We spoke to Amal Ali on her experiences working with the Zakat Foundation of America, building wells for the less fortunate.
Water is the most vital natural resource. Indeed, Allah tells us in the Quran,
And We have made from water every living thing ( 21:30)
Certainly, we cannot survive without it. The Prophet ﷺ declared giving water in a hadith reported by Sa’d Ibn Ubadah who said, “O Messenger of Allah, my mother has died. Shall I give charity on her behalf?” The Prophet ﷺ, said, “Yes.” I said, “Which charity is best?” The Prophet said, “A drink of water.”
Providing water as charity in a time when millions of people suffer water scarcity is something whoever can do, should do. Zakat Foundation of America organizes and oversees well-digging as one of the many venues of charity it offers for donors seeking to gain everlasting good deeds in this life for the next. Across the world in places where water is greatly needed, ZF springs wells of hope, water, and life.
Amal Ali, ZF’s Outreach Manager, travelled with students and ZF personnel to Ghana to oversee the well-digging for communities there. We spoke to her about her experience travelling to the West African country of Ghana
Can you describe to me your trip to Ghana?
I was designing service-learning programs at the Zakat Foundation of America (ZF), and in that capacity, I arranged to take a group of 10 students on a service trip to Ghana, West Africa. They were ten females of various racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. The program was designed to include education, spirituality and hands-on service in collaboration with local Ghanaians. For instance, when we visited a women's agricultural co-op on a cassava farm, which is a ZF project to build sustainable economic empowerment for women in a remote and disconnected village in northwest Ghana, we listened and learned from them about their community's struggles and the importance of sustainable development, we reflected on related teachings from the prophetic tradition, and then we joined the women in harvesting and preparing the cassava for the market. Education, faith and service were woven into every human crisis we prepared to understand and address during our trip.
Can you give me as much detail as you can about the experience, the people you went with and those you wanted to provide support for?
It was very important to us that the students recognize the reciprocity involved when serving others. There is the reciprocal gain for both the giver and the beneficiary. Giving is receiving. Too often, humanitarian work is depicted as glamorous and privileged. Donors give from a distance, and people who do service rarely know the children, women and families on the receiving end; and so they do not fully appreciate the human in the other. The ZF service trip was carefully designed to provide meaningful exchanges between the students providing services and the beneficiaries providing their human stories, their resilient spirits and wisdom, their knowledge, their culture, and perhaps most importantly, their prayers for us. When we distributed food packages or backpacks, or when we completed the construction of the water well with them, the village chiefs, elders, women, children, the whole village would circle us with their hands raised to God and they would make heartfelt dua for us.
Before we did the water well project, we had visited the ZF women's agricultural co-op and worked with the women to harvest and peel the cassavas in preparation for sale in a veggie market in another town. They were about 30 women working together outdoors with loud and lively chatter - mixed with song - that could be heard from a mile down, many wearing their babies in slings, who were nursing or napping.
We also visited Muslim refugees from the Ivory Coast who had settled in Ghana. They introduced us to their Imam, an 18-year-old boy who had memorized the Quran and was leading their prayers in the camps. Their only request - amidst their small rugged tent homes with no utilities or facilities - was that we build them a masjid in which they can pray together sheltered from the rain (it was rain season), which we eagerly put on our ZF programs to-do list.
Is the hadith about providing water as zakat the driving force behind assisting people who are in serious need?
The hadith is one among many inspirations we find in our beloved prophet's example ﷺ, and in scripture. He ﷺ exemplified for us what it truly means to be a steward of the earth. That we are for the earth as much as it is for us. He taught us to see sanctity in all creation, to use only that which we need and even then sparingly. His wudu was made with less than 3 cups of water, and his baths with less than 3 litres. He clearly valued every drop. He instructed his companions, and by extension us, to not waste water even if making wudhu on the bank of a fast flowing large river. So his mention of the fast flowing large river makes it clear that this is not about supply, it's about what wasteful selfish gluttony can do to one's spiritual heart. There is a real disparity between the prophet's teachings and our current culture of indulgent, wasteful, one-time-use-and-toss of all things, including water. We know that 1.5 million children die every year due to dirty water, that half of the world's hospital beds hold patients with a waterborne disease; we know that 2.5 billion gallons of water per day are used to keep the world's golf courses green and lush, while that same amount can support 5 billion people's water needs per day.
Can you describe to me the reaction of the people when you dug the wells?
These are the some of the spiritual reflections and realities that we discussed when we arrived at the masjid where the water well would be built. As was common in every village visited, the elders and families all came out and packed the masjid to greet us. Although there were so many people, there was a clear silence as we paused in awe of some of the disparities of our world, wondering what our shared prophet whom we all loved would think of our state.
I asked them how much water a family uses on average each day, and they replied with 4 gallons, some said 6. Then I told them that where we come from, statistics indicate that an average person uses about 70 gallons per day (30% of which is toilet flushing). I'll never forget the looks on their faces in reaction to that. They told us that it's been difficult to access fresh water and that some of them have gone blind from consuming contaminated water. The Imam of the masjid was blind, I wondered if that was why. He was a beautiful man who made lots of dua for us. Afterwards, we all exited the masjid to the water well site just beside the mosque and began to work. ZF had pre-arranged to have the digging completed by the time we arrived so that our student travellers and the villagers would only need to construct the remaining touch-ups. When the pump was installed and the work was done, the imam and all everyone circled the well, raised their palms to their generous Creator and prayed for who? For us. For the donor of the well. They were grateful and graceful people.
Then there was a celebratory gathering around the well, women filling their containers to the brim and carrying it back home balanced on their heads, and children playing around the well, waiting to fill their containers too. I saw people off to the side of the Masjid immediately begin making wudhu with their water, a mother cleaning her little son's bottom upon returning from the outhouse. The water will replenish their crops, their livestock, and fulfil their hygiene and drinking needs.
O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess - Quran (7:31)
Author: Khadija Abdl-Haleem