22 August 2019 / 20 Dhil Hijja 1440
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IN South Africa, women’s month – celebrated in August – is a tribute to many things. It is remembered due to the famous march to the Union Buildings on 6 August 1956 by African women protesting the passbook, and, it is an acknowledgment of the challenges women still face today, such as discrimination.
Sadly, the Muslim community is not exempt from this inherent chauvinism, and nor is it exempt from the curse of domestic violence, something that SANZAF’s field workers regularly encounter in their counselling sessions.
If we resort to the Prophetic example, there is ample evidence that most of us have forgotten just how anti-racist, and just how anti-chauvinist, the blessed Prophet Muhammad was. Apart from abolishing the bizarre and cruel Arab practice of burying infant girls, he never – ever – denied women access to Din.
This is how, for example, Nusaybah bint Ka’b, who out of concern at the casualties at the Battle of Uhud, picked up a sword and went into combat to defend the Prophet. She would go on to fight at the battles of Hunayn and Yamamah.
Together with Umm Asma bint ‘Amr bin ‘Adi she had also requested to take the ba’yah, the oath of Islam at Aqabah, face-to-face with the Prophet. It is significant that the Prophet had agreed without objection.
This, then, is just one of many accounts about the dynamic role of women in Islam, so buried and so forgotten in our history. It is ironic today that whilst some obscurantists wish to confine women to the periphery, women are centre stage: running NGOs, teaching our children, running our households and sitting as judges in our courts.
So this August it is only appropriate that we remember one of Islam’s finest figures, Sayyidah Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.
Martin Lings in his classical Prophetic biography writes that “one of the richer merchants of Mecca was a woman – Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, of the clan of Asad. She was first cousin to Waraqah, the Christian, and his sister Qutaylah, and like them she was a distant cousin to the sons of Hashim”.
She had already been married twice, and since the death of her second husband it had been her practice to employ men to trade on her behalf. That was how she had hired Muhammad, known as ‘the trustworthy one’, a reticent young man renowned for his uprightness and honesty.
Khadijah had been hugely impressed by this young man, whose gentle ways had entered her heart, enlivened by the accounts of her slave, Maysarah, of their journey to Sham where Bahira the monk had recognised the Prophet, and two Angels had shaded him from the sun.
The Prophet, blessings upon him, was twenty-five years old. Khadijah saw a man of medium stature, inclined to slimness, with broad shoulders and a proportioned body. She saw that his hair and beard were thick and black, not altogether straight, slightly curled.
But, in addition to his physical beauty, she saw that there was radiance in his face – and this was particularly apparent on his forehead, and in his warm eyes. Khadijah knew that she herself was still beautiful, but she was fifteen years older. She was an independent woman, and the thought had struck her: would Muhammad be prepared to marry her?
One of the people she consulted was Waraqah, to whom she recounted the miraculous events of the Prophet’s journey to Sham. Waraqah had confirmed to her that Muhammad would be a prophet.
Given this, Khadija’s words of proposal are astounding. She expressed no wish for status, and never referred to his prophethood, which would occur 15 years later. Instead, she referred to his character:
“Son of mine uncle, I love thee for thy kinship with me, and for that thou art ever in the centre, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that; and I love thee for thy trustworthiness and for the beauty of thy character and the truth of thy speech.”
What is outstanding, even today, is that Sayyidah Khadijah was not only financially independent, and older than her husband, but that she proposed to him. Following this, Sayyidah Khadijah would be the Prophet’s faithful consort for 25 years, and give birth to his four famous daughters: Fatimah, Ruqayyah, Zainab and Umm Kulthum as well as his son, ‘Abdullah, who would pass on in his infancy.
Waraqah had warned his cousin of tests to come, but she had said nothing about this to her husband. And when he had run down from Jabl Nur after the frightening experience of the first Revelation, it was to her that he had sought consolation, saying: “Cover me! Cover me!”
And indeed, it was Sayyidah Khadijah who was the first to support him; it was Sayyidah Khadijah who became the first Muslim; and it was she, together with the Prophet, who would suffer the abuse of the Quraysh and the barbs of Abu Jahl. But more significantly, is that whilst she still had wealth – before the infamous and crippling boycott of the Bani Hashim – she would be the first Muslim to give charity.
This is something for which Sayyidah Khadijah is not always given her proper due, especially in a male dominated world.
THE South African National Zakah Fund, or SANZAF as it is fondly known, is one of the country’s most enduring and established humanitarian agencies. For over 40 years, SANZAF has served the Muslim community by ensuring that Zakah, a communal pillar of faith, has been executed.
This SANZAF has done without reproach, producing an audited balance sheet every year to guarantee its total transparency. In addition, its beneficiaries have been known to all and sundry, the organisation’s PR and marketing team making sure that the public is duly informed of who gets what.
QURBANI, the ritual sacrifice of a permissible animal during the Eid ul-Adha period at the end of the Hajj, is regarded as the most preferred sadaqah (or charity). When asked to explain Qurbani, the blessed Prophet Muhammad had told the Companion, Zayd ibn Arqam, it was the custom of his father Ibrahim, who was given a ram instead of his own son, Isma’il.
When Zayd had asked what spiritual benefit there was, the Messenger of God had replied that there was a reward for every single hair of the sacrificed animal. The Prophet, peace be upon him, had explained that what made the Qurbani special was that it was performed purely for the sake of Allah, and Allah alone. The Udhiya, as it is sometimes called, was accepted even before the blood reached the ground.
IT is always interesting reminding ourselves that those who qualify for Zakah fall into eight basic categories. Zakah, one of the five pillars of Islam, is not an alms tax – as so many like to define it – but more a cleansing of one’s stable assets, an act of faith executed by the redistribution of a small portion of one’s wealth.
The Prophet [SAW] once said that Allah Himself ruled on Zakah, and that its categories were divinely decreed: the poor, the needy, Zakah administrators, hearts to be reconciled such as reverts and those friendly to the community, those in bondage, the debt-ridden, those on the path of Allah and the wayfarer, or traveller.
THERE is a famous line in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, an 18th century novel about the treatment of children in industrial England. Mr Bumble, the portly supervisor of a child workhouse, gets enraged when Oliver asks for some more gruel, a watery, ill-cooked broth.
“Please, sir, can I have some more?” asks a frightened Oliver, who then meets the wrath of the unfeeling Mr Bumble.
Whilst there is a long distance, historically and geographically, from Charles Dickens to South Africa, I am often reminded of this scenario when poor people knock on our door. Of course, it is a scene played out in many cities and towns throughout South Africa on a daily basis.
Some of those who knock are brazen, with a sense of entitlement, but on the other hand, there are those who are respectful – even Oliver-like – in their requests for help. For these people, just to walk up to a strange door has taken up their last reserves of pride.
Indeed, these are the souls we have to take extra care of, because they are not only begging for food, but their very dignity. We have to remind ourselves that Allah, the Almighty, can elevate – or reduce us – in the mere blink of an eye.
And as winter bites, and as the Western Cape experiences welcome rain, we have to remember that the cold weather is not a boon to the less privileged, but very often a severe setback. On the Highveld, where people have to burn things to stay warm, there are shack fires – and in the Cape as the rains come, so do the floods.
Cold, wet, hungry, homeless and shivering, the South African underclass faces many daunting challenges, challenges we ourselves would probably not be able to deal with, should we be suddenly taken out of our own comfort zones.
Think for a minute what a person hears, and sees, when they knock on your door, and you open it…the smell of food, the sound of a TV, a toilet flushing…a wave of warmth and comfort. All things they don’t have.
The other day, just as the rains had let up and the sun had broken through the clouds, a young woman knocked on our door. We had never seen her before, a sure sign that this was someone who really needed help. After the years, you get to learn the signs. The “regulars” have their routines.
She was a sweet person, desperately hungry, who told us that she lived under a nearby bridge, and that she was waiting for the social worker to find her a bed in a night shelter. Her background story was a typical one of abandonment, and lack of living space in a Cape Flats backyard. The city’s streets had been her only recourse.
She sat on our stoep to eat some of the food that that had been warmed for her, another sign of need, and loneliness. The hungriest will always eat immediately, and those collecting for families or communes will quickly scurry away.
After she’d eaten, the young lady made a request, which for some might have sounded a little odd.
“Please, sir, can I have some soap? Even if it’s an old bar.”
Given her circumstances, it was not an odd request. This was a call for self-esteem. We had gained a little of her trust, and to refuse her would be crushing. So we dug in a cupboard, and came back with a new bar of soap and some facial cream.
“Jor. It’s new stuff. Thank you, auntie!” said the woman to my wife. Her smile was worth a million dollars. For us it had been a small sacrifice, but for her it had meant the world.
Indeed, small things can teach us so much. Many years ago an old hand from an NGO had advised me to never give the underprivileged inferior goods. “Don’t give anybody something you yourself wouldn’t use,” he had told me, “never!”
Of course, SANZAF fully embraces this policy of giving the best. And in the dark moments of winter, a small thing such as a “dignity pack” (soap, shampoo, cream, toothpaste etc.) can make such a huge difference. The truism is that hope – the ultimate aim of sadaqah and Zakah – does not have to cost the proverbial arm and a leg, and that we don’t have to be a Mr Bumble.
A solid Islamic financial base is said to be the soundest way to harnessing Zakah, the compulsory cleansing and redistribution of wealth, deemed to be a pillar of the faith. In many parts of the globe, Zakah is said to be the forgotten pillar, either due to grinding poverty, famine and warfare in Islamic lands, or due to minorities with threatened civil liberties.
Nonetheless, Zakah as an institution in the 21st century has started to make great strides, especially since the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1923 rocked the Muslim word, and set it back on all fronts – socially, economically, educationally and politically.