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.