Br. Zaheer is an urban planner who currently lives in the Middle East. While living in Toronto, he ran youth classes at one of the Islamic schools, started a Canadian youth umbrella organization called Muslim Youth Association, and served on the Tabligh Committee of the mosque. Now in Dubai, he is still involved in youth and interfaith activities and works with the non-profit Najaf Campaign, which in conjunction with Ayatollah Basheer Najafi’s office in Najaf provides an extensive range of philanthropic services in Iraq.
As a publication dedicated to the ideals of the Qur’an and the Holy Household of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), Islamic Insights recognizes individuals who truly exemplify the teachings of our Holy Guides. The Islamic Insights Person of the Year is an annual recognition extended to a particular individual who we believe has gone beyond the call of duty to not only uphold but also practice and epitomize the teachings of the Qur’an and the Holy Ahlul Bayt.
For 2009, the writers and staff members of Islamic Insights recognize Br. Zaheer Abbas Karim as our Person of the Year. Br. Zaheer is an urban planner who currently lives in the Middle East. While living in Toronto, he ran youth classes at one of the Islamic schools, started a Canadian youth umbrella organization called Muslim Youth Association, and served on the Tabligh Committee of the mosque. Now in the MidEast, he is still involved in youth and interfaith activities and works with the non-profit Najaf Campaign, which in conjunction with Ayatollah Basheer Najafi’s office in Najaf provides an extensive range of philanthropic services in Iraq.
For his and his organization’s wonderful work, we offer this recognition as a humble token of our admiration.
Islamic Insights: Can you give us a brief overview of your activities with the youth in Canada? In specific, can you tell us about your involvement with the Muslim Youth Association?
Zaheer Abbas Karim: Youth in Canada face a unique set of challenges which include balancing cultural values and integration with the host community in the West. Underlying this effort is the need to stay firm on the path of the Qur’an and Ahlul Bayt. Our work in Canada with MYA was to unite the different youth initiatives and to provide a forum where youth can grow with a collective effort and common goal, regardless of their cultural background. A youth conference in 2002 kick-started much of the above activity North America.
II: What kind of interfaith efforts did you undertake as part of the Tableegh Committee while you were in Canada?
ZAK: Muslims in the West are ambassadors of the religion of Islam. The Holy Infallibles have taught us to invite others towards the religion without words, i.e. through actions. This is an important lesson for all Muslims interacting with non-Muslims in the West and other parts of the world. One of the unique programs we conducted in Canada was called “Jesus in Islam”, which was a seminar typically held around Christmas. It provided a wonderful public forum for Muslims and Christians to come together and understand the commonalities and differences of the two religions.
II: Tell us about the Najaf Campaign, its background, and what prompted you to begin it.
ZAK: Iraq is a land that has been oppressed for generations. In the past, it was the cradle of civilization, but in its modern history, it has become synonymous to war and devastation. The result is the degradation of the economy and the increase of poverty, malnutrition, and disease. As the country opened up after the fall of Saddam, Zuwwar (pilgrims) to Iraq started to realize the vast humanitarian crisis that was largely forgotten by the world. Thus, a small group of people from Africa and North America got together to make a difference in the lives of the oppressed people of Iraq though humanitarian contributions.
II: What are some of the current projects being undertaken by the Najaf Campaign?
ZAK: Najaf Campaign is focusing on sponsorship of orphans, providing basic education, and humanitarian relief such as blanket and food distributions. Current and past projects are outlined on the website.
II: What has been the community’s response to your work? Have they been supportive, or lukewarm?
Most people want to give and contribute – as this is a basic tenant in all faiths. The key is to find people they can trust. Generally, the community has been supportive, but with the financial crisis, most charities have seen a reduction in support.
II: The current political scenario in Iraq has made many people completely lose hope about the situation. Given your involvement with the Najaf Campaign, how would you respond to such pessimism?
ZAK: Human beings have a very high potential – one that can be achieved given the proper opportunity. Providing the basis to impoverished Iraqis is a priority regardless of the political situation. It is incumbent on those who have wealth to share with those who do not; for this will be part of the accounting that human beings will undergo on the Day of Judgment. There is much humanitarian work to be done in many places in the world, including Iraq, and this will continue regardless of the political circumstances.
II: How has this work affected you on a personal and spiritual level?
ZAK: I have gained a deeper appreciation and value for human life and a perspective of what is really important in life. The luxuries in life all of a sudden don’t mean much as we recall the images of children walking around barefoot in the winter.
II: What kind of time commitment does Najaf Campaign require of you? Is this your sole occupation, or do you have another job as well?
ZAK: As with most charitable activities, this comes out of leisure and family time – which sometimes can be a challenge.
II: For Muslim youth who are interested in doing philanthropic work, what advice would you give?
ZAK: Work to seek the pleasure of the Almighty and be steadfast on the path of the Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt, i.e. Holy Infallibles. Look at the opportunity to serve as a blessing, and the person who you are serving as someone who is doing a favor upon you!