Yet another horror of Islam 80

Religious practices often do the most harm where they are intended to do the most good.

This – somewhat surprisingly –  is from the BBC News Magazine:

For many Pakistani Muslims, visiting a shrine and donating money to beggars go hand in hand. But their generosity has encouraged the creation of a “begging mafia” which forces thousands of children into a life of slavery.

Shrines dedicated to holy men are dotted across most cities and towns in Pakistan. In the folk Islam of the region, they are regarded as saints, and can attract huge numbers of worshippers, eager to pray for their blessings.

The shrines have always been a magnet for beggars, especially children, as many of the pilgrims believe giving money to the poor will increase the chance of their prayers being heard.

The result? Children are being kidnapped and traded between begging gangs, says Mohammed Ali, founder of the Roshni Helpline charity.

“In 2010, 3,000 children went missing in Karachi alone,” says Ali.

It was also “common [for parents] to leave a child at a shrine”.

“Many of these children will be moved around shrines in Pakistan. They will have their heads shaved. They will be tattooed. They will be made unrecognizable …  The culture of begging at shrines is so prevalent that the police will rarely intervene or ask children how they got to a shrine.”

A few hours spent at any shrine in Pakistan will reveal that the beggars with the most pronounced disabilities attract the most attention and … the most money. …

So “children with existing disabilities are sought after by kidnappers”, and –

If a child isn’t disabled, a disability can be inflicted [on him],” says Ali.

“We have dealt with cases where children have a limb cut off,” he says. “An eye can be removed. The intention is for the child to attract sympathy and money.” …

An hour outside Karachi, in the town of Hyderabad, lives taxi driver Mir Mohammed, with his wife and three children.

His eldest son, Mumtaz, recently went missing.

“He is disabled. I used to do everything for him. He was in his wheelchair just down the road but then we couldn’t find him,” says Mohammed. “Some people say they saw him being forced into a rickshaw. It must have been the begging gangs. A boy like Mumtaz is precious to the gangs. We have been searching all the shrines, but we can’t find him. We want him home. We are desperate.”

Roshni Helpline workers are circulating Mumtaz’s photograph at shrines and the police will be asked to look for him. But the scale of the problem and the sheer number of shrines across Pakistan means that many missing children will never be found.

One of the best-known shrines is home to the tomb of Saint Doley Shah in Gujrat.

It is the town’s focal point and attracts visitors from across the Punjab, especially women praying for fertility. It is also the historical home to the Doley Shah’s “chooay” or “mice” – people with a genetic defect which causes a shrunken skull.

They were believed to be blessed, and attracted donations from almost every visitor, though now there is only one left, a woman who is fed, clothed and looked after by the shrine committee

Everyone who visits the tomb is familiar with the shrine’s legend. “If you are barren and you pray at the shrine, the Saint will grant you a child, but it could look like a mouse,” one visitor told me. “You have to donate that child to the shrine or all your future children will look like mice too.”

According to geneticist Dr Qasim Mehdi, Pakistan has a high rate of genetic disease, resulting from “an extremely high percentage of cousin marriage“. …

And hence deformities. The Third World really is super-horrible.

Mohammed Ali at the Roshni Helpline is eager to set [a] culture shift in motion, by stimulating public discussion.

“Criminal gangs need to be tackled by the police but the biggest problem is superstition,” he says.

A true statement which he spoils with the next:

“We need to teach people that there is nothing Islamic about leaving your child at a shrine or donating money to a child who is being forced to stand in front of a shrine.”

Still, it’s not something you’ll see in a secular country.