Tag Archive: traditional practice

Xenia: Ancient Greece

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in Europe Tags: ,

By Michalia Catsiliras

Philanthropy, a Greek word demonstrating the love for humanity, has become an important part of today’s society as many people and organizations demonstrate that love through charitable means and support. However, the idea of philanthropy varies from time and place; it is not a universal idea. Tracing down its different forms will help understand other societies and how philanthropy developed to what we know today. A great example would be the area where the word itself was born; in ancient Greece philanthropy occupied a special role in the form of “Xenia”. Xenia was considered an institutionalized guest-friendship that if violated it would be punished by the father of all gods and humans, Zeus. To understand Xenia, one must understand the terminology. Xenos is defined as “a friend in a foreign country who would be your “guest” in your country and your “host” in his country”, that being said, “Xenia is the relationship between these two individuals” (Mikalson, 2010, p. 229). The very fact that Zeus’ epithet was Xenios, indicated his role in this type of philanthropy, showcasing it’s importance in society and how people valued this tradition and feared punishment from the Gods if they dared to show inhospitality towards their guests (Fuchs, 2008). Moreover, this paper will examine the philanthropic tradition of Xenia in Ancient Greece; its origins while at the same time explore the importance of giving in this Ancient Greek tradition.

​It was often believed by the ancients that the Gods would descend from Mount Olympus and mingle with their human creations. As a result, it was this line of thinking which the tradition of Xenia gained its roots. In essence, it was the fear of offending a guest, who may have been one of these mingling Gods, which sparked this tradition (Fuchs, 2008). Xenia can be broken down into three aspects, the way in which the guest respects the host, the hospitality shown to the guest by the host, and the traditional gift given to the guest by the host when they part (Fuchs, 2008). It is through this tradition of gift giving that a bond is created between the host and his guest, which solidifies their relationship, which could transcend generations and may play a significant role in future political and tribal alliances (Robb, 1994).

This act of giving, in relation to Xenia, can be seen throughout many of the more recognizable works of mythological Greek literature. The most famous of the works, Homer’s “Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, both are laden with many examples of Xenia and more specifically the aspect of gift giving. In “The Odyssey” it is discussed in great detail how Odysseus is gifted a swift ship for his return home to Ithaca from the Phaeacian king, Alcinous (Robb, 1994). Diomedes and Glaucus, at opposing sides during the Trojan War, met in battle but recognized tokens and by reciting their lineage they realized they were bound by Xenia amongst their family line. Hence, they had to stop and exchanged their armour, which indicates the importance that Xenia played in Ancient Greek society; even battles had to seize. In the same fashion, wars can also start at the violation of Xenia, as it was the case with the Trojan War and Paris breaking the Xenia Menelaeus offered by eloping with his wife Helen (Homer, 1990).

From antiquity, the primary form of charity is represented in the institution of Xenia. As a result, both political and economic alliances were formed as well as animosities when the rules of Xenia were not respected and followed. To this day, Greek culture follows a strict code of conduct where the guest and host relationship is concerned. Guests are welcomed with open arms and are offered abundance as one would offer to a deity.

Works cited

Fuchs, P. (2008). Xenia-The Act of Gifting. Periferic 8Biennial for Contemporary Art as Gift. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://perifericbiennial.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/xenia-the-act-of-gifting/
Homer. (1990). The Iliad. (B. Knox, Ed. R. Fagles, Trans.) New York, NY: Penguin Classics.
Mikalson, J. (2010). Ancient Greek Religion. United Kingdom : Wiley-Blackwell; 2 Edition .
Robb, K. (1994). Literacy and paideia in ancient Greece. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Orphan marriages in Pakistan

By Osheela Hussaini

​This article is based on an interview with my father and my personal experiences in Pakistan. Islam is a dominant religion in Pakistan. Islam has very different traditions around marriages than western countries. Dating, finding a right person on your own to marry and love marriages are not allowed in most of the strict cities of Pakistan like Quetta, Khuzdar and Peshawar. In Islamic traditions marriages are mostly arranged by the parents of the girl and the boy, meaning that those boys and girls who have no parents or relatives to find them a life partner are unable to get marry.

​Most of the orphans living in orphanages remain bachelor for all their lives. In 2007, due to increased war in Quetta, Pakistan many young girls and boys were left with no parents or guardians and had to live in the orphanages. In 2008 Haji Eesaq, the head of the Local Islam mosque with volunteers of the mosque including my father, came together and formed a group. Their goal was to find suitable boys for the orphan girls and pay for their marriages.

Some extra money was also given to them so that they can start a living. The money was donated by individual people of the community and some of the money was given by the mosque. Some gold shop owners played an important role in donating money to orphans for their marriages. ​Most of the boys selected were also unable to get marry and were from the male orphanages in Quetta. My father also mentioned that after finding suitable people for the marriage the girl and the boy were asked to see each other and decide if they agree to marry. According to Islamic rules and regulations asking for the permission from the girl and the boy is a mandatory part of an arranged marriage. In Islamic traditions marrying poor women is considered a highest good deed and supporting them for all their life is considered being thankful to Allah and passing on the blessings of Allah to the rest of the community. Some boys who came to the mosque to marry some of the orphan girls were from very rich families and they considered it giving back to their community by marrying orphan girls.

​Haji Eesaq was killed in 2013 in a bombing by Taliban and the group was shattered. Now the mosque is trying to reunite the people and reinitiate a group to help orphans.

Works Cited

Hussaini, K. M. (2014, 01 28). Orphan Marriages. (O. Hussaini, Interviewer)

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Shah Dola’s Rats—Deformed Messengers of God

Nazia sits guarding the shoes of the worshippers at the shrine of Shah Dola. She places a palm on the head of anyone who comes up to her, giving benediction as they pass her money to put into the shrine’s collection box. Twenty-five year old Nazia lives with microcephaly—a genetic condition in which the skull circumference is several sizes smaller than is normal for the person’s age and sex and is generally associated with some level of mental incapacitation. In local parlance, a microcephalic like Nazia is known as “Shah Dolay ka chua” (Shah Dola’s rat)—an indelicate allusion to the physical symptoms of her condition, a small skull with a receding forehead, pronounced ears and teeth.

Chuas have had a famous association with the shrine of Shah Dola in the small town of Gujrat in Pakistan. According to legend, the holy man Shah Dola was able to cure infertility in women. The price was for the first-born to be given to him (or his shrine following his death), failing which all subsequent children would be born as chuas. There is varying opinion on whether and how the shrine of Shah Dola has or has not exploited microcephalic children, people’s religious sentiments and superstitious beliefs to bring resources to the shrine and its administrators. While it may well be that, over the centuries, Shah Dola’s shrine has provided sanctuary for children with microcephaly, accusations are widespread that shrine administrators intentionally deformed firstborns given to them by fertility-challenged couples by clamping the heads of the babies in metal caps, restricting their growth and thereby inducing microcephaly. The intentionally-deformed children, it is claimed, were then used or leased out for begging. It seems that this has not been substantiated through evidence, but enough pressure built up through these claims that the shrine was taken over by a government department that administers awqaf, the traditional Islamic charitable trust. The government refutes claims that there is or was any practice of intentional deforming of children or that the shrine has ever exploited microcephalics. Accusations are rife about criminally-organized “begging mafias” associated with the shrine and the collusion of government administrators with these gangs who traffic in people with deformities.

It is easy to see why such claims abound. Chuas are “high-value beggers”, able to solicit twice the amount in daily alms than a civil servant would earn in a day. Their high earning power as beggers is linked to the fact that the deformed have a special status in the minds of the Pakistani rural classes. They are seen as being closer to God, with privileged access to His ear. In one online documentary about the phenomenon, a “chua-master” (a person who “owns” a chua as a means of income) refers to the microcephalic child he begs with as “sain-ji” (a reverent way of addressing a guru) and “malang” (a roving spiritual mendicant). As he roams the streets with his chua, he exhorts people to “give him charity and say a prayer.” Giving to a chua increases your chances of being heard by God because the deformed are “God’s people” – those who are provided for solely in fortuitous ways, like the generosity of strangers. Giving charity to the deformed and associating with them is therefore a trade to attain closeness to God. There is also an element of fear and self-protection to this giving—because they are heard more closely by God, the deformed and the renunciate also have the power to plague you. If you repudiate them or turn your back on them, God in turn may well turn his back on you.
There is a widespread belief in rural Pakistani culture that “providence is written”; everyone comes into the world with an allocation of means and resources and a fortune already accorded by the will of God. That is why a new child in the family is rarely seen as stretching limited resources—it is believed that the child brings resources with them, because God provides for all. The deformed perform a function as God’s messengers; they are incarnate reminders to people about fortune and God’s will. In giving charity to the deformed the givers affirm their faith in providence by becoming instruments of it.

Works Cited



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Durga Puja

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in India Tags: , ,

By Dylan Cohen

Durga Puja is a truly vibrant celebration of art, culture and religion. Taking place over a five day period in the South Asian region, Durga Puja is celebrated predominantly by Bengali Hindus. Outside of South Asia, Durga Puja festivities also take place in Bengali Hindu communities all around the world. The largest celebrations of Durga Puja take place in the Indian state of West Bengal , but also hold major importance in the municipal regions of New Delhi and Kolkata. Outside of India, the largest Durga Puja celebrations take place in Bangladesh, where approximately eight percent of the population is Bengali Hindu. The festival celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. The story of Durga’s victory over Mahishasura manifests itself as a celebratory example of good winning over evil, but also as an important religious example of the power of the female spirit. Durga Puja is known internationally as the largest open air art show, as art and visual representations of the Goddess Durga appear to be the festival’s main focus. However, philanthropy and charity also hold an important role in the Durga Puja, a role that has evolved greatly as the festival’s prominence has caught the attention of multi-national corporations and regional big business.

From a religious standpoint, there are many ritualistic elements to the festival of Durga Puja. “Puja” has a close resemblance to the English definition for “ritual”. Bengali Hindus typically wake up at four am on the first day of the five day festival, to listen to pop culture personalities retelling the epic tale of Durga and Mahishasura. Ritual drummers, known by the name “Dhakis” walk the streets performing prayers and ritualistic dances. Statues of the goddess Durga are also constructed and hand painted, later to be dissolved in water at the end of the five day festival, usually in the river Ganges or a waterway that flows into it. The most well known religious element of Durga Puja, however, are the Pandals. Pandals are outdoor prayer chambers of sorts. They are manually constructed, and are used to perform the “pujas” or prayer rituals within. Pandals have come to take a most well known position amongst all the religious elements involved in Durga Puja, because of the decorative, communal work involved in their design and construction. Pandals are typically highly decorative and usually depict Durga with her children. Pandals can also be themed, as they often are, manifesting the physical characteristics of t.v shows, ancient civilizations and world cultures within their design and construction.

Fundraising and charity also have a part to play within the context of Durga Puja. Historically, local communities would go door to door, fundraising for the actual construction and preparation of the often ornate Pandals. The money not used towards the construction and preparation of the given community’s Pandal would be donated to a charity or cause chosen by the community members themselves. However, with the emergence of multinational private interest, fundraising for the construction of the Pandals has changed drastically. Now, in major urban centres all over northwestern India and Bangladesh, construction of communal Pandals has been funded largely by private corporations and interest groups. At present, when a community does choose to fundraise, it is usually to recognize tradition for symbolic purposes, and not actually required to prepare the Pandal for Durga Puja.

The emergence of private interest funding of Durga Puja-related activities, has changed the character of the festival on a large scale. As mentioned earlier, Durga Puja has been labeled “the largest open air art festival in the world”. This must be due to, at least or in part, to corporate funding of Pandal construction activities, leading to Pandals being bigger, better and more eye catching. This may be a good thing, yet there may be many unknown negative aspects to this shift in funding Durga Puja Pandal construction. Many communities may no longer have a say in terms of how non-pandal construction funds get distributed my corporate funders/sponsors. Construction of Pandals sponsored through corporate sponsorship may not even include a charitable giving aspect to the festival. Research for this short paper was not extensive, and corporate sponsorship of Durga Puja have only been in full swing since the mid 1990’s, thus, the full effects of this change cannot be exhaustively described here. What can be said, is that the grassroots organizing and the communal choosing of charitable causes is quickly shifting to becoming responsibilities of the many private corporations who sponsor Durga Puja Pandal construction and other activities.

Works Cited

Parmita Borah (2 October 2011). Durga Puja- A celebration of Female Supremacy”. EF News International. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

McDaniel, June (2004). Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516791-0 Pp. 214.

Bhattacharya, Tithi. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol 66. No. 4 (Nov. 2007)Tracking the Goddess: Religion, Community and Identity in the Durga Puja Ceremonies of Nineteenth-Century Calcutta. Pp. 916-965.

Gupta, K. (2006). Concise Encyclopedia of India 3rd Edition. New Delhi: Atlantic. Pp. 986. ISBN 81-269-0639-1.

The Hindu Article on Durga Puja”. Chennai, India. 6 August 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

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Nizamiyah: An Madrasa in the History of Islamic Philanthropy

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in Middle East Tags: , ,

By Janice McMurray

Islamic history has seen many philanthropic conventions and traditions over time. Although some of these customs are no longer existent or have been significantly altered from their original structure, there continues to be many philanthropic practices that prevail in current Islamic culture.

One such tradition that has been closely connected to Islamic philanthropy for many centuries is the construction and support of madrasas (Blanchard, 2007). A historic Islamic madrasa can be defined as an institution in which male Muslim students go to receive higher education chiefly on the topic of religion among many other subject areas (Hefner & Qasim Zaman, 2007). Madrasas were typically founded and supported by Islamic elites who offered funding through religious endowments to sustain services offered to students by the institution (Blanchard, 2007). This paper will specifically examine Nizamiyah; one of the earliest madrasas established in Islamic history.

Nazamiyah was founded by Seljuq vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, in Baghdad, Iraq during the middle of the eleventh century (Blanchard, 2007). The institution was made up specifically of male students who practiced Muslim faith (Makdisi, 1970). Attendees of Nizamiyah were not required to provide any payment to the founder or the institution itself (Makdisi, 1970). During their time receiving higher education at Nizamiyah, students had access to educational services, learning facilities, dormitories, dining halls, libraries, and medical services (Blanchard, 2007). They were also granted with scholarships and supplementary allowances to compensate for any further living costs they encountered (Makdisi, 1970). Much of what was taught at Nizamiyah was based on Muslim faith and focused on religious sciences, architecture, and literature (Hefner & Qasim Zaman, 2007).

Madrasas were constructed from the wakf of an elite family, which typically consisted of a building, piece of property, or funds that were donated specifically for the charitable purpose of helping others in need (Lapidus, 1984). Although madrasas possessed many benefits for students, founders of these institutions also received reward for their generosity on a social and spiritual level. During the eleventh century, when Nizamiyah was an operational madrasa in Iraq, funding and supporting these institutions enhanced the familial status of the founder and was thought to bring them close to their higher power (Lapidus, 1984).

Political in nature, the overall goal of Nizamiyah was to produce educated men who were capable of contributing to the bureaucratic class in Islamic culture (Blanchard, 2007). Although Nizamiyah had many immediate philanthropic notions, such as providing food and medical care, it also aimed to promote social mobility for Muslim men (Hefner & Qasim Zaman, 2007). Essentially, Nizamiyah has played an instrumental role shaping and perpetuating modern forms of education and philanthropy in modern Islamic society.

Works Cited

Blanchard, C. (2007). Islamic religious schools, madrasas: Background.

Hefner, R. & Qasim Zaman, M. (2007). Schooling Islam: The culture and politics of modern Muslim education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Lapidus, I. (1984). Muslim cities in the later middle ages. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Makdisi, G. (1970). Madrasa and university in the middle ages. Studia Islamica, 32, 255-264. Retrieved from http://www.studiaislamica.com

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Giving in the Buddhist Tradition

sduncan post on February 25th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: , ,

By Fatima Valentim

“Nature gives without expectation of return – and we should too” – Phra Santikaro, noted monk

Generally speaking, the concept or practice of giving is “universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence” (Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2010). Read the rest of this entry >>

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Zakat and Sadaq in Islam

sduncan post on February 25th, 2013
Posted in Middle East Tags: , ,

By Jamie Tyrrell

Acts of philanthropy occur in almost every population, all over the world. Often these acts stem from religious beliefs. In Islam, Allah is the owner of everything that exists (Jalili, 2006). From this comes the belief that wealth and money should be evenly distributed among the people in order to avoid the concentration of economic power within a few hands (Jalili, 2006). Read the rest of this entry >>

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Sadaqah & Waqf in Islam

sduncan post on February 25th, 2013
Posted in Middle East Tags: , ,

By Cody Copeman

Sadaqah is an Islamic word that means “voluntary charity”. This concept includes any act of giving out of compassion, love or generosity and is the non-mandatory form of giving in Islamic culture (Wikipedia, 2010).

Often Sadaqah is made in the form of a “waqf, which is a gift that is used to bring a return, with the profits being put towards charity. Read the rest of this entry >>

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Ma’at – Inspired Giving in Ancient Egypt

sduncan post on February 5th, 2013
Posted in North Africa Tags: ,

By Michelle Hounslow

If it is possible for humans to have a drive – perhaps even an instinctual one – to be generous and philanthropic, then it bears reason that there should be examples of philanthropic activities happening all over the world and all throughout history. This paper will explore the possibility of the existence of philanthropy in ancient Egyptian civilization – a civilization known for its pioneering thought, Read the rest of this entry >>

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The Story of Asoka

sduncan post on February 4th, 2013
Posted in India Tags: ,

By Shelby Sue Park

​Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Jaya. He lived in a little Indian village where the Gautam Buddha happened to come across one day. The villagers all came to welcome the Buddha and offered him fruits and water to drink. The Buddha spoke throught the day and night to the villagers along with Jaya. Jaya watched and listened to the sound of Buddha’s voice until he fell asleep; Read the rest of this entry >>

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