May 2006 Report

May 2006 Report

May 2006 Report 150 150 Comfort Aid International

My fellow Pantajani Muslims, Salaam aleykum.

Once again, I was blessed in the service of Allah (swt) by a visit to CAI ongoing projects in Kashmir, namely the construction of girls orphanage in Kargil and re-construction of earthquake destroyed boys orphanage and school in Kamal Kote, Uri. My experiences and observations follow but I will also include a poignant story of a failed rescue of a child sold to a Wahabi family due to a personal tragedy in West Bengal.

Part One – Mission Kamal Kote, Uri

Beautiful Kashmir

As you are well aware, the earthquake in Kashmir during October 2005 was devastating, with countless lives lost and even more destroyed and displaced. Among others, a boy’s orphanage and a school in Kamal Kote near Uri were completely destroyed. CAI took up the distress call and pledged to re-construct these after initial support from you donors.

Maulana Shaabani, Aliakber Ratansi from Al Imaan, Alimohammed Fidahussein, a selfless businessman from Srinagar and I left for Uri early May 21. There was a conference of sorts between the Indian government and a consortium of groups opposing their rule in Kashmir that day so the atmosphere was quite tense in the streets of Srinagar. I could feel it in the air, a disquiet of sorts. We passed a spot where two grenades were tossed shortly afterwards, killing nine; this we found out on our return to Srinagar.

Aga Shaabani, me, Aliakber Ratansi

Narrow winding roads took us up slippery slopes to the dusty town of Uri, where we stopped for breakfast at a dubious looking guest house. Chunks of bread, greasy omelets and skewer kabobs were brought to us, accompanied by an entourage of flies no hand wave could scare away. Although I felt queasy at the sight of all this mess surrounding the laid out food, hunger pains and Aga Shaabani urging took control and I ate, invoking the heavens for protection.

Musaddiq, a resident of Kamal Kote joined us for the journey to the village and pointed out destroyed homes along the way. Military checkpoints at several locations slowed us down but on two such stops, the guards manning the check posts, realizing who we were, saluted smartly and let us through with a smile and hearty “salaam alaikum”. These army cadets, you see, were once orphans of the very orphanage we were going to rescue; Musaddiq had used his influence to get these kids employed by the army once they reached buloog, the maximum age allowed at the orphanage. We passed a spot where few unrecoverable bodies are still pinned into the rocks that had come tumbling down the mountains as the earth shook that fateful day. I had steeled myself, expecting the worst, but nothing could prepare me for the devastation that lay before me; this, after 8 months and major clean up.

Damaged Uri Homes
Damaged Uri Homes
Damaged Uri Homes
Damaged Uri Homes

We passed a small housing cluster of about 25 families that have been severely hit by the earthquake and the leader gave us an update on the water situation there. There is abundant water in Kashmir and the flow is natural, gravitating from the mountains above. The earthquake, however, has redrawn the landscape and the families have lost its water supply. The women used ice and melted it during winter but with it all disappearing under the sun, they have to wake early and trek about 2 miles in the cold to get the days supply. Included in this task are small children balancing small containers of water on their delicate heads. The solution is laying an inch and a half thick pipe underground the 2 miles to a central location in the village. The villagers were ready to put in some of their funds and require an additional $3,200 for the project to proceed. This was a non issue for me and I authorized the work to begin immediately after the villagers put in their share. With Alimohammed administering the project, I felt comfortable that it would be done and done correctly, along the guidelines of CAI. If you want to partake in this sawaab, I encourage you to please contribute as these villagers will use this water for ghusal and wudhu as well as.

When we could not drive up any more, we walked to the place where the school had come down. It is a cleaned up plot now, ready for constructions as soon as I can get the funds to them, which, insha’Allah, will be by June 10. I am happy to report that alhamd’Allah, CIA has secured 100% of the funding required for this twin school / orphanage project. The school building will not be complete until October 2006, in time for the snow and winter holidays when nothing moves from November to February. This meant that the kids would not have had schooling for 2 years in a row. After much consultation, we decided to enroll the kids into any private school that would take them for this year at a cost of $25 per child per year. For 62 registered students that means $1,550. I agreed that CAI would fund this and I am hoping you, my donors will agree that this is a wise decision and will support it.

We broke for a quick lunch with our hosts and the inevitable flies, and then began the steep grind towards the fallen orphanage. Alhamd’Allah, I consider myself fit, running / walking an average of 32 miles a week but was breathing hard and sweating by the time I made it to the spot; my hosts (not the flies) were at ease and non paused and amused at our wheezing. The broken contents of what remained of the orphanage’s furniture lay stored in a borrowed shed mangled and devoid of any dignity. These would be trashed in the West without a thought but to these orphans, it was all they possessed, their only assets. The small plot of barren land seemed sad and I could only wonder at the toll these brethren of ours had been through. Well, Allah (swt) has given us an opportunity and we have taken it. Insha’Allah, by this time next year, we will have an orphanage here and our boys will live and study and continue with being good practicing Muslims once again. Thank you, my wonderful and generous donors, jazaak’Allah!

New Uri Orphanage Plot
New Uri Orphanage Plot
New Uri School Plot

Finally, we were directed towards an unusual community very close to Kamal Kote. See how Allah (swt) works His wonders. A community of 10,000 sayyed families live here, decedents from Imam Kazeem (as). They call themselves sayyed and pride in the fact that they are the descendents of our holy Imam (as); the unusual fact is that these families are all practicing the Sunni faith! I was stunned. Apparently, the forefathers of these families fled Aurungzeb’s rule, the worst anti-Ahlebeiti (as) in modern history, during the brutal Mogul rule and fled into the mountains and practiced their faith under the shadows of taqeeya. Aurungzeb’s army is reported to have burned alive 200 sayyed women during a Muharram ritual once; so no wonder. Aga Shaabani has been active with these families since he spent almost 3 months during the earthquake relief provided jointly by Al Imaan Foundation and CAI. He feels these Muslims are very, very close to reverting and alham’Allah, I have found a donor to finance the printing of a 1,000 books of And Then I Was Guided by Tejani – Urdu version. This book and support from us in sustaining them after expulsion from their mosques and madressas for reverting will win us our lost sayyeds – insha’Allah. Uri was unknown to the world, even to Indian Muslims before the earthquake; here within the tragedy of the earthquake, Allah (swt) gives us an opportunity to help revert lost progeny of our Aemmas (as). Initially, I am looking towards the possibility of constructing a small mosque …

Reconstructed Home in Kamal Kote, Uri

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Part Two- Mission Kargil

This second trip of mine to Kashmir, unfortunately, was mired in troubles and real danger. A two days strike was called for Srinagar and I was relieved we would be far away in Kargil during that time. Alas, my trip to Kargil, a mere 190 km (about 120 miles) away, took us 34 long hours. The onset of the journey was tame enough, until we came close to the village of Sonaghar, the place where the steep climb into the mountains of Kargil begins. To start with, we were stopped by a mob of rampaging youths agitating against the Army and I saw a couple of vehicle retreating with their windscreens taken out by stones. We should have retreated as well, but before we knew what happened, we were amongst the mobs and what saved us was the respect of the ammama on Aga Shaabani; we were politely asked to go back. I must have looked visibly shaken, for Aga Shaabani went at length to comfort and reassure me. We were, however, in a dilemma. What to do now? We decided to wait it out. We got word 2 hours later that roads were clear once more so we apprehensively proceeded with the climb but that too was short lived, as a police checkpoint stopped us and told us we could go no further. Why? Well, there was an avalanche of rocks and the one lane, one direction traffic could not go or come from Kargil. They were trying to clear the way but could not provide any time frame of when the obstacles would be removed.

Amongst the Mountains

Hence began the most trying 25 hours of this trip, waiting, waiting… The one way lane to and from Kargil, you see, is treacherous during best of weather conditions and shuts down completely in the winter; November through mid – May. It had just reopened and was totally torn up by sheets of melting ice glaciers. The boulders that had fallen could not easily be removed. We contemplated returning to Srinagar but that would mean our work of approving the land for the construction of the girls orphanage would not take place, a delay I was not ready to easily accept. We decided to sleep over the night at a tourist hotel, a dingy 20 room setup that proved surprisingly comfortable, probably because I was utterly tired and knocked off to sleep immediately after a light dinner. We woke up to a freezing morning and shivered through namaaz, bath and breakfast. Then, trying my patience to unbearable levels, we were made to wait until 1 PM before clearance finally came across and all vehicles held up since yesterday surged forward, our driver shouted “Ya Hujjat Ibne Hassan!” (as) and tore through the line like a man possessed. I tell you, it was an absolute miracle we did not or were hit.

One Lane Road in Melting Snow
Ali Asgher, the driver

After stopping to inspect a mosque that a donor of CAI was building at Drass, we were soon into winding and climbing up towards Kargil. My words cannot do justice to the treacherous conditions of the narrow track, sometimes completely under melting slush. We crawled through walls of melting snow; the landscape at once stunningly beautiful and simultaneously very dangerous. Ali Asgher, the driver, was hell bent on getting us to his town, seeing we had almost not, and it only after a stern reprimand by Aga Shabaani that he slowed down and we drove into busy Kargil, a stronghold. It had taken us over 34 hours to complete the trip. We now had less than 6 hours to complete all our work because we had to return to Srinagar starting at 3 AM next morning; traffic goes out of Kargil in the mornings and comes in late afternoon only. After inspecting the land which will be home to 50 orphaned girls by October 2006 insha’Allah and negotiating to all terms and conditions with the local Awquaaf that will supervise and run the project, we headed to see the girls in their cramped temporary two bedroom apartment after Magrib. This is always a pleasure, for these girls are truly masoom and victims of brutal war tragedies. But the help we all are proving them is bearing fruit for they are sharp and witty. After the standard dua of Imam Mahdi (as), recited beautifully, we sat down to juice and a chat with them. I went through their books and tested their English and Math skills. The Math level of a 6 year old in this primitive place is truly amazing for I can honestly say these girls would pulverize my 5 year girl in a Math contest, no doubt about it.

New Lab in Kargil
New Lab in Kargil
New Lab in Kargil
Beautiful Drass
Drass Mosque
Drass Mosque
Drass Mosque
Heat Retaining Windows
Melting Slush
New Girls Orphanage Site
New Girls Orphanage Site
New Girls Orphanage Site

We slept 3 hours perhaps, and headed towards Srinagar next morning; alhamd’Allah, there were no unexpected incidents along the way save for the inevitable military road blocks every so often. It was at the entrance of Srinagar city that events turned sour again. We stopped behind a long line of vehicles and discovered that Srinagar was under a military curfew for vehicles, none were allowed in; we could walk the 6 miles to the hotel instead. Aliakber of Al Imaan decided to use his Mumbai charm with a commanding officer and convinced him of the urgency that we make to our hotel and to the airport the next day for my flight to Mumbai. After much hooing and humming, he let us in and we reached Hotel Dar es Salaam using back roads. There we were told that the curfew was extended to the next day as well so we huddled together to strategize my trip to the airport the next afternoon. Alimohammed Fidahussein is a well known businessman in Srinagar, a man with connections and he has a security pass that could get him anyplace in the city. Well, almost anywhere; he was pretty confident we would make it.

The streets of Srinagar were empty when we began our 12 mile trip to the airport, with the military everywhere. They were in jeeps and armored cars and in bunkers and on patrol at every corner of every street. And they looked menacing everywhere at the 12 stops we had to make to get to the airport, a stop a mile. Perhaps they were justified in the sour mood they emitted; there had been 12 bombs and several people dead in the days I had been there. Had it not been for Alimohammed’s security pass, it would not have been possible for me to have reached the airport in time for my flight out. The airport itself was like a fish market, with very noisy people trying to get on full flights; mostly tourists trying to escape the suddenly dangerous events of the past few days. The security would not let anybody with anything in hands on to the aircraft, not even cameras or food or books. I had a personal dairy and the holy Quaraan that I would not part with. After a heated argument with a mean looking / acting dude, I sought intervention of a officer who waved me through after I argued with him in my American English. Perhaps he was impressed.

Exhausted, I reached Mumbai 5 hours later. Alhamd’Allah.

As I have stated in my prior musings, Kargil is perhaps the most difficult place of my projects to reach. But it is also most humbling and eye opening and perhaps life changing. It will change your outlook in life, I promise you that. You are welcome to join me when I return for Iftaar distributions in the most remote areas – even further and higher from Kargil – mid September 2006, where the dhikar of Allah (swt) and the love of Ahlebeiti (as) are avidly practiced. Plan now and let me know if you are interested.

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Part Three- Mission Bengal

Kolkala is not a very hospitable city generally, but in the summer it is downright nasty. Those accustomed to air conditioning are prone to get sick very quickly, this is a fact acknowledged by the Bengal Medical Association. The humidity can strip you of fluid levels before you realize what hit you and the direct sunlight in the afternoon can make you swoon. Thankfully, I was there for one night only, to make one final inspection of the orphanage and routine audit of its expenses. Alhamd’Allah all is well, we are slightly under budget as far as capital costs of the orphanage and the ongoing expenses well under control. The boys are progressing well and we have taken in 6 more orphans, so we now have 25, our maximum. After the inspection, meeting with the general contractor and a very satisfying Bengali dinner (seasoned with sweat drops), we sit down to talk and strategize about the future of this project. I am sated and happy; this project has gone exceeding well, thank you Allah!, and I pray the next few go as well.

Bengal Orphans
Bengal Orphans

When we settle to sleep, it is fairy comfortable with overhead fans at the only speed it will rotate in India (full blast) until we have a power cut; regular load shedding. It becomes very uncomfortable in a hurry; not only it is very humid and hot, the mosquitoes have a high regard and attraction for foreign blood, just as their Indian humans have for everything manufactured overseas. I am not jesting; while I slapped myself silly trying to kill these tormentors, my Bengali hosts did not seem overly perturbed. I suggested we move to the slightly cooler air on the terrace so we treked up there. It was indeed cooler here. We lay our blankets and settled in to sleep with Maulana Hyderi briefing me on the background of the new orphans. He narrated the following heartbreaking tale:

Nazim Mirza (I met him next day) is a slightly built man of about 45, with thinning hair and permanent worry creases on his forehead. He works as a salesman in a store not earning very much. In 2003 he had a wife, Sultana Parveen, and three children, a boy of 5 and 2 girls ages 4 and 2. Sultana died in March of 2003 on the delivery table due to renal failure brought about by diabetes, leaving her husband an infant son. He had no money for her wife’s burial, so he says. He approached some families but was provided Rupees 50 by one businessman and asked to leave. In desperation, he turned to the local Wahabi mosque and got his wife buried. With 3 children and an infant to care, Nazim was venerable; so when approached by a childless Wahabi couple asking to adopt his child of 40 days, he readily accepted, without compensation, he says. My Bengali hosts think otherwise. Nazim started work again, leaving his small children to the pity of neighborhoods and a kind doctor who fed the kids. The girls did odd cleaning jobs to earn some money. When these facts came to light with Aliakber Rattansi of Al Imaan, he immediately arranged for the girls, Sabah and Roshni to be taken in at Sakina Girls Home in Andheri – Mumbai and the boy, Anver Hussein taken in at the Boys Home in Mutiaburz – Kolkata. I do not know about you, but I was heartbroken at the loss of the infant; I am not ready to accept. I resolved to do something about it the next day but that resolve was interrupted by an invasion of red ants that made us quickly retreat back to the dorms below. The power was restored a few minutes later and I fell into an uneasy sleep.

I met Nazim Mirza the next day and unashamedly began to berate him on his decision to give his child away to the Wahabis. This was wrong of me and I regret this even now. We should pray that Allah (swt) save us from helplessness and mercy of mere mortals. Helplessness make a person do crazy things, it twists the mind and numbs it. I have seen this in many poor and destitute people I have encountered in these last 12 years. An error was made I resolved to do something about this. I also turned my ire towards Aalimbhai who is a local leader of sorts. Why was the wife not buried as is the wajib duty of every Muslim? What could the poor guy say? I sat with Nazim and implored him to try and get his son back, asked him to do everything in his power and even offered to pay Rs. 50,000 to get the kid back. Unfortunately, up to the time of this writing, no progress has been made and I have my doubts that we will succeed but my prayers are still alive. Insha’Allah …

Why do you do this, why spend all this time, energy and expense? How many will you help or save, the need is so great…? I have been asked this several times and initially, I just ignored the questions. But these have increased in frequency lately and I think it would be best if I addressed the issue in this email:

1. Purely selfish reasons; because I like it. It gives me a kick to see lives literally change before my eyes and the look on a child’s or widows face when a positive outcome occurs gives me a high no drug in the world would. All the free high with nothing but good side effects.
2. I have much to atone for, perhaps this small sacrifice on my part may just make the difference when I face my Lord (swt) and Imam (as)?
3. Yes, the problems seem insurmountable. Yes, the needs are endless. Yes, I feel like I am walking uphill at times and not made an inch of progress. But my parable is that of the toad that went to douse the fire Namrood had lit up to burn Ibraheem (as). Along the way he meets another toad who inquires him as to why he is headed towards the heat and not away from it. ‘Well’, says this toad, ‘I am off to douse the fire of Namrood and the water in my mouth will douse whatever it can, the rest I leave to Allah (swt).’ The fire eventually did douse, no?

Few additional issues that I need to share with you:

A. I will be away from the US in India for approximately 3 months beginning mid September 2006, insha’Allah. I feel my presence there in necessary as we execute the projects entrusted to CAI, so I will be personally involved. Effective immediately, responsibility for collecting and banking donations for CAI will fall on board member Hasnain Yusufali who resides in Austin, TX. He will wire funds to India where I will disperse them as needed; this will add another layer insurance regarding transparency that I am adamant about. His mailing address is:

Hasnain Yusufali
Comfort Aid International
2820 BlueJay Drive
Ceder Park, TX 78613

B. I attach a copy of request for funding of a mosque at Ranchi, Bihar. You may know be aware that Bihar is probably the poorest State in India. This mosque is short about $14,000 (most recent estimate) to complete. If you feel you want / can to complete it, I encourage you to come forward. We can dedicate it to your marhoomeens for thawab e jaaria.

C. Unfortunately, the Kargil Orphanage will be over our prior estimates due to the terrain of the land the steep rise of cement cost after the earthquake. I am still short $14,000 and this fact has me troubled. Until a donor is quickly found, I will be in some trouble so my plea to you for help.

D. It is my humble request that you share my experiences with everyone that may not receive this email. It is only through effective networking that will ensure people know about the projects that CAI undertakes. Jazaak’Allah.

E. As always, I am in desparate need of your prayers for the success of my projects. I am confident I do not knowingly commit sins or errors in executing projects and work related to CAI; I need your prayers however, not to err or sin even in ignorance.


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