That the debt-ridden fall under the ambit of Zakah is a sure sign of the compassion of Allah, reflected via his Prophet [SAW], who understood the crippling effects of debt. In fact, there are du’ahs – or invocations – that the Rasullulah handed down to us for the relief of debt.
In the credit-driven, interest-aligned economies of today, where banks and lenders chase down and mercilessly terrorise, repossess and criminalise individuals for debt, this category of Zakah enjoys a special resonance today.
But perhaps one of the forgotten categories is that of the wayfarer, often a person who falls under some of the other categories, such has the poor and needy, due to economic instability, war, famine or drought.
Indeed, many wayfarers are refugees or economic migrants seeking shelter in more comparatively stable societies, such as ours. For people such as these, an outstretched hand in charity can have massive repercussions.
I was reminded of this the other day by the story of Farah*, a young man who fled violence and starvation in his homeland of Burundi after the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994. With no future, and most of his family killed in the Burundian civil war, he decided to seek greener pastures in 2000.
A friend had told him about South Africa. There were jobs there. After days of walking, and sometimes hitching truck rides, he’d made his way across the SADC region into South Africa, where the notorious guma-guma gangs took all his money. Farah says it was a nightmare. He walked across the border with only the clothes he was wearing.
In Johannesburg, some Congolese had helped him, allowing him to do shifts in a supermarket car park, parking cars. However, Xenophobia in Gauteng in May 2008 – when over 60 foreigners were killed – had driven him southwards to Cape Town, where he said he found himself, homeless, alone and scared.
He picks up the narrative: “I walked into the city and realised that to survive, I would have to beg. It was the lowest point in my life. I’m not a criminal. I went to a mosque for help, but the people just chased me out…”
Farah says he started knocking on doors. “It was terrible. I was in a bad shape. And people were often rude. Even at the night shelter they used to steal my things.”
Farah says that one hot day he knocked on a door in the CBD. It was a Muslim household, and the man had looked at him, and said: “Brother, I don’t know you, but I have R600 Zakah here. I asked Allah to whom I must give it to, and you appeared…so, my brother, take it. I make du’ah for you ...”
Farah’s eyes mist up when he speaks, saying that this kind stranger who gave him his Zakah out of the blue, saved his life.
“I hid the money well that night, and the next day I was able to clean myself up. After a day or so, I got a job as a gardener. I was lucky, Allah was good to me, and one job led to another. Today, I have a steady income, and can even send money home,” says Farah.
“The other day I went to visit the man. He was surprised. But I told him. No, I haven’t come to beg, I’ve come to thank you. Boss, your Zakah saved my life. You trusted yourself to give money to a wayfarer and now I’ve come to make a du’ah for you.”
* Name has been changed.