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 share.
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 been averted.
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 last.
It seems we must always be wary of emotional distancing. Unlike Cain, we are our brothers’ keepers.