It’s All About Paisa, Nai!
The squeaky-clean Khoja musafarkhana in Najaf is empty; almost. Perhaps if the management opened it up to all zawaars it might get some traction? Especially since huquuq funds have been used to construct it? Huquuq as in everybody has a right to it? My past protests at this apparent inequity have been met with stony silence or I have politely been told to zip my lips. It’s Khoja money that made the place possible, stupid, never mind if its huquuq. It’s all about our paisa, nai?
I regress, however. I am more interested in talking about an interesting discourse I have with a Khoja ‘aalim’, let’s call him Mulla Uljan, visiting Iraq for ziyaara. It is not an opportune time for either of us. There is strife, rioting, and shootings out there. Iraqis, teenagers mostly, destroying their infrastructure, poisoning the already polluted air by burning tires at major intersections, using violence against anybody who dares question them and causing general mayhem. I have had a harrowing two days visiting Nasiriyah and Karbala, am ailing and eagerly looking forward to flying home tomorrow, if the airport can remain open. Mullah Uljan is trapped by the bedlam outside and will have to either wait out the rioting or return home to Pakistan otherwise.
I am nursing my sinuses, trying to rid the dudus hammering inside my head and sipping coffee at the cafeteria in the musafarkhana when Mullah Uljan walks in, makes himself a cup of nauseating elaichi flavored tea and finding the place empty, greets me an overenthusiastic salaam and takes a seat opposite mine.
Kemcho Bhai, how are you, Brother? He says genially in Gujarati. It is natural for him to assume I can speak the universal language of the Khojas, I suppose, since we are in a Khoja facility. He is in his fifties with a handsome peppered beard trimmed and contoured to his jaw flawlessly. There is a trace of a permanent smudge on his forehead from the turba; the face is of a perfect presentable Mulla.
We get to chatting about our roots and him eventually lamenting about what is happening outside. Mullah Uljan is at his wit’s end and feeling miserable. He is a Khoja from Karachi, Pakistan, leading a small group of zawaars to Iraq. The zawaars have abandoned him, preferring to either not travel or leaving in a hurry after a few days, unwilling or unable to stomach the increasing turbulence gripping the country.
Ungrateful hooligans and looters, from top to the bottom Mullah Uljan hisses abruptly, craning his neck everywhere to ensure nobody is listening in. The place is empty, a few pesky flies that braved to enter have been singed to nothingness in the incinerator above the entrance.
Who? I ask, confused.
Aree, these Iraqis. Hooligans, I tell you. I have no sympathy for them. All they do is beg the world for everything. Masha’Allah, Allah has gifted them so, so much. Oil, loads of it. Bhai, did you know that this country earns four times more dollars in a year than our Pakistan. With a population of five times less than us. Yet, it’s not enough. The Mullah shakes his head furiously, almost knocking his Lucknowi cap from his head. Are you on ziyaara alone or with a group, he asks abruptly, changing the subject.
So I have to explain I’m here to commission a water-well for the poor of Nasiriyah and what Comfort Aid International does for the poor and marginalized all over the world. The guy is awestruck and astonished.
And you are helping Iraqis? Drill water-wells? Sorry Bhai, but that’s a waste of money, nai?
Oh, dear. I do not want another majlis about Iraqi woes, it’s what I have been hearing and digesting since I’ve arrived here. I feign a yawn and finish my coffee, hoping he’ll leave me alone and let me go. No such luck. I can be rude and cut him off, but he is a man of God, so I decide to give him some space before I really have to go and get some sleep before my arduous return trip home tomorrow.
Aree Bhai, these Iraqi’s are rolling in money. Billions of dollars are siphoned away by the elite. It is them that should be helping others! He raises a hand and as if reciting a tasbeeh, goes down his pinkie finger with his thumb to list Iraq’s wealth. They have oil, 3 million barrels every day, they have our Imams in their country that attract tourist money, they have the seat of marjeeat which brings in loads of huqooq money and they have the annual arbaeen event that they claim bring in at least twenty million zawaars. Imagine if every zawaar spends $100 minimum for services, you do the math. All these resources at their disposal and yet you come and provide potable water for them?
He pauses for breath and looks at me expectantly as if seeking an endorsement for his rant; he does not receive it. So he continues.
You see them out there? They are the ignorant and uneducated, destroying their own homes. Do you know who eggs them on? The various ulema factions operating here. One powerful aalim against another, all fighting for dollars. Dollars that line the pockets of these men disguised as religious leaders… The police are scared of their criticism. Suddenly his voice turns into a whisper. All it takes are a few broken bones, a bullet or two in a few kneecaps and the riots will fizzle out…guaranteed.
That’s it! I’ve heard enough. I want to hear no more so I cut him off.
I admit that what you speak is not untrue, I have heard all that you say before, many times. The situation is not unique to Iraq; it happens in other countries that my organization is active in. Corruption is rife in Afghanistan, in poor African countries, in India, your country Pakistan…endless. This fact matters not one bit to the poor and marginalized that CAI help. They are still drinking polluted water, are hungry, are homeless, widowed and orphaned due to no fault of theirs. I cannot fold my hands and ignore their plight, it would be morally wrong and against the teachings of our Aeemas, no? You should know this better than I, Mullah Saheb.
This answer shuts him up real quick for his face registers surprise first and then ire. I’d better leave before he busts a vein and gives me greater pain than I am already in. I am about to wish him goodbye when he grabs my hand, giving a kick to my heartbeats and rousing my defensive hormones. But he is only asking for help.
Bhai, he says, his face so close to mine I can smell his awful elaichi breath from the tea he has drunk. Since you are in the helping profession, I have a proposal for you. I run a hawza outside of Karachi for the poor…
It’s all about paisa, nai?