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Woman’s Month

Woman’s Month

Where heaven lies, honouring Khadijah bint Khuwaylid

The Qur’an tells us that Allah Almighty created humankind in pairs, that men had to be kind to women. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) supports this in Hadith, his maxims, that we should treat our women kindly. He goes on to emphasise this on his last Hajj when he speaks out against all forms of discrimination.

His wife, Sayyidah A’ishah – who would become one of Islam’s early scholars – reports that the Prophet, a gentle soul, never once beat any of his wives or servants. There are also accounts of him consoling slave women – Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

In a brutal day and age, when women were so marginalised that baby infant girls were buried alive, the Prophet’s actions are extraordinary. This is indubitably what set him apart from others, causing a ripple of concern amongst the Quraish, fearing that this new faith, Islam, would disrupt their old ways.

As a Messenger of Allah, the last of 124, 000 prophets, Muhammad (SAW) is the very seal of global Prophethood. In other words, it is imbued with Muhammadan principles that our world will end. Indeed, for when the mountains unfold and the seas boil over (as Qur’an promises), we all will have to face our Maker with the question of how we treated our women.

When it comes to this question, the Prophet’s ways are unambiguous: love, respect, consideration, faithfulness and care. And when after his first revelation he sought refuge in the comforting lap of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, to whom he was betrothed to for 25 years, we are shown a moving fragility of his nature, even though he was a Messenger of God.

For it was Khadijah, a wealthy merchant and desirable widow 15 years his senior, who had proposed to him, a poor, humble but trustworthy 25-year old. In fact, the account of Khadijah – the first Muslim – is one of our most poignant and inspiring love stories. For during his marriage to Khadijah, the mother of his five children, the Prophet (SAW) did not marry anyone else.

Indeed, as traditions indicate, there was also never any chauvinism in the behaviour of the Prophet. Significantly, he did not expect his wife to be his servant. He milked his goats, mended his sandals, washed his clothes and swept his sleeping chamber.

The Prophet’s love of Khadijah, who supported him through the most testing of times when the Quraish boycotted the Muslims, is legendary. When he once saw a bracelet of Sayyidah Khadijah, who had passed on in 619 CE from the effects of this cruel and crippling social embargo, tears filled his eyes. 

Despite marrying other women after her death, the Prophet *(SAW) would continue to show his love for Khadijah. Countless reports testify that he always kept close relations with those that were dear to her. As the scholar and former slave, Anas ibn Malik, would report: “When the Prophet (SAW) was given something, he would say, ‘Go to such-and-such person, for they were a friend of Khadijah. Go to the house of such-and-such a person, for they were loved by Khadijah.’”

It is something of an indictment, a historical irony, that today the story of Khadijah is still seen as the breaking of a stereotype. Yet in his happy marriage with her over 1,400 years ago, the Prophet (SAW) came to teach us so many things about how we should conduct ourselves with our women.

It is a fitting tribute to her that he said here were four women of Paradise: Asiya the wife of the Pharaoh, Maryam the mother of Jesus, his daughter Fatimah and his first wife, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

In this special month, a month honouring the women of the world, let’s make du’ah that our mothers, daughters and wives continue to enjoy the fortitude of Asiya, the mercy of Maryam, the companionship of Fatimah and the greatness of Khadijah.

OPERATION QURBANI, NOURISHING THE NEEDY IN A TIME OF NEED

OPERATION QURBANI, NOURISHING THE NEEDY IN A TIME OF NEED

THE two ‘Eidan, the dual Arabic for our two “Eids”, are both special occasions requiring charitable acts as part of our ‘ibadat, or worship. In Ramadan, we are enjoined to give our Fitrah or Fidya, which are intended to lift the burdens of poverty.

Our fitrah, which can be given in kind or cash, is aimed at affording the poor a good meal on ‘Eid day, whilst the Fidya is a greater amount paid by those whom doctors deem cannot fast.

‘Eid ul-Adha, the ‘Eid of sacrifice, commemorates when the Prophet Ibrahim was commanded by Allah to sacrifice Isma’il, his son. Years previously, Ibrahim had been ordered by Allah to leave Hajr and Isma’il behind in Makkah, and to travel back to Hebron.

In a deeply touching moment, a distressed Hajr asks whether Ibrahim is departing because of his own volition, or because of an order from Allah. When the grief-stricken Ibrahim softly answers that it is from his Lord, she accepts her fate.

The Quranic concept of “ease after trial” is shown as Hajr runs seven times between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa. She discovers the well of Zam-Zam, a well that still provides water for pilgrims today.

The test that Ibrahim faced with Isma’il was the most supreme one. For not only had he faced the fire of Nimrod, but he had prayed long and hard for children.

This Ibrahimic moment is symbolic of just so much – from the extinction of our nafs to the expression of divine love, hope and mercy. The last-minute reprieve of a ram being substituted for Isma’il on a rock in Mina is the sign of this.

The message of the Ibrahimic sacrifice is one that has endured for thousands of years. Ibrahim, who even tried to feed the Angels, is the father of generosity. Today, the traditional Qurbani celebrates the spirit of Ibrahim, and annually, millions of tonnes of meat is distributed to the poor.

Today, as we are beset with Covid-19 and poverty, the Qurbani meets an urgent and pressing socio-economic need – basic nutrition. And whilst Surat al-Hajj reminds us: it is not the meat or the blood in the Qurbani that reaches Allah, but our piety, it is ultimately the meat that nourishes the poor.

This is because the Qurbani has far-reaching, and hugely consequential effects, for the undernourished body. To put it another way, the Qurbani plays a manifest, and impactful role, in a time of dire need.

For some decades now, organisations such as the World Health Organisation and Oxfam have been saying that malnourishment is not just due to starvation, per se, but also due to impoverished communities relying on a single food source to survive.

As a result, some people can appear outwardly well, but in reality are still lacking amino acids, minerals and vitamins so vital to good health. This is why, for example, Covid-19 has hit poorer communities harder, even in developed countries such as the US.

So, what does the successful Qurbani do on a grand scale?

According the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, meat consumption (in good moderation) can alleviate common nutritional deficiencies. The basis of a good diet – for the development and maintenance of health – is a variety of foods, says the FAO.

Lean meat, said to be the best organic form of natural protein, contains vitamins B6, B12 and E, as well as Zinc, Selenium, Iron, Niacin, Phosphorous and Magnesium. This is a weighty contribution to overall nutritional balance.

If one considers that for many, the donation of Qurbani meat will probably be one of the few times in a single year that they will be able to have meat in their diet, the critical contribution by agencies performing Qurbani in impoverished communities is thrown into sharp focus.

Bearing all this in mind, it will be business as usual for SANZAF, despite the challenges of Covid-19. Last year, we distributed nearly 1,500 shares of Qurbani meat locally to over 120 needy communities. In Malawi and Mozambique, we distributed nearly 8,000 shares of meat to 20,000 families, thus feeding nearly 100,000 people.

However, we cannot do this on our own, and it is due to the bigheartedness of our many donors that we have been able to service these needs. And as ‘Eid ul-Adha 2020 approaches, we look forward to making a difference, yet again.

Nabi Ibrahim and the message of Qurbani

Nabi Ibrahim and the message of Qurbani

THE historical roots of the Qurbani, the ritual sacrifice, which heralds the Hajj and the festival of ‘Eid ul-Adha, run very deep in mankind’s history. Sacrifice has been the fabric of human worship since time immemorial.

In the earliest days, ritual sacrifice was used to placate the deities the early peoples felt resided in the world around them. Communities, looking into the skies and nature, would usually make sacrifices during the spring solstice.

It was believed that the sacrifice would ensure plentiful crops, good weather and a respite from calamities. These were superstitious practices often manipulated by unjust rulers, and their priests, to ensure that the common man was kept under control.

Some of these practices involved human sacrifice. The Egyptians, for instance, would bury pharaohs with their servants, so that their needs would be met in the afterlife. The civilizations of Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs and the Incas, ceremonially slaughtered their subjects, and even dumped treasure in lakes to appease the gods.

In Mesopotamia there was a god for every day of the week. Ur is a Mesopotamian capital where the Prophet Ibrahim was born. Later, he moved to Harran. It was built by Nimrud, the Old Testament dictator. Harran was the centre of the moon god, Sin, and Ibrahim’s father, Azar, was an idol maker.

A significant moment is recorded when the prophet Ibrahim looks around him to find God. The Qur’an recounts this when he sees a star, and says, “Surely, this is my lord.” But when the star sets, he rejects it. The same happens with the moon and the sun, and Ibrahim declares he has no partners with Allah.

The early Muslims would have recognised the prophet Ibrahim’s philosophical dilemma. Those who became Muslim at the time of the blessed Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century would have rejected these very same gods on their road to faith.

Historically, it took the Prophet’s great ancestor, Ibrahim, to bring the revelation of monotheism to focus the human spirit on one God. The prophetic message came to lift humanity out of the morass of ignorance, superstition and oppression, which had resulted from polytheism’s tyrannical pantheon of gods. 

It was Ibrahim who smashed the idols in the Harran temple, cleverly leaving one behind. When the enraged inhabitants accosted Ibrahim, his reply was that they should ask the remaining idol, as it had witnessed the event.

Enraged, Nimrud had built a massive fire to burn Ibrahim as a punishment. This was a human sacrifice designed to strike fear into the hearts of the people.

We all know that Allah protected Ibrahim in the fire. The Qisas al-Anbiya’ says that for Ibrahim it became a cool garden. Nimrud met a sticky end when a gnat crawled up his nose into his brain, causing migraines.

Nimrud’s pain could only be lifted when a courtier struck him on the head. The courtier had to hit him harder each time for relief. He eventually killed Nimrud by splitting his skull. The gnat then flew out proclaiming “la ilaha illallah” (there is no God except Allah).

Nabi Ibrahim’s biography is detailed, and his contribution to the framework of monotheism is colossal. Without doubt, the most critical juncture of his prophethood is when he is ordered by Allah to sacrifice his son, Isma’il, near Mina.

We have to understand that this was something that would have been understood by people at a time when human sacrifice was not uncommon.

However, this is where the Qur’an is so clever. For as the knife refuses to cut Nabi Isma’il’s throat, humanity is shown mercy. We will not have to sacrifice our sons. Nabi Isma’il, the forbearing one, will be replaced by a handsome ram with large horns.

Allah shows the believers that he will test them, but more pertinently, he shows the unbelievers that His Compassion wins the day. Allah shows he is a caring God. He is not a trivial God. He is not whimsical by nature. He is not manipulated. He is a Great God. He is the Greatest God. He is the only One.

By ordaining that we sacrifice animals with compassion for His sake on the three days of Dhul Hijjah, Allah reminds us of His beloved emissary, Ibrahim.  The message is clear: Qurbani (or Udhiyyah) is a sign of Allah’s Supreme Mercy, and when we distribute the sanctified meat to the less fortunate it is a reminder of Allah’s Supreme Generosity, as those who qualify for Zakah, qualify for Qurbani meat.

For as the Prophet [saw] said:

“There is nothing dearer to Allah during the days of Udhiyyah than the sacrificing of animals. The sacrificed animal shall come on the Day of Judgment with its horns, hair, and hooves (to be weighed). The sacrifice is accepted by Allah even before the blood reaches the ground. So, my beloveds, sacrifice with an open and happy heart…”

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Thinking of Qurbani this year? Why not go with SANZAF. Malawi, Mozambique or local. Call us at 0861-726-923

Shawwal, the urgent necessity to carry on giving

Shawwal, the urgent necessity to carry on giving

RAMADAN, the wonderful month of generosity, spirituality, energy and impact has left us for the quieter shores of Shawwal. Shawwal is a great month in itself, for in it people such as A’ishah bint Abu Bakr, the wife of the Prophet (SAW), was born. Sitti A’ishah, a matriarch of stature and scholar of renown, was sent greetings of peace by the Angel Jibril.

Indeed, it was through the eyes of A’ishah that we have been able to see the humanity of the Prophet (SAW). Through A’ishah we saw him doing his own housework, mending his sandals and milking his goat.  And it is through A’ishah that we witnessed the Prophet’s mercy and compassion shown to the less fortunate, despite his own straitened circumstances.

It is these images, of a poor family caring deeply for the poor, that should remind us of our current circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the Cape, Covid-19 is not quite the stranger we think it is. For at the end of the 19th century, the community was struck down by a series of smallpox epidemics followed by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, a virus that only left our shores three years later.

Yet, alhamdullilah, we persevered, and we survived.

At SANZAF, this past Ramadan has been a roller coaster of Covid-19 emotion, of being initially overwhelmed, but ultimately being imbued with a sense of hope after witnessing the amazing generosity of our community. This is something that has enabled and empowered SANZAF to make an impact at ground level where things have been felt the most.

This past month, nearly half a million people (402, 200) were impacted by our interventions with 208,570 warm meals cooked, 20, 570 food hampers distributed and 28,000 fitrah parcels given out.

Despite these impressive Ramadan numbers, which are a tribute to the kindness of our community, we have to make the point that the basic hunger of all South African peoples is still going to be a looming challenge for some time to come. Families have lost breadwinners, jobs, security and dignity – and they need to be supported.

Covid-19 has been described as not only a crisis of health, but also a cry of mother nature, of the failings of our capitalist profit-driven economies and an appeal to our basic sense of humanity.

In other words, it can no longer be a survival of the fittest in a self-destructive race for the bottom. The Post Covid-19 world, whatever it might be, has to reflect compassion and dignity – values measured so eloquently in the words and deeds of the Prophet (SAW), who would go to bed hungry to feed the poor, and whose righteous Caliphs would walk the streets of Madinah at night to ensure that there were no destitute.

So, as we enter Shawwal and the months preceding the Hajj, we have to acknowledge that the cries for help will not cease after Ramadan. There is a huge and sustained need for our giving to continue, for our compassion to spread and for creative socio-economic solutions to rise, based not on the profit motive, but on the tenets of sustainability and dignity.

Sadaqah, or voluntary charity, is regarded as a praiseworthy Sunnah, a noble Prophetic practice endorsed by the Qur’an. However, in the light of current events, we could venture to say that it has become an urgent necessity for the survival of the most vulnerable in our midst. “Charity is as a garden, high and fertile…”, says the Qur’an in the most beautiful of ways.

But it also reminds us (in Surat al-Baqarah) that for our giving to have real impact, it has to recognise that the neediest of us – out of humility, fear or shame – may never give the slightest indication that they are hungry. This becomes the real test, recognising those who are needy, but honouring their sense of dignity. 

As the Qur’an explicitly says, the ignorant man thinks that because of their modesty, certain people who make no demands have no needs. Here we have to heed a serious warning. In these testing times particularly, we cannot judge poverty by appearance alone.

It is our firm conviction that our community, blessed with generosity and an innate sense of compassion for the less fortunate, will be able to rise to the occasion. The very fact that in the first few weeks of the Covid-19 crisis that South Africa’s Muslim community – a mere 4 per cent of the national population – could distribute over R60 million in relief is a remarkable  achievement.

It is endeavours like these that have to be sustained. And in them, we have to remind ourselves that no person is ever too small or too insignificant to make a difference. For as a sage once said:

“Give, give, for even a grain of rice can fill the stomach of a future saint, a world leader or a scholar. Plant your seeds, for even one tiny seed, one smaller than your fingernail, can grow into a giant tree …so go, my beloveds, go and build your forests.”

Combatting the virus of fear with compassion: Covid-19 in focus

Combatting the virus of fear with compassion: Covid-19 in focus

AN unwelcome and epoch-changing visitor has landed on our shores. Called Covid-19, and a member of the corona virus family, its science is not our brief here. What we do know, from the street view, is that it is hugely infectious, has a long shelf life on surfaces and if infected, one has to isolate (quarantine) for a period of 14 days.

This visitor – which doesn’t recognise class, status or international borders – has arrived in almost every country of the world, and has already infected over 700, 000 people at the last count, with expectations it still has a long way to go.  

Because of this, our government has ordered a lock down, in other words a national quarantine, to try and flatten the curve of rising infections and health facilities being overwhelmed. Historically, quarantines have been the most effective in curbing pandemics – the first quarantine practiced in Venice during the Black Plague of the 14th century.

What we have learnt from the medical experts is that Covid-19’s symptoms are a fever, a dry cough, a lack of taste and smell and a difficulty in breathing. Of course, these are generalities – we leave the diagnoses up to the doctors who are qualified to do so.

We have also learnt that immune-challenged people are the most vulnerable to Covid-19, especially the elderly and the poor – which leaves us with major challenges in South Africa. These can only be met by all of us working together.

But before we rise to the very real questions we have to face, some brief historical perspective is needed. Perhaps the most famous account of mass illness, or plague, is mentioned in the time of Moses – or Musa – where Egypt was visited by the ten plagues.

Space prohibits further examination into its details. The big picture, however, is that pandemic is firstly, in the divine scheme of things, and that secondly if you don’t believe in divinity, it is most certainly a part of mankind’s history.

The Justinian plague of the 4th century is believed to have wiped out millions, almost half of Europe’s population at the time. The 8th century plague in Egypt decimated the sultanate, and the Levantine plagues of the 11th century saw towns emptied of inhabitants, with mosques and monasteries closed down.

The historian, Al-Maqrizi, writes about the plague of the 14th century, during which places of worship were again closed due to the fatalities, and the call to prayer silenced. The mediaeval Bubonic Plague, or “Black Death”, which ravaged Europe in a swathe of millions of victims, only left the city of London in 1665 after it had suffered no less than 40 outbreaks.

Smallpox decimated over 90 per cent of indigenous Americans in the 15th century, taking its toll of our Khoe and San populations at the Cape. Then there was the cholera epidemic followed by further smallpox epidemics locally and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which also hit South Africa. And most recently, we have experienced SARS, MERS and avian flu.

The most salient Prophetic advice, distilled in our beloved Prophet’s actual words, is that it is preferable for us to stay in one place and not to deliberately seek out places of infection. Our scholars and medical experts have given us practically sound advice in this regard, and there is no need to go over it again.

However, some sound philosophical guidance can be discovered in the works of Imam Hajr al-‘Asqalani, the great Egyptian scholar, who lost three of his daughters to one of the 15th century plagues. Moved by his grief, he penned a 400-page book on the plague.

In his seminal work, he argues that the plague acts as a curse on “whomever Allah wishes it to be”. The meaning is that we are in no position to pass judgement. We are not Allah.

For believers, writes al-‘Asqalani, if the plague is borne with wisdom and patience, it is a mercy. In this case, if a believing person falls victim to the plague, he cites the Prophetic axiom that they die a martyr. 

At a practical level, Covid-19 is a clarion call to our compassion and to our humanity. It is going to be a test for all of us, as the most vulnerable in our already vulnerable communities are going to not only need our helping hands, but prospects of hope, dignity, security and comfort.

To this effect, SANZAF has already embarked upon a call to mobilise, for us to make a meaningful impact through our activism. There will be more about this later.

In the meantime, we have to urge ourselves to avoid the fake news, the contrived negativism and the self-righteous rubbish that is being peddled in social media like the corona virus itself. Psychologists have warned that fear has become as much of a viral threat as Covid-19, something which erodes our immune systems and makes us more prone to disease.

For as the Prophet, our exemplar, once said: “Give glad tidings, and do not scare people… Make things easy. Do not make things difficult”.

Finally, the Prophet told us that aspiring for good was in itself an act of worship. And so, in that noble spirit, May Allah Almighty in His Mercy give us all the strength to make a meaningful impact. Ameen.

2020: Facing the daunting challenges, finding hope

THE social welfare sector faces overwhelming challenges in 2020.

Climate change, a stark reality, broods angrily over us: killer heat waves, raging bushfires, floods, landslides, sudden freezes, melting polar icepacks, high intensity hurricanes and mega droughts – leading to famines, social despair and geo-political blowback – are just some of them.

Add in the burgeoning effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in societies unprepared for its effects and the onset of Artificial Intelligence. Then there are ever deepening rich-poor divides, corrupt leadership, rising unemployment, poverty and multiplying socio-political grievances.

And now, there is – of course – the deadly Chinese coronavirus, which if it is as serious as initially believed, will have a massive impact on world travel, the world economy and our health systems around the globe.

In South Africa, we are exempt from none of the above, many of our challenges embedded deeply in the existing realities.

Economically, like so many other countries, we have reached a tipping point. In our case, welfare beneficiaries now outnumber a shrinking pool of taxpayers by nearly two million – the latest figures revealing that 17 million of us receive some kind of welfare compared to just over 15 million taxpayers (out of a population of nearly 60 million).

The rich-poor divide is distinctly disturbing, the World Bank rating us as the most unequal society on earth. In 2012, Oxfam reported that 10 per cent of our wealthiest had 65 per cent of the country’s wealth.

As daunting as the challenges are, organisations such as SANZAF have no choice but to roll up its sleeves and jump into the fray. Society demands it, Deen demands it. The odds may well be huge, almost Tsunami-like, but our ethos militates against despair. This is something we have to constantly remind ourselves of.

The examples are there for us in the conduct of the Prophet (SAW) and in the verses of the Qur’an. The Prophet went through many challenges in his life, but each time Allah would remind him of his Favours and reassure him that, yes, He was still thinking of Him.

Words from the verse in the Chapter of the Expansion of the Breast are hugely profound in this respect, when Allah reminds the Prophet not once, but twice, that – indeed – after every difficulty there will be relief. This is the only instance in the Qur’an where Allah, the Highest, repeats a divine promise so emphatically in one verse.

The Qisas al-Anbiya’, the Chronicles of the Prophets, give us more instances of hope after despair.

For instance, the Prophet Yusuf would eventually marry Zulaikha, the wife of the Egyptian courtier, whose attempted seduction saw him going to jail. His father, Nabi Yaqub, blind from grief at the loss of his son, would also be happily reunited with Yusuf after many years of suffering and separation.

Nabi Ayyub, once wealthy beyond measure, was restored to health after going through massive trials of the spirit. Nabi Ibrahim was saved from the fire of Nimrud and granted two sons, who would become Prophets, after many decades of longing for fatherhood.

Each of these stories, and there are many more, are each in themselves a universe of wisdom and instruction. Each of us as individuals, and as communities, will be tested. Surat al-Baqarah, the Chapter of the Heifer, reminds us that there is no guarantee these tests will be easy, but that Allah will not take us beyond our capacities, though at the time it may not seem like it.

On an individual level, there is a very beautiful verse in the Qur’an which states that Allah will make things good for us after these extreme trials. In the Chapter of Divorce is embedded the divine promise that if we remain conscious of Allah, and do not violate the sanctity of others, He will make a way out for us and provide for us from unexpected sources.

To face the world with hope, and to make that essential difference, we have to listen to the voices of the sages. They advise us to worry about the things we can deal with, but to leave the rest to Allah. This is no way means we must sit back and do nothing. Far from it. The wisdom is that if we deal with what’s directly before us in the right way, the bigger issues will ultimately benefit.

The charity of being a neighbour over the festive season

LONELINESS is not the same as being alone, which is an active choice of an individual not to socialise or to be with somebody else. Loneliness is a melancholic state, or lingering sadness, because one has no close friends, a supportive family or a soul mate.

Some sources cite loneliness as an adverse emotional response to isolation, and can lead to clinical depression, a feeling of worthlessness and chronic anxiety.

The point is that we are all social beings, and our psychic happiness centres around socialisation and human intimacy. For people who are alone, not out of choice – and lonely by circumstance – holidays and traditional family times such as Eid or Christmas can be a daunting emotional challenge.

Some people might have been forgotten or neglected by their families, some might have been affected by the loss of bereavement and some might have fallen on hard times. Indeed, there are several possible scenarios that can determine and define loneliness.

But whatever the case, loneliness is an unseen, often unappreciated state of mind that afflicts us. Those who are lonely often do not complain out of a fear of burdening others, which makes it all that more difficult to recognise.

As it is a human condition, loneliness knows no borders. So, this is one of the reasons why I believe that the Prophet (SAW) used to tell his Companions repeatedly to take care of their neighbours.

Even the Qur’an talks about neighbourliness: “…And be good to the needy, and the neighbour who is your relative and to the neighbour who is not your relative . . .” [4:36].

It is not appreciated enough that the Prophet (SAW) saw society through a holistic lens, through his trust of being a mercy to all, and never through any notion of exclusivity. Islam puts a deep emphasis on our unconditional, individual duty to help all people.

In fact, the Prophet once said, “Angel Jibril advised me so much to take care of the neighbour that I thought that Allah would make him an heir.”

Indeed, the neighbour holds a special status in Islam. Islam encourages us to treat our neighbours in a gentle, tolerant fashion – especially those of other faiths. The point is that it should make no difference at all whether our neighbours are Muslim or non-Muslim.

‘A’ishah, the Mother of the Believers, reported that she had once asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of Allah! I have two neighbours. To whom shall I send my gifts?”

He said, “To the one whose gate is nearer to you,” without making any specifications.

This whole ethos is encompassed by the famous verse in Surat ul-Hujarat, “We have made you into peoples and tribes to know one another, not to despise one another…”

Neighbourliness is, without doubt, a vital aspect of Deen, of being Muslim in the active, social sense. This leaves us with a well-defined obligation to care for the vulnerable in our society, such as the lonely. So often we are unaware of how even a small act, such as a smile or a happy salam, can change a person’s day.

Of course, sadness and adversity, is what makes us human. Allah, the Highest, has promised us he will test us, but thankfully, not beyond our means – as painful as the test may be at the time.

However, there are few, if any, of us who would be able to endure the tests of Ayyub, or Job, who was reduced to abject poverty and crippling disease, or Nabi Ibrahim (as) when Allah commanded him to sacrifice his own son.  Even the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), facing the hostile Quraysh or long delays in receiving revelation, would experience a sense of loneliness.

To this effect, Surah al-Duha says to the Prophet (SAW) after some dark moments, “By the glorious morning light, and by the night when it darkens, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor is he displeased with you…”

And the very next Surah, the chapter of “Comfort”, speaks to the Prophet (SAW), “have we not lifted up your heart and removed your burden?”

The lesson we learn from this is that Allah, the Highest, cares – with, as the Hadith tells us, infinitely more compassion than the joy of a mother who has found her lost child.

Of course, whilst Qur’an promises better things, we as viceregents of Allah have an obligation to fulfil those promises to others as a social charity; to relieve them of their negative sentiments and the trials of loneliness, and to give them hope, positivity, and the assurance that Allah is with us, no matter what.

From it we too can find peace, courage and a renewed faith in Allah when we go through similar trials, a time when everyone else around us seems to be preoccupied with other things.

HUNGER AND HOPE

RECENTLY, someone who was non-Muslim observed to me that we always seemed to be feeding people. Food was forever flowing out of our doors and institutions. He said it reminded him of the miracle of Nabi ‘Isa, who fed five thousand people from five loaves and two fishes.

Jesus, soft of heart and surrounded by a throng of people, could not bear to send anyone away with nothing, and so God had helped him, said my friend. He quoted Proverbs (22:9) which says it is a sin to despise one’s neighbour, and promises that the generous are blessed for giving bread to the poor.

This, in turn, reminded me of the Qur’an (Chapter 76) where Allah praises those who feed the poor, the orphan and the captive, adding that these noble people had done it for His sake, with no expectation of reward.

So it should come as no surprise that the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are resplendent with the virtues of feeding the poor.

In one Hadith Qudsi, a divinely inspired adage, we hear Allah asking via the Prophet (pbuh) why had the son of Adam ignored the call of the hungry? Had he not realised that his reward, the highest possible, would be with Allah alone?

The Prophet (pbuh) also said on another occasion that feeding the hungry, and saying kind words to others, would usher us into Paradise.

And on a more practical note, Imam Muslim reports that the Prophet (pbuh) said that when we made soup we should make a good amount by adding plenty of liquid, and give some to our neighbours.

The scholars have observed that the Prophetic Companions and their followers were always willing to feed people. Suhaib ibn Sinan, a Companion, is recorded saying, “The best of you are those who feed others.”

These pious people favoured this act – regarded as worship – whether it was for a hungry person, or a righteous one. They were not discriminating when it came to this particular sadaqah, or charity. Visible poverty was not an essential condition to their giving of food.

For humanitarian organisations such as SANZAF, food is a major element in temporarily reducing suffering, and uplifting the downtrodden. On an annual basis, tonnes of food are given out through the grace of your generosity. 

The emphasis on feeding is to meet the most basic of human requirements, and to restore dignity. It becomes the very least we can do in a sea of tremendous socio-economic need. According to the psychologist Abraham Maslow, food and water is the first tier in a hierarchy of what it means to be a fulfilled human being.

The other hierarchies are shelter, safety and security, love and social cohesion, self-esteem, respect and confidence. It is interesting to note that Maslow’s findings coincide remarkably with the Maqasid, or the goals, of the Shari’ah. Indeed, as Imam al-Jawzi once said, the Sacred Law is a law of mercy.

At the basis of food distribution is the issue of food security, the foundation of any functional society. In South Africa – a country of profound rich-poor divides – we ironically score highest on the African continent in terms of food security.

The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s latest Global Food Security Index has us 45th out of 133 countries. We are just above China, and it is sobering to see that some of the most threatened countries in terms of food security, such as the DRC, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, are the ones from which many of our refugees arrive.

However, as encouraging as our food security status is, the University of Cape Town’s 2018 Child Gauge Report still has 6 million South African children going hungry to school.

Other research reveals that 23 per cent of households cannot access adequate food, leading to 8 million in 2017 going to bed hungry each night. Of interest is that in 2002 this number was over 13 million, which shows up the efficacy of social welfare in helping to relieve poverty.

But the challenges are enormous. Stats South Africa reveals in its latest findings that the extreme poverty level – the food poverty level – for one person is R561 per month. The so-called “upper level” of poverty, where food and non-food components are factored in, is R 1,227 per month.

According to the Pietermaritzburg-based Economic Justice and Dignity Group, more than half (55.5%) of the South African population lives below the upper-bound poverty line. A quarter (25.2%) lives below the food poverty line.

Reading the above stats, it is evident that the core of the problem is the distribution of wealth, something that enables the purchase of food.

As a small community, our dynamics may seem insignificant in the big and overwhelming scale of things. But that is no reason for giving up hope. It was the Prophet (pbuh) who reminded us that as Muslims, pessimism and despair is never our language.

Indeed, it is the institution of Zakah, which actively – through divine injunction – extols the redistribution of wealth that enables and empowers society to uplift itself. The institution of Zakah, which purifies and redistributes wealth to the deserving, offers us a model of creating socio-economic stability without institutional debt. Zakah in Africa is what we call ubuntu, the spirit of being who we are through others.

So often we forget that a tall forest has to grow from a tiny seed. And the way for us to plant seeds in our rich South African soil, is by setting an example. As humble as our own community efforts may be, they are never wasted. Never. There is always someone who will benefit from our sadaqah, or our Zakah.

Let’s have a look at the huge potentiality of numbers and how little it really takes to make a difference. If 100,000 breadwinners in our own community were to contribute just R100 per month, there would be a kitty of R10 million generated to feed people every 30 days.

To break it down further: if each school child were to receive a morning meal costing R50, the money would be able to feed 200,000 children every month. And if six million taxpayers were to follow suit, there would be R600 million a month. In this case, 12 million children could be fed every day.

Is this a pipe dream? I would venture, no. As Muslims we are prisoners of hope, but not in the sense that we are shackled, for as the Qur’an (65:2-3) promises us:

“…And whosoever fears Allah…He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide him from sources he never could imagine.”

Yes, we are Uyinene

A tribute to Women’s Month

ATTACKS by men on women – an endemic problem in our society widely condemned by our ‘ulama and public figures – has shot to prominence due to the particularly tragic homicide of University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana.

Mrwetyana, a bubbly 19-year-old first year film and media studies student, went to the Clareinch post office to inquire about a parcel, but was told by the accused – a 42 year old clerk with a criminal record – to come back later because the electricity was off.

She returned, and the clerk now alone at the post office, assaulted and raped her. According to the police, her spirited resistance caused him to bludgeon her to death. He later burnt and dumped her body at Lingelethu West in Khayelitsha.

Uyinene’s horrifying demise had been preceded by the cold-blooded shooting of 25 year-old champion boxer, Leighandre Jegels, by an ex-boyfriend (who had a restraining order against him), and Meghan Cremer, an avid horse rider, killed by three men known to her who tied her up and stole her car.

Uyinene’s brutal murder awoke the nation, reeling from gender violence, into an unprecedented outpouring of anger and grief. A march to parliament saw police minister, Bheki Cele, booed by an impassioned crowd when he tried to address it.

For South African women traumatised by violence, Uyinene’s killing has proved to be the final straw – and the gauntlet has been thrown to government to act with real purpose and genuine political will.

South African Police Service figures reveal that in 2017-18 one woman was killed every three hours. And if that statistic doesn’t jar enough, 15.2 women out of every 100 000 will be killed in South Africa this year.

The World Health Organisation has our murder rate of women at 4.8 times higher than the global average, and out of 183 countries, we are fourth on the league of shame – only after Honduras, Jamaica and Lesotho.

For NGOs, such as SANZAF – which have to deal with the social fallout of violence against women all the time – socio-economic factors are obviously part of the problem, though there can never be an excuse for gender violence.

Tragically, much of our gender violence brews in deprived environments. Angry, hungry and unemployed males, emasculated by their lack of skills, a lack of education and crippled by economic despair, are very often perpetrators. Due to their low self-esteem, violence creates the only power dynamic they know.

Sadly, the latter is not just confined to the poor. Gender violence can be a middle-upper-class thing too, the recent convictions of sociopathic wife-killers Jason Rohde and Rob Packham in Western Cape courts, an established case in point.

However, there can be no doubt that of the 28 000 interventions by SANZAF’s 46 case workers last year, a significant percentage would have found their origins in what we have already discussed.

Of course, whatever I say cannot lift the very real grief and calm the justifiable fury so many South Africans are feeling right now. But it is in such moments of darkness that I become grateful to know Islam – not in the patronising sense of thinking it makes me better than anyone else, no. That is not the case.

Rather, my consolation is in the sense that our history shows us how gender violence and gender apartheid were abolished by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). By changing perceptions on women through his wise actions, the Prophet (SAW) ensured that women did not have to be victims.

He forbade the practice of female infanticide practiced by the Arab tribes, especially in times of drought. This cruel custom of burying baby girls alive, so that there could be more boys, came to an end in the 7th century. The Prophet (SAW) also prohibited the social isolation of women during their haid, or monthly courses.

Then the Prophet (SAW) broke the patriarchal mould, and all the stereotypes, by not only working for a business woman, Sayyidah Khadijah, but marrying her after she had proposed to him as an older woman. This would set the trend later on when women would play a central, and affirming, role in the development of Islam.

For instance, the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) would drive out the notion that women had to play specific roles in society when he did his own housework. Wives are the truest witnesses to exactly whom their men are, and Sayyidah A’ishah once said in response to a question that at home, the Prophet (SAW) embodied the Qur’an.

The Prophet (SAW) used to comfort the slave women of Madinah and Makkah. And at a time of great stress – when the Companions were angry with him after he signed the Treaty of Hudaibiyya – it was his wife, Umm Salama, who consoled him, and gave him the advice that broke the impasse.

When it came to war, it was Nusaybah bint Ka’b, a nurse who took up a sword to defend the Prophet (SAW) at Uhud, who became one of Islam’s fiercest battle commanders. In the field of knowledge it was Hafsah, another wife of the Prophet (SAW), who was entrusted with keeping the first compilation of the Qur’an.

There are just so many shining examples of how women were at the forefront during the establishment of Islam, contributing economically, socially, militarily and academically. This is what always gives me hope. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that women are the partners of men, and that men are the partners of women, and that men and women are equal before the Divine Court.

And as I conclude this, there is a consoling image in my mind. It is of a radiant Uyinene, freed from her earthly bonds and liberated from her injustice, being reassured by the Prophet (SAW) that all is going to be fine.

 

The history of Zakah, a divine strand of mercy

THE other day, I was asked where the idea of Zakah came from. It was an interesting question, because the questioner was not satisfied with my answer.

“Qur’an and Hadith can be used to explain the application of Zakah,” he said, “not its origins and original context.”

I realised then that we can take our pillars of faith for granted. It’s like an old granite building weathered by the years. It has always been there, so we accept it being there. Like the building, the pillars are there when we learn about Deen, so we just accept them without demur.

This led to a search. I had to find an answer to the origins of Zakah. Eventually, I came across an academic paper by two Utah Valley University professors, Abdus Samad and Lowell Glen.

Entitled the ‘Development of Zakah and Zakah coverage in monotheistic faiths’, the paper gave an easily accessible perspective:

“Zakah, a contribution from the wealth of the rich to the poor is neither a new nor an unknown concept to mankind. It is a continuation of Celestial order which has been in existence since time immemorial. The virtue of the obligatory contribution from wealth was proclaimed and instructed by God thousands of years before the birth of Islam through his messengers – Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets (may peace rest on them).”

The Qur’an, as the authors noted, was full of testimony to this. For example, in 2:83 we hear specifically that Moses was told that his people had to be just to relatives, parents, orphans and the needy, that they had to speak with clemency, perform their prayers and that they had to pay their Zakah.  

From this, it is clear that charity and generosity to those less fortunate has always played an important role in prophetic faith, and human history.

We can track the social concept of Zakah – firstly defined as a cleansing process, and secondly, as growth and fertility – to the ancient civilisations. It can be traced back 5,000 years to Egypt where the fifth dynasty Pharaoh, Henku (2563-2422 BC) declared:

“I have given bread to all the hungry of the Mount Cerastus, I have clothed him who was naked...”

During the Homeric age (700 BC), the contribution of charity was an important element within Greek culture. The porter Eumaeus welcomed the wonderer Odysseus with these words:

“Stranger, I am not allowed to despise any guest, were he more wretched than you. Strangers and beggars come – all come from Zeus. I have little to offer, but I give it with a willing heart…”

In 600 BC, the Persian monarch, Cyrus the Great, became the first known constitutionalist. His empathy for the poor and downtrodden was recorded on clay tablets in the Akkadian language. Cyrus protected the ancient Jews, and we see the order to perform charity in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.

In those days, the economy was agriculturalist, with the result that there was great emphasis on the fruits of the land. According to the Old Testament, Jews were required to contribute a tenth of their crops and herds to charity [Leviticus 27:30-32]. At harvest time it was enjoined that:

“…a man must not harvest his field up to the edge of the field, or must not gather the gleanings of his harvest but leave something for the poor men and wanderers to glean…”

In fact, the author Joseph Schacht identifies the old Aramaic word “zakut” as meaning charity. The idea of an annual payment – the Prophet [SAW] used to disburse Zakah on the 1st of Muharram – can be found in the Jewish sources. In Deuteronomy [14:1], the injunction is:

“Every year you must take a tithe of what your fields produce from what you have sown and in the presence of Yahweh, your God, in the place where he chooses to give his name a home…”

The Gospels of Jesus are resplendent with references to charity. The feeding of the 5,000, for example, is loaded with allegorical meaning, as are many of Jesus’ recorded actions. Luke 11:41 declares:

“But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.”

It is quite evident, that as one scrolls through history, that charity had pre-conditions relating to excess wealth and the cleansing of wealth on an annual or cyclical basis. What the Prophet [SAW] brought to us via the Qur’an and his Sunnah was a divine convergence of historic social awareness.

___________________________________________

For more info: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227429389_Development_of_Zakah_and_Zakah_coverage_in_monotheistic_faiths/download

Charity is hidden but still worthy of divine accolade

HUMANITARIAN organisations will often encourage their donors to attend their outreach programmes to see how things are being done. It’s a way of proving that they are doing the job properly, and offers a unique perspective to the donor.

So whether one travels across continents to see the digging a well, or follows a local distribution of food hampers, the occasion is always instructive – if not emotionally uplifting. This is because we inevitably leave such events having been humbled by the experience.

The humility that we feel boils down to an overwhelming feeling of shukr, or gratitude; a gratitude that Allah has been kind to us, that He has bestowed upon us things such as shelter and food; and that we have not been sorely tested with qada’ and qadar – fate and pre-destiny – like those we have just visited.

The point is that we feel humbled because we have been shown the true value of our rizq – our sustenance – through what others don’t have. We feel gratitude more specifically because we quickly realise that our Creator could take everything away from us in the mere blink of an eye.

Our gratitude soon extends to the fact that we have not suffered a tsunami, a flood, a drought, a famine, a mass family bereavement or a tectonic-shifting earthquake; that we have not been struck down by warfare, socio-economic collapse or oppressive leadership like some of our neighbouring countries.

Indeed, we are given a profound life-lesson that the Creator is the Generous, the Preserver and the Powerful – that He pulls the strings of the universe. We are taught through all of this that the distribution of charity, where the right hand should not know the left, has nothing to do with the self or the ego, but everything to do with the heart – the seat of taqwa and iman (God awareness and faith).

If serving others is done for the satisfaction of the ego, then it is not charity, but simply self-aggrandisement, say the scholars. Caring and giving has to be unconditional. Therefore, it must have no strings attached. But, humanitarian activism is not easy. It is facing the frailty of the human condition with all its energy-sapping demands.

“So it’s never about your name, or your fame. You must drown your ego in the sea of mercy,” said a Shaykh to an aid worker, “drown your nafs and feel happy, especially when you get a kick up the backside.”

The importance of caring for others less fortunate than us is given context by the Qur’an, which has ordered Zakah – the purification of wealth – as a pillar of faith. By doing this, our Creator has codified communal generosity, and stripped out its conditionality and pride.

Zakah is executed not only with empathy for those who will benefit from it, but with an awareness of Allah in the presence of Allah. It is done in a state of ihsan, perfect sincerity. This is one reason why it cleanses our wealth.

Hence, it is important to note that Surat ul-Hajj (one of the chapters which mentions Zakah) concludes with a mention of Zakah. True believers, say its last two verses, must kneel and prostrate to their Lord. They must do this, for Muslims have been gifted the faith of Abraham.

The verse continues that Muslims have also been granted viceregency, which is explained as the Prophet having witness over us, so that we can have witness over mankind. In other words, the Muslim must strive for rectitude in the shadow of Muhammad [saw]. The verses conclude:

“Therefore, say your prayers regularly and pay the Zakah and hold fast to your Lord…”

Zakah is mentioned 32 times in the Qur’an, but here it is explicitly linked to faith in action. And what’s more, if the believer obeys these injunctions he will find in Allah, an “excellent Master and an excellent Helper”.

The next Surah, the Chapter of the Believers, immediately reinforces the previous message by saying in its opening lines that those who are humble in their prayer, and those who pay the Zakah, will ultimately be the heirs of Paradise.

And whilst Zakah and charity is executed without fanfare and without a need for public recognition, it does get the ultimate accolade in the eyes of Allah, for as verse 94 in the Chapter of the Prophets declares:

“He, who does good works while he is a believer, shall not see his efforts disregarded, We record them all…”

SANZAF: travelling into the cyber future

THOSE I’ve spoken to in the ‘humanitarian sector’ all agree that in the last decade or so, it seems as if the world has gone mad.

Military coups, morally bankrupt leadership, xenophobia, Islamophobia, widespread famines, floods, droughts, riots, protests, earthquakes, super-storms, tsunamis, raging fires and geo-political conflict dominate the discourse.

And if that is not enough, the rich have got even richer, and the poor have got even poorer. Indeed, it has become a cruel and greedy world, where dictators, bankers and corporations rule, and where the promise of materialism and the fear of oppression are used to anaesthetise our higher sensitivities.

This has all exacerbated the great social divide, despite experts saying we have enough technology, food and other resources to lift billions of people out of poverty and ignorance. Never before in history has man had the tools he has at hand today for everyone to live in relative ease. And yet, the suffering and pain endures.

Some of our scholars say that humanity has gone godless and ego-mad, leading to selfishness and a lack of self-respect and belief, which in turn leads to a restless, unfocused and troubled society. However, amongst the clamour of this madness there is still good, and there are still good people and there are still good things.

I would argue that organisations such as SANZAF stand for the latter. Executing the divine injunction of Zakah – a pillar of Islam denoting the purification and redistribution of wealth – SANZAF has in the past four decades gone from strength-to- strength within a community that like so many others, has experienced increasing and urgent developmental needs.

However, times are a-changing. For as the elder generation of Zakah payers gracefully departs this earth with our good du’ahs, the donor profile is shifting to younger people with different perspectives.

Not least has been the improved financial situation of a post-apartheid, millennial generation of South African Muslims that has directly benefited from better schooling, university education and better job prospects. In other words, with education and opportunity has come more distributable wealth.

The biggest challenge facing any humanitarian organisation in our community today is how to harness this wealth whilst remaining socially relevant and economically effective. Marketing becomes absolutely critical to this process, where potential donors are distracted by so many things, especially social media, which shrinks the world to a hand-held device – the virtual global village, the digital ‘days of our lives’.

Late last year, SANZAF had a marketing ‘imbizo’ that mapped out the future trajectory of the organisation with regards to its profile and media presence. This was done in a way that ensured SANZAF would not lose its soul to crassness, or deviate in any way from its core values of delivery, compassion, hope and dignity.

The moot point is that SANZAF is not exempt from current trends. So like any humanitarian or faith-based organisation, SANZAF will find its donors of tomorrow determining their payments online on their hand-held devices, whilst they scroll daily through music, news, Qur’an, Hadith and the issues of the day. In other words, Zakah – like so many other things – will become a cyber-experience.

Most times, these consumers will be informed by short video clips, or inter-active apps, that spring to life when clicked. And in a world where we have been largely desensitised to violence and other horrors, SANZAF will have to be creative to grab attention without resorting to the noisy pornography of media sensationalism.

Indeed, the donor of tomorrow will be a discriminative, penny-wise and tech-savvy person, leaving organisations with little place to hide. This is where the legacy of SANZAF, with its reputation for public accountability, hope and of maximising compassionate outputs for each rand, will stand in good stead. The point is that these virtuous old values will never die, but that the methodologies of understanding them surely will.

An oak tree falls: SANZAF pioneer Shaykh Yusuf da Costa passes on

ONE of the co-founders of SANZAF, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa, passed on last week after a long illness. He was aged 83. An educator of renown, a wise leader, a political activist, a da’ee, a respected scholar, an author, a keen historian and a towering human being, he has left a huge gap in our community.

Born in 1935 in Salt River, he matriculated from Trafalgar High School in 1952 and enrolled at Hewatt Teacher’s Training College. He first taught classes at the Salt River Muslim School in Kipling Street, later transferring to Livingstone High in Claremont after completing a Bachelor’s degree in History and Geography.

A member the Non-European Unity Movement, he was cut from the same political cloth as Dullah Omar, South Africa’s first post-apartheid Justice Minister. But when it came to faith, he was uncompromising on its centrality, insisting that Livingstone learners be allowed to attend jumu’ah.

Whilst teaching, Shaykh da Costa studied Arabic and the Islamic sciences and went on to earn a doctorate in the field of Geography. He became the principal of Crestway Senior Secondary in Retreat in 1967. Crestway was the first ‘coloured’ school to offer Xhosa as a subject.

In 1987, he joined the Faculty of Education at the University of the Western Cape, where he became Associate Professor and Head of Didactics until his retirement in 1996. A stalwart of Islamic education, he served as rector of the now defunct Islamic College of South Africa (ICOSA), before moving on the International Peace College (IPSA).

A measure of his integrity is revealed by former colleague, Dr Auwais Rafudeen, who tells the story of salary negotiations in a financially testing time for the college. Aware of this, Shaykh Yusuf – worth infinitely more than what IPSA could offer – said he would accept whatever remuneration it could afford. After payday, he would then donate his salary back to the institution.

His interest in Geography and History imbued him with a unique skill to understand our history, about which he was passionate. Together with Dr Achmat Davids and Prof Suleman Dangor, he penned the iconic Pages from Cape Muslim History in 1994, and conducted ground-breaking research on a host of historical topics. 

In 2000, Shaykh Yusuf became a khalifah of the Naqshbandi Muhammadi, building mosques, educating imams and bringing Islam to thousands of people in the townships

Decades earlier, his compassion for the poor – and interest in Zakah as an agent of change – had been piqued by the fact that it was being dubbed the ‘forgotten pillar’ of Islam, despite it being a vehicle for poverty alleviation. During apartheid, he saw the need for the community to have access to welfare, at a time when Muslims were regarded as unworthy second-class citizens.

In 1975, together with Shaykh Faaiq Gamildien, he founded the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF). Today, SANZAF has become an iconic institution, offering relief and uplifting – with dignity – hundreds of thousands of people.

Claremont Main Road Mosque imam, Dr Rashied Omar, writes that Shaykh Yusuf’s “sterling work among the poor resonated with his inspirational and radical views” on the third pillar of Islam. In his Preface to an English translation of the renowned Arabic text, Fiqh al-Sunnah on Zakah by Sayyid Sabiq, Shaykh Yusuf penned the following:

 “Zakah is essentially a means devised to solve the problem of poverty, and it involves taking from the rich of their property for re-distribution among the poor, and the doing of this until such time as ‘the wealth ceases to circulate between the wealthy’.

Zakah is therefore a means of bringing about socio-economic change and development; and by taking from the rich it ensures a more equitable distribution of the wealth of a country and so helps to bring about the end of the exploitation of man by man.”[1]

Towards the end of his life, Shaykh Yusuf said that it was through the Basmallah that Allah introduced us to His two most important Names, Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim. Both these Names embraced mercy, and in his senior years he found these names were a major anchor for what he did as a Muslim.

Always to the point, always compassionate, always humble and always God-fearing, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa’s passing is like that of an oak tree falling in the forest. We will all miss his presence greatly. May Allah, the Merciful, grant him Jannah, ameen.

[1] Translator’s Preface to Zakah: The Third Pillar of Islam by Sayyid Sabiq. Translated by Yusuf da Costa and published by the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, 1994.

An international perspective on Zakah from Turkey: meeting the challenges of our times

IT is always interesting to see things from different perspectives in foreign environments. Our existing ones are either challenged or refreshed. It’s like looking down on the earth from the aeroplane window 30,000 feet in the sky, as opposed to being on the ground.

For instead of standing on the riverbank and viewing a stretch of water, we are able to see its full scope, as its snakes between valleys and meanders on to wide plains.

Recently, I spent a few days in Istanbul at a conference. And whilst the event had nothing to do with Zakah, it did get me thinking. This is because Turkey – the former seat of the Ottoman Empire which ruled for over 400 years – is rediscovering its Islamic mojo.

My brief here is not the socio-political landscape, which is complex, but how Islamic institutions, such as Zakah, have fared. I was keen to do some mental arithmetic because Turkey, boasting the world’s 17th biggest economy and 75 million people, has tremendous potential in terms of unlocking Zakah as a tool of poverty eradication.

Zakah in Turkey, I was told, has always been regarded as a personal issue, even by the Ottomans, who set up their state on the pillars of publically beneficial Awqaf institutions. Therefore, says a Thomson Reuters report of 2014, Zakah and Awqaf are deeply rooted in the cultural and religious psyche of Turkey.[1][1]

It is reported that in contemporary Turkey, Zakah has become an important source for non-governmental charity organisations. However, due to the traditionally private nature of Zakah distribution, it has not been possible to accurately measure the extent of its benefits. In recent years, the Turkish Diyanet Foundation has taken on the institutional responsibility of distributing Zakah and Zakah al-Fitr.

Three academics at Istanbul University did an analysis on the relationship between poverty and Zakah in the Turkish context last year. Firstly, they defined Zakah in current terms, and secondly, they went into technical detail – providing graphs and tables – on its potential impact.[2][2]

By definition, they argued, Zakah showed that Islam was sensitive to fair and even-handed wealth distribution. Zakah protected individuals from sickness, greed and avarice. It nurtured generosity. Zakah created the ethos of sacrifice. It cleansed the heart of impurities and it purified a person’s wealth. Zakah, they concluded, was a protection for society.

In Islam, the charitable order of priority started with close relatives, proceeded to distant relatives, neighbours and then neighbourhood residents. Zakah engendered community awareness. And in addition to funds being exchanged, there was also an exchange of love and respect.

The researchers said that social peace and harmony were created via Zakah, as its processes soothed negative feelings such as hate, resentment and hostility.

The institution of Zakah militated against the egocentric accumulation of wealth, as believers had to circulate their wealth into the economy with the understanding that the poor had a right to some of it.

The study focused on Turkish society, figures revealing that one-fifth of its households (4.7 million out of 21.6 million in a population of 75 million) were on the poverty line – a sharp contrast, incidentally, to South Africa where 55% (30 million) of our population is poverty-stricken.

One of the Turkish researcher’s tables provides some fascinating reading. In it he isolates the bottom rungs of poverty and identifies 1.4 million households. His calculations reveal that using potentially available Zakah funds, a payment of 1,307 US dollars could be made to each family. In South African currency, that would amount to about R19, 000 per family.

Interestingly, if we were to do a similar exercise in South Africa, Africa Check, a local organisation that mines facts, would give us 13.8 million South Africans at the lowest level of poverty.[3][3] If we take four as the average means for a family we get to 3.4 million households.

With South Africa being the only welfare state in Africa (just over 17 million people are recipients of state funded aid) the numbers are daunting, given that there are only 15.5 million people officially employed. However, if we look at our Muslim community, and take 4 million as our total population and calculate half-a-million (0.25%) in need of relief (41,666 households) the numbers become real.

We do not have the capacity to disburse huge amounts in terms of poverty relief like Turkey, but that should not prevent us from taking the first steps. Judicious projects in terms of human capital and education, as well as wise Awqaf investment, should become our urgent priorities to meet the pressing needs of the times.

INDONESIA EMERGENCY APPEAL: SANZAF JOINS HANDS

ON Friday 28 September at 6.02 pm, an earthquake shook the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on the Makasar Straits. It was a shallow, sharp 7.5 Richter scale quake. Its epicentre was in the mountainous region of Central Sulawesi, 77 km from the provincial capital Palu, which is located in the mouth of a narrow bay.

Thirty minutes after the quake, the earth shook again as a tsunami, travelling over 100 kms an hour, boxed in by the topography of the bay and slowing over the seabed, built in terrifying size to six metres.

At 6.32 pm, the tsunami smashed into Palu, sweeping away cars, buildings, temples and mosques, even washing ships on to dry land. Over 1,700 homes disappeared into the earth, sucked into a vortex of liquefication, caused by quake disturbed soil and water.
In a matter of minutes, Palu and its environs became a fearsome scene of devastation as nearly 2,000 people drowned in the mud, or were swept away by the water. As the tsunami receded over a landscape borrowed from the Final Days, over a quarter of a million people had been made homeless, and life as they know it, had been taken away from them.

Sulawesi might not have been on the scale of the Aceh tsunami of 2004, but it was still a destructive natural event, well beyond human scope. After visiting Palu and assessing damage, Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, realising the gravity of the situation, made the call for international aid.

Sulawesi is close to South African hearts, as the family of one our forefathers Shaykh Yusuf of Makasar hail from the region. For this reason, the recently-announced Joint Indonesia Emergency Appeal is a heart-warming response.

This month, several South African-based relief organisations met at the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) in Cape Town to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would see them joining forces to raise much-needed funds for humanitarian relief efforts in Sulawesi.

The organisations who have signed the MOU are: the MJC, Darul Islam Zakah Fund (DAIZAF), Darul Qur’an South Africa, Islamic Relief South Africa (IRSA), Muslim Hands South Africa (MHSA) and SANZAF.

MJC President, Shaykh Irafaan Abrahams, said the MOU marked a momentous occasion and that they had pledged to raise R2 million towards helping the people of Sulawesi.

“The MJC always envisioned that our community organisations would come together, to forge closer working relationships, as they work to alleviate the suffering of the poor in our communities. I am extremely proud of the mature and respectful manner in which discussions were held in finalising this joint venture. All parties came together with one goal in mind – to assist those affected by the Indonesian disaster,” he said.

SANZAF Western Cape General Manager, Shafiek Barendse, concurred with these sentiments, adding that the joint initiative would allow organisations to lean on one another for support and capacity building.

“Locally there is potential to partner and support one another on different projects. As institutions, we know we cannot be there for everyone, but now we will be able reach much more vulnerable people together,” he said.

Sakeena Bock, head of SANZAF’s marketing team, said the Joint Indonesia Emergency Appeal would be an impactful platform in offering solace to those in need, adding that in 2016 the organisation had teamed up with local relief organisation, Al-Imdad, to distribute aid to the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp. In 2015, SANZAF had also sent R1 million in aid to Gaza and R500, 000 for relief in Syria.

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SANZAF BURSARY: POWER OF THE PEN OFFERS REAL HOPE

FEW realise that Zakah, the ritual purification of surplus wealth, is better distributed with the underlying intention of sustainability. Charity, of course, is critical in relieving an immediate crisis – but to alleviate it one has to have strategies in place to ensure that the experience is not repeated.

This is why providing hope is such an important element of Zakah. Hope is a condition of the heart that actively wishes for something better, but to flourish, it has to be actively nurtured by something that offers a solution. It is the fishing rod of charity, as opposed to the fish.

One thing that the Prophet Muhammad [SAW] realised after he migrated to the oasis city of Madinah in the 7th century was that poverty and ignorance could become a problem. This awareness was heightened by the fact that the emigrants from Makkah, having fled Quraysh oppression, were destitute.

That was when the Prophet [SAW] encouraged the residents of Madinah, the Ansar, to adopt the emigrants from Makkah, the Muhajirun. He instructed them to look after each other in compassion. “Feed the hungry,” was the first thing the noble Prophet said to the people of Madinah, who took up his instruction with fervour.

There were many early socio-economic challenges, but few of us realise that the Prophet worked to overcome them through the means of education. The traditions are there – but mystifyingly – we seem to ignore or forget them. For one of the first things the Prophet [SAW] did in Madinah was to encourage those who were literate (even if they were Jews) to educate the illiterate.

Today, over 1,000 years later, this simple – but effective – model still applies. The most impactful way of transforming a society, of eradicating poverty and reducing unemployment, is via education. Nelson Mandela knew what he was saying after his release from Robben Island when he said that we had to focus on “education, education and education”.

As the beloved Prophet said to A’ishah in a similar vein, “Allah neither sent me as a person who causes difficulty to others, nor did He send me as one who desires hardship and difficulty. Rather, He sent me as a teacher and the one who causes ease to people…”

This, of course, embodies the very first Qur’anic revelation of “Iqraa”, a word which carries a far deeper import than just reading and reciting. In fact, the scholars will tell us that implicit in this command is a directive for us to understand things so that we can become conscious beings, cognisant of the Mercy of Allah, and everything of His around us.

Today, this ethos is firmly rooted in SANZAF. Last year alone, SANZAF distributed R27.7 million for tertiary level bursaries and for its Education, Empowerment and Development programme (SEED), which incorporates the Future Leaders’ Programme, mentorship and personal support to learners and students, as well as satellite projects such as honey harvesting, small-scale farming and entrepreneurship training.

Experts tell us that poverty can only be eradicated by an “ecological” approach. This is achieved via a focus on knowledge and skills training after a person’s primary needs such as hunger, shelter and security have been met.

That the institution of Zakah meets the above criteria like a glove is a no-brainer. The greater picture of Zakah, enjoined by every single prophet – Jewish, Christian or other – is that it roots for the underdog, calls for dignity and compassion in execution and extolls the virtues of elevating the human spirit.

The SANZAF bursary programme is one such vehicle, with thousands of students having benefited from it already. The significance of this particular project is stressed by the fact that young people, who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the system, are allowed to enjoy a bright future.

In the South African context, the social impact is massive. Just one student graduating and finding a job, or starting a business, will not only be able to fill the national skills vacuum, but will also have the power to lift an entire family out of poverty. This in turn regenerates the economy. And as the application process for the SANZAF bursary programme opens, we need to bear this in mind, for it is a project well worth our support – moral or otherwise.

Muharram, a month of hope and renewal

MUHARRAM, one of the sacred months in which the Holy Qur’an forbade fighting, marks the beginning of the Islamic year, the Islamic calendar being determined by lunar – as opposed to solar – cycles. This means that the lunar year is 10-11 days shorter than the Gregorian one.

And whilst lunar dates rotate seasons in a 33 year cycle, the significance of the Islamic historical events do not recede. In other words, the original date is remembered symbolically. This expresses a historical vitality.

In Islam, Muharram is a special time – one of giving, personal sacrifice and historical sorrow, followed by joy and mercy. According to Prophetic Tradition, Muharram is one of the four sacred months preferred for fasting, especially the first ten days, which are resplendent with spiritual reward.

Anas ibn Malik reported that the blessed Prophet said that whoever fasted the first Friday of Muharram would have their previous sins forgiven, and whoever fasted three days of Muharram – the Thursday, the Friday, and the Saturday – Allah would inscribe for them worship and prayer for 900 years.

Sayyidah A’ishah related that whoever fasted the first ten days of Muharram would inherit Paradise. She said the reason for fasting in ‘Ashura was when the Prophet [SAW] had noticed the Jews of Madinah fasting on the tenth day. When he had asked them why, they had told him it was the day that Musa [as] had freed the Bani Isra’il from the clutches of the Pharaoh.

The Prophet had said in response, “I have more rights to Musa than you.” So he had fasted that day and had ordered for its observance on further days.
In another Hadith, the Prophet related that whoever recited Surat ul-Ikhlas 1,000 times on the day of ‘Ashura, Allah would look at that person with Mercy, and would place him amongst the Siddiqin (The Truthful).

The sadness of ‘Ashura is the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Sayyidina Husayn, at Karbala. It is a saga of selflessness and personal sacrifice. So much so, that when the Prophet [SAW] once held his grandson in his arms, he wept, as the Angel Jibril had informed him of Husayn’s eventual fate, bringing him a lump of Karbala clay.

But from all of this, comes liberation – liberation from trial and tribulation. It is the ultimate Mercy of a Merciful Creator. For on ‘Ashura, Husayn entered Paradise. ‘Ashura, is indeed, a day of great historical and spiritual significance. The Qisas al-Anbiya’ informs us that many beautiful things happened to our Prophets, may Allah Almighty bless them all, on ‘Ashura.

For instance, on this day, as the scholar Imam Rajab al-Hanbali points out in his writings: Allah accepted the repentance of Adam; saved Nuh and the Ark; extinguished the fire of Nimrod; spoke to Musa; restored Ayyub to health; reunited Yusuf with his father Jacob; took Yunus out of the whale; destroyed the Pharaoh’s army and raised Jesus to the Heavens.

The grace of Muharram, and ‘Ashura, is also expressed through charitable action. Says Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, quoting classical sources: “Whoever clothes a naked person Allah will release him from a painful punishment. He who visits a sick person, Allah will grant him a reward…whoever places his hand on an orphan’s head, or feeds a hungry person…Allah will feed him a feast from Paradise…and whoever makes ghusl (a ceremonial bath) on this day will enjoy excellent health and freedom from sickness and laziness…whoever provides generously for his family on this day, Allah will be generous to him throughout this year…”

Without doubt, Muharram marks an auspicious time for all Muslims. Interestingly, Muharram was also the month in which the Prophet [SAW] used to collect Zakah, and distribute it to the poor and needy. Therein lays tremendous significance, as the Prophet [SAW], a wise man beyond our ken, knew the great importance of hope and renewal for us all at the beginning of a new year.

May Allah Almighty grant us all success in 1440 AH. Ameen.

Women’s month: Sayyidah Khadijah, the first Muslim to give charity

IN South Africa, women’s month – celebrated in August – is a tribute to many things. It is remembered due to the famous march to the Union Buildings on 6 August 1956 by African women protesting the passbook, and, it is an acknowledgment of the challenges women still face today, such as discrimination.

Sadly, the Muslim community is not exempt from this inherent chauvinism, and nor is it exempt from the curse of domestic violence, something that SANZAF’s field workers regularly encounter in their counselling sessions.

If we resort to the Prophetic example, there is ample evidence that most of us have forgotten just how anti-racist, and just how anti-chauvinist, the blessed Prophet Muhammad was. Apart from abolishing the bizarre and cruel Arab practice of burying infant girls, he never – ever – denied women access to Din.

This is how, for example, Nusaybah bint Ka’b, who out of concern at the casualties at the Battle of Uhud, picked up a sword and went into combat to defend the Prophet. She would go on to fight at the battles of Hunayn and Yamamah.

Together with Umm Asma bint ‘Amr bin ‘Adi she had also requested to take the ba’yah, the oath of Islam at Aqabah, face-to-face with the Prophet. It is significant that the Prophet had agreed without objection.

This, then, is just one of many accounts about the dynamic role of women in Islam, so buried and so forgotten in our history. It is ironic today that whilst some obscurantists wish to confine women to the periphery, women are centre stage: running NGOs, teaching our children, running our households and sitting as judges in our courts.

So this August it is only appropriate that we remember one of Islam’s finest figures, Sayyidah Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

Martin Lings in his classical Prophetic biography writes that “one of the richer merchants of Mecca was a woman – Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, of the clan of Asad. She was first cousin to Waraqah, the Christian, and his sister Qutaylah, and like them she was a distant cousin to the sons of Hashim”.

She had already been married twice, and since the death of her second husband it had been her practice to employ men to trade on her behalf. That was how she had hired Muhammad, known as ‘the trustworthy one’, a reticent young man renowned for his uprightness and honesty.

Khadijah had been hugely impressed by this young man, whose gentle ways had entered her heart, enlivened by the accounts of her slave, Maysarah, of their journey to Sham where Bahira the monk had recognised the Prophet, and two Angels had shaded him from the sun.

The Prophet, blessings upon him, was twenty-five years old. Khadijah saw a man of medium stature, inclined to slimness, with broad shoulders and a proportioned body. She saw that his hair and beard were thick and black, not altogether straight, slightly curled.

But, in addition to his physical beauty, she saw that there was radiance in his face – and this was particularly apparent on his forehead, and in his warm eyes. Khadijah knew that she herself was still beautiful, but she was fifteen years older. She was an independent woman, and the thought had struck her: would Muhammad be prepared to marry her?

One of the people she consulted was Waraqah, to whom she recounted the miraculous events of the Prophet’s journey to Sham. Waraqah had confirmed to her that Muhammad would be a prophet.

Given this, Khadija’s words of proposal are astounding. She expressed no wish for status, and never referred to his prophethood, which would occur 15 years later. Instead, she referred to his character:

“Son of mine uncle, I love thee for thy kinship with me, and for that thou art ever in the centre, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that; and I love thee for thy trustworthiness and for the beauty of thy character and the truth of thy speech.”

What is outstanding, even today, is that Sayyidah Khadijah was not only financially independent, and older than her husband, but that she proposed to him. Following this, Sayyidah Khadijah would be the Prophet’s faithful consort for 25 years, and give birth to his four famous daughters: Fatimah, Ruqayyah, Zainab and Umm Kulthum as well as his son, ‘Abdullah, who would pass on in his infancy.

Waraqah had warned his cousin of tests to come, but she had said nothing about this to her husband. And when he had run down from Jabl Nur after the frightening experience of the first Revelation, it was to her that he had sought consolation, saying: “Cover me! Cover me!”

And indeed, it was Sayyidah Khadijah who was the first to support him; it was Sayyidah Khadijah who became the first Muslim; and it was she, together with the Prophet, who would suffer the abuse of the Quraysh and the barbs of Abu Jahl. But more significantly, is that whilst she still had wealth – before the infamous and crippling boycott of the Bani Hashim – she would be the first Muslim to give charity.

This is something for which Sayyidah Khadijah is not always given her proper due, especially in a male dominated world.

Qurbani, the preferred Sadaqah

QURBANI, the ritual sacrifice of a permissible animal during the Eid ul-Adha period at the end of the Hajj, is regarded as the most preferred sadaqah (or charity). When asked to explain Qurbani, the blessed Prophet Muhammad had told the Companion, Zayd ibn Arqam, it was the custom of his father Ibrahim, who was given a ram instead of his own son, Isma’il.

When Zayd had asked what spiritual benefit there was, the Messenger of God had replied that there was a reward for every single hair of the sacrificed animal. The Prophet, peace be upon him, had explained that what made the Qurbani special was that it was performed purely for the sake of Allah, and Allah alone. The Udhiya, as it is sometimes called, was accepted even before the blood reached the ground.

Please sir…can I have some soap?

Mr BumbleTHERE is a famous line in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, an 18th century novel about the treatment of children in industrial England. Mr Bumble, the portly supervisor of a child workhouse, gets enraged when Oliver asks for some more gruel, a watery, ill-cooked broth.

“Please, sir, can I have some more?” asks a frightened Oliver, who then meets the wrath of the unfeeling Mr Bumble.

Whilst there is a long distance, historically and geographically, from Charles Dickens to South Africa, I am often reminded of this scenario when poor people knock on our door. Of course, it is a scene played out in many cities and towns throughout South Africa on a daily basis.

Some of those who knock are brazen, with a sense of entitlement, but on the other hand, there are those who are respectful – even Oliver-like – in their requests for help. For these people, just to walk up to a strange door has taken up their last reserves of pride.

Indeed, these are the souls we have to take extra care of, because they are not only begging for food, but their very dignity. We have to remind ourselves that Allah, the Almighty, can elevate – or reduce us – in the mere blink of an eye.

And as winter bites, and as the Western Cape experiences welcome rain, we have to remember that the cold weather is not a boon to the less privileged, but very often a severe setback. On the Highveld, where people have to burn things to stay warm, there are shack fires – and in the Cape as the rains come, so do the floods.

Cold, wet, hungry, homeless and shivering, the South African underclass faces many daunting challenges, challenges we ourselves would probably not be able to deal with, should we be suddenly taken out of our own comfort zones.

Think for a minute what a person hears, and sees, when they knock on your door, and you open it…the smell of food, the sound of a TV, a toilet flushing…a wave of warmth and comfort. All things they don’t have.

The other day, just as the rains had let up and the sun had broken through the clouds, a young woman knocked on our door. We had never seen her before, a sure sign that this was someone who really needed help. After the years, you get to learn the signs. The “regulars” have their routines.

She was a sweet person, desperately hungry, who told us that she lived under a nearby bridge, and that she was waiting for the social worker to find her a bed in a night shelter. Her background story was a typical one of abandonment, and lack of living space in a Cape Flats backyard. The city’s streets had been her only recourse.

She sat on our stoep to eat some of the food that that had been warmed for her, another sign of need, and loneliness. The hungriest will always eat immediately, and those collecting for families or communes will quickly scurry away.

After she’d eaten, the young lady made a request, which for some might have sounded a little odd.

“Please, sir, can I have some soap? Even if it’s an old bar.”

Given her circumstances, it was not an odd request. This was a call for self-esteem. We had gained a little of her trust, and to refuse her would be crushing. So we dug in a cupboard, and came back with a new bar of soap and some facial cream.

“Jor. It’s new stuff. Thank you, auntie!” said the woman to my wife. Her smile was worth a million dollars. For us it had been a small sacrifice, but for her it had meant the world.

Indeed, small things can teach us so much. Many years ago an old hand from an NGO had advised me to never give the underprivileged inferior goods. “Don’t give anybody something you yourself wouldn’t use,” he had told me, “never!”

Of course, SANZAF fully embraces this policy of giving the best. And in the dark moments of winter, a small thing such as a “dignity pack” (soap, shampoo, cream, toothpaste etc.) can make such a huge difference. The truism is that hope – the ultimate aim of sadaqah and Zakah – does not have to cost the proverbial arm and a leg, and that we don’t have to be a Mr Bumble.  

 

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