Dr Amjad Saqib
Dr Saqib is the founder and Executive Director of Akhuwat, the world’s largest Islamic microfinance organization Image Credit: Supplied

Amidst the doom and gloom of Pakistan’s current political dynamics came the news of the nomination of Dr Amjad Saqib for the Nobel Peace Prize 2022. Dr Saqib is the founder and Executive Director of Akhuwat, the world’s largest Islamic microfinance organization. Pakistan despite its new divisions of ideology and power paradigms celebrated in unison the latest honour bestowed on Dr Saqib, a glowing manifestation of how selfless work for the betterment of humanity is its own reward, celebrated by the people with gratitude, on an individual and national level.

In my introduction to Dr Saqib for an interview for Gulf News last year, I wrote: “When I think about Dr Saqib’s work, one-of-a-kind is the adjective that comes to my mind. In a world full of philanthropists and social workers what is that one thing that makes Dr Saqib’s work singularly special? To me it is his deep empathy for those he helps through his work. I believe that protection of their self-respect is his primary concern, and safeguarding the sanctity of their dignity is his constant credo.”

Dr Saqib’s microfinancing organization is titled Akhuwat, which as he explains is derived from “Mawakhat-e-Medina.” When I asked him last year what Akhuwat means for him, his answer was stunning in its simplicity, its expansiveness: “When Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) migrated to Medina from Mecca, he was accompanied by some of his relatives and friends. Most of those people belonged to affluent families, but the journey of hijra (migration) resulted in financial hardships. When they reached Medina, they required some resources to restart their lives, but they did not want to ask anyone for charity. Medina didn’t have any financial institution that they could approach for help, but there were Jewish moneylenders who gave loans charging a huge interest. Paying or taking usury was against the religious teachings of the migrants from Mecca.

Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) presented a truly beautiful concept. He declared that one citizen of Medina, who would be called Ansar, and one Muhajir (migrant) from Mecca would form a bond. On the basis of that bond, they would be brothers and help one another. That relationship was called ‘mawakhat’. It means bhai-chara (brotherhood). After being connected in that relationship every Ansar assisted his Muhajir brother to start a business. Because of that the Muhajirs were able to stand on their own very soon. Not before long the world saw that those who had arrived in Medina in destitution were back on their feet.

What we believe is that the manifestation of mawakhat is not merely a historic event, it is a complete philosophy. And that philosophy is always applicable as it is beyond the limitations of geography and time.”

For Gulf News, I asked Dr Amjad Saqib a few questions:

Mehr Tarar: Congratulations on your nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize 2022! What was your initial response on receiving the news that you had been nominated for the most prestigious award in the world for your humanitarian work for poverty alleviation in Pakistan?

Dr Amjad Saqib: I would like to start by congratulating every citizen of Pakistan. This nomination is not just for me but the whole of Pakistan and every single person, all over the world, who believes that poverty can be eliminated. Every virtuous thing attributed to us is because of Pakistan. Alhamdulillah, I am very grateful to Allah Almighty for this honour. It has also given the international community an opportunity to see Pakistan in a positive light. I am grateful and humbled that we were able to do something for the underprivileged of Pakistan and bring Pakistan this honour.

However, while I am highly grateful, I would also like to add that whatever Akhuwat has done so far was never done for any worldly reward. Our sole purpose is to please our Creator, to have something to offer when we are presented before Him. I believe a kind deed is never done for any reward; it is done because of its inherent good. Thus, whatever we do is our moral duty. This is what primarily differentiates a man from a human being. A man has individual goals, but a human being thinks for the good of every individual, and he works towards the betterment of humanity. This nomination is nothing but a blessing of Allah Almighty. He is the one who selected us for this honour, and He is the one who will make us prosper in our calling.

Why do you think your model of micro financing for those with little or no resources has proven to be and continues to be so successful?

There are two models of microfinancing. In the first model you charge the borrower with the financial and operational costs. The second model is unique and is a revolution in the world of microfinance. This model is not an extension of the capitalistic system and market economy; it is based on the principles of brotherhood and solidarity. For example, when someone lends their brother PKR 10,000, he will ask for the same amount in return. So, we believe that we should think of our underprivileged fellow Pakistanis as our brothers and sisters. Although this model is based on the principles of Islam, it is not just limited to Islam. All the religions in the world preach the same principle: to think for others the way you would think for yourself.

Akhuwat’s success testifies to this model. We started with US $100, and now we have expanded to US $100 million, with a recovery rate of 99.9 percent. Many people have had their apprehensions regarding the sustainability of our model. We believe that the principles and values of Akhuwat—brotherhood, solidarity, compassion, empathy, and sacrifice—will always exist. For as long as humanity exists, there will always be that one human being who wants to help another human being.

Akhuwat’s model is based on the philosophy of Mawakhat, interest-free lending, volunteerism, no discrimination, use of religious places as points of mediation, and transforming borrowers into donors.

The first principle of Akhuwat is providing interest-free microloans, based on the belief that poverty cannot be eradicated by charging the marginalized segments of society with interest as it adds to their burden and continues the cycle of debt.

Secondly, the use of religious places is an integral part of Akhuwat’s ethos. Akhuwat uses religious places—mosques, churches, and temples—as places for loan disbursement, thus ensuring that there is participation, transparency, and accountability. It also generates goodwill in a community and society in general.

Thirdly, Akhuwat believes in a society that is beyond the lines of caste, colour, gender, creed, politics, and faith. So essentially Akhuwat is a non-political and a pro-poor organization that provides loans to all without any discrimination of any kind.

Another policy that we have is transforming our borrowers into donors. This is important because Akhuwat strives to empower its borrowers by eventually converting the borrowers to become contributing members of society. We call it the “Reciprocity of Economy”.

Lastly, the spirit of volunteerism is a core practice in Akhuwat. Our volunteers hail from all walks of life, bringing their diversified perspectives to Akhuwat and serving as agents of change. These are the visionaries who work tirelessly to spread the message of Mawakhat.

Besides its main function of providing interest-free loans, what are Akhuwat’s other major projects?

Since its inception in 2001, Akhuwat has made an active effort to alleviate poverty in Pakistan primarily through the provision of small interest-free loans to empower marginalized families, socially and economically. Akhuwat’s vision of development is based on the Islamic concept of Mawakhat, which creates a relationship of mutual support and compassion between the haves and the have-nots. To date, the Akhuwat Islamic Microfinance has disbursed PKR 151 billion (US$ 900 million) in interest-free microloans through its 800 plus branches in over 400 cities across Pakistan. 5.1 million families have benefitted from these loans.

At Akhuwat, we believe that education can produce a long-term impact in the lives of people. Our future plans include expanding the impact of the organization to ensure financial inclusion and quality education all over Pakistan. Like Akhuwat’s other programmes, Akhuwat Educational Services (AES) was initiated as a response to multidimensional poverty, which required further interventions for a long-term change as opposed to a short-term change produced by interest-free microfinance.

AES has established four higher education institutions and over 300 schools across Pakistan. Akhuwat Colleges in Kasur and Chakwal provide quality education to girls and boys while also arranging boarding facilities so that they are not a burden on their family's income. Akhuwat University is Pakistan’s first fee-free university providing education to the underprivileged. The young population needs opportunities to be able to contribute to our society. Akhuwat is trying to provide such opportunities to as many people as possible.

Another programme of Akhuwat is Akhuwat Clothes Bank (ACB) that collects, sorts, and cleans donated clothing and gifts them to low-income families. These gifts are disbursed throughout the year while we carry out special campaigns during the peak of winters and natural disasters. ACB has received in donations over three million pieces of clothing in six years, out of which we have distributed 2.86 million clothes to low-income families.

Akhuwat believes in providing support to the most marginalized members of society, including the transgender community. The Akhuwat Khwajasira (transgender) Support Program was launched in 2011. Under this programme, transgender people of 40 years of age or older, with a monthly income of less than PKR 10,000, receive a monthly stipend. To date, PKR 94 million has been disbursed as a stipend to the khwajasira community.

Akhuwat Health Services (AHS) work to provide access to healthcare facilities for the underprivileged. It provides professional medical help through its medical centres and health camps in various cities. Through AHS’s interventions, so far over 150,000 diabetic patients and 5,000 diabetic foot patients have been treated across Punjab.

What do you consider your most important motivation in your decades-long work for lessening destitution and serving humanity in Pakistan?

I think it is not one person but rather an amalgamation of several different inspirational figures who have motivated me throughout my life. We have learned integrity from Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, steadfastness and forgiveness from Nelson Mandela, simplicity from Mahatma Gandhi, selflessness from Abdul Sattar Edhi, and deep compassion from Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King gave us the lesson of universal humanitarian values and Sir Ganga Ram taught us how to spend our wealth for the good of people. All these great historical leaders have taught us how to devote our lives to a noble cause.

There is one personality that is far greater than all these personalities and is the epitome of grace and compassion. He is none other than our beloved Holy Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). If you have to choose an ideal, you can find no better ideal than him. Our Holy Prophet (pbuh) has always been a source of inspiration for me. His life provides guidance for all aspects of our life; whether it is during war or peace, interaction with adults or children, knowledge of trade or politics, you can seek guidance from him. We have chosen his philosophy of Mawakhat as our guiding principle, and that is a humble sign of our deep love and reverence for him.

Akhuwat as an institution derives inspiration from the glorious tradition of Mawakhat-e-Medina. It tells us that we can establish a bond of love between two sections of society: the haves and the have-nots. This bond of love, empathy, and compassion can make our world a better, more beautiful place to inhabit.