11 December 2019 / 14 Rabi-ul-Akhir 1441
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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.”
RAMADAN, the great lunar month of fasting, reflection and renewal, is also the month of the Qur’an. It is regarded as the month of Qur’an due to its first words being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad [saw] on its 27th night.
This occurred in a mountain cave outside Makkah over 1,400 years ago. This was when the Angel Jibril descended from the heavens, his shining wings covering the sky, to speak to the Prophet [saw] for the first time.
Ramadan is a name originated from the root Arabic word “ramada”, which means to scorch the earth – a reference to the blazing Hijazi summer sun.
The figurative meaning of Ramadan refers to the effects the fast has on the soul. The fast, or siyam, burns away its undesirable traits such as arrogance, lust, greed, stinginess and ill-feeling. In turn, these traits are replaced by humility, restraint, compassion and generosity.
Another of Ramadan’s focuses is the recitation of Qur’an’s 114 chapters over its 29 to 30 nights, whether in private, or in the company of imams reciting its verses in the tarawih prayers at a local mosque.
Historically, Ramadan has an encompassing significance for the history of human revelation.
Traditions tell us that on its first night, a scripture was revealed to Ibrahim [as], that on its sixth night the Torah was revealed to Musa [as], that on its 13th night the Injil was revealed to ‘Isa [as] and that on its 18th night, the Zabur was revealed to Dawud [as].
Indeed, the revelations given to the biblical prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and David are all mentioned in the Qur’an. The Old Testament is referred to 18 times, the Gospel 13 times and the Psalms eleven times. The Qur’an does not mention the name of the scripture revealed to Abraham.
A relationship with the old texts is immediately fostered when Surat ul-Baqarah, the first chapter of the Qur’an and a long one, with myriad meanings and 286 verses, is recited. One of its first topics is the people of Moses, the Bani Isra’il. Normally, during Ramadan this Qur’anic chapter is recited with great speed.
But on studied reflection, the most insightful messages leap from the pages when we actively search for them. Zakah, which is our primary focus here, is mentioned in the context of the Bani Isra’il as early as the 43rd verse, and accorded an importance second only to prayer. This line appears against the context of Allah reminding the Bani Isra’il not to forget His Covenant with them.
The next mention is in verse 83: “…worship Allah alone, care for parents, orphans and the needy; speak kindly to people; perform the prayer and give Zakah…”
Here Allah, still mindful of the Israelite Covenant, broadens the scope of His Message. Whilst the verse is khass, or specific to the Bani Isra’il, it does tell us all who we should be as human beings when expending Zakah: we have to be God-conscious and compassionate to those around us.
The real virtue of the God-conscious human spirit is given a further contextualisation in verse 177:
“Righteousness is not turning your faces towards the east or the west during the prayer, righteousness is believing in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the revealed books and the prophets; spending wealth for the love of Allah on …orphans, the traveller, the needy, beggars and freeing slaves; it is performing prayer and paying Zakah…”
It is interesting to note how Zakah as a social institution is mentioned so early on in the Qur’an. This obviously points to its huge significance. What makes it emphatic is that each time “Zakah” is used in the text, and not another word. In addition, the grammatical construction is almost identical in each three cases – which linguistically accentuates its repetition.
In addition, charity is referred to generically a further 14 times in Surat ul-Baqarah. We are reminded of our conduct to those less fortunate than ourselves.
A verse in the Surah (264) expressly reminds us not to ever humiliate others by reminding them of our charity. If we do this, says Allah, we invalidate our good works. Another verse (267) emphasises that those who give charity should not give away shoddy goods, or things they wouldn’t use themselves.
Given the context of our modern times with rising poverty, unemployment, social despair and anger, the opening chapter of the Qur’an is deeply profound with its early emphasis on charity and the specific mention of “Zakah”. If anything, Zakah is mentioned here as a blueprint for future stability – it’s almost as if Allah is saying: please, dear believer, take note!
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.
THAT poverty is a huge problem in our country is a dead given. With our visible rich-poor divides and discontent boiling over in poor areas, social stability is without doubt, a massive socio-economic challenge.
In 2017, Stats SA revealed that 30.4 million South Africans lived in poverty. In a population reaching almost 60 million, it means that 55 per cent of our fellow citizens are poor.
According to Oxfam, 13.8 million South Africans live in what is categorised as “extreme poverty”. In other words, they live below the 2015 demarcated line of having to survive on less than R441 per month.
This has been mitigated somewhat by the social grant system, a policy measure designed to alleviate poverty that was introduced in 1998, and primarily aimed at children. Today, South Africa is proudly the only African “welfare state”, and last year nearly 18 million South Africans (nearly 30 per cent of the population) were benefiting from state grants.
However, this is a 27 per cent increase from 2009 when there were 13 million recipients. Government has had to budget R567 billion for grants for the next financial year, and the implications for the fiscus are obvious, especially if jobs and the economy do not pick up in the near future.
This is highlighted by the fact that there are only 7.6 million registered taxpayers in South Africa - about 13 per cent of the total population - with an estimated 1.8 per cent of those taxpayers contributing nearly 80 per cent of the taxable total.
All of the above plays out profoundly in the Gini coefficient, something which measures income inequality with 0 representing perfect equality, and 1 representing perfect inequality. On average, South Africa scores at 0.6 which is dangerously high.
According to Stats SA general, Pali Lehohla, it is the youth that bear the burden of poverty through unemployment, pegged nationally at about 30 per cent, but proportionately higher in sub-economic areas.
“They (the youth) graduate from poverty as children into being unemployed as youth,” he says, adding that poor children are the most vulnerable, being less likely to attend school, and even if they do, doomed to performing poorly.
According to Stats SA, the Western Cape and Gauteng have the least occurrences of extreme poverty, with Limpopo and the Eastern Cape having the most occurrences. However, Gauteng and the Western Cape are experiencing major challenges in dealing with rapid urbanisation and impatiently rising expectations. This places a huge strain on existing infrastructure that is already struggling to keep up with demand.
Tragically, up to 30 per cent of taxable income is ferreted offshore, thus denying South Africa’s citizenship of precious resources and developmental opportunities.
It is into this raging national stream that NGOs such as SANZAF venture in an attempt to build up individuals, families and communities. The ultimate aim is not merely to alleviate poverty, but to offer hope and to eradicate it. Most humanitarian organisations today have moved away from band-aid, which does not resolve the core issues.
And it is against the depressing and daunting background of the above that one’s spirit is lifted by the fact that Islam, through noble Prophetic conduct and the mercy of Sacred Law, militates directly against poverty.
This is something that Islamophobes spectacularly fail to see; the compassion that is demanded of Muslims in the sense that if one stomach is hungry, all stomachs must feel it, and that two per cent of one’s residual wealth has to be redistributed to the poor as an act of worship.
Of course, we have to be conscious of social reality, but that does not mean to say we can’t be positive about change. We should not be put off by adversity. That was certainly the Prophetic example - where in a single generation - a nation was created and transformed through divine love into a principled power.
And as Ramadan, the month of heightened awareness and peace approaches, we have to embrace the tests. There can no place for doom and despair. Towering trees have grown from a single, tiny seed into six metre giants. It is, indeed, time for us to create a forest by planting hope in the hearts of the needy.
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Photo by Shafiq Morton
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…”
Thinking of Qurbani this year? Why not go with SANZAF. Malawi, Mozambique or local. Call us at 0861-726-923
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.