Serving The Needy

At a time when charitable organizations in Kashmir valley have turned into lucrative businesses, a woman has been clandestinely working over the last 50 years from her Qalamdanpora Nawa Bazar residence in old city to change the lives of orphans and needy, ABDUL WAJID reports.

A poor woman receiving aid at the Anjuman -- Photo: Abdul Basit
A poor woman receiving aid at the Anjuman — Photo: Abdul Basit

An old lady arrives at the wooden door of an archaic house in Srinagar’s Nawa Bazar area where a charitable organization has been quietly changing lives of orphans, poor and the needy of Kashmir valley over the last five decades. The lady has come to receive her monthly aid to purchase some warm clothes and fuel to beat the cold in approaching winters.

Anjuman-e-Khawatein-e-Muslimaat which provides regular financial assistance to destitute families is run by Shamima. As the needy lady who has come to collect aid approaches her, Shamima gives her an envelope, “Ye chie farishte (She is an Angel). She is next to God for me and hundreds of others who make their living with her aid,” the woman remarked, and left the house.

Unlike the other charities running in Kashmir, the Anjuman-e-Khawatein-e-Muslimaat is not registered as an NGO, which makes it ineligible to receive aid from government. The organization doesn’t even have a bank account. “We provide aid in form of money, food and clothes to more than fifty poor families. People donate their assets because they have faith in me. They don’t even ask for any receipt,” says the modestly-dressed Shamima with a smile.

Shamima has been working for Anjuman since she was 10. As she gets nostalgic about the past of Anjuman, her eyes turn wet, “Twenty years back, there was a family who lost their father leaving behind a poor widow and four fatherless kids. We provided aid to them for about 15 years. Now they are our chief contributors.”

Shamina has dedicated her life to keep the organization running. She has not married out of fear of losing an opportunity to work for a larger good. “My in-laws might have opposed my charity work. I want to live and die for the poor and needy. People live without a purpose but I am happy that I have a good reason to live my life for others,” she says.

Anjuman survives on monthly donations made by contributors who usually prefer to remain anonymous. “I don’t take anything from the Bait-ul-Maal (charity) for myself. It will be a sin for me,” she says.

Besides, the trust is reputed for its work and receives handsome contributions on special occasions like Eid. “There are some very good people who keep donating money and other assets. I visit them every month for collecting their contributions. They don’t even ask for a receipt. They donate clandestinely which is the main purpose of charity,” Shamima says.

Piles of newly bought blankets at Shamima's residence meant for the poor (Photo-Abdul-Basit)
Piles of newly bought blankets at Shamima’s residence meant for the poor (Photo-Abdul-Basit)

Whenever she has to collect donations, she prefers to walk by foot or avail public transport rather than hiring a private taxi. “I try to save every penny. It could be used for other work. On last Eid, I collected around 150 animal skins and tailored them with my own hands to make sellable,” she says.

Shamima has studied till 7th standard only but is well versed with Holy Quran and Hadith and reads sermons in women gatherings held every week at Anjuman. “Our charity has funded marriages of more than a thousand poor Kashmiri girls. Besides we work for around 50 poor families by providing them fixed monthly aid that starts from Rs 300 to Rs 5000. We also provide Islamic education by arranging weekly sermons of Quran and Hadith.”

Anjuman was started by Molvi Ghulam Rasool Gami as a school of religion for the women in old city’s Nawa Bazar. Later, a working government teacher, Shahzada, took over. Well known for her pious nature and religious inclination, Shahzada is still heading the organisation. Known as Baji among the staff and beneficiaries of Anjuman, Shahzada has worked through her life to serve the poor and needy.

Baji, who lost her husband at a very early age, is survived by her daughter. Over the last 40 years, she is heading Anjuman along with her assistant, Shamima. Although Baji is the chief director of Anjuman but she is not able to move out due to her poor health.

“Anjuman was started for the women and it is mostly women who work here. The only male member working with Anjuman is an accountant, Syed Najeeb, who is a local businessman,” says Shamima. Najeeb has been working with Anjuman since his childhood following the footsteps of his mother, Shama Firdous, who also worked as an accountant with the government. “My mother used to work for Anjuman as an accountant. I still remember the times when I used to accompany her for collecting the charity. I used to carry a huge bag for collecting rice, cereals, wheat and clothes”, says Najeeb.

“Before my mother died, she called me up and advised me to take care of Anjuman after her death as I was well aware of its working culture since my childhood. I still respect that oath and probably that’s why I am still working here,” Najeeb says. He claims Anjuman has documented every transaction since he started working with it. “I have maintained registers that have records of every single penny. I have been maintaining these records from the times when even 10 paisa was considered creditable. Officially Anjuman is not run by any volunteers but 99 per cent of the people involved are women.”

Najeeb says that Anjuman has seen many difficulties over the last 40 years but he credits Shamima and Baji for keeping the organization afloat. When asked about the militancy period, Najeeb says “We received many threatening calls from unknown people during 1990’s but we stayed firm and continued with our work.”

Gunny bags containing coal for distributing among the poor by Shamima (Photo-Abdul-Basit)
Gunny bags containing coal for distributing among the poor by Shamima (Photo-Abdul-Basit)

Over the years, many organizations approached Anjuman with lucrative offers to register it as an NGO but Baji and Shamima turned them down, “They promised to provide us aid from government along with some personal benefits. But I rejected their offer because at Anjuman there are modest people who wish to continue the work modestly. We have never approached press and have never advertized our work but Anjuman still flourishes by the grace of Almighty.”

“Most of the charitable organizations in Kashmir have been transformed into a lucrative business thereby muddying the real concept of charity. I believe there are plenty of downtrodden, penniless people around who die unheard,” Najeeb says. “If we look around, there are many destitute people in our society. But it is difficult to find them because they live in a disguise and don’t complain because of their conscience,” Shamima says.

“Wealth is not what we pile up and distribute among our heirs. The real wealth is what accompanies us to the hereafter in the form of deeds,” Najeeb says.

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