Pakistanis Combat Coronavirus With Law of Generosity (Zakat), Demonstrate Interfaith Harmony

“At the center of it all is our family system and belief that wealth is temporary (amanat) from Allah. حقوقِ ul ibaad as ordained upon us”

DESPARDES — Pakistanis are bonding together to assist the less fortunate in a unique and inspiring way. Specifically, many are offering zakat, the traditional Muslim charity tax, for daily wage earners who have no paid leave, health insurance or financial safety net, reported BBC.

It said outside grocery stores in Karachi, a remarkable scene has been unfolding over the past two weeks. That, instead of rushing home after shopping to avoid being exposed to coronavirus, many Pakistanis are pausing outside to offer food, money or other charity to the many people on the street with no “place” to shelter-in-place. These generous offers are often accompanied with a request to the recipient: “Pray that [the coronavirus] ends soon.”

And the giving and bonding are regardless of cast, creed, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Volunteers of Alkhidmat Foundation disinfect a Mandir (Hindu temple)

Why is it so? For one thing, overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are more religious among the comity of nations, and in fact heads the curve despite being a developing economy with mounting debt — the Muslim-majority nation which has a long border with Afghanistan on its west, and rival India on its east, is said to have suffered more than US$130bln due to terrorism.

That took its toll and created decades of economic roller coaster. Still Pakistanis have remained stoic on donations and charity and liken zakat giving to a spiritual cleansing.

Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan in an address to the nation vowed to defeat the contagion with “youth and faith” — both in abundance in the country.

“At the center of it all is our family system and belief that wealth is temporary (amanat) from Allah. حقوقِ ul ibaad as ordained upon us”, says head of Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) Hasham bin Saddique.

According to a report by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Pakistanis contribute more than 1% toward their country’s GDP as charity, placing it among “far wealthier countries like the United Kingdom (1.3%) and Canada (1.2%) and around twice what India gives relative to GDP.” And a nationwide study found that 98% of Pakistanis give to charity a figure that far exceeds the number of people who are legally obligated to offer zakat, according to the report.

Many charity organizations in Pakistan have reported a surge in food and monetary donations since the outbreak. While in the West (for example USA) donations to charity orgs. are generally 100% tax deductible, the government led by Imran Khan recently increased tax deductibles for charity from 30% to 40%. The move has helped mobilize business houses also, says an investor who made a substantial donation and confirmed several of his business associates have also done so.

Volunteers have reportedly disinfected thousands of Mosques, Temples, Churches and Community Centers.

A recent government survey shows Pakistani banks collected Rs 7,377,678,000 (US$46m) in zakat from the population in 2018-2019. But because a lot of zakat is given by Pakistanis directly to those in need and therefore not documented, the real figure is much higher — anywhere between three to five times the figure, says an analyst.

Coronavirus pandemic seems to capitalize the BBC’s statement, an observer says, that the South Asian country “being one of the most philanthropic nations, has a somewhat diluted concept of individualism and capitalism”.

No denial, said several educated Pakistanis when asked on WhatsApp, adding that “We (indeed) view the power of zakat and religious charity to be cosmic forces”. “And in the face of a pandemic, these powers are being ramped up in the hope that the crisis will end”, they ayed BBC report’s comment. And with interfaith harmony pointed out one volunteer with photographs.