The coronavirus pandemic has led many people in the West to rush and buy food items, disinfectants and toilet paper—yes toilet paper—for fear that these will run out.
Why this obsession with the toilet paper? True, people want to clean themselves but it is a lot more hygienic to wash after using the toilet.
Muslims have been washing themselves for more than 1500 years.
By all means use the toilet paper but then wash yourself as well.
And washing hands thoroughly with warm water and soap is important for good health.
Again, this is a long-established Muslim practice that the West is just beginning to learn because of the pandemic.
But let us move on from the toilet paper.
Fearing that they will run out of food, many people rushed to buy huge amounts of food, stacking their trolleys sky high, especially of dry food items and canned vegetables.
This is not only driven by fear but also by selfishness.
There are others—the Muslims—that have done the exact opposite.
Both in the West and in societies where they are a majority, Muslims have gone out of their way to help the needy and poor.
Through mosques and other outlets including restaurants, individual Muslims as well as Muslim charities have organized food distribution and food baskets handing them to families that are facing economic hardship in these difficult times.
In the US, Canada, UK and Europe, the much-vilified Muslims have also stepped forward to help others without distinction of religion or race.
Muslim youth in parts of Canada have set up volunteer groups to help the vulnerable and the elderly to purchase groceries or get medicines.
In the US, Americans have been buying guns.
Even before the pandemic, there were already more than 393 million guns owned by individuals in the US.
Gun owners have made clear they intend to use their weapons to get what they want if there is a run on food items.
Muslims are not buying weapons.
Instead of fighting to get food for themselves, they have gone about preparing food packages to distribute among the needy.
In Spain where the country is under complete lockdown, Muslim taxi drivers have volunteered to take people to hospitals without charging them.
In Muslim majority countries, especially in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran, commendable efforts are underway to help the needy.
Even in India where Muslim persecution is part of the ruling party agenda and many have been hacked to death, Muslims have gone into poor neighbourhoods and provided food to needy families.
They make no distinction between Muslims and Hindus.
The food distribution campaigns are organized through mosques in each locality.
Pakistan and Iran also face serious economic challenges.
Pakistan’s economy has been ruined by successive governments in the past pilfering billions out of the country.
Iran has been under severe US-imposed sanctions that have seriously undermined its economy.
Sanctions have also prevented other countries from doing business with Tehran for fear of being punished by the US.
Iran is even prevented from importing desperately needed medicines.
The pandemic has further strained Iran’s economic resources.
Despite these challenges both Muslim countries and others have come through to help the needy and poor.
The Iranian government announced plans to give one-time cash payment of 10 million rials (nearly $240 at official currency rate) to more than 23 million households in the country.
This is part of government efforts to help people cope with the economic impact of the pandemic.
There are also private foundations in Iran that provide help to the poor. Among "Shia" Muslims, the concept of Khums is well established.
They give their Khums (one-fifth of income) to their Marja (religious leader they follow, and there are many maraje in Iran and Iraq) whose office in turn distributes this money among the deserving.
Lockdowns imposed as part of containing the pandemic have put daily wage earners at serious risk.
In the absence of governmental safety nets like those in the West, individuals have stepped forward as part of their responsibility, to fill the vacuum.
Muslims have a natural disposition to help the needy and poor.
The Qur’an emphasizes this repeatedly both through giving Zakat as well as other charitable donations (2:03; 2:177; 9:60 and other ayat in the noble Qur'an).
Most Muslims give Zakat donations in the month of Ramadan.
There are nearly 25 million people living below the poverty line in Pakistan. They are helped by the generous donations of other people in Pakistan that give Zakat either directly to the poor or through institutional arrangements.
The people of Pakistan are among the most charitable in the world.
A government-sponsored volunteer effort is also underway in Pakistan to mitigate the disastrous impact of the pandemic.
Led by concerned citizens that have organized food drives, and protective gear donations, the effort has been recognized even internationally.
Similarly, on March 27, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the creation of a special fund for laborers and daily wage earners that would provide Rs. 3,000 to each person per month for four months.
More than 12 million vulnerable people have already been registered and another 3.5 million are being added to the list.
There are similar databases available at the provincial level to help track the most vulnerable.
The public-private sector combination may just allow Pakistan to weather the pandemic without leaving the most vulnerable to fall through the cracks as is happening in neighbouring India.
Prime Minister Khan has also opened a new bank account named ‘Prime Minister’s COVID-19 Relief Fund’ at the National Bank of Pakistan in Karachi.
He has appealed to overseas Pakistanis to deposit funds directly into the account to boost the country’s foreign currency reserves hit hard by the cancellation of orders for Pakistani goods, mainly textiles from abroad.
In these troubled times, most Muslims have shown a remarkable sense of compassion to help others.
This is the true spirit of Islam.