Making kindness a habit

Kazi Mannan and his mother Sakina
May 20, 2019

Kazi Mannan grew up in poverty in a small village in Pakistan, without electricity or running water, one of ten kids. “Even when we were going through extreme poverty, my mother, whenever she cooked something good, she would say ‘go give it to that neighbor, take it for that neighbor’,” Kazi bhai tells me; “we would get angry and say ‘but mom we don’t have enough’.”

“I didn’t understand it then; but now I understand.”

“It’s through giving that you get your connection to Allah. That’s how my mother got her connection to God, through loving other people.”

Kazi bhai’s mother died of a heart attack when she was only 45 years old. He came to the U.S. five years later, when he was 25. He worked multiple jobs and double shifts, until he could afford to buy a limousine to drive people around; the business grew and he was able to realize his dream of owning a restaurant, in 2013. He renamed it, after his mother, Sakina.

But he honors his mother’s legacy, and the wisdom she taught him, in more than just name. At Sakina Halal Grill, Kazi bhai welcomes and feeds homeless men and women for free. When we were at the restaurant recently, there was a homeless couple at a table outside, during a particularly busy Iftar time when tables were at a premium; Kazi bhai said paying guests can leave, but he will not ask them to leave.

Kazi bhai is on a mission to make kindness an ingrained habit. He’s telling young people to undertake ‘30 days of kindness’; many school and university groups now visit his restaurant as his story has been widely covered in the press.  He asks students to do one kind deed each day, no more no less – “but to do it from your soul, you should feel it” – and to write about it in a diary. He wants to collect a million diaries full of kindness.

It’s his faith that inspires him. “When it comes to kindness, there’s no one better than us,” he says, and recalls the story of the Prophet (pbuh): when someone asked Prophet Muhammad what is the best way to worship Allah, he didn’t say to do more prayers, he said to feed the poor and hungry, and to take care of orphans and widows.

Kazi bhai was sharing these stories with my son, and asked if he would keep a kindness diary. And then he suggested what his first act of kindness could be: “when your mom comes home tired, take a hot bucket of water, put salt in it, and massage your mom’s feet. Promise you’ll do that,” he asks Zayd. “Sure,” Zayd replies.  🙂

(Kazi bhai, I did get a foot massage that night, thank you!)

Day 13 Wisdom 13: Share what you have, whatever you have.

(The photos are from a KindWorks cooking class Kazi bhai hosted for us in his kitchen; we learned his mother’s recipes. I brought my mom to meet him recently, and took a picture of the two of them outside his restaurant – with Kazi bhai’s mom’s name in lights in the background.)

pc: Aasil Ahmad

pc: Aasil Ahmad

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