LONDON – Professional British Muslims, predominantly but not exclusively of Pakistani origin, came together at the Grand Sapphire Banqueting Hall just outside of London for a pre-Ramadan charity event, raising £88,000 on Saturday night through pledges and an auction in support of the Graham Layton Trust; who provide eye care in Pakistan.
Our hosts for the evening included British Pakistani Muslim Actor, Art Malik, who opened the evening with a friendly remark, a Ramadan ‘confession,’ which brought the audience to laughter – mostly because we have all done the same – setting the light-hearted but well-intentioned tone for the evening:
“I just want to admit something that we used to do as a family. We used to go to Ramadan dinners at friends’ houses where these women cooked the most amazing foods. But do you know what? On the way home, there was always something wrong, and boy did we pick it up. Ye chawal hai? (Lit. Was that rice?) (audience laughter). I know the food here tonight is fantastic and none of you will be complaining about the way home.”
Indeed the menu included perfectly cooked fish and perhaps one of the best chicken curries I have had for a while!
Art continued, “I’m humbled ladies and gentlemen, just as you have given up a Saturday night on a bank holiday weekend, to come all the way here. To Croydon. Some people do not think that is very extraordinary. I’m a boy from Balham, I know what Croydon is like (audience laughter). Thank you for coming.”
Fasting & Ramadan
Our second host and fundraiser for the night was British Muslim preacher, Ajmal Masroor, who spoke on fasting and Ramadan.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of Ramadan is an uplifting spirit because it elevates a human being from what a mundane human being would do, to a human being who would be in control of his or her desire, their being, their living, their eating, their drinking, their habits, everything. From ordinary living to a very elevated living. And that’s what fasting does to us,” he told the audience.
“I dictate what time I eat and at what time I drink. My stomach doesn’t. No matter how hungry I am throughout the day, I tell my stomach, sorry, you’ll have to wait. No matter how thirsty I am, I do not take a sip of water.
“I am in control of my desires. I tell my eyes I cannot look at the things that are wrong. I cannot listen to things that are wrong. I can’t engage with things with my mouth, talk about that which is wrong. Not just no food or drinking, but I will elevate myself to become somebody that I should be as a human being.”
The medical speaker for the evening was Dr. Waqaar Shah, whose achievements, as well as being a GP and an expert in eye care, include roles such as being an expert adviser for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Waqaar introduced one of the most common operations performed by the Graham Layton Trust:
“Cataracts are now very easily treated with a magnificent operation where the surgeon makes a tiny cut into the eyeball. Sucks out the old lens which has become cloudy and replaces it with a nice perspex plastic lens, and so vision is restored,” he said.
“It’s a short procedure but as you can imagine it has enormous implications on the quality of life that people have afterward.”
British Muslims donate to charities throughout the year but leading up to and during the month of Ramadan, they become increasingly generous.
Over recent years, British Muslims have donated well in excess of £100 million during the month of fasting, that’s more than £38 a minute, making them one of the most generous communities, in the United Kingdom; which itself is one of the most generous nations in the world.
“I’m a trustee of the Graham Layton Trust which is a UK charity and we raise funds for the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust hospitals and clinics in Pakistan. We are basically making sure there’s some money coming from the diaspora to take care of those people back in Pakistan, who cannot afford any kind of medicine, let alone eye care.
“I got drawn to it for two reasons really. One because eyesight is so important, especially in my field, because there’s no point in acting if no one can see you.
“The other reason is because my father came to Britain in 1952 to become an eye surgeon. And when he retired he went back to Pakistan and he worked for the charity. So it’s sort of a synergy that’s coming together. Last year they asked me to become a trustee and I jumped at the choice.”
“The charity was founded by two gentlemen Graham Layton and Rahmatullah. Both were friends in Pakistan, Karachi to be more specific, and they decided to leave their legacy for this charity. They did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that the best way to serve the poor of Pakistan was to provide free eye care.
“Why free eye care? If you have an issue with your eyes, not only are you blind and you cannot see, but you also become an economic burden in a poor household. And the theory was that if you make the person who is going blind, through cataracts or any other illness, then economically he or she is productive. And the charity was based on that principle.
“It’s over thirty years old. We are now represented in Pakistan from north to south. Just about every area is covered but we have a lot more growth to initiate.
“We’ve served more than 33 million people who have had some sort of eye problem, but mostly cataracts.
“Now in many of the villages in Pakistan, when somebody develops cataracts, they think that they are going to go blind, but this is a curable disease as you know. It’s a simple surgery in our 17 hospitals and 50 clinics. And we have done more cataract surgeries in Pakistan than any of our competition, if you want to call them that, including some of the government hospitals.
“I had a friend who had invited me 30 years ago for a walk for a charity called the Graham Layton Trust. I had no idea the charity was based in London and supporting efforts in Pakistan. I’m from Pakistan, from the northwest and I liked the work that was being done. For two or three reasons.
“One, I thought the (business) model was very sound and needed to be supported. Secondly, I liked the fact that it (treatment) was not based on any ethnic considerations or religious considerations. And thirdly, the investment banker in me jumped at me and said there is a lot of growth here. So for the first couple of years, I was a trustee then I took over as chairman.
“I come from a very modest background in Pakistan, I was educated in the United States, I was brought to London by my employer 30 years ago, and I felt like we had to give something back to Pakistan and to other places that I have lived.
“Our founders made one promise to the people of Pakistan, that was, the kind of care that they will get will be no different than state of the art.”
“I’ve been involved in this charity now, for almost twenty years. I got involved originally through my work. It is an exceptional charity, in that it offers a need to a community that is extraordinarily important. I’ve been supporting healthcare charities for about twenty years.
“This particular charity, because it offers absolutely free eye care to those in need, regardless of race, color, religion, ethnic background, or financial circumstance, to me, that addresses a very basic human need, in terms of healthcare.
“We all know the importance of eye care to people’s lives and their livelihood. And for me, being able to help, those that are most in need is something that I feel very honored to be able to do.
“A large majority of the operations that we do are relatively simple cataract operations. A simple procedure can give people their sight back, but if you don’t do anything about them, they can ultimately cause blindness.
“The doctors are highly trained and have the benefit of some of the most sophisticated facilities in the country. Being able to provide such healthcare in a country such as Pakistan where the average income is very low, is really extraordinary.”
“I volunteer for a number of different reasons. We want to try and help people who are less fortunate than us. We do that by raising awareness in London and across the UK. And also by raising funds, which can be used to make a difference to underprivileged people in Pakistan. Volunteering with the charity is our way of giving back to society.