By Roshan Shah
There are many things that I have learnt over the years from my friend Saifuddin. Almost whenever we spend time together I learn something new. Like, for instance, the other day, when Saifuddin told me about a practice of his that he began some years ago.
This is how it all started:
After a prolonged illness, Saifuddins father died. Being the only son among his fathers seven children, Saifuddin had to shoulder most of the expenses of his fathers treatment. He sold off all the agricultural land that the family owned, and even their house. I only wanted my father to get alright, and for that I was ready to do everything I could, he says. I thought, So what if we dont have any property left and we have to sell all we have to pay for my fathers treatment? Ill work and earn for the family.
Left without a home of their own, Saifuddin, along with his mother, wife and children, shifted to his uncles place. Because employment opportunities are very limited in the part of India where he comes from, he travelled all the wayperhaps more than 1500 milesto the city where I presently live, to work as a guard in a security company (The company posted Saifuddin to the residential complex where Im staying, and thats how we got to know each other).
The salary was modest and the work monotonous and demanding, but what choice did Saifuddin have? He had to struggle hard for his family, driven by his dream of being able to buy a bit of land and arrange for a house of their own once again.
Saifuddin saved every rupee he could, keeping his expenses to the bare minimum. In the city, he lived in a very congested working-class locality, sharing a small flat with several other men from his part of the country. Every day, he walked all the way to our residential complex and back, even in the month of Ramzan, when he fasted. It took a good forty minutes one way, through roads almost entirely bereft of functional pavements and clogged with filth and traffic.
After he arrived in the city, Saifuddin didnt go back to his village for almost three years, because the long journey would have cost him a lot and he would have lost his salary for the period of his absence. It wasnt at all easy, as you can imagine, not seeing my mother, children and wife for so long. But I had to earn and save as much as I could, he says.
Gradually, Saifuddin was able to put together some money. He went back to his village and, with his savings, he bought a piece of land and arranged for a little bamboo house to be constructed on it. His family could now move into a home of their own!
With his family now seeing better days, Saifuddin hit upon an idea. There was a time when I didnt have anything, but now I was at peace, he explains. I had repaid the loans we had taken for my fathers expenses and we now had our own home. After we had lost so much, God blessed us with so much! Everything we receive is from God, and for that we should be grateful. In my joyful gratitude to God I thought that we should share something with people in our village who are economically poorer than usa meal once in a while. We arent rich people, and so we may not be able to afford to give them fancy food. But we could certainly sit together and share our daal and rice with them.
Saifuddin began a practice, which he continues till today every time he goes back to his village for a vacation. Once a week, he invites half a dozen or so very poor people, and they allincluding Saifuddin and his familysit together and enjoy a meal. Ive fixed the meal for Friday, which is when my father was buried, he explains. If I see someone in the village who I know isnt getting enough to eat, I tell him or her in advance to come over to our place that coming Friday for lunch.
After theyve eaten, my guests thank me, Saifuddin relates, but I say, Helping the poor is Gods commandment. I tell them, We had also become as poor as you are. We even lost our home, but then, with hard work everything worked out fine. We are very happy and thankful to God for what He has done for us, and thats why we have shared our food with you.
Saifuddin requests his departing guests to pray to God to bless his family, including his deceased father. Sometimes, he gives them some money as a gift10 or 20 rupees, which for Saifuddin and his guests is not an inconsiderable sum.
There are many poor people in our village. Theirs is a literally hand-to-mouth existence. Many of them are sick and very oldmaybe elderly people whose children dont care for them or widows, Saifuddin explains. They go around the village begging for food. Someone may give them some rice or some vegetables. God has blessed my family and me with so much, including a home and food. Sharing our food with others is one way for us to offer our thanks to Him.
Saifuddins village, like many others in his part of the country, is multi-religious. There are Muslims and Hindus, and a few Buddhists and Christians, too. Saifuddins generosity crosses all religious boundaries. Although Saifuddin is a Muslim, the people he invites to share in the weekly meal at his home are from other communities too. There should be no barrier of religion or caste in serving people, he says. God gives to everyone, irrespective of caste and religion, and thats why we should do the same, too!