“This great increase of the quantity of work which, in consequence of the division of labour, the same number of people are capable of performing, is owing to three different circumstances; first to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman; secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another; and lastly, to the invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.” Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
It has been many years since I’ve read Adam Smith, but amidst prying open my 43rd plastic zip-lock bag, inserting my 43rd packet of Ceralite, and handing it over to the girl next to me so she could contribute her 43rd bottle of hand sanitizer (before handing the bag off to the girls in charge of soap, etc), I looked up for a brief second and saw before me a sight that would have made Mr. Smith proud: over 50 Muslims and Muslimahs lined up along four long tables working in an assembly line fashion, quickly grabbing a bag from their predecessor, inserting their respective piece, and handing it over to the next worker, and so on. The final product was a complete hygiene kit that would soon travel across the Bahamas and wind up in the hands of our long awaiting consumer: a brother or sister in Haiti who was at risk of contracting the deadly disease known as cholera.
Although not capitalistic in nature, our goals were very much like those of any other company: to produce the greatest amount of product while pressed for time. We had 4,000 kits to make and the speed with which cholera was (and still is) spreading made our mission all the more urgent.
But unlike the workers of a company, working for several hours in a day to produce a product that is far removed from them, for a cause that is completely irrelevant, for the satisfaction of their $13 per hour pay check plus benefits, I was part of a system that would have shocked any laissez fare economist. The Muslims around me who were toiling away were consumed by an entirely different and more important purpose—one that was larger than any of us. It is the duty of a Muslim to treat his neighbors with kindness: “And serve Allah and do not associate any thing with Him and be good to the parents and to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the neighbor of (your) kin and the alien neighbor, and the companion in a journey and the wayfarer and those whom your right hands possess; surely Allah does not love him who is proud, boastful;” (Surat An-Nisā, Verse 36)
I am sad to say that many of my neighbors in Haiti have so far died. Two hundred-thirty thousand died from the earthquake almost a year ago, and almost 3,000 have died from the more recent cholera epidemic. Over a million of my brothers and sisters in Haiti are currently homeless, making them extremely susceptible to the deadly disease brought about by the lack of such a basic requirement as hygiene.
That Sunday, amongst the laughter, the secret competitions that arose among workers (“How many bags has your table made? Ha! Look at our box!”), aside from the pizza we enjoyed, the prayer we held in jamaat, the time we spent with our friends; a silent cognizance was continuously present in everyone’s mind. We were doing this for our neighbors across the Bahamas who may never get a chance to enjoy the luxuries of friends, family, and peace of mind that we all enjoyed that evening. For each grin that blossomed into laugher in that room, tears of pain and loss followed throughout the world. Brother Shafi, founder of Muslims Without Borders, talked about his experiences in Haiti and made us realize our own blessings. He made us realize just how desperate a people’s situation can become. We soon realized that, much in our Prophet’s (p.b.u.h.) example, we were obligated to extend our blessings to those whose situation vastly contrasted our own…which reminds me of another quote:
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” (Smith, Wealth of Nations).
Yes, I think Mr. Smith would have indeed been proud.
University of South Florida
Muslim Youth for Truth Contributer
Editor's Note: The event Ms. Khan is referring to occurred on Sunday, December 19th, 2010. Muslims Without Borders Tampa Bay Chapter teamed up with Muslim Aid Australia, the Muslim Student Association at University of South Florida, Sisters United Muslim Association, Project Downtown, MAS Youth, and other student volunteers in Tampa, FL for a local "Day of Action". Volunteers met at the Islamic Community of Tampa (Peace House) at 4:00pm to assemble thousands of hygiene kits that will be distributed at schools and survivor camps in Haiti over the winter holidays, in an effort to help stop the spread of cholera. They hope that wide-scale distribution and education initiatives will produce a shift in hygiene standards and general awareness among the local Haitian population.