Giving back to those in need in the good and the most trying of times: A photo essay through the acts of one Sufi community in the UK and Germany.
Covid-19 has had a global impact that has rocked the lives of many. Behind the virus’s death toll numbers – no matter how big or small – are individual stories of trauma and tragedy for family members, friends and neighbours. While the virus swept through the world, bringing down economies and provoking questions about what the new normal could look like, it also forced us to unite in the common greatest challenge since the end of WWII – sharing in an innate want and need to protect our families, neighbours and communities from the coronavirus: a solidarity of care.
The incredible power of togetherness and solidarity in caring for one’s community, country and the world during this crisis is explored in this photo essay through the acts of one Sufi community.
One of the questions provoked by my PhD research on Sufi communities relates to the ethics of virtue and being of service to your community. Central to Sufi identity is a sense of moral obligation to gratitude and giving back to the community. One key concept that is exemplified by the students of MTO Shahmaghsoudi – an Islamic Sufi order with a global presence – is that of service to your community.
This service is built largely on the Sufi concept of khedmat, which means to be of service. It includes giving back to your Sufi order, but also to your neighbours and the society you live in – volunteerism at its best. It is seen as a form of worship, which must be done for the sake of God alone and not for any personal satisfaction or gain. Khedmat is not to be confused with zakat (Islamic almsgiving) or sadaqah (voluntary Islamic charity); for Sufis, khedmat is an action in addition to giving zakat and sadaqah. The act of charity (khedmat) in this context refers to actions intended to assuage hardships – financial or otherwise – for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and for which there is no repayment, either actual or expected, in any form.
Since September 2018, I have been conducting field research in London, UK and Düsseldorf, Germany exploring the everyday performative virtues of MTO students, the pictures below illustrate what I found. The photographs presented here are those that I took as I explored what this concept of khedmat meant in practice pre- and during Covid-19.
Pre- Covid-19 sama (musical audition) practice by MTO students in London, UK | March 2020.
An evening weekly lecture attended by MTO students in London, UK | January 2020.
Lights turning off and students preparing for zikr (dhikr) after a weekly lecture in the MTO centre in London, UK | January 2020.
Zikr (dhikr) practice by MTO students in Düsseldorf, Germany | October 2018.
Building on past charitable activities, the MTO students have long assisted in supporting the refugee and migrant communities to integrate into German life. MTO students passing out chocolates to the children of refugee families in a migration centre in southern Düsseldorf | December 6, 2018.
An evening of charitable giving – khedmat (service) to their city – MTO students passing out food to the homeless in central London | July 11, 2019.
Early days of Covid-19 MTO students in London, UK passing out handmade personal protective equipment to hospital staff in a north London hospital | April 24, 2020.
Early days of Covid-19 MTO students in London, UK discussing with hospital staff about their experience during the pandemic as they prepare to pass out handmade personal protective equipment to hospital staff in a south London hospital | May 25, 2020.
Elbow-bumping. Signs of gratitude by the hospital staff receiving much needed personal protective equipment during the strains of resources caused by the influx of Covid-19; along with MTO students expressing gratitude to the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic in south London | May 25, 2020.
MTO students in London, UK passing out handmade personal protective equipment along with cupcakes to hospital staff in a north London hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic| April 24, 2020.
Negah Angha is a PhD Candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. She is currently on sabbatical from the US Department of State. The views presented here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.