Ummah Welfare Trust in Sierra Leone

    Alhamdulillah, Ummah Welfare Trust is delivering its first ever Iftaar programme in Sierra Leone this Ramadhan. Follow Shaykh Yusuf Shabbir's account as he travels across the country to assist some of its many needy Muslims.

    Day 6: Towards the border of Guinea
    Tuesday 6th June

    It is an early start as we head towards Kamakwie. Kamakwie is a small town in Bombali District in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone close to the border of Guinea. The population of the town exceeds 8,000. The population of Kamakwie is predominantly from the Limba, Temne, and Loko ethnic groups. The distance between Freetown and Kamakwie is 270km. However the journey takes us more than five hours as the roads are in a very poor condition. The latter part of the journey Makeni onwards is particularly challenging as there are no Tarmac roads. We now understood why the delivery truck broke down yesterday.

    We arrive after 2pm and are greeted by some four hundred families who have been selected to benefit from the aid programme. We can sense the joy and happiness among the whole community. Local community leaders inform us that this is the first time such an aid programme has taken place in this remote area. The beneficiaries include the disabled and some of the poorest from the region. The region is densely populated with Muslims and we clearly sensed that people are more religious. Young children were eager to recite the Quran to us. After completing the distribution we perform Salah in the local Masjid and return to Freetown via the same five hour route.

    By the grace of Almighty Allah, we have directly supported 2100 families through the Iftar programme and personally supervised the entire programme. We pray to Almighty Allah to reward all those who supported the initiative financially and who took part in implementing it.

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    Day 5: A Change of Plan
    Monday 5th June

    Today was supposed to be the final day of our Iftar distribution in Kamakwie. However the vehicle transporting the goods from Freetown to this remote location near the border of Guinea has broken down. We therefore decide to spend the day in Freetown meeting with various organisations and agreeing a broad framework for future programmes. Several meetings take place throughout the day. Potential projects discussed include: Cemetery project, Hijab project, leadership and empowerment and other short and long term projects.

    We also learn during the day that there is a substantial presence of satanic cults and societies in the country. Some of these societies kill humans, cut them into pieces and eat them or burn them as part of their ritual practices. Unfortunately some Muslims are also involved in this. Some of the practices are beyond human comprehension. Some times organs are removed from humans who are alive. We heard of an incident in which the genital parts of a female were forcibly removed whilst she was alive and conscious. Such cultic and satanic practices need to be eliminated to attract the divine mercy and bring prosperity to the nation.

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    Day 4: Thirty three family members died from Ebola and I do not have a house
    Sunday 4th June

    Over the past three days, we have distributed aid in the Western, Southern and Eastern regions of the country. Today, we are heading to Port Loko which is 96km from Freetown, a three hour drive. Port Loko is the capital and second largest town of Port Loko District in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. The town has a population of approximately 25000 people.

    We arrive in the afternoon and distribute Iftar packs to four hundred families. This is the first time the local community has benefited from a programme on this scale. Some of the recipients arrived here yesterday and spent the night on the streets in anticipation of the aid. One of the beneficiaries is Al-Haji Shaykha Kamara who is extremely grateful. He explains that thirty three members of his family died during the Ebola crisis and he does not have a house to live in. He resides in the local Jamil Jalil Masjid, a beautiful Masjid built in the 1950s. Here we also perform Wudu from a large mud vessel.

    We return to Freetown in the evening and rest.

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    Day 3: Families travel seven miles to receive aid
    Saturday 3rd June

    After writing yesterday's account, we met again with Abdurrazzaq who further discussed his story. He explained that his father passed away fifty years ago and he was a devout Muslim. His mother is alive who along with his wife are Muslims. In fact, his step father is the Chair of the local mosque. Two years ago he converted to Christianity because he was struggling financially and the local church supported him. We have a fruitful discussion focusing on his name and its meaning and how he may continue the legacy of his late mother. He suggests himself that our encounter is a blessing of Allah and that he shall visit us in the morning with his mother and wife and revert to Islam. True to his promise, he visits us in the morning with his family and reverts to Islam. His family is extremely happy as he is the breadwinner of the wider family and thereby the faith of the whole family has been safeguarded. May Allah preserve their faith and keep them steadfast. A discussion with local scholars and community leaders reveals that this is the first time ever a Muslim NGO has conducted such a project in this region. The project has already strengthened the confidence of Muslims in the region and made them realise that they are part of a global brotherhood that is committed to supporting them. Although Abdurrazzaq was not a beneficiary of our Iftar programme, he himself confirmed that the programme has changed his view of Muslims. For us, this encounter alone is sufficient for the success of this programme and our trip. All praise belongs to Allah who guides whomsoever he wishes. Another blessing this morning is the opportunity to scan through the manuscripts, books and writings of the Saint Al-Haji Lamphia Tarawally (d. 1954). Unfortunately, the books have not been properly preserved. However, his descendants have agreed to take steps to preserve these documents.

    It is now time to leave Moyamba and head to Blama. Blama is a town in the Kenema District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. The journey takes three hours. We arrive in the afternoon and distribute Iftar packs to some four hundred families who have gathered from different areas of the district. Some have travelled from as far as seven miles to obtain an Iftar pack. This demonstrates the extent of the poverty. As the distribution ends, there are many other disappointed people queuing up requesting support.

    We leave Blama and head to Freetown. The journey takes five hours and we arrive late in the evening. En route, we complete our fast with juice and biscuits. Within minutes of arriving into Freetown, there is an electricity blackout. This is common occurrence in the capital.

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    Day 2: Supporting deprived families in Moyamba / A Christian named Abdul Razzaq
    Friday 2nd June

    It is an early start as we head to Moyamba to continue the Iftar distribution programme. Moyamba is the capital and largest city of Moyamba District, in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, with a population of more than eleven thousand people. The population of the city is ethnically diverse, although the Mende people make up the majority. The district is known for its fertile ground and agriculture particularly for ginger. The distance between Freetown and Moyamba is 120km. However, the journey through the scenic landscape takes nearly four hours. The transport infrastructure is weak and many roads require repairs.

    We arrive into Moyamba after midday and our first stop is the Moyamba Central Mosque where five hundred males and females have gathered for Jumuah Salah. The mosque was founded in the 1940s by a pious saint Al-Haji Lanahia Tarawally who passed away in 1954 and is buried close to the mosque. He was a great visionary and mystic and had amazing foresight. We are requested to lead Jumuah Salah at this mosque also and deliver the sermon which is well received.

    Immediately after Jumuah Salah, we head towards Makeni Road where some one thousand people have gathered to receive the Iftar packs. There are thousands of poor people in this region. However, the charity has selected some of the most impoverished and disadvantaged families to ensure that support is provided to those who are the most in need. They include those who are physically and psychologically impaired along with those who are extremely elderly. As the distribution nears completion, heavy rainfall and lightning begins. This is the rain season in Sierra Leone. Our distribution is impacted as the rain continues for an hour. Eventually, the distribution comes to an end.

    Later in the evening we realise the impact of our programme and the consequences of inaction. We meet a businessman Abdurrazzaq and assume he is Muslim based on his name. Later he explains to that his late father was a Muslim but he and some other members of his family converted because of the support provided by Christian missionaries. This is the first time he has come across a Muslim NGO.

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    Day 1: Returning to Sierra Leone
    Thursday 1st June

    Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa that is bordered by Guinea on the north, Liberia in the south-east, and the Atlantic Ocean in the south-west. It is home to some of the poorest people of the world. The country's Muslim population is more than 70% with over four million Muslims. Despite this, very few Muslim charities operate in this part of the world.

    I became aware of the plight of this nation a year ago when I was invited here to participate in a nationwide education and faith tour. Subsequently in December 2016, I returned with Ummah Welfare Trust Trustee Shaykh Muhammad Ahmad to undertake an assessment and devise a strategy to address the needs.

    In this blessed month of Ramadhan, the charity is providing Iftaar packs to 2,000 families in different parts of the country and thereby touching the lives of some 15,000 poor and impoverished people. The aim of our visit is to deliver and supervise this project and expand Ummah Welfare Trust's work here.

    Further to arriving into Freetown yesterday evening and meeting our hosts, we start our programme in the morning and head towards the Shell, Kissy area in the outskirts of Freetown. Four hundred poor people have been invited here to participate in the Iftaar distribution Programme. The beneficiaries include the disabled, the elderly, the widows, the orphans and other disadvantaged members of society. All the beneficiaries have been selected through a rigorous assessment process and issued a colour-coded voucher based on the different category of beneficiaries.

    After a short programme focusing on the importance of fasting and steadfastness on faith, we start distributing the Iftaar packs. Each Iftaar pack contains 50kg rice along with milk, oil, sugar, salt and sardines. Each pack costs £50 and will support the family throughout the month of Ramadhan. It is extremely humbling to observe some of the most deprived people stand in queues and wait under the scorching heat for an Iftaar pack. The smile on their faces and their words of thanks reflect their genuine appreciation and gratitude for the support provided by the charity and its donors.

    Later in the afternoon, we head towards the Magazine area in Central Freetown where we distribute Iftaar packs to one hundred families. This area is extremely poor despite its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. We visit the slums ourselves and also visit the Al-Hayy Al-Qayyum Masjid. The mosque is small and cannot cater for the needs of the community. Its capacity is 250 people but the congregation exceeds 600 people.

    The local community requested we support them because their roof is in need of urgent repairs. Such are the poverty levels that local communities struggle to afford several hundred pounds to repair mosques. At this masjid, we observe the traditional methods of teaching Arabic and the Quran through wooden boards. Alphabet books and pens are simply too expensive for the people living in urban areas. One can imagine from this the condition in the rural areas. We pray that Allah Almighty showers his mercy on this nation and rewards all those who are supporting them.