Good Will to All, With a Side of Soft-Serve

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Barry

Choc medcone, 8/1/02, 12:22 PM,  8C, 3153x5809 (2046+858), 100%, chrome 6 stops,  1/60 s, R122.8, G89.6, B111.5KENHORST, Pa.—This American summer, the heat is the least of it. A pummeled economy. A credit-rating embarrassment. More tarmac ceremonies for dead war heroes. Tornadoes, floods and other disasters, including Congress.

Presidential aspirants stalking Iowa like Barbie and Ken zombies.

Clearly, the country needs to pull off the road and take a break. It needs to treat itself to a soft-serve cone, chocolate-dipped and melting so quickly as to demand a tongue’s sculpting attention, while tiny tree creatures sing their carpe diem serenade, and reassurance comes with a stray evening breeze.

A tasty-twirly-twisty place has to be around here somewhere. There always is.

There’s one. In the Kenhorst Plaza, just outside the small city of Reading, a Dairy Queen shares asphalt space with a Dollar Tree, a Sears hardware store, a Fashion Bug, a food market, a pawn shop and a few vacant storefronts. It is the neon beacon of comfort in a tired commercial tableau.

Inside, though, this Dairy Queen seems different from the 5,000 others lighting up the country’s summer nights. It has the standard freezer filled with Dilly Bars, and the black-and-white photographs evoking a past that includes the first Dairy Queen, in prison-centric Joliet, Ill., in 1940. But plaques and letters and children’s handwritten notes cover nearly every inch of available wall, all praising someone clearly without Pennsylvania Dutch roots; someone named Hamid.

The Cumru Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Mifflin Park Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Brecknock Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Governor Mifflin intermediate, middle and high schools thank Hamid. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the soccer leagues and the baseball leagues, the Crime Alert program, the home for adults with mental retardation — they all thank Hamid.
And here comes the owner, Hamid Chaudhry, in the midst of another 80-hour workweek, fresh from curling another soft-serve. As he makes his way to a corner table, customers hunched over chicken-strip baskets and sundaes call out his name, and he calls back theirs.

“Hi, Tracey; I have that check for you.” “Bye, Mrs. Brady. All good for the homecoming?” “Bye, Mr. Rush. How was the Blizzard? Want another one?”

With such familiarity, you might think that Mr. Chaudhry, 40, grew up rooting for the Reading Phillies and taking late-night rides up to the iconic Pagoda on Mount Penn. But in words inflected by his Pakistani roots and slight speech impediment, he explains that he has lived in southeastern Pennsylvania only since the uncertain year of 2002, not long after Sept. 11.

Then, as a couple of local officials he knows catch up by the window, and a former state police officer he knows picks up a frozen cake, and a Mennonite family, regular customers, eat his soft-serve out on the patio, Hamid from the Dairy Queen tells his American story.

He was the youngest of six in a Muslim family in Karachi. His father, an accountant, was physically and mentally damaged after being hit by a car; his mother, a schoolteacher, took care of her husband and insisted that her baby go to America for a better life. That meant Chicago, where a brother was driving a cab while studying to become a college professor.

Mr. Chaudhry took several years to earn a college degree in finance, partly because of language difficulties, and partly because he was always working — mostly at the celebrated Drake Hotel. He was the unseen busboy, working his way up to assistant manager for room service and minibars, serving Caesar salad to President-elect Bill Clinton, delivering unsatisfactory apple pancakes to Jack Nicholson, tending to the dietary needs of a guest named Lassie. The Drake became an immersion course in Western pop culture.

He became an American citizen and started a career in financial-accounting software, eventually moving to New York, where he got fired. (“Wall Street wasn’t for me,” he says.) But he did meet a medical student named Sana Syed. Their first meeting was with her parents; the second was for a coffee at Starbucks; the third a brunch at a diner; and, finally, a dinner date at an Outback Steakhouse.
After they married in 2001, she landed a residency at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. While his wife worked 90 hours a week, Mr. Chaudhry mustered the nerve to ask the owner of the local Dairy Queen, at Kenhorst Plaza, whether he wanted to sell. When he heard yes, Mr. Chaudhry scraped, mortgaged and borrowed to meet the asking price of $413,000.

He completed his classroom training at Dairy Queen’s headquarters in Minnesota, where he studied everything from labor management to the proper way to hand a customer a Blizzard. On June 27, 2003, he finally opened the doors to his Dairy Queen, but he was so jittery, intent on making every customer feel extra, extra special, that one employee quit on the spot. Oh, and the soft-serve machine malfunctioned.

Once he found his footing, Mr. Chaudhry decided to give back to the community, and held an elementary-school fund-raiser in which he provided the parent-teacher organization with 25 percent of the sales.

Though the $450 seemed a generous amount, the publicity he received did not seem right to him.

“It felt like I got more in return than what I was giving,” he says.

Just like that, the Dairy Queen began to become the center of communal good, notwithstanding its contribution to the high obesity rate recorded among adults in Berks County. Mr. Chaudhry immersed himself in fund-raising, splitting everything 50-50 so that he only covered his costs. Good for promoting the business, yes, but also good for Hamid.

Fund-raisers for a father of four with cancer; for the Children’s Miracle Network; for soccer teams and Little League teams and the widow of a deputy sheriff recently killed in a shootout — he was a regular customer who liked Blizzards. Sponsorship of car washes and high school homecomings and blood drives four times a year. (Donate a pint of blood and get a $20 frozen cake.) Free parties held at every local elementary school, as well as at a Bible school run by the Mennonite church.

“My customers have made me well-to-do,” Mr. Chaudhry explains. “They patronize me, so why wouldn’t I give back?”

He gets up to hand a check to Tracey Naugel, the president of one of the local parent-teacher organizations who sits at a nearby table, enjoying a chocolate cone. Typical Hamid, she later says. She recently helped to organize a modest fund-raising event at Dairy Queen for a children’s swim team. “Hamid gave me a check for $1,000,” she says.

“And I know we didn’t make $1,000 that night.”

Every community has its magnetizing place: a post office, a diner, a coffee shop. Here it is the Dairy Queen, Ms. Naugel says, mostly because of Mr. Chaudhry. He randomly shows up at schools with frozen treats for teachers. He once set up a petting zoo outside his store. He even bought his own dunk tank to use on the patio. He tries.

“He knows everybody and everybody knows Hamid,” Ms. Naugel says. “We’re so lucky to have him.”

The soft-serve has been a welcome balm, but it is time to toss those balled-up napkins and get back on the nerve-rattling road. Time to say goodbye to Mr. Chaudhry, who can tell you that younger people prefer Oreo Blizzards and older people prefer dipped cones, but he cannot say more about his motives than that he is lucky, thank God.

Just living in Pennsylvania, he says, with a wife, two children, a thriving business, and many friends. Hamid at the Dairy Queen is home.

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Christmas Infectious in Middle East

December 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

-Christmas-Tree-Decorated Strands of colorful Christmas lights adorn the shop windows of too many stores to count, as employees decked out in red Santa hats greet customers with cheerful holiday grins. However, the setting is not in the suburbs of America but rather in the sand swept deserts of the Middle East. The majority of countries that make up the Middle East exercise religious freedom, which is in accordance with the religion of Islam. In many parts of the region Churches often reside on the same streets as Mosques and religious symbols, from Crucifixes to Buddhas, can be seen hanging from people’s necks and even rear view mirrors.

However, freedom of religion is primarily tolerated in the more liberal Gulf States while other Middle East countries, like Saudi Arabia, have a zero tolerance policy for any religion other than Islam. Churches and other religious buildings, other than Mosques, are strictly forbidden while displaying religious symbols in public are considered to be crimes punishable by imprisonment, lashings or deportation.

The large Christian population residing in the Middle East is the main reason why Christian holidays like Christmas are celebrated with such fanfare. The region is renowned for its’ hospitality towards guests. And encouraging a non-Muslim holiday to be celebrated in a Muslim country is just one of the many ways Gulf countries extend a hand of understanding to its non-Muslim inhabitants. Many Christians living in the Middle East put their own spin on Christmas and make it just as memorable as Christmases of the past back in their homelands.

In the city of Dubai, in the UAE, shoppers are greeted by a bedazzled 50-foot Christmas tree at Wafi City Mall which also boasts its very own ‘Santa’s Village’. In Kuwait, all of the 5-star hotels and restaurants offer a Christmas feast fit for a king as guests dine on roasted turkey with all the trimmings while Nat King Cole Christmas songs play in the background. The only thing missing from the menu is the Christmas ham, as pork is forbidden in most Middle East countries. However, it can still be found on the ‘Black Market’ most likely in an aluminum can or dried into meat jerky. In Bahrain, Christian members of the expatriate community often host their own Christmas parties and exchange gifts between one another. Christmas carols and singing programs are widespread in the western schools of most Gulf States.

And while Saudi Arabia forbids wanton public displays of religion, with the exception of Islam, the government does allow its expatriate community to celebrate Christmas within the privacy of their own homes. Granted, sticking a glittering Christmas tree in the front window could land any holidaymaker in the slammer, but an inconspicuous tree tucked safely away from being seen is acceptable. However, Christians in Saudi Arabia are hard pressed to find decorations for the aforementioned tree let alone the tree itself, although it is possible to find tinsel and baubles in the expatriate underground. Clever shopkeepers also do their part in offering a few Christmas items for their Christian customers. Tiny Christmas tree bulbs can often be found in the jewelry section of some stores and the odd plastic fir tree and even strands of lights can be found in the toy section, as many Asian expatriates use them year round to secularly decorate their homes. Many Christians in Saudi Arabia have also taken to making their own decorations, such as strings of popcorn and baked ornaments made of cinnamon paste.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) was an exemplar in religious freedom and never persecuted anyone based on his or her religious beliefs. So it is only natural for the holiday of Christmas to be welcome in the conservative Middle East, even though the degrees to which it is publicly celebrated varies as much as all those colorful bulbs strewn up on a tree.

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Obama to Investment Guru Buffett: Hi Cuz

December 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, who won political support and has sought advice from investment guru Warren Buffett, may now feel even closer to the world’s second richest man.

According to their family trees, the two men who at times shared the stage together during the 2008 presidential campaign are seventh cousins three times removed.

Genealogists at ancestry.com announced Tuesday that Obama and Buffett are related through a 17th century Frenchman named Mareen Duvall.

According to the online genealogists, Duvall — who immigrated to Maryland from France in the 1650s — is Obama’s 9th great grandfather and Buffett’s 6th great grandfather.

The discovery was made by accident when the same team of genealogists who had researched Obama’s family tree went on to investigate details about Buffett’s relatives.

“We recognized the name Duvall and it made us wonder if this was a connection,” said Anastasia Tyler, the lead researcher on the project. “So we started focusing on Duvall.”

“We’re always looking for a way to show how interesting family history is. Like this, when you start finding similarities in family trees,” Tyler said in an interview. “The tree leads you in directions you don’t expect.”

The family tree shows Obama related to Duvall through his mother Stanley Ann Dunham while Buffett is linked to Duvall through his father Howard Buffett.

Tyler called Duvall’s life a “rags-to-riches” story. He arrived in America as an indentured servant but by 1659 he had bought property in Maryland and became a planter and merchant and was considered a “country gentleman.”

“It’s quite an achievement,” Tyler said of Duvall’s rise in society. “You can see similarities to him in both (Obama’s and Buffett’s) lives.”

During the presidential campaign, Lynne Cheney said she found while tracing her family roots that her husband, then Vice President Dick Cheney, was a distant cousin of Obama’s.

Obama has also been found to have had German roots through his sixth great grandfather, and a connection to Ireland through his third great grandfather.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Muslims and Climate Change

September 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

plant-a-tree Muslims are 1/3 of the world. How can they contribute to saving the earth? I am trying to focus on world’s one third population who are not paying attention about their claim in associating  themselves with their beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) while He was the staunch advocator for the cause of environmental protection. According to Prophet (s) (hadith-by Al-Bukhari) “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift”[for which there is great recompense].

On various occasions, it’s been reported that the Prophet (s) had given plenty of importance toward cultivation of land…

See better treatment for animals; special concern for the preservation of water, plant and birds.

Importance of Planting a Tree in Islam

Citing the Prophet’s (s) concern about plants, Qumruzzaman Azmi-Secretary General of the World Islamic Mission, Manchester(UK), said that Prophet (s) says, if a person is dying and he or she gets the chance to plant a tree then do it before dying. Azmi further quoted the Prophet (s) “if the people knew the importance and benefit of planting a tree, there wouldn’t be a single place on earth left treeless.”

According to a prominent Muslim scholar, Dr. Al-Qaradawi, Prophet (s) said “He who cuts a lote-tree (without justification), God will send him to Hellfire.

(this is a much needed tree found in the desert area  with scarce vegetation)

This Hadith gives value to even one tree so we can figure out that how much destructive it is in destroying millions of trees; spoiling the earth’s resources; causing destruction for ozone layer etc.

Encouraging to Cultivate Wasteland

In order to protect the natural resources and preserve the balance existing between the diverse elements of nature in the environment, Al-Qaradawi further quotes the Prophet (s) who not only encouraged the sustainable use of fertile lands, He also told his followers of the benefits of making unused land productive: planting a tree, sowing a seed and irrigating dry land were all regarded as charitable deeds. “Whoever brings dead land to life, that is, cultivates wasteland, for him is a reward therein.”

Essentially, it is prohibited by Islam to let the land set idle for a long time without working it out, quoted  by Iqbual Nadvi from ICNA(Islamic Circle of North America).

Water Conservation

For the purpose of saving water, the Prophet (s) strictly abstained His followers from wasting a single drop of water while making Wadu( a ritual of removing impurity) . He also recommended repeating each thing not more than three times while performing Wudu, even if they are sitting near lake, river or a flowing spring.

In fact, there are innumerable instances which substantiate the intimate relation of the Prophet with Earth, Water, Land and Animal.

In the context of treating birds, He says “If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation” [Mishkat al Masabih].

Reducing Animal Cruelty

Prophet Muhammad (s) taught his followers to be gentle and cautious at the time of slaughtering animals. He advised to use sharp knives following a civilized method in slaughtering the animals so that it could minimize the risk of  hurting  and facilitating  them to die quickly with little pain.

However, He forbade sharpening the knives and slaughtering any animal in the presence of other animals which, essentially, shows the dignity toward the animal. Prophet used to give special consideration to camel and horses as the most useful animal for journey and battle.

Obama’s View

Addressing in Cairo, US President Barack Obama inspired the Muslim World by inculcating them:” As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance  and Enlightenment.”

The Qur’an says, mankind holds a privileged position among God’s creations on earth: he is chosen as khalifa (vice-regent), and carries the responsibility of caring for God’s earthly creations. Each individual is given this task and privilege in the form of God’s trust. But the Qur’an repeatedly warns believers against arrogance: they are no better than other creatures.

“No creature is there on earth nor a bird flying with its wings but they are nations like you

[Qur’an 6:38]

“Surely the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of man; but most people know not.”

[Qur’an 40:57]

Protecting Eco-System

In the thesis, submitted into UNO, Professor Dr. Farooq Hassan-President

Pakistan Ecology Council, says: protecting the environment and eco-systems of the earth are a major concern of the Islamic Faith. If the situation of the environment keeps deteriorating at the present rate, there will ultimately be no life, no property and no religion left.

As we face the effects of pollution and water scarcity in some parts of the world and floods and violent storms elsewhere, now it’s time for the world

community as a whole, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, to take a leaf out of the Prophet’s book and address the current environmental crisis seriously and wisely.

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