Why did Dr Saqib set up Akhuwat Foundation
The first loan was given in 2001, it started with an interaction with a woman seeking a loan to provide for her family as her husband, the sole breadwinner, had died, and the responsibility of earning for the family fell on her. She approached me because, at that time, I worked with the Punjab Rural Support Program, which gave out small business loans in the rural villages of Punjab. I was deeply moved by the woman’s difficult situation and presented an interest-free loan of PKR 10,000. While I had forgotten about the loan, the lady returned, as promised after six months and returned the full loan amount with tears in her eyes. The tears expressed her gratitude. She told me that the sheer amount of PKR 10,000 enabled her to purchase two sewing machines to start her stitching business and become financially independent. She returned that amount with one request that the money was given to another person who, like her, would benefit from it. This incident developed my trust in people and the system of interest-free microfinance. This became our organisation’s first loan, leading to the beginning of Akhuwat’s operations, which has now reached 5 million loans worth PKR 170 million, Alhamdulillah.
How is Akhuwat different from other microfinance institutions?
Akhuwat is different because it provides a unique model opposite to the capitalist system and market economy, which usually profit by charging high-interest rates. Akhuwat’s model is based on the universal concept of brotherhood. We believe it is essential to consider those less fortunate as our brothers and sisters and should help them without taking advantage of their situation. Even though this model is based on Islamic principles, it is not limited to Islam as all the religions in the world preach the same message: to care for others like you want to be taken care of. The main objective of Akhuwat is to provide interest-free micro-loans and financial access to the poor.
Furthermore, Akhuwat uses religious places such as mosques, churches and temples as places of disbursement. This aids in reducing operational costs while creating a transparent and participatory environment.
The loans given out are given to the family as a unit to ensure that the loan is being used for the benefit of the family. There is also a detailed check and balance system to ensure the efficient use and repayment of the loan.
Akhuwat’s operations rely upon its volunteers’ passion, dedication and zeal, who invest their time, talent and resources to Akhuwat’s cause. Akhuwat is a unique initiative because of its bondage with Mawakhat-e-Madina and accounts for the four pillars:
- Iman or faith
- Ihsan: to do beautiful things
- Ikhlas or purity
- Infaq: giving in the way of Allah
The pillars of Mawakhat, put together, create Ikwha or Akhuwat that transforms the spirit of solidarity into a brotherhood. Akhuwat takes its name from this concept, and through its operation presents a practical manifestation of Mawakhat.
What role does the engagement of religious institutions play in creating a societal impact in Pakistan? How did you achieve that with Akhuwat?
For us, religion is love, compassion, giving and empathy. It brings people together. Beyond worship, religious institutions are used as community centres to promote participatory development. As the house of God, religious institutions such as mosques, churches and temples can be utilised to develop a stronger sense of community and mutual support. In Pakistan, religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, are among the most marginalised groups. To support these disadvantaged groups, Akhuwat has taken measures to ensure their inclusion.
First, as a core value, loans are disbursed at places of worship, including mosques, churches and temples. Regardless of religious background, borrowers are welcome at the respective ceremony venue. This lays a network for socio-religious cohesion, interfaith harmony and acceptance.
Second, special disbursements are held at Christmas, Easter and Diwali to commemorate events of all religions. This, besides economic facilitation, fosters religious harmony.