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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.

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