1 Sep 2014

Charity begins at home: Gaza and Sara's story

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 1 September 2014

Sara Alzaanin

“I think they should feel; like how people die, how people feel scared, how much people get killed ... they should help as much as they can. Some houses have been bombarded, some people sleep on the street and could just get killed... there isn’t much water there. They need food and clothes.” – 11-year-old Sara from Gaza

At the official launch of Islam Awareness Week at the Kilbirnie Masjid (Mosque) in Wellington, I’m greeted by 11-year-old Sara Alzaanin reciting passages from the Qur’an perfectly. The passages focus on zakat, or charity, and it’s fitting given the current crisis happening in the Middle East or more appropriately; countries of the Islamic world.

As part of Islam Awareness Week, mosques across the country are holding open days. This year’s open eays are also focused on charity – raising awareness of the lives of people across the globe in need, mindful of the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Sara was born in Palestine. Her family are currently living right in the heart of Gaza, but they’ve fled because their homes are being shelled. She’s fearful for her grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins. Sara’s been living in New Zealand since she was seven years old. Meeting her, she strikes me as just another regular Kiwi kid attending primary school in Wellington – except that across the globe Sara’s family are refugees in their own city.

Community leader Leila Adams says the Muslim communities here have felt the weight from crisis in the Middle East during this year’s Ramadan. Its people are suffering, she tells me, and not just in Gaza, but Christians in Iraq and refugees in Syria, “We gave much to charity this year, there’s hope in that.”

According to FIANZ (Federation of Islamic Associations NZ) and IMAN (International Muslim Association of New Zealand), Dr Asif Koya tells me that they are focused on fundraising for humanitarian aid, not focused on the various political factions presently cauterising countries of the Middle East. Community leaders here are clear that the politics of the Islamic State has not divided the Muslim community in New Zealand.

Asma and her friend welcome at the entrance Open day
Asma and her friend welcome at the entrance.

Gallery: Open day at the Kilbirnie Masjid

The open day is very popular, proliferated by the public and almost every Muslim family in Wellington. I’m greeted  fresh dates, proffered by Asma and other women at the entrance and a quote from the Qur’an attached to a scroll and flower: “He who eats his fill while his neighbour goes to bed without food is not a believer".

These gifts are for every member of the public who enter. I’m overwhelmed by cardamom-flavoured coffee (offered by the students of the Saudi Arabia Students Association, Victoria University), delicious aromas of the halal food stalls, toys, hand crafts... and children everywhere! It’s absolutely festive.

Islam Awareness Week at the Kilbirnie Masjid

In the true spirit of embracing the public, the community have even opened their prayer rooms (normally segregated to men or women’s prayer areas) so that people of both genders can observe the rituals freely. The Islamic community in Wellington seem to be openly sharing their beliefs and practices and answering any question no matter how challenging. An articulate young woman in a full nicab (only her eyes showing) informs me that she doesn’t feel subjugated in the slightest – it’s her personal choice to be wearing this form of dress.

Sara is there, busy being an ambassador for the mosque with her “Helper” name tag. She has recited passages from the Quran again for the public and now she’s selling popular loom bracelets to other children, in efforts to fundraise for humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Islam Awareness Week at the Kilbirnie Masjid

Sara’s mother Dr Eman Alzaanin is by her side and immensely proud of her daughter. Dr Alzaanin tells she holds her breath every time she reads the news. She and her husband are losing sleep and they’re terrified that their next text message from Gaza will be about their family being killed by bombings. She appeals for peace to prevail with the help of the international community. She appeals to our sense of charity.

While chatting to the public it seems that quite a few Christians and people of other faiths are among those attending the open day. A passerby asks me if I’d attended the 24-hour Musicathon at St John’s Church in Wellington raising funds for Water in the West Bank. I had in fact, and I’m reminded that events like this are happening all over our country. Hopefully this might provide some comfort for Sara and her family – these acts of charity that begin right here, at home.

Audio: Charity Begins at Home

Lynda attends open day at the Kilbirnie Mosque to see how the Islamic community in Wellington embrace the public, sharing their beliefs and practices and she meets some of the Muslim families directly affected by events in Gaza, including 11 year old Sara, born in Gaza and now at primary school in Wellington.