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A two-part series by Shan E Abbas Hassam on The World Federation Office Bearer trip to Iraq in July 2017.
Read his reflections on visiting the shrines of our beloved Ahlul Bayt, meeting our Marjae in Najaf al Ashraf and seeing up close the wonderful work of the organisation.
The lightbulb moment
At the start of June, at one our regular London meet ups (usually late on a Friday night), Shabbar Dhalla and Mohamed Kazim Bhalloo suggested we travel to meet Agha as a new team, with our President Anwar Dharamsi. This was a wonderful idea and it took all of 3 minutes for the UK-based Office Bearers to agree on dates. These trips are self-financed and important not only for bonding but to meet our partners on-the-ground, people without whom we simply could not function!
Our President, Sheikh Safder Jaffer (our Councillor and envoy to Najaf), Sheikh Alidina (Head of Islamic Education) and Anisa Kanji (Head of Communications and previous Assistant Secretary General) were also all delighted to attend.
A place of immense grief
We arrived at Baghdad airport after a day in Beirut with our Lebanese partners and set off for Karbala. Going to Karbala is a bitter-sweet journey. On the one hand, Momineen are able to fulfil their heart’s desire of visiting Imam Hussain (AS) and the Shohadah of Karbala. On the other, it is a place of immense, unparalleled grief, poignantly evident although we spent only one day in the city.
(The World Federation team on-site discussing the project with our on-the-ground partners)
100 homes under construction
Just outside Karbala, we had a first-hand look at a huge project, a piece of land The World Federation had funded as a site for 100 houses for internally displaced refugees. These refugees were mainly from the north of Iraq where Daeesh had taken over parts of the country – destroying homes, driving out people from towns and creating a huge humanitarian crisis. Even very early in the morning the temperature was almost 50 degrees and I imagined how difficult life is for displaced people surviving through such harsh conditions. We really must thank Allah (Swt) for the bounties he has given us and it really is our duty to serve (especially when so comparatively fortunate).
Once the project is finalised, the Secretariat will organise for other international NGOs and leading civil society organisations to visit this site so they can (a) see the work of The World Federation on projects for the deserving and (b) be invited to use our contacts and our partner contacts to help raise awareness of the scale of need in the country. Collectively, we can achieve so much more.
Samarra & Kadhmain
Next, we travelled to Samarra, to the shrine of Imam Ali un Naqi (AS) and Hassan Al Aaskari (AS). On the way, we could really see the toll of the war against Daeesh, with whole streets destroyed in places. On my last trip to Iraq 14 months ago, nobody would take me to Samarra, but this time our Ziyarat to the Askarian Shrine was possible. The Haram is now fully re-built and in every sense truly magnificent. There were many army volunteers visiting the shrine – returning from success fighting Daeesh.
We arrived a few hours later in Kadhmain and, after being fortunate to spend up to midnight at the Haram of Imam Musa Kazim (AS) and Imam Mohamed Taqi Al Jawad (AS), left with a wonderful feeling in our hearts.
We then had our first Office Bearer meeting, and although we have different points of view there was never a voice raised, nor any confrontation. The President, as is the norm, took the final decision on areas needing his guidance. A good meeting and a lot of changes were signed off.
(Picture: Housing project board in partnership with Al Ayn )
Visiting Al Ayn and then onto Najaf
The next morning we left for the headquarters of Al Ayn, Iraq’s largest NGO. They now care for 40,000 of Iraq’s two million orphans and provide very high quality programmes in education, child psychological support, orphan support, widows, healthcare, housing (our partner for the Karbala IDP project) and microfinance. From working closely with them, it is clear they are a highly organised and well-structured organisation with strong reporting processes. This is why I feel we can invite external NGOs from Europe / North America to visit them and help them create more partnerships (not only for financial resources but also for sharing best practice and human capital support).
I later spent some time with Madiha Raza, who joined us for one day in Najaf. She had arrived from Mosul where she was reviewing the great work done by Muslim Aid. Madiha gave us a very useful overview of this work and their plans, and of course we shared our vision of WF AID: a strong, robust Shia NGO serving humanity at large.
To find out Shan's experience meeting four respected Marjae in 24 hours - keep your eye out for part two of Reflections from the Seceretary General, launching next week.
Meeting with His Eminence Ayatollah Al-Sistani
Project North Star is the strategic project being undertaken to identify the vision, mission, strategic priorities and operating model for The World Federation for the next 10 years.