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Jihad Against Poverty and Ignorance
By Shah N. Khan

For ages our rulers and political leaders have been talking about elimination of poverty. There has been fallacious thinking among some of them that merely by Zakat and fair distribution of the national resources, poverty can be eliminated. They do not appear to know that our National Budget happens to be much smaller than hundreds of multinational companies! Our per capita Gross Domestic Product is mere US $ 400 as compared to about $ 30,000 in USA and Switzerland etc.  So if the resources were distributed equally among the people every body would become poor as we are among the poorest of the poorest countries of the world!  

Although programs were devised by the Government from time to time to help the poor, due to inadequacy of resources and bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption they have not proved to be efficacious. Now Jamali Government is reported to have allocated RS. 5 Billion for relief of the poor.  We can only hope that the money goes to the deserving people. In the past such schemes were ostensibly devised for the poor but in actual fact they were used to reward the party workers and the favorite MNAs and MPAs.  

Most economists agree that such Relief Schemes tend to perpetuate poverty and leave people just where they were before. Much more important are the Aid Schemes. Aid restores the poor to society as an individual worthy of all respect and not as a man with a  grievance needing charity and relief. Charity and almsgiving is the generosity of the rich and religious duty in most cases. We should have social aid schemes not only at the Government level but also in private sector to level up social inequalities. But before we do that let us see how we can define poverty.

Poverty is an economic condition in which people lack sufficient income to obtain the minimal levels of health care, food, housing, clothing, and education generally recognized as necessary to ensure an adequate standard of living. Further, accessibility to clean water, means of transport and communications etc. make the difference between destitute and poor besides the quality of food, shelter and clothing. Even the upper middle class in many Third world countries lives much below the standards of living enjoyed by the poor in the West.

Much of the world's poverty is due to a low level of economic development, illiteracy and widespread unemployment. Negative attitude toward wok, lack of discipline and apathy to teamwork and inability to harness and utilize natural resources can also be regarded as the reasons for lack of economic development.  

Tens of thousands of poor people throughout the world die every year from starvation and malnutrition. Infant mortality rates are higher and life expectancy lower among the poor. Most of the poor are not criminals, and many criminals are not poor, but people from impoverished environments are more likely to commit crimes. They can easily be persuaded or misguided in indulging in terrorist activities when religious or political leaders preach hate and blame the other communities for their present plight. Fifth columnists also use them.  

Other social problems, such as mental illness and drug addiction, prostitution, alcoholism etc. are common among the poor, in part because they are causes as well as effects of poverty.  

During the first half of the 20th century China was a country  where misery and want were the foundation of the social structure, famine was periodic, death from starvation common, disease pervasive, thievery normal, and graft and corruption taken for granted. The elimination of these conditions in Communist China is so striking that negative aspects of the Communism fade in relative importance.  In 7th Century the religion of Islam made possible such miracles. Why it does not happen now?

Apart from Muslim world why many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have not been able to achieve the desired level of prosperity? Although the reduction in Defense expenditure is likely to increase the pace of development in countries like India and Pakistan, there are many other snags.  

In Pakistan the largest impoverished group has grown to over 30 % forcing mothers and their children to work on paltry wages or live on charity. Unemployment problem continues to aggravate. The need for a well-conceived and coordinated national program  for alleviation of poverty is badly needed in which participation of private sector and different communities must be encouraged.  

We must admire the social work of Ismailis and Bohra communities for their own people, which barely constitute 3 % of the population but contribute over 10 % in GDP. You'd rarely find a needy person in their community for they take care of them themselves and their schools and  hospitals are open to all.  

Parsis and Christians among Non Muslims and small Memon community among Muslims can also take pride in their social services by establishing schools, colleges and hospitals besides community aid programs.  

Abdul Sattar Edhi and Imran Khan have proved that people support all genuine projects. Imran met with outstanding success when he launched his project for a cancer hospital in Lahore. There are many charitable institutions like Edhi Foundation, which are doing Commendable work but their efforts are like pain killers rather than cure for the malady of poverty.  

Some of our politicians think that Allah (swt) has endowed some Islamic countries with the great wealth of oil. But most of the income generated from oil is locked up in banks or invested in the West. They think fallaciously that if that wealth were utilized in modernizing agriculture and establishing industries in poor Islamic countries, it would pave the way for economic development of Ummah and alleviation of poverty. Such wishful thinking is not going to work. The sad fact is that even the oil producing countries have not achieved the real economic development. And when the oil fields dry up by the end or middle of this century their economic problems would mount.  

In Pakistan like most other third world countries misery and want prevail on the social structure, deaths from starvation or under nourishment are frequent and disease pervasive, thievery and crimes uncontrollable, and graft and corruption are rampant.  

Elimination of these conditions is a great challenge, which the Government alone cannot tackle. Every one of us would have to contribute. In fact we have to work in the spirit of Jihad against poverty, ignorance and corruption. If we cannot do any thing else we should help in eliminating power thefts, raising voice against corruption, injustice and inefficiency and do our own job honestly and sincerely according to ideals of Islam. Great responsibility lies on the shoulders of our leaders in different fields. Besides politicians, religious leaders, ulemas the bureaucrats and people in different walks of life must contribute.  

Here are some the important steps that Government must take to inculcate the spirit of Jihad against poverty and ignorance and coordinate efforts of the nation in this regard.  

1. Planning: The Government mus devise and launch a ten year program to eliminate poverty after consultations with the experts, scholars and religious and political leaders, industrialists and businessmen defining the role for different bodies as well as people in different walks of life. And it must be vigourously  pursued and montored.  

2. Literacy and Training: The adult literacy program devised by late Mohammed Khan Junejo was laudable but it failed due to beauracratic inefficiency and corruption. The new adult literacy drive should also aim at creating civic sense, awareness for discipline, self help and organizing community projects like digging up wells and ponds for clean water, improving sanitary conditions and building schools, dispensaries etc.  

3. Skill Development Programs: The focus of such programs in many countries has been to promote Do It Yourself Culture. Such programs do not require establishment of institutes or colleges. Informal training imparted on different occassions by different people to different groups help in developing skills. With little help, guidance and motivation our people can acquire skills for beautifying their homes and towns  and do many jobs for their home by theselves. Programs to help develop skills for woodwork, plumbing, masonary and handicrafts or homemade products of different kinds, poultry and dairy farming, harnessing solar
energy and dairy products can go long way in development. In cities skills for producing a number of items at home can be taught with properly conceived Programs.  

4. Women: Among the poor women are often support of the family and work at paltry wages. Literacy of poor women must be given equal importance. Mobile teams of female tutors and trainers be formed to create civic sense among them and how they can maintain better health by learning basic hygiene and how they can raise their children or regulate the periods of child birth. Many women work for such odd jobs as tailoring, embroidary, knitting, pottery and making scores of other handmade items..  

4. Mosques and Madaris should become learning centers and for encouraging people to acquire knowledge and skills for improving their own economic conditions by community help and projects and for leading a better life in clean and healthy environments. They should be taught to elect their own representatives who may manage such community projects and cooperative schemes. Thus the enlarged scope of the role to be played by the mosques and madaris, would induce poor to come to the mosques. At present less than 50 % of the poor people go to mosques and majority of them are not only ignorant of the basic articles of faith, they are also unaware of the correct way to say prayers. They think that their Pir's blessings are enough for them!  

5. Ulemas and scholars and teachers must try to inculcate the spirit of contributing at least 5 to 7% of the income for such community projects besides Zakat. In many countries and communities people contribute more or less 10 % of their income and their communities enjoy envious standards of prosperity.  

6. Trainers' Training Programs and some laws, regulations etc. be framed to oversee the work and progress and define a process of accountability and evaluation. Training of Mullas in mosques and material for their use may also be arranged.  

7. Recognition of merit at all levels and elimination of corruption should be among the priorities. People should be encouraged to report cases of inefficiency and corruption, which should be dealt with effectively. Meritorious work may be rewarded but the process of screening out corrupt and inefficient must be pursued. Leaders and top officials must set example of honest day's work and conformity to discipline and Islamic values.  

It is generally appreciated that the heavy burden of servicing national debts of over $ 35 Billion severely restricts Government's ability to allocate funds for such grave problems as poverty and unemployment. But at the same time people expect that the Federal, Provincial and Local Bodies Governments would be
able to devise programs and schemes to eliminate poverty, corruption and illiteracy. If the plans are good and honestly and efficiently implemented they would receive support of the people.  
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