Friday 23 March 2018
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Blog - Zakah in Action

  • Zakah in the market place +

    THIS week the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) is doing some brand re-positioning. As a community benefit organisation that has Read More
  • The art of living and giving +

    THE Prophet [saw] once told his Companions that Islam was not a Deen of monkism, of people remaining celibate, of Read More
  • Zakah and the anatomy of hope +

    Hope springs eternal in the human breastMan never is, but always to be blest… SO writes Alexander Pope, the famous Read More
  • Kanala: the roots of Cape Muslim charity +

    It was the spirit of 'kanala' that saw over 120 mosques built by the community in three hundred years. Photo Read More
  • Pondering on water +

    A FEW relaxing days spent in the picturesque countryside of the Western Cape got me to thinking about our biggest Read More
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Our Blog

Zakah in the market place

homeless in sea pointTHIS week the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) is doing some brand re-positioning. As a community benefit organisation that has been in business for just over 40 years, image is an important way of staying relevant in the market place.

It’s not that the core business of SANZAF – poverty relief, empowerment and education – has changed; it’s just that the donors have. Four decades of service means that there have been generational shifts.  In other words, a new age group, a tech-savvy one that is liable to pay Zakah, has risen to the fore as potential SANZAF donors.

At the same time, the needs of clients have gained extra import in a society facing many socio-economic trials, and the youth facing massive employment and education challenges, in spite of huge political change since 1994.

Old imagery, 70’s style logos and ageing artwork give can give the impression – and in the NGO sector first impressions do really count – that an organisation has not marched with the times. In today’s digital day and age, a marketer has less than two seconds before a customer moves on to something else.

SANZAF has in recent years, taken its image very seriously. A small core team of a PR practitioner, a communications officer, a graphic artist and a web expert (part time) have seen to the face of SANZAF, orchestrating media interviews, campaigns and advertising that are necessary to keep SANZAF’s profile flying high.

SANZAF spends frugally on admin costs, which under the watchful eye of National Chairperson, Shauket Fakie, remain an extremely low cost element in overall expenses. Ensuring a professional, Shari’ah compliant service is not easy, but the most stringent auditing process, the results of which are published annually for all to see, doubly ensures this.

But whilst one’s business remains the same, as we’ve already mentioned, contexts do shift and peoples’ environments do transform. In our community, we have seen our generation of parents, mainly artisans and shopkeepers, work hard to put their children through university. They have entered the middle classes as doctors, dentists, schoolteachers, doctors, accountants and lawyers – hence the encouraging growth of Zakah funds in recent years.

That young people in South Africa do pay Zakah is a fitting tribute to the Islamic values their pioneering parents have instilled in them. However, organisations such as SANZAF have to ensure that they remain relevant through proper marketing. This involves a digital shadow, a print profile, a radio voice and a TV image, as well as an educational presence in the mosque.

This is where the changes come in, subtle – yes – but absolutely critical in staying with the game. It is my belief, and that of others, that we have not yet reached the ceiling in terms of Zakah in this country. The potential our community has in its hands not only to alleviate – but to eradicate poverty – remains huge. Government will never be able to do everything on its own, and that’s where we as civil society have to step in.

And it is to hope that our team has turned thematically. To this end, they will be using the key Arabic word, ‘amal’. For to give those in need, with the prerequisite dignity of the Prophet [saw], is to give hope to those with broken hearts and broken lives.

It is not for me to talk about the dynamics of SANZAF’s new campaign and re-branding, but suffice it to say, that hope is the most enduring message a relief organisation can communicate. Sometimes, it is not even the donation that causes the smiles, but the mere fact that the person suffering knows that someone else, in an uncaring world, has taken the trouble to care about them.

SANZAF, giving hope to those without.

The art of living and giving

CSC04991THE Prophet [saw] once told his Companions that Islam was not a Deen of monkism, of people remaining celibate, of us purposefully punishing the flesh or living in caves away from society. One’s detachment from materialism, or zuhd, had to be expressed amongst people.

“Work for this world as if you will live forever, and work for the hereafter as if you will die tomorrow,” said Sayyidina ‘Ali. “Be indifferent to the world and Allah will love you; be indifferent to what people possess and they will love you,” said the Prophet [saw].

Both of the above stress that our ‘otherworldliness’ must come from within society, with other traditions emphasising the need for the family to be maintained, charity to be paid and our elderly parents to be honoured.

No traditions say that Muslims cannot be well off materially, or that they must deliberately shun wealth – unless it is an adult choice with the family provided for. Prophet Sulaiman [as] had massive riches, and a palace so luxurious, that the Queen of Sheba lifted her dress over her ankles because she thought the polished marble floors were wet.

However, Prophet Sulaiman [as] may have enjoyed his riches, but he was not attached to them. They were mere incidentals to his more important prophetic message and the kingdom he had to rule with taqwa.

The Prophet Muhammad [saw] told us that Islam – with its Abrahamic roots – was first, and foremost, a social contract. The fact that ‘adl, or justice, is one of the three most mentioned words in the Qur’an, speaks to a communal ethos, as justice is what underpins Shari’ah, the application of Sacred Law in society, which itself is underpinned by Rahmah, or Mercy.

For that reason, the basic pillars of Islam are all rooted in communal activity. Even the kalimah shahadah, the proclamation of faith, is a public act. Salah is a recommended communal devotion, Ramadan is a communal activity and Hajj is a communal ritual.  

Zakah – the compulsory cleansing of residual wealth on an annual basis – is the one pillar that is slightly, if not subtletly, different. This is because Zakah is a private act with concrete public benefit.

In essence, Zakah is what completes the circle of faith; from a declaration of faith we find ourselves returning to faith in action, the giving of benefits to the poor – those whose own faith is bolstered by the love and care of their co-religionists in their dark and dependent moments.

There is huge wisdom in all this. For, if we had been cloistered in a cave contemplating our navels, our families would probably have starved and the poor left to slide deeper into the gutter. It is through our social interaction that we become aware of those around us.

Naturally, relationships tend to be based on a common racial identity, a language or a country. Our communality can insulate us from others. People of the same race, same language, same class or same country do often feel a special affiliation towards each other. However, Islamic communality transcends all these boundaries. As Qur’an reminds us:

“O, mankind! We have created you from a male and a female; and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other. Indeed, the most noble among you in view of Allah is the most pious of you.” [49:13].

Indeed, it is Zakah that breaks all these bounds. The heart has to be filled with compassion. In the giving of Zakah, or any other charity, it is not the amount we give that counts – but how we give it.

If we give with haughtiness and pride, we only demean ourselves; but if we give with humility – and out of a genuine sense of piety – it is everyone who benefits, the giver who brings the gift, and the given who accepts the gift. In this process, the only thing that counts is our humanity, and not our colour or our class.

Zakah and the anatomy of hope

Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Man never is, but always to be blest…

SO writes Alexander Pope, the famous 18th century poet, in his poem An Essay on Man. In these few poignant lines, he successfully encapsulates the human condition, as we understand it in Islam. Indeed, Pope may not have been a Muslim, but who can deny that he has not touched the universal truth?

For surely, without hope there cannot be life, and without life, there cannot be knowledge of God’s Mercy?

The scholars teach us that our souls have to present themselves to our Creator in a fluid state, in a state hovering between fear and hope – between al-khawf and al-raja’. To understand this better, it is like a scale. We tip towards hope through our fear – which in this case is much broader than the English meaning, for khawf has elements of awe and humility, as well as possessing an element of sabr, or forbearance.

In other words, we approach our Most Merciful Creator in a condition of fear with the hope that he will grant us His Grace.

Our scholars remind us that hope, and a good opinion of Allah Almighty, is the key to success. There is a verse in the Holy Qur’an that encourages hope in Allah, and even reproaches pessimism. The Qur’an prompts us:

O, my servants! (Those of you) who have acted extravagantly against your own souls, do not despair of Allah’s mercy… [39:53].

On his deathbed, the Prophet – peace rest on him – whispered to his Companions that none of us should pass on, except that we should hope for the good from Allah. The blessed Prophet’s optimism is bolstered by the Qur’an explaining itself further in the above verse, in emphatic terms:

For Allah forgives all sins (yaghfiru thunuba jami’an). He is the Forgiver, the Merciful… [39:53].

There is a sublime unconditionality here, for Allah – the Truthful – does not lie. Every single believer has a chance of redemption. Of course, as we have already said, we have to understand that it will depend upon our approach to Allah, the Hearer.

A Hadith Qudsi – an explanation related directly to the blessed Prophet from the Divine Throne – tells us that Allah, the Highest, is to his slave what his slave thinks of him. If we see a merciful God full of hope, that is what He becomes. In fact, classical scholars frown upon Allah being seen as wrathful.

The well-known Hadith, that Allah’s Mercy always precedes his wrath, is the supportive maxim.

Allah’s Mercy, and Hope, is reflected in a moving account related by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab when captives were brought to the Prophet after a battle. There was a woman amongst them whose breasts were full of milk. She saw a crying infant in the midst of the captives and took it to her bosom.

The Prophet – peace on him – asked the Companions if this woman would ever throw the child into the fire. When the Companions said no, the Prophet said that Allah, the Exalted, was more merciful to His slave than this woman.

To this effect, I can remember a well-known Sufi Shaykh on my travels in the US always repeating: “remember Allah’s Mercy Oceans, my beloveds, remember Allah’s Mercy Oceans.”

Not once did he ever resort to hellfire preaching, or disaster mongering. Because he exuded so much hope and light, I saw countless people from all walks of life – from the Bronx to the United Nations – becoming Muslim at his hands. Unlike us, he never judged anybody.

For charity and Zakah, the giving and the taking, there is much to learn from the above.

For the downtrodden person, who benefits from Zakah, it is their God-given right to receive with grace and to benefit with grace. It is the result of their du’ah – of prayers offered in the spirit of hope that there will be relief, and that Allah – the Compassionate – will not test a person beyond their endurance.

For the giver of Zakah, there is the element of khawf and the element of hope, that the cleansing of wealth in obedience to the Sacred Law will tip the scales, and that Allah – the Supremely Gracious – will accept this small gesture.

Kanala: the roots of Cape Muslim charity

Muir Street mosque District Six Shafiq Morton
It was the spirit of 'kanala' that saw over 120 mosques built by the community in three hundred years.
Photo copyright Shafiq Morton.

THE Cape Muslim community has not always been a wealthy, let alone middle class sector of our society. With its origins via educated, but impoverished political exiles, artisanal Mardykers (free blacks), former ‘bandietin’ and slaves, it was an underclass at the time of the abolishment of slavery in 1834.

However, the community did have several things in its favour – that despite its petty conflicts – would keep it together. The communal camaraderie that is born out of decades of oppression does create an inborn resilience, and a sense of resourcefulness, that can become an unstoppable social force.

Then, of course, there is Deen – proudly carried in the hearts of our forefathers from generation to generation, via its Hadrami-influenced Indian and Indonesian roots, Shaykh Yusuf of Makasar, Tuan Guru, Shaykh Abu Bakr Effendi and Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks all instrumental in this.

However, the abolition of slavery – as many historians have pointed out – did not end the discrimination and racism of the authorities, or citizens, of Cape Town. Life was still a testing challenge in a city renowned for its bawdy taverns, smallpox outbreaks, streetwalkers and lack of sewage disposal.   

In the early 19th century, there was no such thing as ‘affirmative action’ to bolster the job market for the disenfranchised. The status-quo of ‘them and us’ had remained, with the poor confined to the edges of the town, their now cheap labour required to sew, chop, plaster, sweep, wash, build and cook for the masters and madams of the colony.

As the city expanded, due to the sweat of our grandfathers and grandmothers, these skills would become the glue that held the collective together. For in the community, a tradition of sharing one’s expertise became a way of life. If a plumber’s wall cracked, his neighbour – the builder – would repair it. If his pipes burst, the plumber would fix them, this all done for no cost.

The late Dr Achmat Davids, the doyenne of our local historians from the Bo-Kaap, told me many years ago that this was the root of ‘kanala’ (the Malayu word for ‘please’), where we would exchange – or offer – our skills or resources without recompense. This would become the bedrock of Cape Town charity, where the poorest found a way to work together to survive via the ‘kanala joppie’.

The ‘kanala joppie’ might have been born out of necessity, but it was a very noble custom. For where Zakah was impossible, as no one earned enough to pay it, the community could still reduce the effects of poverty by working together, and pooling its means.

In this way, houses were built; cars were repaired; pots of food were cooked for the high nights; and in three hundred years, over 120 mosques were constructed –  something that amazed Tuan Najib Razak, current Malaysian prime minister, when he visited Cape Town in 1994. He simply could not believe that a community could have achieved so much without outside help.

It was only when our hard working parents sent us to universities that Zakah – the pillar of cleansing disposable wealth – would come into focus. As we slowly climbed the social ladder to the middle classes as doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants and teachers, surplus income became available.

To this effect, SANZAF was founded in 1974. In fact, over the past four decades one can track the economic progress of the community via SANZAF’s growth. SANZAF’s expansion, I believe, has been completely exponential to this.

However, this growth would not have been possible had our parents and grandparents not shared this Ubuntu-like spirit of ‘kanala’. I do not think it is co-incidental our community’s well-known generosity is founded in this historical ‘kanala’. Of course, there have been abuses, but the gains have always far outweighed the losses.

This is perhaps why SANZAF, representing a minority of 4 million amongst 55 million people, has been able to punch so above its weight – something widely recognised offshore in places such as the oil rich Gulf. For if it hadn’t been for the big-heartedness of our slave-born Cape ancestors, we would not be where we are today.

Pondering on water

A FEW relaxing days spent in the picturesque countryside of the Western Cape got me to thinking about our biggest current crisis, a crippling drought that could see Cape Town and its environs becoming the first major centre in the world to run out of water by April 2018.

The powder-dry vistas, in which most of the vegetation has turned a lifeless grey, were a sobering reminder of the value of water. Even more sobering was the sight of informal settlements, most without running water, already grovelling in the dust blown up by summer’s witheringly hot Berg winds.

Many of these people, having been forced to leave farms, or who have lost seasonal work due to the drought, would be the worst affected if, Allah forbid, the dams run dry and the taps are turned off.

However, this blog is not about the criminally poor planning by our brain-boiled local authorities – who were warned decades ago about the looming crisis. No, rather it is about the value of humanity, charity and understanding on issues of water, so essential to life on this planet.

If anything, the drought has encouraged me to comprehend the significance of so many things. For instance, I’d always been amazed that the Prophet [saw] had been able to perform wudu, the ablution for prayer, with a cup of water. In 2018 in Cape Town, I now realise just how insightful this action was.

For us, wudu with a cupful of water is a reality – and by the way – easy once you get the hang of it. I can remember in Niger, during a famine caused by a drought, taking wudu water from a small kettle. In the sandy Sahel, just south of the Sahara, I was taught that water can’t ever be taken for granted.  

The value of water has also forced me to think about the first recorded instances of Islamic charity, which centered on water in a region where its weight was worth gold. This was when Sayyidina ‘Uthman, a wealthy Companion, bought a well from a Jewess who was charging money for its waters, and made it into a public facility – the first waqf in Madinah.

It is not widely known that Sayyidina ‘Uthman’s generosity prompted the woman to embrace Islam. Another question arising out of Sayyidina ‘Uthman creating a public trust out of his well is that the privatisation of water sources (embraced by so many municipal administrations today) is an abominable practice, as it weighs heavily against the poor.  

Water shortages might not seem to have much to do with actual Zakah, but the way things are going, humanitarian organisations – such as SANZAF – are most certainly going to be burdened by its consequences. Surely it is just a matter of time before the monthly food parcels, which give such solace to our under privileged, will have to include bottled water as well?

Already, I have been witness to the poor in under-privileged areas – already cut off by the city authorities – resorting to stealing water, so desperate are they to survive.

That water is a precious resource – only about 4% of our water on earth is fresh – goes without saying. Potable water has always been at a premium, especially in water-stressed places such as South Africa, where historically we experience regular dry periods or climatic cycles, made even more unpredictable and extreme by human triggered climate change.

There is such a profound message in this: we can drown in the oceans, which cover 70% of the surface of our planet, but we can’t drink a drop without gagging. Nor can we irrigate crops with seawater as its high salt content kills off terrestrial plant life. It is ironic that the oceans, which surround us and feed us, are an integral part of the eco system that manufactures rain.

The products of our soil, refreshed and nourished by what falls from moisture-laden clouds, are our wealth – a divine inheritance, as it were. The Qur’an has told us this, but with the proviso that we have to respect the bounties of the One who created them. The institution of Zakah, which cleanses wealth, is also a reminder for us to respect our wealth, from where it came and who ultimately granted it to us.

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