Despite a surge in coronavirus cases and rising inflation, grocery stores and supermarkets in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital, are overcrowded with customers ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Neatly wrapped packets and boxes of lentils, flour, rice, cooking oil, tea, spices, beverages, and other food items are arranged in shelves at a sprawling supermarket in the city's eastern district.
Citizens are buying more than the usual not only to cope with the extra consumption, but to distribute among the less fortunate, or those who have been unemployed due to an economic slowdown aided by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The downturn has particularly impacted those below poverty line – nearly 25% of Pakistan's 210 million population.
“Ramadan is the perfect time to help others,” Mohammad Younus, a customer, told Anadolu agency while maneuvering through a crowded corridor with an overstuffed trolley.
Yunus is one of the millions of Pakistanis who distribute rations, alms, and clothing to the less fortunate in Ramadan, when devotees abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset.
“This time, the poor need and deserve more. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs over the past year due to COVID-19 as businesses have been hit hard,” he said. “I've been distributing rations to 15-20 people on the eve of Ramadan for years, but this year I plan to double the figure ... we are duty-bound to provide them relief during the holy month."
There are similar scenes in Judia Bazar, one of the city's largest and oldest wholesale markets.
“We have bought double the rations compared to the previous year due to the rising demand,” Mohammad Yusuf, a businessman who runs a small charity in New Karachi Town, told Anadolu Agency.
This has given some hope to traders for a slight improvement in otherwise sluggish business activity. “We expect more sales this time," Anas Sultan, a grocery wholesaler, told Anadolu Agency, adding that they relaxed credit deadlines for small retailers "as they were in trouble."
Most Pakistanis prefer to pay their zakat – the obligatory Muslim charity tax – during Ramadan, expecting more rewards from God.
Zakat, which is "purifying” one’s earnings or savings, is one of Islam’s five pillars. Any Muslim who owns a certain amount of money, gold, silver, or other assets is bound to pay 2.5% of his or her excess annual wealth to the needy.
In Pakistan it is mandated and collected by the government. Apart from helping the less fortunate, zakat also assists charities run their operations throughout the year.
These organizations help stem the economic burden on low-income groups.
Al-Khidmat Foundation, which also runs a countrywide chain of charity hospitals, including a modern facility in the southern desert area of Thar, plans to provide rations to 500,000 people across the country during Ramadan.
“Our focus is on the remote areas and people who have been affected by COVID-19," Abdul Shakoor, the foundation’s president, told Anadolu Agency. He shared that 10% of his organization’s annual budget is met through zakat.
The foundation is also carrying out several projects, mainly for the provision of clean water in collaboration with Turkey’s state-run aid agency – Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
“Charity is hardwired in the blood of Pakistanis. Almost every Pakistani, in one way or the other donates something," Shakoor said.
The Saylani Welfare Trust also plans providing 100,000 ration bags to the underprivileged in Karachi during the month, according to Amjad Chamriya, an official who deals with the charity's ration distribution process.
The charity says it will also serve Iftar (sunset meal to break the fast) to around 250,000 people.