Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
April 3, 2020
Mr. President: As we continue to observe social distancing, we also have to keep
reminding ourselves, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. In other
words, we must continue supporting friends, neighbors, those in need of help. If we
have hoarded food with panic buying and others are running short, now is the time to
Actualizing man's natural impulse for generosity is frequently a religious tenet.
Congregations at Sikh temples purchase, prepare and offer food to all comers. The
Buddhist monk carries an empty bowl filled over the course of the day for his victuals.
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. It requires a distribution of 2.5 percent of
annual income in excess of needs.
Pakistan is an Islamic Republic. It is a poor developing country. Yet as described in a
recent BBC News story, the generosity of common people is helping day laborers
survive during the coronavirus crisis when the country is in lockdown.
Day laborers as the term implies pick up jobs by the day, the daily income feeding
them and their families. Under lockdown, work has stopped and such jobs have
vanished with dire consequences for those who depended upon them.
So it is that people can be seen standing around grocery stores attempting to fulfill
their zakat obligations through offers of food or money to those in need. What could
have become a disastrous choice of either dying from hunger or the coronavirus has
Pakistan is one of six countries in the world where zakat is mandated and collected by
the government from those having bank accounts and tax returns. These resources
have been converted swiftly into rations of basics like lentils, flour and oil, and
distributed to those in need. Collecting zakat happens also to identify those who are
not obliged to offer it; in other words, the poor.
Add to this the efforts of countless individuals on a person-to-person basis, and,
although a poor developing country, Pakistan contributes over 1 percent of GDP to
charity -- a figure that compares well with much wealthier countries like Canada (1.2
percent) or the UK (1.3 percent). Moreover, this duty to help is ingrained in the
peoples' psyche, and 98 percent are involved in one form or another, if not with cash
then in kind, or through volunteering their time.
India's charitable contributions as a percent of GDP amount to half of Pakistan's. Its
day laborers' macabre Hobson's choice of death by coronavirus or starvation in the
lockdown led the politically acute Mr. Modi to go around apologizing to these 450
million voters for his extreme measure. He has also introduced a $22 billion stimulus
package last week that promises to deliver basics like lentils and grains to India's 800
million poor for three months.
Zakat is an Arabic word meaning 'that which purifies'. If money is filthy lucre, then it
certainly does. More so, generosity imparts a sense of well-being.
Does this sense of well-being from charitable giving translate into happiness? It so
happens the 2020 World Happiness Index rankings (Figure 2.1) were published on
March 20. Pakistan's ranking rose from 75 to 66 while India fell further from 125 to
144 out of 153 countries in total. This year the Happiness Report also ranks cities for
happiness (Figure 3.1). Again the Pakistani major cities of Karachi (ranked 117) and
Lahore (122) are far above India's capital Delhi (180) scoring close to #186 at dead
It seems we must always be wary of emotional distancing. Unlike Cain, we are our