Islamic Relief Fundraiser in the San Francisco Bay Area Draws a Large Audience
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Islamic Relief USA is a humanitarian organization known for its professionalism and focuses on many countries which need assistance when disasters strike or for ongoing projects, bringing health, education and nutrition to poor people on a continuous basis. Within this effort one of the countries which is on their agenda is Pakistan ( http://www.irusa.org/countries/pakistan/ ) where out of 180 million people, many are poor, uneducated and/or destitute. Islamic Relief has been helping Pakistanis since 1992 and has had an established office in Islamabad since 1994. Since all of this effort requires monetary resources, annual events like a “Fundraising Dinner for Pakistan” are held in different American cities by this organization. On March 6 th one such event was held at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California (San Francisco Bay Area). It was a packed event where unusually this time over 80 percent of the guests were female.
After a social hour and a fine Chandni Restaurant dinner (two thumbs up) emcee for the evening Anisah Khan called everyone to attention. Anisha invited Hamayoun Jamali Northwest Coordinator at Islamic Relief USA to the stage to say a few words. He thanked “each and every one” of us for being there that evening and said that everyone present was his special guest. He added that the intention that night was to thank Allah (SWT) and to help the needy. He said that Islamic Relief works in about 40 different countries but tonight is dedicated to Pakistan and that cause is much bigger than us.
Najam Sheraz was next introduced on stage. A man of many talents known primarily for his contribution to Pakistani pop music, he has now gravitated towards the spiritual, singing songs for God and Prophet (SAWW), making Humds or Nasheeds a part of his bouquet. He is equally comfortable singing in both English and Urdu and started things off by singing an English peace song “Only Love” which was very well received. He also explained his renewed interest in his spiritual roots. Next, on request of some including this writer he followed up with “Na Tera Khuda Koi Aur Hai, Na Mera Khuda Koi Aur Hai - Yeh Moamla Koi Aur Hai” (Your God is no different from my God -This is about something else), a very moving and evocative description about the current religious-sectarian difficulties in Pakistan. “Alhamdulillah” a Nasheed followed and Najam closed with a beautiful Pakistani national song “Hamari Pehchaan - Pakistan”(Our Identity - Pakistan).
A most interesting situation developed as Fawad Afzal Khan of Pakistani television/movies and now also Indian movie fame entered the hall with many escorts and heavy security at a time when a video of the valuable work that Islamic Relief has been doing in Pakistan was being shown. Needless to say the audience was a bit too distracted and it took Shaista Khan, Pakistan Campaign Lead in the USA, to appear some time on stage to bring everyone back to reality. One main reason that almost 80% of the now overflowing hall was of the female gender was Fawad’s presence. The other reason was that the World Cup Cricket Match which was being played between Pakistan and South Africa at the same time and many area Pakistani males were glued to their TV sets at home (some online via Jadoo) while their wives were at this event. The important question was whether these women had brought their husband’s checkbooks with them?
Shaista Khan added her words of thanks on behalf of Islamic Relief. She also narrated a short story aided by a slide show about a journey that she took to visit some of the beneficiaries of their work in Pakistan. She particularly emphasized the support that orphans have received in that country supported by donors here. A video was shown again (this time with distractions minimized), which highlighted many aspects of the work being done there including improving hygiene, cataract surgery to prevent blindness, countering Hepatitis C, improved food packaging and distribution especially during Ramadan and Bakra Eid (to name a few).
The formal fundraiser was enthusiastically conducted next by Shaykh Saad Eldegwy. At the time of this report the final figure is not available but close to $90,000 number has been reported to have been raised. This is not a small amount because fundraisers have become quite numerous in the San Francisco Bay Area and donor fatigue is common here.
The “keynote” speech at this event was delivered by Fawad Afzal Khan of Khoobsurat (Beautiful) movie fame. One is glad that this new found stardom is not getting to his head but his management and security exhibited otherwise. His speech was by a much humbler man than the “Rock Star” status which was being projected. Fawad’s presence was also responsible for many Indian-origin people in the audience and that should be welcomed. He thanked everyone and praised Islamic Relief for having organized such a wonderful evening. During his speech he rejected the “Mona Lisa” status accorded to him. “Fawad Khan Na Ho Giya, Mona Lisa Ki Painting Ho Gayi”. He urged everyone to donate to a wonderful cause. “I take great pride in being associated with Islamic Relief, having seen their work in Pakistan,” he said. He added that is some ways Pakistan has become a disaster zone. It is facing turbulence on the political and social front and has faced added natural calamities. To counter these problems a consistent effort is needed and that consistency comes from your efforts (donations) here, he said. Do what you can. You efforts will help to keep the poor there away from the wrong people. Someone (sinister) is there to take advantage of the situation, and that is the fear. You can make a difference in that. What seeds we sow today, we will eat the fruits of those trees someday, he added.
Local artist Ayesha Samdani’s work was on display and silently auctioned. The Pakistan Association of San Francisco Bay Area ( http://pasfbayarea.org/ ) also had a table and is looking for members and support. Their event “Yadgar-e-Pakistan” will be held here at Chandni on March 21 st. Please check their website for details.
It was overall a successful evening in spite of the post-event chaos on the picture taking with Fawad Khan which left many disappointed. A simple announcement on stage would have solved that problem. But it was a night for Pakistan where the need for such efforts is great and any negatives here can be overlooked. I asked local Hamrahi Radio’s Raana Faiz to share some of her views. She said that one should seek to make a positive difference in someone’s life. “If every Pakistani abroad and in Pakistan takes this mission to heart, Insha’Allah a new Pakistan can be achieved. I pray and motivate individuals every moment for this cause, I have faith in God Almighty’s blessings and fellow human beings to bring hope in their lives. Just $50:00 a month provides education and food.”