recipient: “Pray that [the coronavirus] ends soon.”
Like many nations, Pakistan has imposed strict containment measures in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, including closing schools, banning public gatherings and shuttering all businesses that don’t sell groceries or medicine. But unlike another countries that have ordered similar measures, the consequences of a protracted lockdown here could have far more dire economic – and potentially fatal – consequences.
In a recent coronavirus-related address to the state , Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, stated that “25% of Pakistanis cannot afford to eat twice each day .” because the country issues more stringent lockdown measures and forces people to remain home, many daily wage earners here – from street-food vendors to shoe-shiners – now haven’t earned a rupee in weeks, and they’re going hungry.
In the same televised address, Khan summed up Pakistan’s grave reality: “If we pack up the cities… we save them from corona[virus] at one end, but they’re going to die from hunger on the opposite side … Pakistan doesn’t have the conditions that are within the us or Europe. Our country has grave poverty.”
But it also has hope. Amid the pandemic, Pakistanis are bonding together to assist the less fortunate in a unique and inspiring way. Specifically, many are offering zakat, the traditional Muslim charity tax, for daily wage earners who have no paid leave, health insurance or financial safety net.
In Arabic, “zakat” translates to “that which purifies”, and, consistent with the Five Pillars of Islam, it’s one among the foremost important religious duties for Muslims. This mandatory alms-giving is calculated at 2.5% of a person’s annual excess wealth. Strict parameters exist outlining the nisab, or threshold, beyond which a Muslim’s assets become liable for zakat, as well as who is eligible to receive it. Stemming from the assumption that this world is transient and every one is bestowed from the benevolence of the Creator, zakat upholds the thought that those less fortunate have a share in everything the community temporarily owns.
While many round the world are focused on physical cleanliness during the coronavirus outbreak, Dr Imtiaz Ahmed Khan, a biologist at Hamdard University in Karachi, likens zakat to a spiritual cleansing, quoting the favored Pakistani expression, “Paisa haath ki meil hai” (Money is just like the dirt on one’s hands).
The spirit of generosity is firmly hardwired into Pakistan’s DNA. In fact, throughout the world’s 47 Muslim-majority nations, zakat contributions are typically voluntary, but Pakistan is one among only six countries during which it’s mandated and picked up by the govt . Furthermore, consistent with Rizwan Hussain, author of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, “Pakistan is that the only country to possess been established within the name of Islam,” and this devout spirituality is reflected in its laws.
According to a report by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Pakistan contributes quite 1% of its GDP to charity, placing it among “far wealthier countries just like the uk (1.3%) and Canada (1.2%) and around twice what India gives relative to GDP.” And a nationwide study found that 98% of Pakistanis give to charity or volunteer their time – a figure that far exceeds the number of people who are legally obligated to offer zakat.
“As a nation, we’d not have tons , but we’ve big hearts,” said M Sohail Khan, a Pakistani living in Loughborough, UK. “Just visit any village and that they will open their homes to you; putting others first is our culture. We’ve seen suffering. We have empathy and compassion. We might even have an excessive amount of of it, as widespread education are going to be required to convince the masses that social distancing isn’t an equivalent as abandoning your neighbour.”
As the coronavirus spreads, many Pakistanis are giving much more than the specified 2.5% of zakat, while others who don’t earn enough to qualify for zakat are offering as much charity as they will – then far, these donations are being mobilised swiftly.
Many donations go towards creating monthly raashan (ration) packets that provide daily wage earners and therefore the less fortunate basic grocery items, like lentils, ghee, flour, oil, sugar and tea. While they are typically distributed during Ramadan, they are now being doled out to daily wage workers affected by the economic repercussions of the pandemic. These days, they also include anti-bacterial soap.
Faisal Bukhari has been delivering raashan packets in impoverished areas where daily wage earners need immediate relief. “There has been a massive outpouring of donations this week,” he said. “I’m getting around 20 to 25 queries or orders each day . Sometimes, I get even more.”
Others are organising similar efforts. “In the past few days alone, we’ve seen many support groups mushrooming specifically for the daily wage workers and raashan packets,” said Ahmad Sajjad, who teaches at Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration. “It jogs my memory of the 2005 earthquake when Pakistanis came together to supply charity. This time, during lockdown, instead of relief camps on the roads, the population is leveraging social media platforms to raise funds and provide relief.”
Sabiha Akhlaq, who runs the SSARA Foundation, a world charity organisation, underlined the gravity of Pakistan’s current situation: “It is bad out there. A man started crying [when we visited deliver raashan] because his family of 4 had been without food for 29 hours.”
Echoing others, Akhlaq said that the SSARA has been receiving an influx of donations because of the Covid-19 lockdown. “We are delivering 200 freshly cooked meals each day , and raashan grocery packets also . On 25 March, we delivered 125 raashan packets to members of the transgender community,” Akhlaq said. “They are the foremost vulnerable and at-risk segment of society. It was so heartbreaking to ascertain their profound gratitude and sheer surprise that somebody had thought of them. They, too, have lost their means of earning.”
Across Pakistan, appeals for donations are widely circulating on WhatsApp and social media. Women are playing a big role by offering their houses as collection points for staple ingredients, like flour, oil and lentils. Many have started circulating their personal phone numbers to mobilise more donations – a rare practice in Pakistan before the pandemic.
Volunteer organisations like the Robin Hood Army are busy distributing surplus food from restaurants and raashan packets to those in need. And groups like Edhi Foundation and Saylani Welfare Trust have helplines and WhatsApp numbers that folks can message to tell them of families in need of food.
Anecdotally, these early efforts seem to be working. Saubia Shahid, an educator in Karachi, said she recently tried to donate food and was told by the Robin Hood Army to undertake again in several weeks. “Given the overwhelming generosity of Karachiites, they asked me to succeed in bent them again in April or May. Until then, they said they were sorted.”
According to a recent government survey, Pakistani banks collected Rs 7,377,678,000 (£36.8m) in zakat from the population in 2018-2019. But because tons of zakat is given by Pakistanis on to those in need and thus not documented, the important figure is probably going much higher.
This is the case currently, as many households are still paying the salaries of domestic , despite not calling them in to figure to scale back the potential for spreading the virus. Some institutions that have had unanticipated savings in overhead costs during the closure have passed the money on to locals in need. This could be the corn seller that previously sat outside of faculties trying to feed his children, the vegetable vendor visiting apartment complexes with a megaphone, or the ice-block salesman that has suddenly found himself in predicament.
“Pakistan, being one among the foremost philanthropic nations, features a somewhat diluted concept of individualism and capitalism,” explained Imran Baloch, a company banker from Pakistan. “People who are fortunate enough to belong to the ‘haves’ consciously make the trouble to ease the burden of the ‘have-nots’ because they consider it their duty – a concept that rings very true in crisis conditions, like Covid-19.”
It is customary for Muslims to offer zakat largely during Ramadan (which starts this year on 23 April), as spiritual blessings are said to be multiplied in this holy month. During a recent national broadcast in Pakistan about the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, endorsed the “early” offering of zakat to alleviate the plight of coronavirus as a noble initiative.
In a way, the timing for the pandemic to infiltrate Pakistan couldn’t are better. In the two months preceding Ramadan, in non-Covid conditions, it is customary for the impoverished to knock on doors and request zakat. Many underprivileged families schedule weddings or important events around this point , within the hope of monetary assistance. They are hopeful now as well, and Pakistanis are not failing to deliver.
Sundus Rasheed, a number at a Karachi station , said of the city’s response to the pandemic, “Karachi walas (Karachiites) do tons of private giving, far beyond zakat. I personally don’t have savings, which is a component of the zakat threshold, but before corona got a touch worse, we [distributed] hygiene packs. I live near the port where there are lots of daily wage earners. We distributed 400 packs, just through people we knew. Now, it’s coming to a point where it’s not just a pre-emptive hygiene measure, but a matter of sustenance.”
In a sense, Pakistanis view the facility of zakat and non secular charity to be cosmic forces. And in the face of a pandemic, these powers are being ramped up in the hope that the crisis will end.
We Pakistanis believe that one good deed begets another, and maybe our generosity will spread faster than the virus. Armed with the unwavering belief that humanity at large will benefit, we try our greatest to supply a cushion to those that need assistance – and hope to those who need hope.
These days, that’s all of us.