Thursday 27 July 2017
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Blog - Zakah in Action

  • Aid flows are up, but distribution to poorest countries slows down +

    The countries in most need, 45 million people, are Muslim. Photo Shafiq Morton WORLD DEVELOPMENT aid reached a new peak Read More
  • Abdul Sattar Edhi: the power of positive charity +

    AS a journalist I have to often deal with people complaining about the world – so much so that at Read More
  • Ramadan: counting the cost +

    RAMADAN, that heady month of spiritual activity, has come and gone. And now, the first six blessed days of Shawwal Read More
  • Thinking about Zakah +

    SHAYKH Hamza Yusuf of the well-known Zaytuna Institute in the US, gives an interactive lecture on the payment of Zakah, Read More
  • Sadaqah and Zakah at the Cape, much older than we think +

    Shaykh Nur ul-Mubeen, Oudekraal, a beneficiary of our first charity? Image © Shafiq Morton IT is my considered view that the Read More
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Our Blog

Aid flows are up, but distribution to poorest countries slows down

The countries in most need, 45 million people, are Muslim
The countries in most need, 45 million people, are Muslim. Photo Shafiq Morton

WORLD DEVELOPMENT aid reached a new peak of US$ 142.6 billion in 2016, an increase of 8.9% from 2015 after adjusting for exchange rates and inflation. However, on analysis, aid flows to poorer countries actually diminished.

A report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] saw aid payments rise on refugees in donor countries boosting the percentage by 1.8%. This was according to official data collected by the OECD Development Assistance Committee [DAC].

But despite this numerical progress, the 2016 data shows that country-to-country, aid to the least-developed states has fallen by 3.9% in real terms from 2015. Aid to Africa has fallen 0.5%, as some DAC members have backtracked on commitments to reverse past declines.

Official development assistance [ODA] from the 29 DAC member countries averaged 0.32% of gross national income [GNI], up from 0.30% in 2015, as aid volumes rose in most donor countries. Measured in real terms – correcting for inflation and currency fluctuations – aid has doubled by 102% since 2000.

The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, an organisation that also monitors world aid, has reported that international humanitarian assistance has increased for the fourth consecutive year.

It estimates growth at 6%, the growth in humanitarian assistance between 2015 and 2016 being considerably smaller than in the previous three years, the slowdown – in part – caused by a 24% decrease in funding from governments in the Middle East and north of the Sahara.

Decreases were largely driven by a 50% reduction in reported contributions from the Government of Kuwait, as well as reduced funding from Qatar [down 57%] and Saudi Arabia [down 26%].

Contributions from some European governments grew by 25% between 2015 and 2016 with Germany, contributing an additional US $1.4 billion [an increase of 109%], Belgium [58%], Denmark [51%] and France [41%].

Another organisation, Development Initiatives, has estimated that over 164 million people were in need of international humanitarian assistance during 2016, another year of numerous conflicts and natural disasters.

Over a quarter of those in need were living in just three countries: Yemen [21.2 million], Syria [13.5 million] and Iraq [10.4 million].
Furthermore, five countries received more than half of all aid funding [54%]: Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan and Ethiopia. They were all suffering severe crises with the largest populations in need. They have also all been in receipt of significant levels of humanitarian assistance for extended periods.

According to Development Initiatives, poverty, crisis and risk [through conflict and instability] were intrinsically linked. An estimated 87% of people living in extreme poverty were resident in countries that were considered environmentally vulnerable, fragile, or both.

The Official Development Assistance index for 2016, a measure developed by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development in 1969, shows that developed countries spend miniscule amounts on foreign aid compared to their GDP. Sweden, for example, tops the list at 1.40%.

The US, one of the top three economies in the world, spends less than 1% of its federal budget on foreign aid, according to Senator Marco Rubio.

However, this still adds up to a significant US $ 35 billion, 17% of it spent on military aid to Israel [3.1 billion], Egypt [1.2 billion], Iraq [300 million], Jordan [300 million], Pakistan [280 million] and Lebanon [75 million]. Significantly, five of these countries have majority Muslim populations as have the three countries demanding the most amount of aid – Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Of interest is that there are no agencies tracking the charitable spin-offs of Islamic finance – such as Zakah, Awqaf and Sadaqah. Islamic Finance is believed to be currently worth US $ 2 trillion globally with Islamic Banking growing faster than conventional banking.

According to the website, islamicfinance.com, the value of the Islamic financial sector is estimated to increase to US $3.4 trillion by end of 2018.

Fragmentally, there are statistics – for example, the UAE has about US $ 135 billion in sukuk and India’s Awqaf is worth US $ 15. 3 billion – but there is a need to harness things to measure not only the real influence of Islamic finance on aid distribution, but to truly understand the underlying potential of poverty eradication and infrastructural development in deprived and war-torn countries by Islamic instruments.

For further info:
http://www.oecd.org/dac/development-aid-rises-again-in-2016-but-flows-to-poorest-countries-dip.htm
http://www.oecd.org/dac/development-aid-rises-again-in-2016-but-flows-to-poorest-countries-dip.htm
http://reliefweb.int/report/world/global-humanitarian-assistance-report-2017

Abdul Sattar Edhi: the power of positive charity

abdul sattar edhi 02 0AS a journalist I have to often deal with people complaining about the world – so much so that at the end of a day my head sometimes hurts. If I were to believe some of the complainers, the sky has already fallen in.

What characterises these proverbial moaners is that they are either couch-bound, or have their heads buried in conspiracy theory, social media and fake news (which they often believe is true).

Quick to comment, even quicker to condemn and shrouded with negativity, these energy vampires – as I call them – seem to think that by shouting at the world, and condemning everyone around them, they are going to solve its problems.

To be honest, I have very little time for these people – not only is life too short for this kind of nonsense, but there are better things to do. As my teacher and guide, the late Sayyid Muhammad al-Maliki, once said: “In spite of all the bad news, there is still khayr (goodness) in the world, so don’t forget that.”

Indeed, the Sayyid was the one who reminded us that the Prophet [saw] never surrounded himself with negativity, despite the challenges he had to encounter. Or as another learned elder once remarked, “Shafiq, are the angels smiling? Yes. Is the Prophet [saw] smiling? Yes.”

It is with a positive attitude, the Prophetic attitude, that the world becomes transformed. And I have often told these energy vampires that charity – Sadaqah, Fitrah, Sadaqat ul-Jariyyah and Zakah – are the first steps in transforming society. They are admittedly humble steps, but as I tell them, if everyone buys into it, the benefits multiply and become an avalanche.

To this end, we have to remind ourselves that at its height, the Islamic empire was run by various Awqaf that were supported by Zakah and other Islamic means. So successful was this system that the Caliphs only had to bank-roll their judiciary and the military.

Housing, water, energy, mosques, universities, feeding schemes, roads and dams were all governed by various Awqaf, that once seed-funded by Zakah, could sustain themselves on their own. The socialist in us might argue that this is “privatisation”, but we have to remember that Zakah is worship, and that a Waqf is established in the name of Allah in perpetuity and for public benefit.

The potential of what I have described is huge. As Muslims we have all the tools and regulatory vehicles for relevant social transformation; it is in a sense, as close to us as our jugular vein. It is as simple as reaching out – if not physically, then financially.

And what’s more, if we all contribute to an idea and a goal, it doesn’t have to be in large amounts. It then becomes a question of the building going up brick-by- brick, floor-by floor, building-by-building and street-by-street.

One person, who did not take notice of the energy vampires, and who remained firmly focused and positive in spite of jealousy and adversity – and even attempts on his life – was the Pakistani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi. Saying that suffering was his tutor, he started a charitable empire in 1947 from only 500 dollars.

He said his sense of charity had been inspired by his mother. Hailing from a poor family, she would give her son two paisas (a few cents) to take with him to school. One paisa he could spend on lunch, and the second he had to give to a beggar. When his mother suffered a stroke in 1939, he nursed her for eight years until her death.

When Pakistan became independent in 1947, he became aware of the suffering around him. He was especially touched by a mother of six committing suicide because she could no longer cope. This inspired him to set up his charity, relying solely on public donations.

By the time he passed on – aged 89 in July 2016 – he’d saved the lives of at least 50,000 babies; but not only that, he’d established hundreds of food kitchens, re-hab centres, homeless shelters and clinics; he’d adopted 20, 000 orphans, established an ambulance service (at 1,800 ambulances it is the biggest volunteer service in the world) and had trained over 40,000 nurses and had 28 rescue boats and two airplanes on hand for emergencies.  

A humble man – who never took a salary, who had only two thawbs and who slept in a room next to his office – Edhi once said that “long praises and empty words” did not impress Allah. One showed their faith by action.

He did not suffer pettiness, and when criticised for picking up Christians and Hindus in his ambulances, retorted that the ambulances were more Muslim than their critics. He also provided aid in the Ethiopian famine of 1985 and sent 100, 000 dollars to help those stranded by Hurricane Katrina.

So to those energy vampires, with all due respect, please read this. Please become inspired by the example of Abdul Sattar Edhi. If one man can do all that, imagine the power of a whole society.

Ramadan: counting the cost

RAMADAN, that heady month of spiritual activity, has come and gone. And now, the first six blessed days of Shawwal are passing us by. During the Holy Month we said farewell to friends and family with sadness, and we welcomed the new-born with joy.

In our age of mass communication, digitalisation, and globalisation, time seems to fly. Life, it seems, is so very fleeting. For us as Muslims life goes beyond life; it passes on as a continuum into Heaven or Hell.

The Prophetic message is that we have to have a balance – a balance between the material and the spiritual. This is reflected in the Prophet’s [saw] most famous du’ah: “Allahumma rabbana atina fiddunya hasana taw wa fil akhirati…”

In this prayer, the Prophet [saw] would ask Allah for the best of both worlds, and exhort his Companions to do as much good as possible – not only in the unique window of grace that is Ramadan – but throughout our short lives.

Indeed, Ramadan is a brief encounter, but its role in polishing the heart and its potential contribution to the relief of humanity is immense. The Prophet [saw] was said to be the most generous in Ramadan, but Allah – the Greatest – even more.

Shaikh Ahmad Hendricks of the Azzawia reports, via the authority of his Shuyukh in Makkah who report from Prophetic sources, that for each day of Ramadan – when the Shiyateen have been chained down and doors of Jahannum closed – Allah the most Merciful, releases 600,000 souls from the Fire.

But that is not all, on the night of Laylut ul-Qadr – the Night of Power – Allah releases the equivalent amount of all souls released for the whole month to date. And if that is not enough – on ‘Eid, Allah in His Supreme Generosity, liberates the equivalent of all the souls released during the whole month.

And even if anyone wishes to question the validity of this account (which they are free to do) we certainly should not lose sight of the kernel of its message – the fruits of Ramadan – via the 10-day phases of its Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation, which are Divine promises.

But that is not all, the ordained charity of Fitrah or Fidya to validate the fast, the voluntary giving of Sadaqah and the payment of Zakah in Ramadan become the re-distributive elements of wealth and the agents of social relief.

SANZAF, which is a certified distributor of relief according to Shari’ah, was just one of the many agencies working at the coal face this past month. Witnessing its energies and outreach – 23, 600 fitrah parcels were delivered nation-wide – one can only feel proud that the SA Muslim community is compassionate and caring.

The organisation is shy to crunch numbers, but having the licence to do so myself, I have estimated that at least 100, 000 individuals would have directly benefited from SANZAF’s fitrah parcels alone. That is a lot of people, more than your average football stadium. Add in other organisations such as Gift of the Givers, Awqaf and Islamic Relief and the outreach gains even more momentum, the figure probably nudging up to 250, 000 at least.

In fact, having worked in the Muslim media for decades, this past Ramadan seems to have surpassed all the others in terms of giving. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps our community has become more middle-class since 1994? Perhaps our hearts have been softened by events around us?

But let’s, for interest’s sake, crunch some more numbers.

Our Muslim population in South Africa, grossly underestimated by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, is about 3-4 million of 55 million (not 2.5 million). It’s a long story how I come by these numbers, so let’s just use them as a marker, because it led me to thinking about them in terms of social upliftment.

If 2 million adult SA Muslims paid their fitrah – pegged at a minimum of R12 up to R40 – one begins to see the picture. If, for argument’s sake, each person paid R20 then there would have been an injection of R40 million into our economy. Again, that is a substantial number. Add in Zakah and other charities, and I estimate the figure to climb to about double that amount, to R80 million.

In terms of poverty relief, this is significant. Not enough to bridge the poor-rich divide nationally, but enough to show that Islamic charity has the capacity to make a difference, albeit a temporary one.

On a global scale, Muslims according to the Pew Report are 1.6 billion – 23% of the world’s population. If again, for argument’s sake, 1 billion adults were to pay 1 dollar in fitrah, a billion dollars would have immediately entered the world economy in terms of poverty relief.

Admittedly, I’m neither an economist nor an accountant, but even the simple, conservative maths shows the massive impact of charity and Zakah, which cleanses wealth due to it being ‘ibadah. Indeed, in the era of debt enslavement and gross interest excesses, we have a Prophetic model of social development right in front of us.

For that reason, I think it’s all the more important there is no duplication of effort (a curse in our community) and that our institutions – widely acknowledged for their effectiveness internationally – are further empowered by our continuous contributions. The difference is there for us to make; we can change the world.

Thinking about Zakah

SHAYKH Hamza Yusuf of the well-known Zaytuna Institute in the US, gives an interactive lecture on the payment of Zakah, its conditions, the adab of giving Zakah and those who are entitled to receive Zakah. It is a useful refresher for those of us thinking about Zakah at this time of the year.

Sadaqah and Zakah at the Cape, much older than we think

Karamat Shaikh Mubeen3

Shaykh Nur ul-Mubeen, Oudekraal, a beneficiary of our first charity? Image © Shafiq Morton

IT is my considered view that the institutions of Fitrah, Zakah and Sadaqah have existed in the Cape for longer than we realise. And if my hunch proves correct, we could say that Islamic charity of some sort has been practiced at the Cape for over 350 years.

This would mean that SANZAF, established in 1974, only formalised what had already been in existence. Of course, as an institution SANZAF has done much good work to increase the Zakah base, to educate the community and to uplift thousands of needy people.

Going through historical accounts of life during the early days of the Cape Colony, first as a Dutch East India Company outpost and then as a British colony, I do not find any direct mentions of Zakah or Sadaqah. In other words, given all the details of life at the Cape, we don’t – at first glance – see any charity in action.

Apart from the early historians observing things through a patronising Orientalist lens, and not having access to the inner social workings of the slave or Muslim community, it should not be a surprise. However, if one looks for the right things through a Muslim lens, it becomes more obvious that in spite of poverty, the first Muslims at the Cape must have either practised charity, or been its beneficiaries.

Islam at the Cape was held together because the early community, unlike in Brazil or the United States, had spiritual centres of focus and learning via the exiled Sufi Shaykhs from Indonesia.

And whilst things such as fiqh – the application of Sacred Law – would not be a strong point (the Statutes of India banned any religious practice except the Dutch Reformed one) the community would have been united in faith. Secretive communal exercises such as the Ratib ul-Haddad and visiting the tombs of the Awliya (or saints), would have been critical assembly points, especially as the Jumu’ah could not be performed.

The Sufi Shaykhs would have been the focus of solace for the slaves and vryeburghers (Free Blacks) who first landed as labourers and farmers in 1658. Sayyid Mahmud and Shaykh Abdurahman, who arrived from Sumatra in 1667, were kept away from the city as exiles in Constantia, but this did not prevent escaped slaves from finding their way to these wise men in the forests.

Early archival records indicate that slaves running away to hide in the mountains, or stowing away on ships, was a headache for the authorities, and resulted in some harsh punishments for those who were caught.

The arrival of Shaykh Yusuf in 1694 supports this idea. An internationally renowned Javanese scholar who’d lectured in the Makkah haram, his Zandvliet home – 30 kilometres from the city centre in the bush – was widely acknowledged as a rallying point for escapees and those seeking succour. There is complete scholarly consensus on this.

I have often wondered whether we appreciate enough the fact that so many of our karamats are situated in the surrounding mountains close to streams. This is because these Shaykhs had established communities far from the prying eyes of Dutch East India officials. At Oudekraal, for example – where Tuan Sayyid Ja’fr is buried – I have identified at least 30 grave sites.  

To carry deceased bodies from the city in those days as far as Oudekraal would have been daunting, if not impossible. The only conclusion can be that there were secret Muslim communities living on the slopes of the Twelve Apostles and that they buried their dead there.

This hypothesis was developed by Adil Bradlow in his research on the Cape, as well as the late Dr Achmat Davids and Shaykh Yusuf da Costa, who has written extensively on our early history. Whether one agrees with Sufism is not the point. If it hadn’t been for the pioneering efforts of these Shuyukh, Islam would have shrivelled on the bough like it did in Brazil and the US.

When the public practice of Islam was prohibited it was these intrepid men and women who carried the light of iman from the city to the bush, and when Islam could be openly practiced at the Cape, from the bush back to the city.

It is a beautiful story, except for one thing. How did these people sustain themselves? At places like Oudekraal there would have been plenty of fish, but what about clothing, cooking utensils or other such supplies?

Reports indicate that these communities would have had contact with the outside world via woodcutters or herdsmen. These people would have secretly smuggled goods to those hiding on the mountain. It begs the question: surely these refugees would have been the earliest beneficiaries of Islamic social charity at the Cape?

The most empowered participants would have been the vryeburghers, Free Black Muslims, who though restricted in many ways, could own slaves and private property. It is my view that they were the first practitioners of Sadaqah, or even Zakah, in Cape Town.

Today, I think we need to ponder on the fruits of their generosity, as humble as it may have been. For had these people not supported our early scholars over 350 years ago, none of us would be around today.

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