Friday, January 5, 2018

About Fat African Khoja Weddings / PHOOT! And CAI Orphans

About Fat African Khoja Weddings
It’s wedding galore at Masjid al Hayy in Sanford, FL, with 3 marriages in a row, 3 times the artery-busting biryani to feast on, followed by another 3 days of gorging at Tehsina and Ghadeer’s reception held at the Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton. Tehsina is the daughter of dear friends Sukaina and Riyaz Devji of Vancouver, Canada; wisely, they have decided to hold the wedding reception in warmer Orlando. In time too, because it’s turned chillier than the city’s morgue in Sanford now.

It’s nice to meet up with all the relatives who have come from across the globe for my niece Zeenat’s son Mudassir’s wedding, of course. Zeenat and Munaver Nanthani have put up a great welcome week of feasting and merrymaking, culminating with a barbecue reception fit for the Maharajas. A Motomoto specialist is flown in from Toronto to ensure the beef ribs and chicken Poussin are perfect, no less.  I think I’ve packed in a month’s worth of chicken, beef, and desserts in the 5 days of feasting. No wonder I have a belligerent relationship with my weighing scale every time I use it. I am convinced the stupid thing has a definite bias against me.

Keeping with the Khoja tradition after all nikkahs, I’ve just finished shaking hands and hugging scores of people I don’t know, all the while maintaining a goofy smile until my cheeks hurt. I do not imagine meeting Mullah Mchungu again after his dismal state of health the last time I met him. Then, he was huffing and puffing, effects from years of smoking stinking beedis finally catching up to his waning lungs and he looked like a goner. But no, bless him, here is he, in person, in Sanford, in line, leaning on his danda, flashing goofy dentures at me.

Hah, Kisukaali, he rasps, what is that awful earing doing on you? Had a change of lifestyle? He convulses into uncontrollable guffaws that change very quickly to a flurry of wild hacking that startles fellow merrymakers. Some want to help, but stay away at the conflict of grinning dentures that do not match with a face engulfed in pain.

I want to abandon him for his ignorant remark and walk away, but the old geezer appeals to me with his eyes so I help him to his wheelchair and maneuver him to one of the easy chairs lining the main prayer hall. The porch outside is chilly and jam-packed, so I sit by the Mullah as he regains his composure.

He tells me he is on his annual visit to see his grandchildren, reminds me his daughter in Dar, not son in Sanford, who paid for the airfare. There is no mention of where the son or grandchildren are right now; I do not ask. I know he has a combative relationship with both the son and daughter in law, especially with the bahoo, who he terms a blood-sucking daakan - witch. He tells me his health is iffy, and that the flight from Dar es Salaam to Dubai and then here nearly kills him. It is only a kind-hearted Indian Emirates Airline air hostess that moves him to a comfortable seat with more legroom that saves him from certain perdition.

Bah, he gripes, what extraordinary extravagant display of wealth, this masjid. He cranes his head this way and that, taking in the beautiful calligraphy of Masjid al Hayy. Bet you this place cost a pretty penny Kisukaali. How much you think you guys paid for this luxury?

I shrug my shoulders and keep mum. Many have commented on the price tag for this one of a kind Khoja masjid in the whole of USA and I do not want to speculate. But the grouch repeats the question and looks at me with steely glassy eyes.

I don’t know Mullah Saheb, I am not privy to the information. I have heard of it costing between 15 to 20 million, perhaps…

I do not get to finish my sentence as the guy literally collapses. I mean he is sitting up looking at all the beautiful decor one second and then the dude doubles down and begins huffing and puffing again. Almost all others have left the main hall so I am left to resuscitate him; I’m scared he might finally kick the bucket. But the geezer is merely playacting, trying to be sarcastic or funny. I am not impressed, and I let him know. But like everything else about this Mullah, he either pretends he did not hear or ignores me.

20 million dollars! Are you guys out of your minds, Kisukaali?! Where do you guys get this kind of money? You…

I stop him, sternly, and inform him it is not our money. It is a gift from a generous donor who wants to spend HIS money in Allah’s way HIS way, so the community gratefully accepted the kind and generous gift. Mullah Saheb looks dubious and skeptical but thankfully shuts up; changes the subject.

So, Kisukaali, I gather it is your nephew that just tied the knot?

I correct him, that it is my niece’s son, Mudassir, that was just married.

Hmmm, I like his style. He has more class than most of us. He wore a simple yet elegant kandoora that looked comfortable and stylish at the same time while most of you looked silly and uncomfortable in a suit and a stiff tie, hardly able to sit on the floor. I also saw him drive up to the masjid in his own car instead of being chauffeured in an expensively rented limo... The guy seems to have more common sense than some of you. He waves his hand around.

It’s useless arguing with the guy so I stay quiet. But the opinionated mind of his will not shut up. As usual, I let him speak and hope he’ll tire out soon.

I observed my daughter in law, the daakan, dress up tonight. She has a pretty face, even though her attitude and behavior stink horribly. The way she kept on applying layers of makeup disgusted me. It’s the same with all our ladies. They have such good complexions, yet apply layers of expensive junk just because…

My cellphone shudders. It’s daughter Zainab, asking where I am. They want to go eat dessert at groom’s and meet the newlyweds. It’s a good excuse to get away but I feel bad leaving the old crow alone. My prayers are instantly answered as son Ali comes running in looking for his father.

Saalo ghadeero, where were you? Berates Mullah Mchungu promptly… Kisulkaali here has been kind enough to look after me while you…


I sneak away in a hurry. Zainab can go eat the desserts. I have a stubborn weighing scale to fight. Unlike Mullah Mchungu, I can’t make it shut up.

PHOOT! And CAI Orphans
My latest novel PHOOT! has done US$34,000 in sales, so far, targeting US$100,000, monies going towards the education of over 550 CAI sponsored orphans. Please consider purchasing a copy so I can meet the target insha'Allah. It's US$100 per print copy available for purchase online at www.comfortaid.org/donate. Allah bless.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Rohingya Misery – Komail Somji / The Brothels Of Daulatdia

The Rohingya Misery – Komail Somji

I’m at the world’s largest brothel...I’m going to be a while. Make sure you get a bite to eat, then get some rest. We fly out at 9am.

So says Ali Yusufali, CEO of CAI.

Hmmmm. I’ve known the guy for eons, but this is very strange, even by his standards (see story below). 

I’ve landed in Dhaka for a night stop before heading to Cox’s Bazar to observe firsthand what is being described as the modern-day holocaust meted to the Rohingya’s of Myanmar.

We whizz through unorganized Dhaka chaos the next morning and fly Biman Air to Cox’s Bazar, a haphazard town with the guaranteed hustle and bustle of subcontinent Asia with its overcrowded streets. It has a Zanzibar vibe because of the beach, that is apparently the world’s longest uninterrupted one. 

Ninety minutes from Cox’s Bazar, near the border with Myanmar, are border camps where the Rohingya’s are taking a second shot at life. UN, Red Cross, Red Crescent and other banners line the streets. Food distribution points are abundant. Temporary field hospitals with lines of desperate people look for medical aid. People walk bare feet with supplies balanced on their heads and shoulders. Children as young as 5 walking with bags of food to feed themselves, the handout from aid agencies. A kid struggles to hoist a jute bag full of building bricks to his shoulders and then teeters under the weight. All images nothing short of serious misery; the grief is crushing. 

Over the past few months aid is pouring in from family and friends routed to CAI for these wretched people. And it’s time to see the progress made. Yusufali and I are visiting to open doors to the newly built school for up to 140 orphans. The funds allow us to feed them a healthy morning breakfast and a hot lunch every day. And of course, learn a thing or two during their class times. 

The building was nonexistent the last time Yusufali visited and thus we have no idea what to expect. We arrive at the only solid structure in the vicinity, and I know it’s the school; CAI doesn’t do anything halfway. The solid steel structure was put up in about 6 weeks.

We walk into applause from the orphaned boys and girls, aged 5 to 8, cheering us and filling the sorrowful air with a little sparkle of enthusiasm and joy. They have come a long way and have a long way to go. 

A young orphan girl, 8 perhaps, catches my eye. She has a beaming glow. Big bright eyes. I remember my niece immediately and fight back a tear. I am told she’s an orphan; her father and elder sister killed. I will never forget that feeling of being in the presence of a young child who has seen so much misery in such a short life. Then I realize there are over 100 more orphans in the same room. All having faced similar hardship and sorrow. Many have witnessed their mothers or sisters raped. Others have had their younger siblings burnt alive. I ask Yusufali to get some info on this beautiful young girl. We find out she is Begum Jiya, 7. 

The children are handed hygiene kits, uniforms, some books and writing material before being let go for the day. We and the group inaugurating this school have a meal to end the event. 

It’s a long ride back to Cox’s Bazar and a painful one for my right ear. I have an elderly Bangladeshi gentleman who insists on screaming the entire drive back; his views must be important. To him. Yusufali gives me a smile and knocks out as he is pooped. 

I head back to Dubai, where normal life is to continue on and keep going. Everyone asks how my trip went and wants to know what happened and how it was. I’m speechless. That rarely happens. How do you describe misery? Sorrow? Pain? Injustice? Suffering? Unexplainable and unfathomable. I can’t express what I see in a camp where half a million barely exist, with no future in sight. Several months ago, everyone was living a normal life, some quite well to do, I’m told. And now they are at the mercy of donor dollars. 

I would like to keep in touch with Begum Jiya. But she speaks no English. She’ll probably never remember me. But I don’t think I will ever forget her face. Her picture below. 



The Brothels Of Daulatdia

Transvestites terrify me - the ones I encounter on Mumbai streets with loud sarees, painted faces, clapping hands, knocking on car windows demanding money or else, give me a creepy feeling, much to the amusement of Sarfaraz, the driver, who delights in my discomfort.

So, when I meet Ivan Khata, a former sex worker and a transvestite in Dhaka, clad in a colorful saree and an ill-fitting wig, I am in anxiety overdrive. But Khata, who understands English quite well but speaks it sparingly, is remarkably amiable and accommodating to my apprehensions. So, I warm up to her as she relates me her story in a husky voice with animated expressions from a knowing face. I will not repeat it here since it’s not relevant to my visit to the largest brothel in Bangladesh, which has over 300,000 sex workers in the country. Khata is the thread that will make the visit possible.

I am drawn to this subject after watching a documentary that highlights the pathetic lives of young vulnerable girls into the deep misery of the flesh trade. I am interested in their backgrounds, why and how they end up in the current situation and how, if at all, can we help find them an alternative livelihood, away from sin. Kausar Jamal, CAI’s operational partner for Bangladesh makes the arrangements and I am off to Daulatdia, some 50 miles away. With me in the van is Kausar, Khata, 2 local NGO workers helping sex workers survive abuse and a very aggressive driver who thinks nothing risking all our lives with his highly irrational, dangerous and provocative driving. The 50 miles takes us over 2 nerve wrecking hours, with the madman in the driver’s seat thinking he owns the road. He breaks every driving rule and has the audacity to curse others who obey some driving protocol and decency. Since the others in the car are nonchalant or accepting of this behavior, I bite my tongue, seethe and bear it.

We have to wait for an hour fighting incredibly heavy traffic for a rickety ferry to take us over the Padma river. Our driver brazenly cuts before a barging truck, prompting an onslaught of curses from its driver and a terrifying one from me as well. Sunrise and dusk are early winter events in Bangladesh so it is magreeb as we line up in the ferry and I go join other passengers for salaat on a dingy upper deck of the moving ferry. Since the boat changes directions, we lose the qibla, but the imam leading the prayers is okay with that, so I reckon he knows what he is doing. If not, I am sure Allah will consider my intent and overlook this unavoidable transgression. The skies start drizzling just as we reach the outskirts of the vast slum area that make up Daulatdia.

It is with some trouble we locate the Mama of 10 sex workers who will guide us through the maze of lanes and dens that make up this sprawl of sin. Prostitution is officially illegal in majority Muslim Bangladesh, but the government is unwilling or unable to enforce the laws that will deal with the problem. Instead, the authorities issue an individual singing or dancing permit, which everybody knows is cops’ eyes averted as long as the person is not causing too much hungaama. Even if one is persecuted and brought to court, the fine for this trade is Taka 50 (about 65 US cents).

I meet with a couple of NGO employees who halfheartedly want to convince me they are doing the best to help the sex workers fight abuse, but lack of funding and disinterest from the government makes the task a challenge. So, do I have the money to fund them? I ignore the questions about money and tell them I am interested in helping potential reform-minded girls directly instead. I can see and feel the resentment in the shifting of their eyes and body movements. Still, the possibility of money is still the carrot that keeps them glued to me.

The Mama is huge, dark and ugly. But she is kind to her girls and fiercely protects them from outside elements with physical violence or bribes, which include the very policemen who are supposed to be protectors. In return, she demands loyalty payments and rent for the tiny digs that also act as entertaining rooms for clients.

The night is pretty dark, so I can’t see much beyond the reach of street lights, but I can smell the garbage dump behind the shanty town where trash piles up and putrefies – no municipal services here. The lanes between the sex dens are narrow, wet, slippery, uneven and noisy, so I watch where I tread very carefully, following Mama’s massive behind as she leads us to her corner. It is difficult, for me, to keep my eyes looking for a sure footing and observe the sex workers at the same time. Earsplitting Bengali songs blare from speakers. Several women, girls really, faces painted with makeup and ruby red lipstick, line up the alleyway, gawking at us. One of them blows cigarette smoke on my face and bursts out in merriment. Another one mocks a dance move and winks, smiling small uneven teeth marred by red lipstick. Since I am accompanied by 5 Bengalis, I feel little fear.

Big Mama’s pad is a cluster of 10 individual tiny rooms, nestled in one corner of the favela with a massive mango and jamun tree in the middle of the front yard. Mama informs me the mangoes and jamuns are abundant and sweet in the summer. I get to meet and talk to 5 of her wards. Surprisingly, to me, all the 5 rooms are exceptionally neat and clean, cots with floral bedsheets and sparse furniture that is exceptionally dust free; I always imagined these places as seedy and grimy. Also, the air is breathable and odor free, smelling of fresh rain with a hint of jasmine. Again, I am surprised as I had assumed, for no apparent reason, these places stink evil. Each of the girls has a story to tell, overwhelmingly miserable starts in life, with crushing odds stacked against them. I will relate the tale of one girl, Pinky, since the others are pretty much the same sad saga of woes and life turbulences.

Pinky is in her late teens, with a pretty face and a pert ambiance, so it is easy to converse with her, even with the help of an interpreter. She first assumes I am an upscale tourist customer, and immediately quotes a price that is 10 times her normal rate; my dressing, mannerism, and English warrant the rate hike. The translator, rather rudely, tells her to wake up and ask her Mama, who has okayed me talking to her and asking questions. I can tell Pinky is not too happy with giving this free service but the mood does not last too long.

She is the first born into a poor family of 3 daughters and a son in a village outside Dhaka. Her father, a petty rice farmer, is afflicted with tuberculosis and rendered useless midlife. The mother picks up the slack and becomes a housemaid. At age 16, Pinky is lured to a job in the city by a cousin and the rest is history. Pinky is unrepentant about her profession, proud even. She supports her family of sisters and also pays for her to brother attend school.  The maximum she earns is Taka15,000/month (US$185). After paying off her Mama for rent and protection fee, the balance goes home to her family. No, her family does not know she is a sex worker.

Enamored men buy her gifts or sometimes pay bonuses that she saves for her trousseau. I laugh and ask if she really thinks someone will marry her. This draws instant ire from her; eyes flash and face set in an angry pout. She wags an indignant finger my way and lectures me in a quivering, teary voice.

Yes, yes, I’ll marry and demand a hefty dowry as well. And I’ll have children too. And the children I’ll have will be free from what I do. They’ll go to school and be prized in high society and will hold their heads up…

Amen, I silently pray and immediately apologize for laughing at her aspirations, she relents. She tells me she is good at what she does and laughs at my obvious discomfort. So, I change the subject. No, she stands for no abuse by her customers, Mama is swift in reckoning with troublemakers. Yes, she is aware of her exposure to sexual diseases in her trade but not overly concerned. This makes me feel quite despondent for some inexplicable reason. Will she consider a change of trade if given the opportunity?

Pinky goes quiet and I sense disquiet and apprehension on her face. She clamps up and glances at Mama, sitting and chatting with Kauser at another cabin, nervously. I again press her for a possible career change, assuring support and financial assistance but the damage to the carefree chat has been done. She becomes agitated, gets up in a hurry, signaling an end to the interview and leaves the room. Baffled, I turn to the translator, who shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes to the heavens in disgust.

I am so exhausted with the long day, having begun in Mumba at 4 AM with the flight to Dhaka and then the crazy drive to Daulatdia and the emotional upheaval there, I nap on my way back, uncaring if the driver is playing Russian roulette with my life.

Maybe I am being naïve in trying to help the sex workers at Daulatdia - the whole system is highly complex, intractable and fraught with some danger. But it’s worth a try to save a few trapped and desponded sex workers who want out and are willing to train for alternative employment. The robust garment industry, health and data entry job centers in Bangladesh are alternatives where the pay is at par or better than what they currently make. It’ll be a challenge to extract the girls from the dominance of overpowering Mamas I met but doable. The successes, however, for me, will be no less than ecstasy. Nothing is impossible. Insha’Allah.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

CAI’s India, Senegal, Mali, Bangladesh / Phoot! Is Out.


CAI’s India, Senegal, Mali, Bangladesh
Sayed Kaneez Fizza is the clerk who handles all the CAI project compliance paperwork for India. She is a typical Mumbayte of UP origin, complete with the education and mindset of an urbanite Indian upbringing, including the omnipotent head-wag, which can mean yes, no, maybe or I don’t know. So it is not the easiest task to read her mind in the best of my days. She finds me sitting in my comfortable red t-shirt, and a hand shoots up to her mouth in shock and dismay.

‘Sir, you are wearing red! It is not Rabi’ al-awwal nine as yet, no?’

I wreck my brains to solve the complicated formula between wearing red and the 9th day of the month after Safar. Bingo! Kaneez is appalled and upset that I choose to wear anything other than black before the ‘official’ mourning period in the subcontinent ends. I sigh, mumble an illegible response and let it go. I am severely jetlagged, and a rational, well-thought response will only hurt my head. I have an early morning flight to catch to smog and pollution shrouded New Delhi tomorrow and will need all my strength and wits to survive the next few days.

Later in the day, I listen to some online religious lectures, to atone for being caught not wearing black. I also can’t sleep, due to the jetlag from flying in from Florida to Mumbai. The first lecture elevates my blood pressure to heights yet inexperienced. The vocal guy, bless him, yells that I must join my salutation to the Prophet (s) in a proper manner. It is insufficient to say Allahuma sale alaa Muhammed, Waa ale Muhammed. Nor Sir, that is an affront to the aal (s) of the Prophet (a). So, I must say Allahuma sale alaa Muhammed waa ale Muhammed, all in the same breath. Here we are, the world is a frightening mayhem, ready to make mincemeat of us Muslims, and this dude has the time and energy to come up with this apparently concocted nonsense. I quickly swallow a dose of medication to lower my BP – just in case. 

I try and listen to another online lecture. This one is even more baffling. The guy is shrouded in a heavy black cloak from the throat all the way to his feet. And dons a sheep wool kofia that I have seen Afghans wear in the middle of winter. He is complaining to the crowds that he feels super warm; is the air conditioner not working? Can the whirling fans be speeded up? He repeats this complaint quite a few times. I wish I were there, in London, where I could advise him, politely, to perhaps wear a less elaborate kurta shalwar next time? But alas, I am in Mumbai. I still listen to him, since he is quite popular with many; I want to understand why. Perhaps he can impress me equally? He veers off from his chosen subject matter no less than three times in the next fifteen minutes, comes back and tells the crowd Yeh meraa mouzuu nahee hai, magar… Gee, I really wish I am there, in London, where I could suggest, very politely, that he stay on mouzuu? I stop watching and try sleeping instead. Should I be surprised at the apathy and confusion in our college-going children with this kind of gobbledygook from the pulpit?

This current trip takes me from Sanford, Florida to Mumbai. I take a redeye from Mumbai to New Delhi the next day and then drive to Sirsi in UP, joined by my Guru in India, Aliakber Ratansi. The SGH orphanage construction is coming up very well, CAI should be able to officially open the modern facility to 50 odd orphan girls in May 2018 and afford them a quality education insha’Allah. Then on to Halwaana where CAI is constructing a school for 600 non-going children living as poor farmer’s kids in a cluster of sadaat villages on the banks of the river Yamuna. From there we visit an already constructed school in Sikanderpur, a surprise inspection of sorts. We travel on terrible roads over three days at maddening speeds that takes a heavy toll on my sleeping pattern, already in disarray from the jetlag.  The only bright experience is a hot, fiery mutton biryani breakfast at a roadside dhabba that is unbelievably divine. Doesn’t do my guts any good but my tongue has a mind of its own, so I have two helpings. Burp. Lulls’ me to sleep later on in a jerking vehicle.

I have a day’s rest on return to Mumbai before a 12-hour flight to Dakar via Dubai and Conakry. I am joined here by fellow Trustee Sohail Abdullah from NY, CAI Africa representative Murtaza Bhimani and well-wisher Mushtaq Fazal from Dar es Salaam. And we are off yet again, an almost 13-hour drive to Kolda where CAI has constructed a school and soon will be starting another small school in a deprived village. Insha’Allah. Apart from one of us forgetting a bag full of money and passports at a roadside café and battling determined mosquitos, we survive the 3-day 30 hours’ drive in one piece and return to Dakar for our flight to Bamako, Mali the next day. Thanks to our partner Mouhammad Aidara and his reach in the country, the money and passports are safeguarded and returned to the relieved owners on our return to Dakar.

CAI has just completed the construction of a school in Bamako, Mali and its inspection is our goal – all is well. Our next stop is a rickety shabby elementary school about a two-hour drive from Bamako. This school has about 350 exceedingly poor students who have no future past grade 9. The sight of these children, all willing to give it their best in very trying circumstances, tug at our hearts. CAI will look into constructing a three-classroom high school unit shortly insha’Allah. After arranging a protein-rich feast for the starved children in honor of the birthday of our Prophet (S) for the next day, we rush to Bamako; our hosts are not too thrilled for us to be in the boonies as dusk approaches. Mali has been rocked with violence from radicals, and Aidara wants to take no chances with foreigners so far away from the city proper.

I must add that the arrangements by Mouhammad Aidara, CEO and founder of Mozdahir, in all the West African countries that CAI is active in providing quality education to deprived children, has been exemplary. He commands awe and respect, not only from his disciples across W. Africa, but also from the various governments and heads of States, even, for his services. CAI is much indebted to him and the rest of the staff at Mozdahir.

CAI will, insha’Allah, continue with providing educational opportunities to the marginalized children in the whole of W. Africa. The plan is to construct an elementary school in every location that lacks one. Next stop, the country of Benin. Insha’Allah.

I return to Mumbai after a day’s transit in Dakar once more before heading out to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, where I officially declare a makeshift school for 140 Rohingya orphans open. We hope we can dry their tears, stabilize their emotions and perhaps, in a small way, rekindle hope in humanity and compassion, something that their own countrymen have decided to forsake.

I urge you to see several photos of this trip here.

Phoot! Is Now Available!
This novel, my third, is now out and available for US $100 delivered globally. All proceeds – 100% - will help over 550 worldwide orphans that CAI supports and educates.

You can read an excerpt of Phoot! here. You can purchase it here. Please help us help the orphans become educated, dignified, balanced and upright human beings. This will be an everlasting, lifelong gift to them. Allah bless.



Thursday, November 23, 2017

CAI – Nothing Is Impossible! / Phoot! Is Out.


CAI – Nothing Is Impossible!
My late brother Mohammed Raza (Bha) loved to support charitable causes and was a pioneer in encouraging and funding CAI activities. He was a firm believer that his life was incomplete if his assets, however meager, were not shared by the less fortunate. This was the underlying paradigm mindset change in me that made the founding of Comfort Aid International (CAI) possible.

It is only when I move out of Tanzania and begin traveling that I start to understand what Bha means. With the education opportunities gifted to me by others and the resulting job and travels, my eyes and mind open to how very fortunate I am. Exposed to the poverty in India and beyond subsequently, the worldwide survivors of wars and famine and ethnic or religious cleansing, I learn, the very hard and emotional way, what life is like for the people on the other side. And how very fortunate I am to eat whatever I desire and whenever I want, to live in a comfortable home and sleep in a bed while flipping through cable TV channels while the AC vents blow cool air towards my blanketed torso. My children go to some of the best schools’ money can buy, wear trendy clothes and are chauffeured to places for sport and entertainment. While right in front of me, a widow tells me she has to save for two months so that her son can have the new uniform demanded by the school. I meet children, barely adolescents, toiling over sweatshops or farming fields for a pittance. I know then, I know, what Bha means. And my calling is cemented.

I am determined, absolutely unwavering in the firm belief that I will never take my life and fortunes for granted. Ever. Allah grants me, and us of course, bounties as tests. For certainly, I can easily be the child on the other side, son to the mother whose forehead is burrowed with the pain of worry or the infant with eyes that are blank with the agony of seeing a parent murdered or mother or sister raped or home burnt down. I am nobody to question Allah’s decree. Why has He granted me so many bounties, while right in front of my eyes, I see the most wretched of the wretched? I do not know, nor do I want to ponder it over. All I know is that there is an opportunity here, to be upright and try to make the furrows of the mothers less deep, or to see a young widow economically independent so she does not have to sell herself or to see children in crisp uniforms hop and skip to school, a smile on their faces.

From humble beginnings in 1996, when I encounter Sakina Rizvi (read her compelling story) in the slums of Govandi, Mumbai, India, CAI is born. With the unwavering financial and moral support from Bha, who extends a helping hand in rescuing Sakina and her brother from the gutters of the slums, CAI achievements are, alhamd’Allah, nothing but a miracle surely. Nothing is impossible!

On any given day:
- Over 14,000 poor students get a quality education at one of 34 CAI sponsored schools worldwide.
- About 600 destitute people, some who have yet to see a medical doctor, get medical attention and medicines at a modern medical clinic for less than 50 US cents. Or deliver a baby in a safe sterile environment with a qualified medical midwife at hand.
- Over 300,000 people get potable water from CAI sponsored water wells and water distribution systems worldwide
- Over 500 orphans get their needs fulfilled, including the opportunity at an extraordinary quality education in 10 orphanages that CAI has helped sponsor worldwide.

And:
- CAI sponsored homes shelter over 950 homeless families worldwide.
- CAI sponsors over US$250,000/year in basic education for poor children.
- CAI sponsors over $50,000/year in higher education scholarships to deserving students with qualifying grades.
- CAI has assisted in the marriage of over 2,800 poor girls so they can escape the scourge of dowry.
- CAI assists in lifesaver medical cases to the tune of US$100,000 per year. 
CAI has liberated over 600 widows from begging for food by training them in a skill or by providing them animal husbandry alternatives.
- CAI provides ready assistance to victims of natural disasters, wars or other calamities – whenever and wherever called upon, worldwide, from natural disasters in Haiti to the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
- CAI helps feed over 25,000 poor and destitute families every year, at least for a month.
- And the mission continues… In partnership with other NGO’s like Beta Charitable Trust in the UK, IHS in Canada, OCT in the UK, Al Imaan in India and others, CAI is ever ready to lend a hand of comfort and compassion.
- All for the love of our Creator who gifts us with ample tests and opportunities.

Phoot! Is Now Available!
You may already know CAI takes care for the wellbeing of over 500 orphans worldwide, now that 100 new ones from the Rohingya refugees rotting in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have been added to the expanding roster. They are fed, clothed, treated if ill, but most importantly, they get an opportunity for a quality education. The recourses for all this comes from people like you – Allah bless.

You may not be a book lover, perhaps not read fiction, not like my writing or not like me, even. All taken in stride. This novel, my third, Phoot! is a personal gift towards the education of these orphans. All proceeds, 100%, support the cost of their education, I keep not a penny for gain. I am hoping CAI can raise US$100,000, enough funds to support over 100 orphans annually. The print version is now available.

So please consider supporting the cause. You can read it, you may actually like it insha’Allah, or gift it, or add it to your collections of books. You will definitely be investing in a very valuable cause, one that Allah repeatedly commands me and you to do in His holy book. The Prophet (s) too, has encouraged us to take care of orphans, promising a close place to him in Janna. There is no better care than educating one, I promise. I state this from 19 years of experience working with and educating orphans. It is a paramount sawaab e jaaria; the benefits do not cease. 

You can read an excerpt of Phoot! here. The cost for a printed version is US$100, delivered worldwide; equal to one or two dinners with your family. You can purchase it here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Speak Not, They Are Our Fallible Ulemas! / About Phoot!

Speak Not, They Are Our Fallible Ulemas!
I am at my home office in Sanford, FL, at peace with the world for a change. The air outside is a crisp 48F; I am shivering when I drop Maaha Zainab at her high school at seven, when the sky is a deep ebony. Imagine! I wish we’d stop tinkering around with the daylight savings nonsense and let nature be nature; seven o’clock is supposed to be light and chirpy.

So, I am minding my own business, enjoying a Dubai style Malabari paratha, now available frozen with the same-to-same texture and taste, with a steaming cup of karak Wah Bakri chai when an email from a highly charged and emotional Blog reader pops up, blasting me for criticizing a ‘respectable’ aalim for consuming a cancer stick. The email rocks with anger and indignance, railing against my alleged arrogance. Who, he lambasts, am I to criticize an ‘aalim’, even one who smokes? Would I do the same to A. Khui (r) who was an avid and a chain smoker?

There goes my day. And I thought I might have a tranquil one, take a nap, go for my routine run and then catch up with so many trivial tasks I have shelved due to a hectic CAI related travel schedule. Especially now that my third novel Phoot! is at the printers and will be out in about a month. More on Phoot! later.

Reactions to my Blogs are frequent, overwhelmingly favorable, but some, like this, are irritants. I usually ignore them. With circa 5,000 followers, I can’t possibly be synced with everybody’s mindset. And that’s okay.  But this dude has touched a raw nerve, one that rubs me bad. That a person who sits on a mimbar, representing the Prophet (a), the Aimaas (a), no less, and then does something that is reprehensible is bad enough. What is worse is the acceptance by the masses of such behavior. This zaakir, bless him, is a fairly good reciter, he can emotionally rouse the crowds. But, he smokes. Like a chimney. Which is bad. Period.

One would be a lunatic to believe that smoking and or vaping anything other than Allah gifted clean air is WRONG. Ethically and medically, and especially when the culprit is supposed to be a representative of an infallible. It is of no consequence if the offender is a zaakir or a marja. Perhaps A. Khui (r) did not have the information and damning data about smoking during his lifetime and would have chosen not to indulge; I don’t know.

The bigger picture about faith is that we regard everybody and anybody sitting on the pulpit as an infallible. It simply ain’t so, and this paradigm must change! Yes, they have spent years studying about Islam and may have the prerequisites to sit on the mimbar and enlighten us about the madhab. They - most of them, since some are outright nitwits and know not what they speak - should be respected, admired even, only if they use the acquired knowledge with intellect and decorum fit for the mimbar. But if they indulge in things that are obviously and intellectually wrong, why, then they should be advised otherwise.

So, Mr. Indignant, my brother in humanity and Islam, may Allah bless you. Calm down and please don’t get your chuddies in an uncomfortable twist, you’ll burst a vein boore. We have so much pain and turbulence in our world already, no? Let us agree to disagree? If you didn’t like what I have written and are obviously offended, I’m honestly sorry; I even said so as a disclaimer in the Blog. And if my Blogs still cause you so much heartburn, please unsubscribe. It’ll sadden me that you will not continue to be intellectually challenged and enlightened by my offerings, but that’s a burden I am ready and willing to bear. Only for your wellbeing and happiness.

Perhaps I’ll postpone my run today. Praying behind the Sheykh at the stunningly beautiful but sometimes dysfunctional Masjid al Hayy has the same benefits. Almost. The good Sheykh’s salaats are fasta-fasta, they accelerate the heartbeats and makes me break into a sweat.

About Phoot!
You may already know CAI cares for the wellbeing of about 500 orphans worldwide, now that 100 fresh new ones from the Rohingya refugees rotting in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have been added to the expanding roster. They are fed, clothed, treated if ill, but most importantly, they get an opportunity for a quality education. The recourses for all this comes from people like you – Allah bless.

You may not be a book lover, perhaps not read fiction, not like my writing or not like me, even. All taken in stride. This novel, my third, Phoot! is a personal gift towards the education of these orphans. All proceeds, 100%, support the cost of their education, I keep not a penny for gain. I am hoping CAI can raise US$100,000, enough funds to support over 100 orphans annually.

So please consider supporting the cause. You can read it, you may actually like it insha’Allah, or gift it, or add it to your collections of books. You will definitely be investing in a very valuable cause, one that Allah repeatedly commands you and me to do in His holy book. The Prophet (s) too, has encouraged us to take care of orphans, promising a close place to him in Janna. There is no better care than educating one, I promise. I state this from 19 years of experience working with and educating orphans. It is a paramount sawaab e jaaria; the benefits do not cease. 

You can read an excerpt of Phoot! here. The cost for a printed version is US$100, delivered worldwide; equal to one or two dinners with your family. You can purchase it here.

FYI, the total cost for supporting an orphan, including a quality education is US$86 / month. The $100,000 raised from selling these books will take care of 20% of the total annual cost for caring for these orphans.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Amongst The Rohingya Refugees – Nasser Jetha / Afghanistan Photo Blog / Phoot!

Amongst The Rohingya Refugees – Nasser Jetha
We have all been witnessing the immense cruelty and ensuing tragedy meted towards the Rohingyas in Myanmar (Burma). One persistent question haunts my mind. How can I help?

Emotionally affected by the pictures sent by Yusufali of his recent trip to the refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, I knew, without a second thought, I wanted to accompany him on his next trip there, which was in about three weeks from then.

Being the go-getter that he is, with Yusufali there is no time to think or dilly-dally: you are either in or out; time is precious. The awaited five days trip is happening. And so here I am on the EK582 flight to Dhaka from Dubai, a city I have never been to before.

It is incredible how fate connects us to other people and even more amazing that we are heading for the same purpose. Just before boarding, I meet Sohail and Abbas - the two indispensable CAI Trustees doing all the hard work with Yusufali. I could tell that they are from the US with their typical Gringo accents, especially Sohail.

Traffic in Dhaka is insane, with rickshaws maneuvering around, the sounds of horns, people standing on top of moving trains and even a poor mother holding puke from her little boy and throwing it from the window of an overcrowded bus... It all feels surreal for newcomers. Luckily, having had the taste of Mumbai’s insanity before, this was not too much of a surprise to me.

When Yusufali joins us later at the hotel in Dhaka, the energy level suddenly changed; it's like you could feel the presence of the BIG BOSS, in a positive way of course... After a good brief, on the status and trip ahead, we depart for Cox’s Bazar the next day.

Cox’s Bazar is a small city about an hour’s drive from the Rohingya refugee camp. The Seyeman Beach Resort is packed with aid workers, holidaymakers and .... honeymooners!?! (Umm... no comment here). After a few hiccups about our reservations in a busy and noisy reception area, we land up in an ocean view two-bedroom suite. With this fantastic view, no wonder love birds are coming to this popular hotel (mystery solved).

Over lunch we discuss our plans with the local representatives’ CAI is working with, in Bangladesh. I must say Bangladeshis love to eat... fresh fried pomfret fish and some local ladyfish; Sohail can’t resist. On our way to the camp, Abbas needs his dose of coconut water with malai. It seems like my new US buddies are food lovers and persistent on their taste buds.

It has rained heavily the night before, so the roads are muddy and flooded at places. As we carefully mind our steps, suddenly, we see a mass of Rohingya refugees; they are everywhere, mainly women and children. The empty look in the eyes of almost all the children keeps piercing at my heart. I am to discover later these kids are physiologically affected by the gruesome violence of rape, killing, destruction, and fire that gripped their brethren as they fled the mauling Burmese Army. When will this stop?

The rain adds more misery to the refugees existing poor squalor conditions. Children of every age, mothers carrying their little ones, walk barefoot in the sludge. The camp is so big, so I don't know where to look; so many children, so much pain.... Amidst this misery, I see few kids trying to forget their gloom by playing soccer in a soggy rice field, using plastic bags as kites or makeshift toys - plastic bottle with wheels as a toy car - some kids follow us.

Alhamdulillah, there are many well-known international NGOs present, and with the help of the very well disciplined and professional Bangladeshi army, there is now a sense of structured chaos. I take a few pictures of some children and show it to them; at first, they were shy, but then you see them smile. Perhaps it is the first time they see a picture of themselves? Or seeing them after a very long time? May Allah bless them soon with a bright future!

We have our gumboots on, but all the refugees walk barefoot.  With the whole experience, realization hits me... how privileged am I!!?! By the end of the five-day trip, I will be back to my comfortable life! I will be affected for a while, but, yet again, once I am back into my daily regimen, these memories will blur! I always forget to count my blessings! What about the refugees? After all, they are also humans! How long will the pain and test last? How much more do they have to endure!?

I feel out of sync... for the next few days, thinking about all these people, especially the poor innocent boys and girls. Some faces have left an impact on me. I can’t get Muhammad Umar out of my mind; the boy maybe six years old but is my guide in the camp and follows me all the time, and this toddler smiling at me with an eye infection. I try to play with him, and all I could think of is my daughter back in Dubai. She is almost the same age...

I ask Allah why this is happening? Why?

And a hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) sways in my mind “It may happen that a servant of Allah gives a loaf of bread in Charity, but it turns out to be great as Mount Uhud to Allah.” Perhaps this test will propel these wretched people to a better tomorrow? Insha’Allah, CAI will be building a few deep-water wells and a makeshift school for 100 orphans.  To give them a purpose in life, and not to dwell on their ordeals, teach them basic hygiene, education and a shot at a decent future.


I can only hope and pray.

You can view photos and videos of my visit.

Afghanistan Photo Blog
Please view wonderful photos and videos by Trustee Sohail Abdullah of our most recent visit to Afghanistan. CAI officially commissioned two brand new medical clinics in remote areas of Kitty and Ahangar in Dykundy Province. 

Phoot!
My new novel Phoot! will be available by November 30, 2017, insha'Allah. All proceeds, 100%, will benefit over 500 CAI worldwide orphans in their quest for an excellent education. Please preorder a copy at US$100 each here. Delivered worldwide. Only 228 print copies left. You can read excerpts here. Allah bless.