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Selma Cook

  

Some people might think that Sarah Pathan is in need of help and assistance because she lives with a permanent disability. However, despite finding it very difficult to walk, she frequently travels up and down the mountains of Northern Thailand on a quest. She is helping young girls, who would have otherwise been sold into prostitution or hard manual labor in factories, to get an education and find suitable work.

 

From North to South

Brought up in Southern Thailand, Pathan, now in her late twenties, began working with the Muslim youth from a young age. In the south, there is a large population of Muslims and some aspects of Islamic family law are legally practiced. She attended Islamic school there and continuously worked to spread Islam and encourage young Muslims to adhere to its teachings and principles. Now, an Islamic teacher, Pathan has extended her scope and moves across Thailand, particularly in the north, searching for impoverished young girls striving to teach them about Islam, encouraging them to have hope and helping them to gain an education and find suitable employment. She wants to protect them from the easily obtainable alternatives of prostitution and hard manual labor into which many poor and desperate families sell their daughters.

 

At the age of nineteen, Pathan started traveling to the mountains in the north of Thailand to talk to the people about Islam. There are very few Muslims there but with her simple, loving and sincere way, people began to trust her and let their daughters attend the lessons she organized. She not only teaches them about religion, but she also helps them attend schools. She takes many girls from the villages and puts them in Islamic boarding schools around the country and when they graduate she helps them find jobs. Over the nine years that she has been striving in this work, she has built up a huge network throughout Thailand, including Bangkok.

 

Part of the Solution

Her work includes fundraising to obtain the money needed to pay for the girls’ tuition and expenses. Pathan notes that she has had mostly positive responses from people when she raises funds for the impoverished girls. Without these funds she would not be able to continue her work. From the time she was young, she has been moved by the many stories she hears about poor families in the north selling their daughter/s to work in factories, farms, or as sex slaves. The girls can be as young as 13 or 14. Sometimes the boys in the families face the same sad circumstances, but Pathan noted that the girls have fewer choices than the boys, and little or no power to decide their future. Rather than just feel upset when she heard about the plight of the girls, Pathan decided to be part of the solution.

 

After working for nine years in the mountainous regions of northern Thailand, she has the trust of many families. If she has the resources, she will send the girls to Islamic schools in the south. She noted with a smile, “Families come to me and say ‘I trust you. I want my daughter to be Muslim because I see that this is good for my daughter and she will be a good woman.” Such comments urge Pathan to work even harder.

What Keeps Her Going?

What is it that drives Pathan to do this work despite the obvious difficulty? She said, “I wanted to go to the mountains to help these girls because I want to fulfill my Islamic duty of helping the poor and these girls are helpless.” Despite being partially handicapped herself and often needing someone to help her to walk, she climbs the mountains to go to these girls. She said, “I never know how I will climb the mountain that is in front of me. I just know Allah is helping me.”

 

A Miracle

Not long ago, she fell ill and her legs became very swollen. The doctor wanted to amputate one of her legs because of a problem with her blood circulation. At first she was frightened. She told her sister, “One night I prayed to Allah. ‘O Allah, this leg is Yours and I just have it temporarily and if You want it back I will give it, but I will never stop going up the mountains to do my duty to You and spread Islam.”

 

She made peace within herself and resolved to be determined. She told herself that if the doctor had to amputate her leg, she would accept it. She was no longer afraid. However, a miracle happened; after two or three days, her circulation improved and she was able to walk. It was not long before she was climbing mountains again.

 

First Things First

In the mountains she teaches young people about cleanliness. She observed, “The first thing in Islam is to teach people how to be clean.” In her efforts to find safe employment for the girls where they will not be abused or exploited, she organized a factory to make halal food and many girls work there. She also opened a flower shop and the girls who sell the flowers are treated well, paid fairly and are able to practice Islam freely.

 

Changes

There have been cases where the family of the girl accepts Islam because the girl goes back to her family as a successful, happy and pious young woman and convinces them about Islam. Pathan, and the many people working with her, cook food for poor families at the Islamic center. She said, “So many families are very poor and we bring food for them.”

 

When she feels tired, Pathan does not give up because she is committed to serving Almighty Allah. She said, “Who will take care of my girls if I don’t do this work?”


Muslims making
a Difference