Charity for the old and young


I left the children at home one evening recently - much to their disgust – to attend a local charity fundraising event. It was the celebration of a joint project between Muslims and Christians: the start of building an ‘old age’ day-care centre. (No political correctness here: old people are just called old, rather than ‘senior citizens’.)

The occasion was opened with duas (personal prayers) from a respected Muslim. Then there was a talk from a local Christian, who called himself a ‘muslim Pastor’: as he explained, the word ‘muslim’ simply means one who submits to God. His talk was all very multicultural and friendly. I was a bit taken aback though when he greeted us all ‘in the blood of Jesus’: the Christian vicars I knew in the UK never did that! 

Some young Muslims provided the entertainment, going on stage to sing for us. I was a bit surprised that they sang British and American mainstream songs, gyrating about on stage to the music. Our waitress even got up and joined them at one point. I am sure my 8-year old Safiyya would have loved it, although she would probably have asked me why they are showing their tummy buttons, which she knows are meant to be kept firmly under wraps! Anyway, I do hope the older people are happy with their new premises when they are eventually ready, and appreciate the blood (of Jesus?), sweat and toil that will have gone into making it ready! 

Another Muslim-Christian project has been happening in my little patch of South Africa, focussed on the opposite end of the age spectrum: children, particularly orphaned children, all of whom have Aids. The kids live in groups in igloo-style houses in the Christian-led Sparrow Rainbow Village, and are cared for by ‘housemothers’, a wonderfully descriptive job title. For months now, the adult carers and helpers at this village have been busy working on an international craft project for Muslims, in particular for the adults, teenagers and children taking part in Living Islam 2007 (LI07) in the UK. The adults have been carefully beading lapels, badges and bracelets, all personalised with the LI07 logo, knowing that the beaders would benefit directly, as would the village and its children.  

Zain Bhikha, known amongst Muslims for his Islamic songs, lives close by, and he dropped in to offer his support to the village and those involved in the project. My husband ended up as the official photographer. Children from my kids’ madrasah (Muslim school) came by too for the occasion: ‘fair trade’, orphans and charity all feature as key parts of their Islamic education, although strictly speaking none of these were on the syllabus for the week!

Asim met the singer at the orphanage but didn’t even bother saying ‘hello’: he was on the lookout for his dad, and the welcome he gave his father was the kind a celebrity could only dream of! When Asim did choose to speak to Zain Bhikha, he wasn’t impressed at all. ‘Who is that man?’ he asked me indignantly right in front of him, looking him up and down. 3-year old Amaani was adamant it wasn’t him anyway: I don’t know what she expected him to look like but he was clearly not living up to her expectations. Fortunately, the rest of the Muslim kids were rather more excited to meet the man behind some of their CD collection. Safiyya went very shy, although did loudly sing his songs as soon as he was out of earshot!

All the children were soon busy trying out the Living Islam products and Zain Bhikha managed to get them singing songs animatedly. Unfortunately, they started to get cold: it is winter in South Africa, and 54 places officially recorded their lowest-ever temperatures that day. In an unusual role reversal, I ended up borrowing jumpers from the Aids orphanage to warm up various madrasah children, who had begun to cry from the cold.  

Later, I asked the Muslim children what they felt about the orphans they had played with. ‘They were very poor,’ said one 7-year old, sadly, ‘they didn’t even have trampolines’. They all agreed that not to have a trampoline was pretty serious. The fact the kids didn’t even have their own mothers or their own clothes seemed to have passed them by- although as some of the visiting children ended up wearing orphanage clothes, the whole clothing issue had become a little confused. 

Sadly for us all, the Living Islam event was cancelled at short notice due to the severe flooding. But the orphans remain.  And so do the bracelets! So please remember the orphans, financially and/or in your prayers. Whilst some orphans fortunately do have access to jumpers, they don’t have their own mothers, or even–more importantly it seems- their own trampoline.  And if you know of any conference to be held in 2007 containing the initials ‘LI’, I would be very happy to hear from you.