South Asia Forum

By: Maryam Sadriwala

As a community, the Dawoodi Bohras take food very seriously. It’s not just the unique manner in which they relish food, gathered in groups of eight around a thaal. It’s not merely the fact that they begin and end their meal with a pinch of salt or that they enjoy dessert first. It’s not just their distinctive set of dishes which find their origin in Arabia, India or Yemen which makes their culinary habits stand out. Rather, the reverence and significance they attach to food stems from a deep rooted tradition initiated by their leaders who take the problem of world hunger very seriously.

The Dawoodi Bohras are perhaps the only community in the world where a community kitchen by the name of Faiz al-Mawaid al-Burhaniyah provides food to 93,410 households worldwide, including 7709 homes in Pakistan alone.

World Food Day is one of the occasions when the community joins the global society at large to play its part in something it truly believes in and which it works towards every single day – that is, to make zero hunger a reality, reflecting the pledge made by the Food and Agriculture Organization and joining hands with the United Nations to make healthy and sustainable food accessible to everyone.

This year too, on 16th October 2019 and for the rest of the week, the Dawoodi Bohra community kitchens in Karachi, set up a series of camps and food banks which distributed provisions to local charities and the needy.

Community administered schools in the city participated in a series of activities that encourage a healthy diet, food sharing and brainstormed ideas to attain zero hunger. Badri High School held an activity of persuasive poster-making, brochure and pamphlet making exhorting people to share food and lend a hand to the hungry. With project-based learning as their prime pedagogy, students sat in circles like they do around a thaal, sharing their lunch boxes with each other and invited the teachers to sit with them. They also lovingly prepared a plate of food for each worker and maid in the school and offered it to them with respect.

‘We want to teach the students that even a single individual can make a difference in this fight to abolish hunger. We want to make them realise that by sharing your plate of food, or giving leftovers to the deserving, or doing something as simple as ordering smaller portions can help feed another mouth,’ says Mr Hashim Saifuddin, principal of Badri High School.

Al-Madrasa tus Saifiyah tul Burhaniyah (MSB), Haidry campus, one of the 22 branches of a chain of community led schools spread across the globe, set up a food bank where students collected non perishable items and distributed them to those in need in the Azam Old Homes and Aaghosh Trust Shelter Home. The students were moved beyond measure when they met children, as young as them, who did not have a dependable source of nourishment. Furthermore, nutritionists were invited to conduct an interactive talk on ‘How to make healthy, affordable and sustainable diet for all.’

Like his predecessor, His Holiness the late Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA, His Holiness Dr Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin TUS guides us to feed anyone who may be hungry. When hunger is appeased, a spontaneous prayer arises from the innards of the one who has been fed.

‘It is this prayer that is precious; it is this prayer that alleviates our hardships. Our reward is a believer’s prayer,’ says Fatema who actively participates in making rotis in the community kitchen.

Ramla Shabbir, one of the women overseeing the community kitchen in Shabbirabad, says, ‘to ensure that hygienic food is prepared every single day, the kitchen is cleaned in and out with warm and cold water. Provisions meet the food safety standards and a menu committee makes sure that a balanced, healthy meal is prepared with recommended proportions of food including meat, chicken, pulses and vegetables throughout the week.’

She reveals that families receive a thaali as per their family member count and when someone is travelling they inform their area kitchen office to discontinue the thaali for their travel period to avoid food wastage.

The Dana (grain) Committee is another organisation in which dedicated volunteers endeavour to painstakingly go and collect leftover food after every event and distribute it in an organised manner to the needy. Even in major events which may result in congregations of 100, 000 in one place, the community has been lauded for achieving zero food wastage.

Referring to the recent Muharram congregation which took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in September 2019, Ramla mentions how leftover food was carefully packed in boxes and given to the needy. Unusable leftovers were separated and fed to animals and other waste was used to make compost.

Throughout the year, every community member plays his/her role in putting an end to hunger which is a problem faced by a staggering 820 million people around the world. The community’s food initiatives are a micro version of what the FAO wishes to achieve – zero hunger and the accessibility of nutritious sustenance to one and all.

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