22 August 2019 / 20 Dhil Hijja 1440
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ONE of the co-founders of SANZAF, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa, passed on last week after a long illness. He was aged 83. An educator of renown, a wise leader, a political activist, a da’ee, a respected scholar, an author, a keen historian and a towering human being, he has left a huge gap in our community.
Born in 1935 in Salt River, he matriculated from Trafalgar High School in 1952 and enrolled at Hewatt Teacher’s Training College. He first taught classes at the Salt River Muslim School in Kipling Street, later transferring to Livingstone High in Claremont after completing a Bachelor’s degree in History and Geography.
A member the Non-European Unity Movement, he was cut from the same political cloth as Dullah Omar, South Africa’s first post-apartheid Justice Minister. But when it came to faith, he was uncompromising on its centrality, insisting that Livingstone learners be allowed to attend jumu’ah.
Whilst teaching, Shaykh da Costa studied Arabic and the Islamic sciences and went on to earn a doctorate in the field of Geography. He became the principal of Crestway Senior Secondary in Retreat in 1967. Crestway was the first ‘coloured’ school to offer Xhosa as a subject.
In 1987, he joined the Faculty of Education at the University of the Western Cape, where he became Associate Professor and Head of Didactics until his retirement in 1996. A stalwart of Islamic education, he served as rector of the now defunct Islamic College of South Africa (ICOSA), before moving on the International Peace College (IPSA).
A measure of his integrity is revealed by former colleague, Dr Auwais Rafudeen, who tells the story of salary negotiations in a financially testing time for the college. Aware of this, Shaykh Yusuf – worth infinitely more than what IPSA could offer – said he would accept whatever remuneration it could afford. After payday, he would then donate his salary back to the institution.
His interest in Geography and History imbued him with a unique skill to understand our history, about which he was passionate. Together with Dr Achmat Davids and Prof Suleman Dangor, he penned the iconic Pages from Cape Muslim History in 1994, and conducted ground-breaking research on a host of historical topics.
In 2000, Shaykh Yusuf became a khalifah of the Naqshbandi Muhammadi, building mosques, educating imams and bringing Islam to thousands of people in the townships
Decades earlier, his compassion for the poor – and interest in Zakah as an agent of change – had been piqued by the fact that it was being dubbed the ‘forgotten pillar’ of Islam, despite it being a vehicle for poverty alleviation. During apartheid, he saw the need for the community to have access to welfare, at a time when Muslims were regarded as unworthy second-class citizens.
In 1975, together with Shaykh Faaiq Gamildien, he founded the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF). Today, SANZAF has become an iconic institution, offering relief and uplifting – with dignity – hundreds of thousands of people.
Claremont Main Road Mosque imam, Dr Rashied Omar, writes that Shaykh Yusuf’s “sterling work among the poor resonated with his inspirational and radical views” on the third pillar of Islam. In his Preface to an English translation of the renowned Arabic text, Fiqh al-Sunnah on Zakah by Sayyid Sabiq, Shaykh Yusuf penned the following:
“Zakah is essentially a means devised to solve the problem of poverty, and it involves taking from the rich of their property for re-distribution among the poor, and the doing of this until such time as ‘the wealth ceases to circulate between the wealthy’.
Zakah is therefore a means of bringing about socio-economic change and development; and by taking from the rich it ensures a more equitable distribution of the wealth of a country and so helps to bring about the end of the exploitation of man by man.”
Towards the end of his life, Shaykh Yusuf said that it was through the Basmallah that Allah introduced us to His two most important Names, Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim. Both these Names embraced mercy, and in his senior years he found these names were a major anchor for what he did as a Muslim.
Always to the point, always compassionate, always humble and always God-fearing, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa’s passing is like that of an oak tree falling in the forest. We will all miss his presence greatly. May Allah, the Merciful, grant him Jannah, ameen.
 Translator’s Preface to Zakah: The Third Pillar of Islam by Sayyid Sabiq. Translated by Yusuf da Costa and published by the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, 1994.
ZAKAH is often something of a misunderstood Islamic institution. So often it is seen as a ‘compulsory charity’ or an ‘alms tax’. The point is that Zakah is actually none of these. Zakah is a pillar of the Islamic faith, and hereby lies the rub.
Historically, Zakah is classified as a prophetic practice – in other words, it was announced to mankind thousands of years ago. The Qur’an, which was revealed systematically and gradually, introduces us to the notion of Zakah via the Prophet Isma’il, thus establishing a link with the Prophet Muhammad [saw], who was of the House of Isma’il:
Also mention in the Book [the story of] Isma’il: He was true to what he promised, and he was message-giver...He used to enjoin on his people prayer and Zakah, and he was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord. [Surah Maryam 19:54-55].
Zakah was also enjoined upon the Jews, the Bani Isra’il, and in ancient Hebrew the word is ‘zakut’:
And [remember] when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel, saying: ‘Worship none save Allah and be good to your parents and to your family and to orphans and to the needy, and speak kindly to mankind; [so] establish prayer and pay Zakah.’ [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:83].
Jesus, who preceded Muhammad [saw], also finds himself on this continuum:
‘Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and has appointed me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and Zakah…’ [Surah Maryam 19:30-31].
It was only in the second year of the Hijrah, some eighteen months after the emigration of the Prophet [saw] to Madinah in 626 CE that Zakah became an Islamic obligation. Qur’anic verses revealed in Madinah began to give clear directives. The Prophet [saw] used to send out workers to collect Zakah, which used to be distributed on the New Year.
The other day I heard an interesting lecture on the nature of Zakah by a local scholar, which prompted me to write this piece. “Zakah is not a charity,” he had said, adding that Zakah was what it was, a divine mercy – a pillar of faith, a divinely inspired mechanism of social transformation.
He went on to explain that the lexical import of the word gave us the clearest indications as to how we should understand the institution of Zakah. The word ‘Zakah’, he said, derived from the verbal noun ‘tazkiyya’, which meant ‘to purify’. ‘Tazkiyya’, in turn, derived from the root Arabic word, ‘zakawa’, which meant to ‘purify’, or ‘grow’.
“Please note,” said the scholar, “the basic word for purify, ‘tahara’, is not used in the context of Zakah. We do not clean ourselves of dirt like in a bath when we pay Zakah. It does not remove outer impurities. No. The word Zakah has a much more elevated meaning, a deep and profound inner meaning.”
The scholar went to explain that Zakah was an act of ‘ibadah, of worship. Like prayer, or salah, the act of giving Zakah could be compared to the personal mi’raj, or spiritual ascension, of the prayer. When we performed the act of Zakah, we had to perform it with our heads bent in humility, as if we were standing before Allah.
“Even if given through an agency (such as SANZAF) Zakah is a transaction that passes from heart to heart,” said the scholar. “We do it with dignity. Remember, Zakah is not the act of throwing coins at the poor. It is a basic human right. And Allah Almighty does not burden us with it...”
The scholar returned to the lexical meaning of Zakah, saying that if we combined the concept of purification and growth, we would get a close approximation of the divine intent of Zakah – heavenly blessings, personal and communal growth, inner cleanliness and socio-economic betterment.
“We have a merciful Creator who wants good things for His people. He wants the rich to be generous and the poor to feel happy. He wants to boast to His Angels how the Prophet’s congregation is sharing its wealth. He wants to rejoice in how the poor are singing His praises for their rights.”
IT is always interesting to see things from different perspectives in foreign environments. Our existing ones are either challenged or refreshed. It’s like looking down on the earth from the aeroplane window 30,000 feet in the sky, as opposed to being on the ground.
For instead of standing on the riverbank and viewing a stretch of water, we are able to see its full scope, as its snakes between valleys and meanders on to wide plains.
Recently, I spent a few days in Istanbul at a conference. And whilst the event had nothing to do with Zakah, it did get me thinking. This is because Turkey – the former seat of the Ottoman Empire which ruled for over 400 years – is rediscovering its Islamic mojo.
My brief here is not the socio-political landscape, which is complex, but how Islamic institutions, such as Zakah, have fared. I was keen to do some mental arithmetic because Turkey, boasting the world’s 17th biggest economy and 75 million people, has tremendous potential in terms of unlocking Zakah as a tool of poverty eradication.
Zakah in Turkey, I was told, has always been regarded as a personal issue, even by the Ottomans, who set up their state on the pillars of publically beneficial Awqaf institutions. Therefore, says a Thomson Reuters report of 2014, Zakah and Awqaf are deeply rooted in the cultural and religious psyche of Turkey.
It is reported that in contemporary Turkey, Zakah has become an important source for non-governmental charity organisations. However, due to the traditionally private nature of Zakah distribution, it has not been possible to accurately measure the extent of its benefits. In recent years, the Turkish Diyanet Foundation has taken on the institutional responsibility of distributing Zakah and Zakah al-Fitr.
Three academics at Istanbul University did an analysis on the relationship between poverty and Zakah in the Turkish context last year. Firstly, they defined Zakah in current terms, and secondly, they went into technical detail – providing graphs and tables – on its potential impact.
By definition, they argued, Zakah showed that Islam was sensitive to fair and even-handed wealth distribution. Zakah protected individuals from sickness, greed and avarice. It nurtured generosity. Zakah created the ethos of sacrifice. It cleansed the heart of impurities and it purified a person’s wealth. Zakah, they concluded, was a protection for society.
In Islam, the charitable order of priority started with close relatives, proceeded to distant relatives, neighbours and then neighbourhood residents. Zakah engendered community awareness. And in addition to funds being exchanged, there was also an exchange of love and respect.
The researchers said that social peace and harmony were created via Zakah, as its processes soothed negative feelings such as hate, resentment and hostility.
The institution of Zakah militated against the egocentric accumulation of wealth, as believers had to circulate their wealth into the economy with the understanding that the poor had a right to some of it.
The study focused on Turkish society, figures revealing that one-fifth of its households (4.7 million out of 21.6 million in a population of 75 million) were on the poverty line – a sharp contrast, incidentally, to South Africa where 55% (30 million) of our population is poverty-stricken.
One of the Turkish researcher’s tables provides some fascinating reading. In it he isolates the bottom rungs of poverty and identifies 1.4 million households. His calculations reveal that using potentially available Zakah funds, a payment of 1,307 US dollars could be made to each family. In South African currency, that would amount to about R19, 000 per family.
Interestingly, if we were to do a similar exercise in South Africa, Africa Check, a local organisation that mines facts, would give us 13.8 million South Africans at the lowest level of poverty. If we take four as the average means for a family we get to 3.4 million households.
With South Africa being the only welfare state in Africa (just over 17 million people are recipients of state funded aid) the numbers are daunting, given that there are only 15.5 million people officially employed. However, if we look at our Muslim community, and take 4 million as our total population and calculate half-a-million (0.25%) in need of relief (41,666 households) the numbers become real.
We do not have the capacity to disburse huge amounts in terms of poverty relief like Turkey, but that should not prevent us from taking the first steps. Judicious projects in terms of human capital and education, as well as wise Awqaf investment, should become our urgent priorities to meet the pressing needs of the times.
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.
ON Friday 28 September at 6.02 pm, an earthquake shook the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on the Makasar Straits. It was a shallow, sharp 7.5 Richter scale quake. Its epicentre was in the mountainous region of Central Sulawesi, 77 km from the provincial capital Palu, which is located in the mouth of a narrow bay.
Thirty minutes after the quake, the earth shook again as a tsunami, travelling over 100 kms an hour, boxed in by the topography of the bay and slowing over the seabed, built in terrifying size to six metres.
At 6.32 pm, the tsunami smashed into Palu, sweeping away cars, buildings, temples and mosques, even washing ships on to dry land. Over 1,700 homes disappeared into the earth, sucked into a vortex of liquefication, caused by quake disturbed soil and water.
In a matter of minutes, Palu and its environs became a fearsome scene of devastation as nearly 2,000 people drowned in the mud, or were swept away by the water. As the tsunami receded over a landscape borrowed from the Final Days, over a quarter of a million people had been made homeless, and life as they know it, had been taken away from them.
Sulawesi might not have been on the scale of the Aceh tsunami of 2004, but it was still a destructive natural event, well beyond human scope. After visiting Palu and assessing damage, Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, realising the gravity of the situation, made the call for international aid.
Sulawesi is close to South African hearts, as the family of one our forefathers Shaykh Yusuf of Makasar hail from the region. For this reason, the recently-announced Joint Indonesia Emergency Appeal is a heart-warming response.
This month, several South African-based relief organisations met at the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) in Cape Town to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would see them joining forces to raise much-needed funds for humanitarian relief efforts in Sulawesi.
The organisations who have signed the MOU are: the MJC, Darul Islam Zakah Fund (DAIZAF), Darul Qur’an South Africa, Islamic Relief South Africa (IRSA), Muslim Hands South Africa (MHSA) and SANZAF.
MJC President, Shaykh Irafaan Abrahams, said the MOU marked a momentous occasion and that they had pledged to raise R2 million towards helping the people of Sulawesi.
“The MJC always envisioned that our community organisations would come together, to forge closer working relationships, as they work to alleviate the suffering of the poor in our communities. I am extremely proud of the mature and respectful manner in which discussions were held in finalising this joint venture. All parties came together with one goal in mind – to assist those affected by the Indonesian disaster,” he said.
SANZAF Western Cape General Manager, Shafiek Barendse, concurred with these sentiments, adding that the joint initiative would allow organisations to lean on one another for support and capacity building.
“Locally there is potential to partner and support one another on different projects. As institutions, we know we cannot be there for everyone, but now we will be able reach much more vulnerable people together,” he said.
Sakeena Bock, head of SANZAF’s marketing team, said the Joint Indonesia Emergency Appeal would be an impactful platform in offering solace to those in need, adding that in 2016 the organisation had teamed up with local relief organisation, Al-Imdad, to distribute aid to the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp. In 2015, SANZAF had also sent R1 million in aid to Gaza and R500, 000 for relief in Syria.
MUHARRAM, one of the sacred months in which the Holy Qur’an forbade fighting, marks the beginning of the Islamic year, the Islamic calendar being determined by lunar – as opposed to solar – cycles. This means that the lunar year is 10-11 days shorter than the Gregorian one.
And whilst lunar dates rotate seasons in a 33 year cycle, the significance of the Islamic historical events do not recede. In other words, the original date is remembered symbolically. This expresses a historical vitality.
In Islam, Muharram is a special time – one of giving, personal sacrifice and historical sorrow, followed by joy and mercy. According to Prophetic Tradition, Muharram is one of the four sacred months preferred for fasting, especially the first ten days, which are resplendent with spiritual reward.
Anas ibn Malik reported that the blessed Prophet said that whoever fasted the first Friday of Muharram would have their previous sins forgiven, and whoever fasted three days of Muharram – the Thursday, the Friday, and the Saturday – Allah would inscribe for them worship and prayer for 900 years.
Sayyidah A’ishah related that whoever fasted the first ten days of Muharram would inherit Paradise. She said the reason for fasting in ‘Ashura was when the Prophet [SAW] had noticed the Jews of Madinah fasting on the tenth day. When he had asked them why, they had told him it was the day that Musa [as] had freed the Bani Isra’il from the clutches of the Pharaoh.
The Prophet had said in response, “I have more rights to Musa than you.” So he had fasted that day and had ordered for its observance on further days.
In another Hadith, the Prophet related that whoever recited Surat ul-Ikhlas 1,000 times on the day of ‘Ashura, Allah would look at that person with Mercy, and would place him amongst the Siddiqin (The Truthful).
The sadness of ‘Ashura is the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Sayyidina Husayn, at Karbala. It is a saga of selflessness and personal sacrifice. So much so, that when the Prophet [SAW] once held his grandson in his arms, he wept, as the Angel Jibril had informed him of Husayn’s eventual fate, bringing him a lump of Karbala clay.
But from all of this, comes liberation – liberation from trial and tribulation. It is the ultimate Mercy of a Merciful Creator. For on ‘Ashura, Husayn entered Paradise. ‘Ashura, is indeed, a day of great historical and spiritual significance. The Qisas al-Anbiya’ informs us that many beautiful things happened to our Prophets, may Allah Almighty bless them all, on ‘Ashura.
For instance, on this day, as the scholar Imam Rajab al-Hanbali points out in his writings: Allah accepted the repentance of Adam; saved Nuh and the Ark; extinguished the fire of Nimrod; spoke to Musa; restored Ayyub to health; reunited Yusuf with his father Jacob; took Yunus out of the whale; destroyed the Pharaoh’s army and raised Jesus to the Heavens.
The grace of Muharram, and ‘Ashura, is also expressed through charitable action. Says Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, quoting classical sources: “Whoever clothes a naked person Allah will release him from a painful punishment. He who visits a sick person, Allah will grant him a reward…whoever places his hand on an orphan’s head, or feeds a hungry person…Allah will feed him a feast from Paradise…and whoever makes ghusl (a ceremonial bath) on this day will enjoy excellent health and freedom from sickness and laziness…whoever provides generously for his family on this day, Allah will be generous to him throughout this year…”
Without doubt, Muharram marks an auspicious time for all Muslims. Interestingly, Muharram was also the month in which the Prophet [SAW] used to collect Zakah, and distribute it to the poor and needy. Therein lays tremendous significance, as the Prophet [SAW], a wise man beyond our ken, knew the great importance of hope and renewal for us all at the beginning of a new year.
May Allah Almighty grant us all success in 1440 AH. Ameen.