20 August 2019 / 18 Dhil Hijja 1440
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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.
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!
HUMANITARIAN organisations will often encourage their donors to attend their outreach programmes to see how things are being done. It’s a way of proving that they are doing the job properly, and offers a unique perspective to the donor.
So whether one travels across continents to see the digging a well, or follows a local distribution of food hampers, the occasion is always instructive – if not emotionally uplifting. This is because we inevitably leave such events having been humbled by the experience.
The humility that we feel boils down to an overwhelming feeling of shukr, or gratitude; a gratitude that Allah has been kind to us, that He has bestowed upon us things such as shelter and food; and that we have not been sorely tested with qada’ and qadar – fate and pre-destiny – like those we have just visited.
The point is that we feel humbled because we have been shown the true value of our rizq – our sustenance – through what others don’t have. We feel gratitude more specifically because we quickly realise that our Creator could take everything away from us in the mere blink of an eye.
Our gratitude soon extends to the fact that we have not suffered a tsunami, a flood, a drought, a famine, a mass family bereavement or a tectonic-shifting earthquake; that we have not been struck down by warfare, socio-economic collapse or oppressive leadership like some of our neighbouring countries.
Indeed, we are given a profound life-lesson that the Creator is the Generous, the Preserver and the Powerful – that He pulls the strings of the universe. We are taught through all of this that the distribution of charity, where the right hand should not know the left, has nothing to do with the self or the ego, but everything to do with the heart – the seat of taqwa and iman (God awareness and faith).
If serving others is done for the satisfaction of the ego, then it is not charity, but simply self-aggrandisement, say the scholars. Caring and giving has to be unconditional. Therefore, it must have no strings attached. But, humanitarian activism is not easy. It is facing the frailty of the human condition with all its energy-sapping demands.
“So it’s never about your name, or your fame. You must drown your ego in the sea of mercy,” said a Shaykh to an aid worker, “drown your nafs and feel happy, especially when you get a kick up the backside.”
The importance of caring for others less fortunate than us is given context by the Qur’an, which has ordered Zakah – the purification of wealth – as a pillar of faith. By doing this, our Creator has codified communal generosity, and stripped out its conditionality and pride.
Zakah is executed not only with empathy for those who will benefit from it, but with an awareness of Allah in the presence of Allah. It is done in a state of ihsan, perfect sincerity. This is one reason why it cleanses our wealth.
Hence, it is important to note that Surat ul-Hajj (one of the chapters which mentions Zakah) concludes with a mention of Zakah. True believers, say its last two verses, must kneel and prostrate to their Lord. They must do this, for Muslims have been gifted the faith of Abraham.
The verse continues that Muslims have also been granted viceregency, which is explained as the Prophet having witness over us, so that we can have witness over mankind. In other words, the Muslim must strive for rectitude in the shadow of Muhammad [saw]. The verses conclude:
“Therefore, say your prayers regularly and pay the Zakah and hold fast to your Lord…”
Zakah is mentioned 32 times in the Qur’an, but here it is explicitly linked to faith in action. And what’s more, if the believer obeys these injunctions he will find in Allah, an “excellent Master and an excellent Helper”.
The next Surah, the Chapter of the Believers, immediately reinforces the previous message by saying in its opening lines that those who are humble in their prayer, and those who pay the Zakah, will ultimately be the heirs of Paradise.
And whilst Zakah and charity is executed without fanfare and without a need for public recognition, it does get the ultimate accolade in the eyes of Allah, for as verse 94 in the Chapter of the Prophets declares:
“He, who does good works while he is a believer, shall not see his efforts disregarded, We record them all…”
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.
For further reference:
Photo by Shafiq Morton
THOSE I’ve spoken to in the ‘humanitarian sector’ all agree that in the last decade or so, it seems as if the world has gone mad.
Military coups, morally bankrupt leadership, xenophobia, Islamophobia, widespread famines, floods, droughts, riots, protests, earthquakes, super-storms, tsunamis, raging fires and geo-political conflict dominate the discourse.
And if that is not enough, the rich have got even richer, and the poor have got even poorer. Indeed, it has become a cruel and greedy world, where dictators, bankers and corporations rule, and where the promise of materialism and the fear of oppression are used to anaesthetise our higher sensitivities.
This has all exacerbated the great social divide, despite experts saying we have enough technology, food and other resources to lift billions of people out of poverty and ignorance. Never before in history has man had the tools he has at hand today for everyone to live in relative ease. And yet, the suffering and pain endures.
Some of our scholars say that humanity has gone godless and ego-mad, leading to selfishness and a lack of self-respect and belief, which in turn leads to a restless, unfocused and troubled society. However, amongst the clamour of this madness there is still good, and there are still good people and there are still good things.
I would argue that organisations such as SANZAF stand for the latter. Executing the divine injunction of Zakah – a pillar of Islam denoting the purification and redistribution of wealth – SANZAF has in the past four decades gone from strength-to- strength within a community that like so many others, has experienced increasing and urgent developmental needs.
However, times are a-changing. For as the elder generation of Zakah payers gracefully departs this earth with our good du’ahs, the donor profile is shifting to younger people with different perspectives.
Not least has been the improved financial situation of a post-apartheid, millennial generation of South African Muslims that has directly benefited from better schooling, university education and better job prospects. In other words, with education and opportunity has come more distributable wealth.
The biggest challenge facing any humanitarian organisation in our community today is how to harness this wealth whilst remaining socially relevant and economically effective. Marketing becomes absolutely critical to this process, where potential donors are distracted by so many things, especially social media, which shrinks the world to a hand-held device – the virtual global village, the digital ‘days of our lives’.
Late last year, SANZAF had a marketing ‘imbizo’ that mapped out the future trajectory of the organisation with regards to its profile and media presence. This was done in a way that ensured SANZAF would not lose its soul to crassness, or deviate in any way from its core values of delivery, compassion, hope and dignity.
The moot point is that SANZAF is not exempt from current trends. So like any humanitarian or faith-based organisation, SANZAF will find its donors of tomorrow determining their payments online on their hand-held devices, whilst they scroll daily through music, news, Qur’an, Hadith and the issues of the day. In other words, Zakah – like so many other things – will become a cyber-experience.
Most times, these consumers will be informed by short video clips, or inter-active apps, that spring to life when clicked. And in a world where we have been largely desensitised to violence and other horrors, SANZAF will have to be creative to grab attention without resorting to the noisy pornography of media sensationalism.
Indeed, the donor of tomorrow will be a discriminative, penny-wise and tech-savvy person, leaving organisations with little place to hide. This is where the legacy of SANZAF, with its reputation for public accountability, hope and of maximising compassionate outputs for each rand, will stand in good stead. The point is that these virtuous old values will never die, but that the methodologies of understanding them surely will.