Small acts of kindness draw praise in India's Ramadan under lockdown

Several Indian Muslims turn to charity to help neighbours during pandemic

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With millions unable to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, small acts of kindness in India are offering a glimmer of hope to many.

Abdul Rahman, 55, has become an online celebrity after the daily wage worker from Goodinabali village in Karnataka emptied his Hajj savings pot of 80,000 rupees (Dh4,000) to feed the poor.

He has so far helped about 250 local families by buying groceries and other essential items for those people hardest hit by the lockdown brought in on March 24 to stop the spread of the pandemic among India’s 1.3 billion people. So far, over 33,000 have tested positive for Covid-19 in India and just over 1,000 have died.

Mr Rahman says the decision to use his Hajj savings to help the needy was not a difficult one.

“The lockdown had affected the livelihoods of so many people and many were left jobless. When I saw the dejection and helplessness on the faces of my neighbours and those whom I knew for years, I thought now was the time to act,” he says. “I thought at least I have a job and I’m in a position to help. If God wills, I will earn enough to be able to perform a Hajj in the near future.”

His gesture won widespread appreciation when his son announced on Facebook that his father put his Hajj pilgrimage on hold to undertake the charity work.

A health worker uses an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of a labourer at the construction site of a residential building during a nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad, India, April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A health worker uses an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of a labourer at the construction site of a residential building during a nationwide lockdown. Reuters

“It’s such a supreme sacrifice and I can’t be prouder for what he has done,” says his son, Elyas Goodinabali, who works in Riyadh.

"During a recent phone call we discussed the difficulties the locals faced because of the lockdown. I asked him what he wanted to do about it. To my surprise he said he would use his Hajj savings to buy food for those who have lost their livelihood," Mr Goodinabali tells The National.

“Like any devout Muslim, my father intended to go on Hajj pilgrimage. He made it a habit to keep aside some money from his earnings. My mum pitched in by rolling beedi [cigarettes] and contributed to additional household income.”

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The desire to perform Hajj, he says, had become stronger ever since his parents returned from their Umrah pilgrimage in late 2018. “I had sponsored their visit to Makkah and Madinah. But they are people of great self-esteem. So they wanted to perform Hajj with their hard-earned money.”

Mr Rahman, who earns just Dh25 a day, always wanted to keep his charity work a secret and the social media buzz has left him angry.

“My father told me off after learning about the social media post and the subsequent public attention. He is also angry that he is in the spotlight unnecessarily,” Mr Goodinabali says. “He thinks the publicity would take the sheen away from his sadaqa [charity] which he is done only to seek Allah’s blessings. Now, even I’m wondering if I did the right thing by putting it in the public domain.”

Mr Rahman’s acquaintances and friends describe him as a man with a golden heart.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 30: An Indian health official inside a COVID-19 mobile testing van uses a nasal swab to collect a sample from a woman, as India remains under an unprecedented extended lockdown over the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) on April 30, 2020 in New Delhi, India. India eased the lockdown restrictions by allowing neighbourhood shops and standalone shops in areas that havent been marked coronavirus hotspots to sell goods on the condition of 50 per cent staff strength and following other protective guidelines like wearing masks and maintaining social distance. With a total number of over 33,000 positive cases, the death toll due to coronavirus in India has reached 1079 as the country reels under a nationwide lockdown that was imposed on March 25 by the government. (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)
An Indian health official inside a Covid-19 mobile testing van uses a nasal swab to collect a sample from a woman, as India remains under an unprecedented extended lockdown. Getty Images

“I have known him for 20 years and found him extremely hard-working and honest,” says Shanafath Sharief, the owner of Luqman Steel Centre in Kaikamba village where Mr Rahman works as a porter.

“He understands the pain and suffering of the poor because he himself is a man of limited means. He wouldn’t turn away anyone who came seeking sadaqa or a loan.”

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But Mr Rahman’s act of kindness is not isolated.

About 60 kilometres north, Sharadakka, a fisherwoman, has emulated the Goodinabali resident by spending her 30,000 rupee savings to buy 5-kilogram bags of rice for around 140 poor families in her neighbourhood of Malpe in Udupi district.

She had planned to use the savings to repair her tarpaulin-roofed house before the next monsoon.

Like Mr Rahman, she too has received widespread praise but says she is just “doing her duty.” The mother-of-six plays down her actions.

“Coronavirus is a big threat. People are suffering. I told to myself if I help those in need, I am only doing my duty. It’s in human nature,” she says.

Mrs Sharadakka says she knows what it is like to be poor and so wanted to help her neighbours.

“I earn about 200 to 300 rupees a day but luckily I had some money saved for the repair of my house. I know how it feels to go without food [and] I couldn’t have overlooked the hardships endured by the poor.”

Another example of charity that has gained media attention in Karnataka is of two middle-aged brothers from Kolar district who sold off their land to feed people affected by the disruptions. Tajammul and Muzammil Pasha, both banana merchants, sold their plot of land worth 250,000 rupees to carry out charity after hearing of the distress of many daily wage workers.

So far they have supplied food, grain, oil, sugar, as well as sanitisers and face masks to more than 3,500 families in the district.

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The brothers have put up a tent next to their house and started a community kitchen to prepare food for labourers and the homeless.

Every day 200-300 meal packets are distributed by the brothers with the help of a team of their friends in areas where there’s a large migrant population.

"We have seen poverty from very close quarters after we lost our parents within a gap of just 40 days," Mr Muzammil, 37, tells The National, describing their early days of struggle.

“I was only 3 and my elder brother was hardly 5 then. Our sister, Tabassum, was only months old. Our parents were daily wage earners. Upon their death, we moved to our maternal grandmother’s place. She brought us up with the help of an imam from Lateefa Banu Masjid in Goripet. Our granny used to teach the Quran to support the family. People from the neighbourhood used to give us rations. We lived off the donations of our neighbours.”

Mr Muzammil, like his brother, believes this is their time to give back to the community that has given them everything. “One morning, my brother said he wanted to sell off the property to feed the needy. Without any hesitation, I seconded his decision,” he says.

His elder brother Tajammul Pasha, 40, says the distribution of groceries and meals will continue as long as there is a need for it.

"At the moment this [charity] is my priority. Inshallah, if we survive this pandemic, we can buy four more sites. God has always been kind to us," he told The National.

Although the International Monetary Fund is warning that the coronavirus pandemic will have “the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression,” those spending to help the poor say they are not worried.

“Let’s not look too far into the future. It’s all about putting need above greed,” says Mr Rahman. “This is the time to show humanity more than anything else. If I help somebody who’s struggling at the moment, there will be someone to help me during my bad times.”

Indeed, Mr Rahman’s initiative has already sparked dozens of offers from philanthropists who want to sponsor his Hajj pilgrimage.