Muslims celebrate this Eid with aid
Many forgo traditional gifts to help victims of Asia earthquake
By Tara Dooley, Houston Chronicle
Any other year, Dr. Kashif Ansari would be celebrating Eid al-Fitr with a gathering of friends and family. He would be decked out in a new suit for an elaborate feast and the exchange of gifts, traditions of the Muslim holiday.
Not this year.
With the start of Eid today, Ansari will observe the traditionally festive holiday with prayer, as is required by the faith. But there will be few new clothes or gifts, he said. A banquet will be held as a fundraiser for survivors of the Oct. 8 earthquake in South Asia that killed more than 73,000 people and left millions of others homeless, most in Pakistan.
"None of the families I know are (buying) new clothes," said Ansari, who is involved in relief efforts through the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America. "In Houston, everybody I talk to has said, 'No, not this year.'
'Eid starts after the sighting of the crescent moon, which happened Wednesday. It comes at the end of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast in daylight hours. Observing Ramadan, which began Oct. 5, is considered one of the five main pillars, or tenets, of the faith.
Another of the five pillars is giving to charity. And many Muslims donate the required 2.5 percent of their assets during Ramadan.
"Ramadan and charity are like brother and sister," said Naeem Baig, a spokesman for the Islamic Circle of North America, which is providing earthquake aid. "We know from the life of the Prophet ... that during the month of Ramadan his generosity is described as a 'rain that comes with the wind.' "
Many Muslims, especially those of Pakistani descent, said they plan to tone down their Eid festivities this year. Some said they plan to give the money earmarked for feasts and finery to relief efforts in the Pakistan tent cities that are being set up for survivors.
"It is very, very low key," said Anjali Khusro of Khazana Jewels, who has experienced lower than normal holiday sales this year. "People are not in the mood of celebrating Eid. They are in the mood of giving."
Ramadan is the most important time of the year for Muslim charities. Since the federal investigations of Islamic aid groups with suspected ties to terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, some Muslims have opted to donate only to neighborhood causes.
But with the earthquake striking a predominantly Muslim country three days after start of the holy month, donors have responded generously, relief organizers said. Islamic Relief had to hire temporary employees to keep up. "Donations have been coming in at record pace," said Arif Shaikh, spokesman for the nonprofit headquartered in Los Angeles.
Since the earthquake, the agency has received $4 million in cash contributions, Shaikh said. Money has been used to provide medicine, food, winterized tents, mattresses and blankets.
Similarly, the relief arm of the Islamic Circle, ICNA Relief, experienced a marked increase in donations. In the three days after the earthquake the group received $800,000, Baig said. In Houston, ICNA Relief volunteers held fundraisers at local restaurants and collected medicine to send to Pakistan, said Ayub Badat, a volunteer operation manager for the agency.
The group also raised money to buy two ambulances which will be shipped Friday to Pakistan.
The Islamic Society of Greater Houston collected roughly $275,000 in donations earmarked for Pakistan, President Rodwan Saleh said, and he added that the majority of the group's Muslims are of Pakistani descent.
"Everybody is paying, paying, giving, giving," said Badat, who plans to travel to Pakistan next week.
Indeed, Muslim charities have been in overdrive since last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia struck a little more than a month after Ramadan had ended, when people had already donated to their favorite causes. Many charities, such as Islamic Relief, also supported relief efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Efforts in Pakistan will continue for years, relief groups said. Though some are concerned that generosity may decrease with the end of Ramadan when donors feel tapped out, Baig thinks the aid will continue.
"The Muslim community in North America ... is a very blessed community when it comes to financial resources," he said. "I am very hopeful it will continue."