Ramadan Mubarak! 'Small acts of kindness on daily basis' - Sonia Shah Organization

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Children, exempted from the obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan, receive lunch at Sonia Shah Memorial School.

By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 22 June, 2017

Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim friends around the world!

Ramadan is the Islamic holy month, a celebration of the period in 610 A.D. when the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) received the initial revelations of the Quran.

In recognition of this holy occasion, Muslims fast — no food or water — from dawn to dusk for 30 days. “Fasting is seen as a way to cleanse the soul and have empathy for those in the world who are hungry and less fortunate,” according to history.com.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and begins and ends with the sighting of a new crescent moon. This year, it began May 26 and will end this weekend, between June 24 and 26. The end of the holiday is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival and one of Islam’s major holidays.

“Ramadan is about to end, and as Muslims look forward to Eid celebrations, we should also reflect on the blessed month and on our lives,” said Iram Shah, chairwoman of the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO).

“Ramadan is about self-constraint, love, peace, and giving back to humanity. Islam, which means submission, teaches us to live a meaningful life while perusing our interests and passions. It urges us to respect all religions, beliefs and people. It prohibits violence and promotes forgiveness. Ramadan showcases these traits and helps us to practice them for the rest of the year,” she said.

ISLAM IN THE WORLD

Islam is the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity, but the fastest growing, with 1.8 billion followers as of 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

In the United State, there are 3.3 million Muslims, or about 1 percent of the population. The first mosque here was built in the 1920s in North Dakota by Lebanese immigrants, according to history.com. The nation’s oldest surviving mosque was constructed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1930s.

Muslims believe Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final prophet in a line of prophets — including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus — chosen by God to act as messengers and teach mankind, according to history.com. Born in Mecca in 570 A.D., he  became a merchant who periodically retreated to a cave in Mount Hira, “ruminating on the social ills of the city.”

On such a retreat during the month of Ramadan in 610 A.D., he started receiving revelations from God, or Allah, via the angel Gabriel. The revelations continued for 23 years and were compiled by his followers in the Quran, which formed the basis for Islam.

At the heart of the religion are the Five Pillars of Islam:

Children drawing cold water from the taps at Sonia Shah Memorial School, Kangra, Pakistan.

* Shahada (declaration of faith);

* salat (prayer);

* zakat (charitable giving);

* sawm (fasting);

* and hajj (pilgramage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).

“The founding of Islam by Muhammad came at a time when the newfound wealth of Arabs in Mecca had led them to ignore the plight of the poor,” Karen Armstrong wrote in Fields of Blood. “Instead of hoarding their wealth and ignoring the plight of the poor, Muslims were exhorted to take responsibility for one another and feed the destitute, even when they were hungry themselves. They traded the irascibility of jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic age of ignorance and barbarism] for the traditional Arab virtue of hilm — forbearance, patience, and mercy.

“By caring for the vulnerable, freeing slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, even hourly basis, they believed that they would gradually acquire a responsible, compassionate spirit and purge themselves of selfishness,” Armstrong wrote.

RAMADAN PRACTICES

Fasting is at the heart of Ramadan’s month-long period of self-restraint and self-reflection. But Muslims are also expected to avoid unkind thoughts and words, say special prayers and make a significant contribution to improving the lives of the poor.

Fasting begins at sunrise each day and concludes at sunset. Pre-pubescent children and adults who are sick, elderly, pregnant, nursing or traveling are exempt.

“Fasting is seen as a way to purify spiritually as well as physically — a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God,” the Telegraph (UK) newspaper reported June 4. “The act of fasting is also believed to increase Muslims’ piety, reminding them that others are less fortunate than themselves.”

Throughout the month, Muslims carry on with their lives, going to work and school. Other Ramadan practices include:

     SUHOOR: The meal taken in the morning, before dawn on each day of fasting.

     IFTAR: The big communal meal served at sunset each day to break the day’s fast, the “break-fast.” Tradition calls for breaking the fast with a date and either water or a yogurt drink, followed by the maghrib prayer, then a full-course meal.

     ZAKAT: The obligatory charity to the poor and needy. This is expected of all Muslims throughout the year, but many Muslims choose to give generously during Ramadan.

 

RAMADAN & SSO

Sonia Shah (right) and her mother, Iram Shah.

This year, SSO installed a cooling device on several taps at the Sonia Shah Memorial School water-filtration plant in Kangra, Pakistan. This ensures that all students and villagers have cold, clean drinking water throughout Ramadan and Eid.

“Ramadan has a personal significance for me, as Sonia died on the second day of Eid, two days before leaving for college,” Shah said of her daughter, who started SSO. “She was fasting all month and was very excited to start her college life.

“Sonia wanted all girls to have the same opportunities as she had. Her legacy continues. Now we are helping girls in Pakistan who never before had a chance to go to school, and girls in the U.S. who had little chance to attend college to get education,” Iram said.

In the next few days, the sighting of the new crescent moon will marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid. Most schools and offices close during this period, as many people travel to spend the holiday with friends and relatives.

In the United States, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the first Eid dinner at the White House in 1996, a tradition that continued throughout the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has announced it will not hold an Eid dinner.

To mark Eid, some friends and family exchange gifts. Many take the opportunity to perform charitable acts. Please consider making a donation to SSO.

“As we end Ramadan, change one girl’s life!” Shah said.

Read more:

  1. History of Ramadan: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan
  2. What is Ramadan: http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/islam/articles/what-is-ramadan.aspx
  3. Muslim & Islam in the world: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/26/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
  4. Breaking the fast: https://www.thoughtco.com/ramadan-iftar-breakfast-2004620
  5. Understanding Ramadan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-ramadan-and-when-is-it/
  6. What is Zakat: https://www.islamichelp.org.uk/zakat/

 

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Enxhi (Angie) Uzeir, 22, studies biology at East-West University in Chicago, and is one of two current SSO scholarship students.

I support SSO for the reasons of enabling me to achieve goals that might otherwise be impossible,” Angie explained. “Through it I became the first person in my family to be able to attend college and follow my dreams.” 

Mehreen Zakeri, 31, immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in February 2017 and now lives in Chicago with her husband. Prior to her move, she worked at the Oil Marketing Company in Karachi, Pakistan. Her decision to volunteer for SSO was sparked by her experience at the organization’s 2017 fundraiser in Chicago.

“During the event, I got to listen to one of Sonia’s letters,” she said. “It touched my heart, and her passion towards girls’ education inspired me to contribute towards this cause. I believe, as I quote John Dewey, an American educational reformer, ‘Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.’ Hence, education is the basic right of each child and specifically, an educated girl equals to an educated generation. So, this revolution is so powerful that being a part of it is an honor in itself.”

When Rory McKee, a fifth-grader in Evanston, Ill., first heard Iram Shah speaking on the radio, she was stunned to learn that there are places in the world where girls can’t go to school.

“The radio person said there was someplace in Pakistan where girls don’t get to go to school because [their families] need help running the house and doing chores, so they choose their daughters to do that,” she said. That made her mad. “Girls should go to school because boys and girls are the same. Neither one is better. They should both go to school.”

Guided by her mom, Rory went to the Internet to learn more about how Iram’s daughter Sonia had started a girls’ school in a rural Pakistani village

“Sonia’s relatives live in Pakistan, and she visited them and was moved by meeting girls there that didn’t go to school,” Rory said. “[Sonia] wanted to do something about it. And I thought, there are a lot of people at my school. I could do something there. I wanted to get more money so more girls could go to school.”

So she did. Then a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Evanston, she raised $200 for the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO). She said she wanted to tell these girls “that other people in the world care about them, their education.”

Zuleyma Cordero, 25, is a Sonia Shah Scholarship Program recipient, attending Harper Community College in Palatine, Ill. and on track to graduate in spring 2018 with a double major in accounting and business. She also works full-time and volunteers for SSO.

The first person in her family to go to college, she has said that Sonia’s legacy provides constant motivation, she added.

I think of what a great inspiration Sonia was and still is to this day,” Zuleyma said. “I like to reflect on how she is changing lives of young girls, including myself. And that it all started with the passion she had, and with the idea of making history. She didn’t give up at the sight of any difficulty, she pressed forward to achieve her goal.”

Zuleyma’s volunteer work includes help with fundraising campaigns and events.

Ruby Writer is a Chicago teen who became one of SSO’s first Youth Ambassadors after raising $600 to support SSO. Inspired by the film Girls Rising, she her friends “had the idea to bring the film to my school. We invited parents and friends” and explained how “necessary and life changing [education is], for not only the one girl’s life, but for the entire world,” said Ruby, now a 15-year-old freshman at Walter Payton College Prep. 

In conjunction with showing the film, Ruby launched an online fundraising campaign for girls’ education and, after hearing SSO President Iram Shah interviewed on Chicago public radio, decided to donate the proceeds to SSO.

“Sonia’s story really resonates with me because I feel as if I can compare to her,” said Ruby, who lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. We’re both young, driven, privileged girls, fighting for what I like to think we both feel is a fundamental right: education.”

Since then, “My mom and I have both become really strong supporters of this organization,” she said. In January 2017, Ruby and her mom, the artist Monica Rezman, were SSO’s ambassadors to the Women’s March on Washington, held on Donald Trump’s first day as president.

The mother-daughter duo also put in long hours to help organize SSO’s September 2017 fundraiser in Chicago, at which Ruby served as emcee. And she volunteered to do the audio recordings of Sonia’s college-application essays for the website.

“When I was reading them … I realized that so many people want to change the world and we all want to make an impact in such a positive way. But Sonia was able to articulate her aspirations so well. It made me cry. And since then, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sonia’s still with us here today and that she’s a role model for all of us,” Ruby said.

Shahzmeen Hussain, 22, graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois-Champaign- Urbana, and now lives at home with her family in Skokie, IL.

“I came across Sonia Shah Organization at a dinner gathering over a year ago, where Iram shared the compelling story of Sonia’s sincere vision and goals for the children of Pakistan,” she said. “I come from a family that is dedicated to primary, secondary and higher education, so it was a no-brainer for me to become an ambassador for Sonia’s dream.

“It is true what they say, ‘If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ That change begins here, with us at SSO, and I’m proud to be able to improve the lives of children across the globe,” she said. 

Shayaan Alvi Borok,16, lives in Oak Brook, Ill., and attends Hinsdale Central High School. “My mom is one of the board members, so she told me about the organization and I wanted to get involved,” Shayaan said. “I support Sonia Shah Organization because it is truly trying to make a difference in Pakistan, a place that I have a strong connection to. I am also a woman and undoubtedly believe that all girls deserve a quality education.”

Greg Mortenson is a humanitarian and girls’ education advocate. He is the co-founder of Central Asia Institute (CAI), an international NGO that established hundreds of schools, especially for girls, in remote and often volatile regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. He co-authored three New York Times bestsellers about his experiences, Three Cups of TeaStones into Schools and Listen to the Wind.

Mortenson grew up with three sisters on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, where his parents helped start a medical teaching hospital and an international school. The family returned to Minnesota in 1973, where Mortenson finished high school. He then served in the U.S. Army in Germany; studied at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., on a football scholarship; and graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1983 with degrees in liberal studies and nursing. For a decade he worked as a trauma nurse, putting in extra shifts to save money for mountaineering expeditions.

The sudden death of his sister Christa from epilepsy led him to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in her memory. His experiences there changed his life, prompting the creation of CAI and his enduring vision to promote girls’ education around the world.

Mortenson left CAI in 2016, but continues to advocate girls’ and women’s empowerment. He says, “You can drop bombs, build roads or put in electricity, but until girls are educated, a society won’t change.”

He has received many accolades for his work, including the Jefferson Award for Public Service and the Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan) medal, and honorary degrees from 16 universities.

He lives in Bozeman, Mont., with his wife Tara Bishop, daughter Amira and son Khyber.

Dr. Sairah Alvi is a scientist, lecturer and philanthropist with a passion for the written word. With a PhD in hematology/oncology and extensive post-doctoral work, she works as a consultant for large pharmaceutical companies and an adjunct faculty member at International Islamic University and Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan and Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan.

Sairah’s first love, however, is Urdu literature. She is director of the Urdu Institute of Chicago, which promotes Urdu language and literature, and an ambassador for Pakistan’s National Book Foundation, organizing events at her home for writers, poets and musicians from Southeast Asia and the United States.

She was educated and has lived and worked in the United States, South Africa, England, and Pakistan. Her husband is an English South African physician and chairman of pathology at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

Sairah earned her master’s degree in global management from London School of Economics, two masters’ of science degrees in immunology and molecular genetics from the University of Cincinnati, and a PhD in hematology/oncology from Rush University in Chicago. She did her post-doctoral work at the University of Cape Town and the South African Institute of Medical Research in Johannesburg.

She has published over 100 original articles in peer-reviewed cancer journals, and continues to lecture extensively at various universities, medical centers and scientific conferences.

Sairah hosts most SSO board meetings at her home and plays a key role in organizing annual fundraisers, SSO-related events in Pakistan, and visits to Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra. Her other charitable activities include support for the ARCS Foundation, dedicated to advancing women in science and technology; and HDF and TCF, which build schools and health centers in Pakistan. She is a member of Good Samaritan’s Festival Committee and her family supports numerous arts and cultural organization in Chicago, including the Chicago Art Institute and Goodman Theatre.

She lives in Oakbrook, Ill., with her husband. They have three children: her oldest daughter is a physician; her son studies economics and international relations at University of St Andrews in Scotland; and her youngest daughter is in high school and aspires to be a lawyer. 

Ms. Iram Shah is a humanitarian and global corporate executive with a career across multiple industries and countries. A senior vice president at Schneider Electric, a global leader in energy management and automation, she also runs the Sonia Shah Organization, started by her late daughter, which focuses on educating and empowering underprivileged girls.

Iram’s corporate career of more than two decades spans numerous Fortune 500 companies — including Schneider, Gatorade, Coca Cola, BP, and Zurich Financial — in five countries in industries ranging from oil and gas to financial services and manufacturing. 

She has served on several nonprofit organization boards, including Seeds of Peace, Central Asia Institute, Schneider Foundation and Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity. She is passionate about girls’ education and women’s empowerment and has been thought leader and keynote speaker at national and international women’s forums. 

Iram earned a master’s degree in business administration from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced General-Management Program. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the UK in 2005one of 11 top international Woman Leaders in Chicagoland by Chicago Women magazine in 2017; received the chancellor’s excellence award from Chicago’s East-West University in 2017.

She lives in Deerfield, Ill., with her husband Mahmood, two sons, and her mother.

Gianni and Giavanna Geati are 11-year-old twins in sixth grade at St. James School in Arlington Heights. Gianni plays basketball and soccer, as well as being a percussionist in the school band. And Giavanna, also a musician, plays piano and percussion in the school band. She also enjoys cooking and sewing. 

A year ago, when Gianni Geati was in fifth grade at Saint James School in Arlington Heights, Ill., his teacher assigned him and his classmates to each “write a news story out someone you know who has done a good deed or performed an act of kindness.” Coincidentally, Gianni, then 10 years old, had just heard about Sonia from his sisters — Giuliana, Liliana and Giavanna. They had just attended SSO’s 2016 fundraising event. 

“When [my sister] told me all about it, I was very inspired about all the things Sonia Shah did,” he said. “The next day in religion class I had to write about somebody who inspired me.”

Here’s what he wrote: 

“This girl, Sonia Shah, went to Pakistan and built a school for girls. In the past, only boys were allowed in school. Sonia helped many other girls go and get their education. She was only 17 years old when she raised money and made the plan to build a school. Unfortunately, Sonia died in a car crash. Her mother then founded the Sonia Shah Foundation.”

In an appearance onstage at SSO’s 2017 fundraiser in Chicago, Gianni explained, “I chose to write about Sonia Shah because I have three sisters and I think it’s very important for girls to get education.” 

Mr. Zahir Lavji is director of ZL Advisory LLC, a consulting service to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical-devices industries, primarily focused on commercialization. He also mentors healthcare start-up companies, entrepreneurs, university technology-transfer offices, and medical faculty. Having grown up in Africa and managed businesses globally for more than 30 years, Zahir is keenly aware of the important role education plays in personal and social mobility.

In 1972, Zahir left Uganda as a refugee during the mass exodus and emigrated to Canada where he established his new roots. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pharmacology from the University of Toronto, and his MBA from the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada.

He spent much of his professional career with Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based healthcare-innovation corporation working in more than 150 countries, from which he retired as vice president for international marketing. His career included commercializing billion-dollar pharmaceuticals and glucose-monitoring, medical-nutrition and critical-care devices. As regional director for Abbott in Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, he successfully integrated the Knoll acquisition into single Abbott entities. And as president of Abbot Japan, where he spent eight years, he also managed business alliances with major Japanese pharmaceutical companies.

He devotes considerable time and expertise to mentoring healthcare startups from the Chicago Innovation Mentors group; chairs the Supervisory Board of Temple Therapeutics a development stage Biotechnology startup; is an active investor with Hyde Park Angels; is a Consultant with Breuer Partners & Company, a healthcare consulting organization; serves on the review committee for the University of Chicago’s Innovation Fund at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; and is a panelist for PROPEL-Sikich Investment Banking’s private workshop series.

In addition to pro-bono work in his field, his charitable activities include assisting the Aga Khan Foundation in the Midwest and serving as a standing member of the Alzheimer’s Association Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala.

He lives in Lake Forest, Ill., with his wife Rozmin and daughter Safina.

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