I remember once hearing my elders say “if you want to know how smart and knowledgeable a man is, ask about where he has traveled”. I realized that true knowledge and wisdom comes first from adhering to the deen of Allah and the sunnah of the Prophet (saw), but then it comes from one's exposure to different cultures, peoples, and places.
When my manager called me and told me “we want to send you to Pakistan for a few weeks” I couldn't hold in my excitement. I felt like a child in a candy shop, and without a second thought, I had already agreed before she could even finish her sentence. My roots are from the blessed lands of Al-Sham but my taste buds are as Desi as can be. I remember boarding my plane in early November of 2020, the entire flight to Pakistan all that crossed my mind was “I am gonna eat enough Gol Gappa, Rabri, and Haleem to keep me full for the next year”.
I arrived in Islamabad, and right from the get-go, I was amazed. I had never seen a land so beautiful in my life, my eyes could not let that sight of lush green mountains disappear. From Islamabad to Lahore I met the most beautiful of people and created the most interesting of stories. To me this work trip seemed like a free ticket to heaven on earth, this however was cut short.
We headed south to the coastal province of Sindh where we would be visiting rural villages and conducting food distributions, and program evaluations. In rural Sindh I saw that which can not be explained, I saw that which could make the coldest of hearts cry. I have never seen so much poverty, disease, and helplessness in my life. I remember visiting these rural villages and finding that the inhabitants and their livestock defecate and bathe in the same stagnant water that they drink.
I saw children who had developed reptile-like skin disease due to the dirty water they consume, I saw children who were as thin as the dry broken tree sticks littering the floor. I witnessed families of 10 living in a room that could barely fit a TV, and others living out on the ground or under a tree. I witnessed a community so disconnected and neglected that the children could not even recite the opening verses of Surat Al Fatiha. Behind all the glamour, luxury, exoticness, and adventure that Pakistan holds, lies a reality of extreme poverty, neglect, and helplessness.
There was one particular destination in Sindh that really broke my heart and to this day keeps me thinking and wanting to go back to help. A few kilometres off mainland Karachi there was an island slum called Baba Island. This island had one of the highest population densities I have ever seen. People were literally living shoulder to shoulder, living on an island not suitable for the harshest of animals to live on. Lack of infrastructure and sanitation meant the streets and homes of the slum were filled and flooded with sewage water, garbage, feces, dead corpses of animals, disease, and the list could go on.
I remember walking into an elderly woman by the name of Hanifa’s little shack that she called home, she cried to me and told me how her house is constantly being flooded from ocean water and sewage overrun. She complained about how she could not afford to feed her orphaned grandchildren, and that she cannot afford to find medical treatment when sick.
I remember covering my face with the traditional Sindhi scarf that was gifted to me by a local, and I just broke down. The tears in my eyes would not stop flowing, I felt as if I had the guild of the world placed on my soul. And I remember repeatedly asking myself “how have we the greatest Ummah to be sent down by Allah allowed and accepted for this to happen to our own brothers and sisters?”