Last night in the Roone Auditorium, the Muslim Students Association held their annual Fast-A-Thon. This year benefited Pakistani flood relief. The attendees had mostly been fasting since sunrise, so people came hungry. The program began with a call to prayer, and then those inclined were invited to pray. Following that, food was distributed and the program began, in which speakers brought home the staggering disaster that has taken place in Pakistan.
Students had been invited to fast from sunup to sundown, without food or water. Though the event was not during Ramadan, fasting is still encouraged for six days in this Islamic month in order to emulate the Prophet Muhammad’s fast. Ava Asiaii, BC ’14 explained, “Fasting makes you able to appreciate the freedom to eat whenever you want.” In order to express solidarity with the Pakistani people, the much awaited menu featured Pakistani cuisine, including chicken tikka, biryani, okra and naan bread. For dessert, gulab jamun was served. The food was a fantastic break from John Jay.
Notably, the ambassador of Pakistan to the United Nations, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, spoke. He delineated the extremity of the tragedy—twenty-one million displaced, one million domesticated animals killed, and more than three thousand dead, with all those numbers still rising. At the peak of the flood, the waters of the Indus were fifty to one hundred miles across, destroying the most fertile and populated parts of Pakistan. Says Haroon, “The Indus is a life source. It gives life to millions of people. At times, its damages and hurts those who it sustains with its plentiful waters.”
But the worst is not over. The cotton crop, which was soon to be harvested and composes 70% of the country’s economy, was wiped out. Rice plantations and staple foods are gone Land delineation is unclear, and the ground is too soaked to plant crops. The torrential force of the flood destroyed communications infrastructure, bridges and homes. Haroon commended the world for pledging money to help but, as of yesterday, they have only received $18 million. The UN estimates that it itself can sustain ten percent of the refugees, only 2.1 million out of 21 million people, at maximum efficiency. It is not operating at maximum efficiency. The tragedy is worse than Katrina, the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 Pakistani earthquake combined, in terms of numbers of displaced persons. Haroon concluded with a call for much needed aid to Pakistan
The second speaker was Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet. He posited that natural disasters are partly man-made. His recurring question was, “What side of history do you want to be on?” He decried the “throwaway culture” of which Americans are a part. He asked us to do simple things that contribute to using less water, less fuel, and to saving energy.
Next Henna Mahmood, CC ’11 and President of the Organization of Pakistani Students, spoke about their efforts both to raise $100,000 and educate Columbians about Pakistan. In five days, they have collected $10,000.
Sannia Qazi, a representative from Islamic Relief, stressed that no gift is too small, that even fifty cents is a meal. She told the audience that what was done is over, but if action is not taken to prevent the spread of disease and feed the refugees, the death toll will rise, and soon.
Finally, a grad student adviser read from the Qur’an and exhorted the audience to be “as generous as the free-blowing wind.” A Barnard alum explained her efforts to collect used clothes and ship them to Pakistan. Pakistan International Airlines ships relief goods for free.
The event ended with the the thought, “We are all each others’ people.”