A few years ago in Lahore, near the historic monument of Chauburji, a double-storey mosque was built with the assistance of private donations mostly from the area at the cost of Rs10 million.
“It is love for our religion that has enabled us to build this structure within months,” says Muhammad Siddique, a frequent visitor to the mosque and a trader by profession.
In Pakistan, there are hundreds of mosques, mostly built with the assistance of private donations by the locals. The link between religion and charity is very strong. These mosques and religious places may be belonging to different groups and sects but the objective is the same — to please God and get eternal reward.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan, about 96 per cent Pakistanis believe that giving charity is right according to religion.
Another study conducted by Pakistan Peace Collective (PPC) working under the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shows that Pakistanis give an estimated amount of Rs650 billion in charity every year to mosques, seminaries, poor and homeless people, needy relatives, victims of terrorism and hospitals. The study says around 78 per cent Pakistanis give charity because religion permits it. While 69 per cent give charity mostly in the form of money. Out of the total population, nearly 84 per cent male and 67 per cent female give charity.
The study also finds that around 68 per cent give charity during the month of Ramzan while two per cent believe that charity funds are misused to sponsor terrorism and 24 per cent people say they are not aware where their donation is spent.
The study shows that 73 per cent people give charity in the form of money to mosques and religious seminaries, 66 per cent consider giving charity in the form of money to the poor and homeless, 54 per cent consider giving charity to needy relatives, 14 per cent consider giving charity to help educate poor children, 13 per cent consider giving charity in the form of money to victims of terrorism and only six per cent consider giving charity to health facilities.
The study also points out that as many as 68 per cent people give charity in Ramzan, 52 per cent every month, 42 per cent at Eid, 20 per cent at religious festivals, 19 per cent during difficult times for family, 14 per cent on family celebrations, 14 per cent in Muharram and 13 per cent during natural disasters.
In America and the West, there are studies, showing people giving more donations due to religion. In 2014, a BBC commissioned survey said that religion can make people more generous in their everyday lives. The research found that people who profess a religious belief are significantly more likely to give to charity.
Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst who works on peace studies and religious factions, says the subcontinent has a long history and tradition of giving charity in different forms. Shrines have a major role in promoting charity.
“The subject of Islamic charity can be divided in three categories: religious political parties, Islamic charities having no particular affiliation, and charities set up by militant groups,” he says, adding, “The month of Ramzan is one of the seasons which Islamic charities, including militant groups, get huge donations and meet their yearly finances. And apart from routine funds collection through charity and donations, these groups get big money through zakat collection, through collection of animal hides on Eid ul Azha and foreign funding,” he says.
Read also: Editorial
According to reports compiled by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), after the 2005 earthquake, Al Rasheed Trust raised Rs950 million for relief work within five months. It used the funds for welfare activities, including providing food and medical treatment and reconstructing damaged madrassas and mosques.
Al Rehmat Trust, a charity associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad, raised Rs600m in funds and supplies after the earthquake. Similarly, scores of families, including women, donated their valuables and jewelry and ornaments to Jamatud Dawa for its relief work.
In Swat, when the chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan used to make speeches and sermons on his FM radio, women used to donate their gold ornaments and people would give him cash for his cause.
“According to one study, such extremist groups raise between 55 per cent to 65 per cent funds from local sponsors who willingly donate,” says Rana. “Some groups collect donations from commercial centres and in door-to-door campaigns, ostensibly for charitable pursuits, but are quite often operating as fundraising organs for militant organisations. People respond generously to such drives, especially on different religious occasions,” he adds.
Rana maintains that the issue is not why people give in the name of religion but where this money is spent and what is the role of government and state in monitoring and evolving mechanisms to make sure that this money is not used for adding to extremism and militancy.
“Currently, there is no proper state-evolved mechanism to check all this. Many militant groups have established their welfare wings to get funding and improve their public image. This would definitely add to their financial resources.”
On the next page: Caring for the disabled