"Pay the laborer his wages even before his sweat dries up."
- Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as reported by Ibn Majah on the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar.
"I want to go back." A friend confided to me. He was talking about returning to work in the Middle East. "The pay is better, no taxes, and best of all, it's a Muslim country. I can hear the azaan, I can pray and I can bring up my kids properly."
"I see." I replied. "It's a Muslim country. Really? You do remember you are a brown skinned desi right?"
"It's better than the racism I face here." He retorted. "They don't say it, but it's there."
He was ofcourse talking about Canada. A country that has given him land, citizenship, job, education, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and most of all - dignity. Return to the Middle East, and you are nothing more than a dark skinned rafik, a derogatory term used by Arabs for the desis.
I like visiting there. I like shopping there. But I will not like working there. Hearing the azaan five times a day while the imams who deliver the sermons do nothing about the plight of foreign workers there (while sermonizing the West about defending Islam from a poor powerless Afghan convert) is not my idea of a Muslim country.
The Washington Times carried the stories of few unskilled Asian workers. One cannot visit his hospitalized wife, another has seen his kids only 6 times in 26 years. According to reports by Human Rights organizations, in one of the Middle East nations there are only 80 inspectors for nearly 200,000 companies that hire foreign labourers. Racism is rampant, and open.
Classifieds ask for "US/UK/Canadian Educated Only" when looking for managers. When a brown man commits a crime, the newspapers proudly say "Asian convicted of crime ..." - as if Arabs from the Gulf are not Asians.
The fault is ours. Governments of Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka cannot create enough jobs for their millions of citizens. So they encourage them to go abroad and work in unskilled positions, and remain grateful for the foreign exchange they send back. However, they turn a blind eye to the abuses these workers have to suffer. Men who leave their wives and kids, borrow money by selling all they have, to procure a visa. They in turn work illegally and are not paid for months. They return, years later, with nothing much to show for it except broken families and lives.
Women, who leave their kids and husbands to go abroad and work as maids. They suffer from sexual abuse, rape, overwork and return to find their husbands having remarried, their children discarded and no help from their government. The cycle continues.
If I return, yes, I will get a work as a well paid manager. I will wear a suit and tie and have a Pakistani driver on call and an Indian waitor to make me tea whenever I want it. I will have an Indonesian maid to clean my house. I will have a Bangladeshi labourer slaving away at the machines. But I will be perpetuating that cycle of abuse. And the white guy next to me and who knows less than me will be earning triple my wages. And, meanwhile, the so-called Muslim country, that pays these labourers less than $4 A DAY will deduct their wages for time lost due to prayers. Yes, Muslim country indeed.
Workers stand on a plank they have used as a makeshift bridge over a stream of sewage in their camp.
Many bunkbeds in a single room serve as residences for these labourers