By Dr. Wajid Akhter
I don’t count myself as an overly emotional person. Indeed, as a doctor, you get used to observing intense suffering on a daily basis. You get accustomed to seeing an old lady struggling for breath as her heart fails or a young man being wheeled in with multiple fractures following a high-speed car crash. But even to a jaded person like me, there have been occasions when my heart was broken by Muslims in such a complete way that their pain is with me still… This is the story of just some of them.
The old man had barely enough rags to cover his body. The full force of the midday sun beat down on his uncovered head turning his white beard even whiter. He looked intensely frail and his ribs clearly showed through his skin. Yet, instead of resting somewhere being looked after by his family, beads of sweat poured from his face as he pedalled a cycle-rickshaw loaded with passengers. I was aghast. Why was he working? Where was his family? Then I heard his story. His only son had died leaving behind young children with no one to look after them. Living in a desperately poor society, the old man had no choice but to work and put food in the mouth of his orphaned grandchildren. As he pedalled away in the blazing heat, his bones visibly shuddering with each movement, I was shaken to the core.
It was a beautiful clear day when I went into the mosque to pray. The Jamma masjid (mosque) is one of the grandest buildings in a city full of grand buildings, towering over the ancient city of Delhi. After admiring the architecture and the historical artefacts, I walked out to a sight that stopped me in my tracks. The entire extended path to the steps of the mosque was covered with burqa-clad women sitting on the floor, each with children in their laps and hands outstretched. Again, I was aghast. Where were their families? Why were they here? My father explained, “These are young widows hoping that someone, anyone, will have mercy and give their children enough to eat so that they can live to beg another day.” There were dozens, their children too weak with hunger to stand and play. I could not see their faces, but the pain in their voice was palpable. The pain within me was more so.
The unmistakable sound of whimpering came to me as I read a notice near the grave of Muhammad Fatih, the conqueror of Constantinople. I walked until I saw a middle-aged man sitting with his back resting against a pillar. In his arms was an unwell child. You didn’t need to be a doctor to realise straight away that the child was extremely unwell. Pale, clammy and with a feeding tube still inserted into a nostril, the child was clearly dying. I asked the man what was the matter and why the child was not in hospital via a bilingual bystander. “I could not afford the payments to take care of him so I needed time to gather the money. Now I have taken him to the hospital but they said that there is nothing they can do. I have brought him here as I have no hope left other than from Allah… and I do not want his mother and sisters to see him dying at home.” As I left, the father tenderly stroked his son’s head with tears dripping down his face like a river that had no end.
These are just some of the Muslims that I passed by, but broke my heart. What could I do? Should I give them a little money? That would merely alleviate their situation temporarily. Should I sponsor one of them? That would mean ignoring the other millions who were suffering in equally dire situations. Should I take time out and work in a third world clinic? That would be useful until I needed to go back to my life and leave their suffering behind. How could I help as many people, for as long as possible and in the most comprehensive way?
We have enough wealth in the ummah (Muslim community) so that no child should go to sleep hungry, yet the artificial divisions that keep us apart mean that whilst Muslims were eating gold-leaf covered desserts at a 7-star hotel in Dubai, more than a thousand children were dying of starvation daily just over a thousand miles away in Somalia. How can we possibly rectify this situation? The only solution to this and all our other problems is to follow the advice of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) to us: He will not change the situation of a people until they change themselves. We need to be united once more upon Islam. If we are united as one nation then instead of handing out medicine or a free meal, we can build a health service or a self-sustaining agricultural sector. If we are united then we needn’t sponsor an orphan, we can provide security and protection to prevent the child being orphaned in the first instance.
From this simple idea was born Charity Week—one week each year in which Muslim youth united upon Islam work together to raise funds for orphans and needy children (both Muslim and non-Muslim) across the world. In the past 9 years, Charity Week has set up projects in dozens of countries, involved hundreds of institutions, motivated thousands of students, acted as dawah (call to Islam) to thousands of non-Muslims and raised over $3 Million. However, far more important than all that is that Charity Week has planted the importance of THE VISION—unity upon Islam—in the minds of Muslim youth. It is that vision that gives hope to the poor—far more than any amount of money can. It is clinging on to the hope of that vision that lets me sleep at night.
Charity Week is a volunteer-led project that aims to promote Muslim unity upon Islam amongst young Muslims. It is open to all (including non-Muslims) and aims to be the benchmark for Muslim student work in all aspects. For 365 days a year, a team of dedicated brothers and sisters organise to help set up a week-long fundraising competition. It currently takes place in the UK; however, it aims to expand abroad. If you are interested in getting involved or franchising the project to your city/country—get in touch. This year, Charity Week 2012 in the UK will be on the 29th October to 2nd November 2012.
[W] www.onecharityweek.com [E] email@example.com
[T] @onecharityweek [F] facebook.com/onecharityweek