When a young Muslim preacher bumped into an underprivileged woman inside a Srinagar church, the encounter instantly changed his worldview and led to create a charitable body, which is now providing a helping hand to hundreds of needy families, and creating a social change.
Before he would join hands with like minded people to float the idea of a charitable body in 2007, Old Srinagar resident Bashir Ahmad Nadwi had freshly returned home after completing his Islamic education. It was the time when Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik would draw droves to his seminars. Among them would be sizeable non-Muslims, lining-up to convert to Islam. Apparently, the young man wanted to follow suit.
To begin with, Nadwi started teaching the holy Quran and fundamentals of Islam to local youth of his hometown Nawa Kadal. With an urge to ‘do something’ for creating a ‘change’, he started spreading the message of peace among the non-Muslims visiting Kashmir. He would distribute small gift hampers and booklets which had basics about Islam among them.
In his passion to do more, he shortly encountered a woman wearing the Islamic veil inside Srinagar’s Holy Family Catholic Church.
“I was shocked when she told me, ‘I’m a broken soul and was living in penury. I was in need of great help when I came to you—Islamic preachers. But you made me sit outside the mosque among your shoes, and forced me to beg for the treatment of my ailing husband. Then I came here, and received all the help that I needed’.”
That help, Nadwi rues, had come at the cost of her faith.
“Her story shook me to my core,” Bashir says, recounting his decade-old life-changing encounter. “I instantly realized that instead of inviting other faiths to Islam, my primary duty should be to serve my needy Muslims, so that in future, none would be forced to shun faith, like that woman in the church, whom we had failed.”
It was that encounter which led to the concept of Athrout, the welfare body, now helping thousands of needy families to live a respectful life across Kashmir.
The body is also taking care of those forgotten persons who become family liability in the face of the tragedy, like a bedridden mechanic from Srinagar.
Before becoming physically disabled, Mohammad Aslam was toiling to sustain a family of seven, including an old father, two children, a wife, and a divorced sister and her two kids.
Life changed for them when Aslam met with a gruesome accident at his workshop, losing both of his legs. The incident crippled his dreams for life.
He was operated in New Delhi’s Max hospital where the surgery cost him around Rs 8 lakh. His relatives and neighbors initially chipped in with some monetary help. But as the surgery showed no positive results, his treatment, since then, continues.
Aslam requires a minimum amount of Rs 15,000 per month to pay his medical bills. The family mainly relies on the financial support by Aslam’s brother — who has a family of four to take care of.
“We’ve nothing left now,” says Amina, Aslam’s sister-in-law, sobbing. “His condition has crushed us. He was in a coma for a period of one month before coming to senses, only to realize that he has been doomed.”
In that grim situation, the family heard about Athrout and visited them for the help, she says. “They asked us to fill a form along with our bank details and identity proof. After verifying our case, we were enrolled in the monthly household scheme.”
By helping Aslam’s family to walk through despair and grief, Athrout is living up to its literal meaning of being a helping hand. The welfare body has already created a social change by solving problems of a poverty-ridden section of the society, improving their lives and helping them to become self-sufficient.
With its expanded areas of operation, Athrout has become a full-fledged humanitarian body, now catering to six different areas — medical care, education support, monthly household help, empowerment schemes, marriage assistance and alms.
“Athrout is a dream, which is turning into reality as it progresses,” says Bilal Ahmad, working with the organisation as a volunteer since its inception. “We at Athrout aim at helping those in need.”
For fundraising, the organisation has kept donation boxes at various business establishments, like shops and departmental stores, where people donate money. It holds a weekly meeting where cases are shortlisted and a team of two persons is constituted to check the authenticity of the person seeking help.
“After proper verification, surveying and discussion,” Bilal says, “we decide which case will be taken up for help. Every week, we get 7-8 new cases.”
One of the beneficiaries is Saleema Begum, who has a family of four, all women, to sustain.
She is registered under the monthly household assistance scheme wherein she is given monthly household items and Rs 1000 cash.
“God has taken our support system, my father and then our only brother,” Saleema says. “It was Athrout which came to our rescue and is taking care of our needs now.”
Since last four years, the figures of the NGO are telling.
In 2015, Athrout distributed around Rs 4.90 lakh under different heads. By the end of 2016, they had distributed Rs 33.90 lakh and registered 145 cases for monthly assistance — 30 under marriage assistance, 60 for education support, 17 for empowerment assistance.
In the last financial year, Athrout registered 397 cases in monthly household, 61 for marriage finances and 74 cases for health assistance. Under education and empowerment, they registered 40 and 48 cases, respectively. That year they distributed a total amount of Rs 72.47 lakh.
The organization also runs women empowerment skill center, Al-Nisa, where women from low-income groups are trained in different skills like cutting, tailoring, and knitting so that they can, with time, become self-reliant.
It also runs a pharmacy shop, Rahat, where the enrolled families get free medicines and low-income group gets medicines at an affordable price. Besides, the NGO organizes free medical camps in remote areas and provides free of cost services to poor like ambulance, oxygen concentrators, and nebulizers.
“While helping with one time medical assistance,” Bilal says, “we found that the most financial help was needed by those suffering from kidney issues.”
Responding to the health crisis, Athrout established a 12-bed dialysis center where free dialysis is provided to poor people. The welfare organization is also coming up with the hospital exclusively for women, where all employees will be females.
But coming this far was not so easy for Athrout.
“There were/are times,” Bilal says, “when people are hard to handle, given their desperate needs. This tells us that as a society, we’re yet to understand the concept of who qualifies for Zakat.”
While that remains a big question, but given how far Athrout has come in its resolve to serve the needy makes Bashir Ahmad Nadwi’s decision to choose community welfare over preaching indeed worth it, and reminds one of a famous saying: The hands that serve are holier than the lips that pray.
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