Archive for August 30th, 2010

It’s Not Just Cricket

By Alan Black for The Huffington Post

The English in their empire conquests to India and Pakistan brought the game of cricket in their armory, best understood as complicated. With the pavilion hosting tea, the sound of the leather ball on the willow bat soon spread across the verdant lands of the subcontinent. The locals embraced a game played by spectacularly white men with unimpeachable manners, in spectacularly white clothes.

Today, India and Pakistan are as mad for cricket as they are for being at each others nuclear throats. Cricket has helped keep the peace by allowing Indians and Pakistanis to throw cricket balls at each other. But while democratic India has become a stage for Western capital and its values, Pakistan sinks deeper into a sticky wicket of terrorism, biblical style floods and now something disabling and disastrous for the nation’s identity — the Pakistani national cricket team, the pride of the nation, have been caught red handed in a betting scandal that has knocked the tea cups off the saucers, spoiling the cucumber sandwiches.

Currently, Pakistan is playing England at the home of cricket in London, a sporting venue grandly named Lords. Over the last weekend, a national UK newspaper revealed a sting operation conducted by undercover journalists, who paid a man around $250,000 for information on when certain Pakistan players on the field were going to cheat. The operative, it is claimed, is linked to illegal gambling syndicates. Sure enough, the players cheated on cue and the sounds of the London bobbies running to catch the villains came shortly after. Now, the Pakistanis require something slightly stronger than tea — high powered lawyers will be a start, maybe a stolen plane to make their getaway.

For years, Pakistani cricket has been suspect. Investigators in the past were stumped and failed to prove what seemed obvious to any sentient viewer — Pakistan was cheating, throwing games to cash in on payments from gambling crime, the cricket version of baseball’s Black Socks. Pakistan has been on the back foot over the claims denying it as a conspiracy against them. But this scandal has bowled them out. The News of the World has all the evidence on videotape. It’s irrefutable — in flagrante delicto.

The London police and cricket’s governing authority are using much diplomatic nuance at this stage of the criminal investigation, Only recently, the British Prime Minister David Cameron insulted Pakistan while he was visiting their enemy, India. And now this! Cheats at Lords, the home of English cricket. This stain on the linen will provide more ammo for the prejudice merchants loading another flare to fire at poor old Pakistan — how can you trust them?

Should Pakistan be banned from international cricket, somewhat unlikely but possible if the poison goes all the way to the top of their game, the impact back home will be enormous. For millions of Pakistanis, cricket is more important than life or death. It is Pakistan’s rope to the world. A chance to show how great they are at a tremendously demanding and skillful sport. Add one more disaster to a nation seriously down on its luck.

Cordova Christians Put Out Welcome Mat For New Mosque

By Lindsay Melvin for The Commercial Appeal-Memphis, TN

When pastor Steve Stone initially heard of the mosque and Islamic center being erected on the sprawling land adjacent his church, his stomach tightened. Then he raised a 6-foot sign reading, “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” The issue for Stone and the 550-person Heartsong Church in Cordova, came down to one question: What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor,” Stone said.

The Memphis Islamic Center, a nonprofit organization formed three years ago, is two weeks from breaking ground on the first phase of a multimillion-dollar complex. While plans for Islamic centers across the country and just miles away have triggered vitriolic responses and divided communities, here in Memphis it’s been a peaceful process.

On a 31-acre stretch at Humphrey Road and Houston Levee, Memphis Islamic Center leaders plan to build a massive gathering place during the next several years. It will include a mosque, youth center, day care center, indoor gym, sports fields, medical clinic and retirement home.

While the 4,000-square-foot worship hall is being completed, Heartsong has opened its doors to its neighbors throughout the monthlong observance of Ramadan. Under a gigantic cross constructed of salvaged wood, nearly 200 area Muslims have been gathering each night to pray.

“I think it’s helped break down a lot of barriers in both congregations,” said Islamic center board member Danish Siddiqui. Yet, only a four-hour drive east of Memphis, Murfreesboro saw intense protests, with billboards going up to try to block plans for a similar Murfreesboro Islamic Center.

Even televangelist Pat Robertson weighed in against it.

Elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, plans for a Brentwood mosque were defeated in May after residents mounted a campaign raising suspicion over mosque leaders having ties to terrorism. The most publicized of the debates has been the furor over an Islamic center proposed near ground zero in New York. “I’ve got fear and ignorance in me, too,” said Stone, referring to his and some of his congregants’ early apprehension toward the Memphis center.

But as members of the Christian congregation take the opportunity to sit in on Ramadan prayers and meet people at the nightly gatherings, much of that mystery and fear has dissipated.

“People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor. The peaceful tone in the Bluff City has been refreshing for Qadhi, 35, who recently moved to Memphis from Connecticut, where early this month his Bridgeport mosque was descended on by angry protestors yelling slurs at families as they arrived for evening prayer. “We’re living in a climate of Islamophobia,” he said.

The Memphis project hasn’t been entirely free of criticism. Bloggers and religious publications have speculated that the Memphis group is receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, which the local Islamic board says is completely false.

“If the community can’t put it together, it’s not worth it,” said Siddiqui, a Germantown resident. Other accusations have been lobbed at Shaykh Qadhi for anti-Semitic comments made a decade ago.

“I made a very major mistake,” said Qadhi, adding that he has spent years apologizing for the statements he made as a young student discounting the importance of the Holocaust.

The Islamic scholar’s track record since has been one of promoting peace. He recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he joined other Islamic and Jewish leaders to draw awareness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“I’ve learned one of my biggest lessons since that time. We have to separate our theology from politics,” he said. The overarching fear being voiced in protests going on across the country is that Islamic centers will become hubs for teaching extremism.

But Islamic center board members say it’s to the contrary. Islamic community centers help form solid Muslim-American identities and keep young kids and adults from feeling marginalized, they said.

Without a place to call home, young Muslims are more likely to seek more radical interpretation of the Quran online, says Arsalan Shirwany, a board member and father of three.

When it is finished, the new facility will be a center for the whole community, and a place for interfaith cooperation, Shirwany said. “This is what we need to fight extremism,” he said.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pastor Stone and The Heartsong Church in Cordova  Christians deserve applause and praise for their very generous acts of kindness to their fellow God fearing American citizens. And this especially at a time when the country is experiencing clearly an uptick in Islamophobia and acts of both violence and hatred towards a whole group of people over the handful few. On this weekend where a “popular'” cable TV host held a march on Washington asking to Restore America, it is important to remember that Dr Martin Luther King Jr  stated that we should be “judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

Judging the millions of patriotic, decent and hard working American Muslims by the content of their character rather than their religion or ethnicity is the true beauty of a wondrous place called America. This good neighborly act of kindness goes to show that despite all the hate and negative news one hears towards Muslim Americans recently, there are also acts of kindness and fellowship that illustrate the goodness in many every day Americans towards their fellow citizens of an alienated faith.

Aging Philanthropist is Pakistan’s Mother Teresa

By Chris Brummit for The Associated Press

The aging man in mud-splattered, frayed clothes has barely lowered his body onto the sidewalk when the money starts piling up. Heeding his call for donations for flood victims, Pakistanis of all classes rush to hand over cash to Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose years of dedication to the poor have made him a national icon.

He thanks each donor, some of whom ask to have their photo taken next to him. Four hours later, the crowd remains — and the equivalent of $15,000 is overflowing from a pink basket in front of him.

Edhi has been helping the destitute and sick for more than 60 years, filling the hole left by a state that has largely neglected the welfare of its citizens. Part Mother Teresa, part Gandhi, with a touch of Marx, he is the face of humanitarianism in Pakistan.

Funded by donations from fellow citizens, his 250 centers across the country take in orphans, the mentally ill, unwanted newborns, drug addicts, the homeless, the sick and the aged. His fleet of ambulances picks up victims of terrorist bombings, gang shootings, car accidents and natural disasters.

Pakistan’s corruption-riddled government acknowledges Edhi and other charities do the work that in other nations the state performs. The country has no national health service, insurance program or welfare system, and few state-run orphanages or old people’s homes.

The foundation offers an alternative to charitable work performed by hardline Islamist groups in Pakistan, some with alleged links to terrorism. The spread of these organizations has triggered concerns in the West, including their work in the aftermath of this summer’s floods.

Edhi is a devout Muslim, but critical of Islamic clerics in general, not just extremists. He says they focus on ritual, preaching hellfire and defending the faith against imagined enemies, rather than helping the poor — which he says should be the cornerstone of all faiths.

The 80-something Edhi — he and his children disagree on his exact age — lives with his wife, herself a charity worker, in a tiny room in one of his welfare centers in Karachi, a bustling port city. His bed is a one-inch thick mattress on a piece of wood.

“I am a beggar for the poor,” he says, stained teeth showing in a wide smile, eyes sparkling after a week touring flood-hit areas. “Serving humanity is the biggest jihad. It is the real thing.”

___

Edhi deals with birth and death, and almost everything in between.

Just above his bedroom, a maternity ward and an orphanage are home to 18 children, many of them abandoned by their mothers in cradles left outside his centers. They wear hand-me-downs from the city’s rich. Edhi’s wife, Bilquis, tries to get the children adopted, but few Pakistanis want to take girls or older children, she says.

On a recent afternoon, the kids shouted out English nursery rhymes and danced. They then sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking tea from plastic mugs and eating spicy pastries and sticky sweets that an anonymous benefactor had dropped off.

The home was clean and bright, with plenty of toys and loving staff. But there was no place to play outside, and the roar of motorbikes from the lanes below was a constant backdrop.

Across town, workers at the Edhi morgue were dealing with latest influx of bodies. They receive around 25 a day, half of which are never claimed — the city’s unloved and unknown.

Working quickly but carefully, they cut the clothes from the bodies, lather them with a bar of soap from head to toe, rinse them with water from a jug, then wrap them in a white sheet. The bodies are bussed across town, prayed over and buried in unmarked graves.

The body of American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed by al-Qaida terrorists in Karachi in 2002, was picked up by an Edhi ambulance and taken to the morgue, the largest in the city of 14 million people.

The morgue is attached to a hospital for the homeless, a dispensary, a shelter for boys and women and children, even a wedding hall for the marriages arranged for children who have been looked after by the foundation. The smell of baking bread from an oven that churns out 9,000 loaves a day fills the air.

“The poor can come here and get a solution to all their problems,” says Ejal Hassan Zaidi, who had accompanied a neighbor to the morgue to collect the body of his 3-year-old daughter, killed in a hit-and-run incident hours earlier. “From the cradle to the grave.”

___

Born in what is now India, Edhi and his parents moved to Pakistan in 1947 when that country was created as a Muslim state at the end of British colonial rule. The family was quite well off — his father was a traveling salesman — and socially progressive.

In his biography, Edhi credits his mother for setting him on a humanitarian path. She urged him to give half his pocket money to someone poor every day and rebuked him if he didn’t.

“‘You have a selfish heart, one that has nothing to give,'” he remembers her saying. “‘What kind of human being are you? Look at the greed in your eyes. Already you have started robbing the poor. How much more will you rob from them in your lifetime?”

When she was dying, he looked after her, bathing her emaciated body and washing and braiding her hair — experiences that would also shape his life.

“The first night she spent in the grave, I dedicated my life to the service of mankind,” he says.

Edhi started small. In 1951, he bought an eight-foot-square shop in a slum neighborhood in Karachi that he converted into a dispensary. Seven years later he bought a van that he used as an ambulance, writing “Poor Man’s Van” on both sides.

He became intimately involved in the business of caring for the sick and dying. He would drive the ambulance to the scene of an accident to pick up the bodies, administer injections during a flu outbreak and travel across the country to help after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Edhi’s record of round-the-clock service and frugal lifestyle attracted donations, and he soon had a fleet of 14 ambulances. In the 1980s and 90s, he opened centers and ambulance services throughout the country. He donated $200,000 to releif efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and his workers have also helped out in disasters in Asia and the Middle East.

___

Pakistanis are a generous people, required by their Muslim faith to give away 2.5 percent of their wealth each year. The last nationwide survey done in 1998 showed that Pakistanis gave the then equivalent of $820 million to charity, around the same as the government’s health and education budget at the time. There are no numbers on how rising terrorism and a poor economy have affected this philanthropy.

Edhi does not accept donations from international organizations or governments, including Pakistan’s, saying he doesn’t need outside help and it is important for Pakistanis to help each other. He and his wife live simply of the interest from some savings.

The foundation does not produce detailed financial statements or annual reports. Edhi points to a wall of files in one office in which he says everything is accounted for. Donors do not seem to mind, such is their trust in him.

“You ask any Pakistani on the streets, Edhi is total credible with them,” says Anjum Haque, the executive director of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. “The success of the trust is down to Edhi himself.”

Last year, donations to Edhi-run charities totaled around $5 million, according to Faisal Edhi, the founder’s son and trust member. A significant chunk of the funds comes from overseas Pakistanis, who want to donate to their homeland.

The lack of transparency has caused some concern among others in the charity sector in Pakistan. Faisal Edhi acknowledges that some of their 13,000 employees — who receive very modest salaries — might skim money off donations. There have also been questions raised about the lack of professionalism and efficiency, specially as the foundation has grown.

Edhi Village, a 65-acre complex in the undulating hills beyond the northern slums of Karachi, is home to 300 children, many picked up off the streets, and 900 adults, many elderly or suffering from mental disabilities.

Most wear clean, ironed clothes, and the food is fresh. Yet there are also signs of neglect. One naked youth dragged himself through a puddle. Some had no shoes and begged visitors to buy them a pair.

The adults live in rooms around the size of three tennis courts, bare except for raised sections for sleeping. They are locked inside for part of the day. There are two doctors, four nurses and two ward boys looking after them.

“We do the most we can do with our resources,” says Billal Mohammad, a regional Edhi manager. “They would be living on the pavement under the sky. We give them shelter, food and treatment. You must not see this place throughout Western eyes.”

___

Edhi has made no secret of his dislike of Pakistan’s ruling class. So it was a surprise to see a gaggle of politicians using one of his orphanages in Karachi as a venue to mark the recent birthday of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The visitors spooned cake into the mouths of the children, shouted political slogans for television cameras and asked Edhi to be photographed next to them. He said he only let the politicians in so the children would have a party to enjoy.

“So what if the politicians are using me? They even use God,” said Edhi, who sat by himself for most of the event. “Landowners, clerics, politicians. They are all looters. There is no fear in telling the truth.”

Hardline Islamist groups have criticized Edhi for his progressive views on women and the secular nature of his work. Some have said that by accepting newly-born babies from unmarried mothers, he is promoting premarital sex.

“We meet them and we read their newspapers. They say we are non-Muslims, unbelievers and communists,” says Faisal Edhi. “The jihadi groups don’t like us. They don’t believe in humanity.”

There are questions about what will happen to the foundation when Edhi dies. He says his two sons and three daughters will take over, though without him at the helm, people may not give as generously.

For now, his children appear more concerned about their father’s health. Apart from an afternoon nap, he works just as hard as he did when he was in his 30s, they say.

“We tell him to take it easy, but he doesn’t listen,” says daughter Almas Edhi. “He wants to keep busy.”

On the Net:

  • http://www.edhifoundation.com/
  • http://www.pcp.org.pk/
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    Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– At a time when the Pakistani nation is in turmoil and dismay due to the epic floods, endless bombings and violence, vast corruption amongst the government, the Sialkot killings, and even the match fixing disappointment from the once cherished national cricket team, Abdul Sattar Edhi and his lifelong service to the people of Pakistan is a testament to the awesome goodness found in one Pakistani man. His service to the orphans, the destitute, homeless, and the generally downtrodden of the country make him a shining role model and a beacon of what is good about the Pakistani people. If there is anyone more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than Edhi, then we have not found them as of yet. May he continue to inspire not just the Pakistani people, but all people everywhere with his selflessness and humanity.

    Millions of Pakistani Kids Risk Waterborne Disease

    By Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

    Five-year-old Shahid Khan struggled to remain conscious in his hospital bed as severe diarrhea threatened to kill him. His father watched helplessly, stricken at the thought of losing his son — one of the only things the floods had not already taken.

    The young boy is one of millions of children who survived the floods that ravaged Pakistan over the last month but are now vulnerable to a second wave of death caused by waterborne disease, according to the United Nations.

    Khan’s father, Ikramullah, fled Pabbi just before floods devastated the northwestern town about a month ago, abandoning his two-room house and all his possessions to save his wife and four children.

    “I saved my kids. That was everything for me,” said Ikramullah, whose 6-year-old son, Waqar, has also battled severe diarrhea in recent days. “Now I see I’m losing them. We’re devastated.”

    Ten other children lay in beds near Khan at the diarrhea treatment center run by the World Health Organization in Pabbi, two of whom were in critical condition.

    Access to clean water has always been a problem in Pakistan, but the floods have worsened the situation significantly by breaking open sewer lines, filling wells with dirty water and displacing millions of people who must use the contaminated water around them.

    Children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery because they are more easily dehydrated. Many children in Pakistan also were malnourished before the floods, weakening their immune systems.

    The Pakistani government and international aid groups have worked to get clean water to millions of people affected by the floods and treat those suffering from waterborne diseases. But they have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, which has displaced a million more people in recent days.

    The floods started in the northwest in late July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and surged south along the Indus River, killing more than 1,600 people, damaging or destroying more than 1.2 million homes and inundating one-fifth of the country — an area larger than England.

    Some 3.5 million children are at imminent risk of waterborne disease and 72,000 are at high risk of death, according to the United Nations.

    The World Health Organization set up the diarrhea treatment center in Pabbi about a week ago with the help of several other aid groups. Workers have already treated more than 500 patients, mostly children, said Asadullah Khan, one of the doctors.

    Some of the patients have been treated multiple times because broken sewer lines have contaminated the water in the town’s wells and pipes, said the doctor. “It is circulating the disease again and again,” he said.

    The aid groups set up a similar treatment facility several days ago in Nowshera, a city adjacent to Pabbi that was also engulfed by the floods. Residents who have begun to return in recent days have encountered a scene of total destruction: caved-in houses and streets covered with mud and debris.

    Most of the population lacks access to clean water, and mosquitoes have proliferated in stagnant floodwater around the city, raising the risk of malaria. Government help is nowhere to be found.

    “It is trash, dirt, germs and odd smells everywhere,” said Zahid Ullah, whose 3-year-old and 10-year-old sons were being treated for gastroenteritis at the facility in Nowshera. “It is a big danger.”

    Even at the hospitals where the diarrhea treatment centers have been set up, mobs of flies hovered around the patients despite attempts by staff to kill them.

    The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund appealed to the world on Saturday to provide water purification units, family hygiene kits and other items needed to increase access to clean water in Pakistan.

    Guido Sabatinelli, the head of the World Health Organization in Pakistan, said the international community’s help was critical to help Pakistan avoid a second wave of death from waterborne disease.

    “We are fearing the epidemic of disease,” said Sabatinelli. “Access to safer water, potable water” is critical, he said.

    Asma Bibi couldn’t agree more. The young mother searched in vain for clean water on the outskirts of Nowshera as her feverish 2-month-old son, Ehtesham, sweltered in a tent set up for flood victims. They had run out of water the day before.

    “My son is sick. He hasn’t breast-fed in two days,” she said. “He needs milk. He needs water.”

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