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.”