THE ‘festive season’ – which is held over the Christmas-New Year period – may be Christian in ethos, but it is celebrated by all as a holiday, as it is the chief vacation period for South Africans.
Traditionally, Christmas is seen as a time of family togetherness, good cheer and generosity. It was the author Charles Dickens who invented Scrooge – a mean and miserly character, who saw no happiness in anything, least of all, giving at Christmas. Today the word “Scrooge” epitomises the very archetype of stinginess.
As Muslims, we respect Christmas, and the point of my article is not to plunge into debate about it. My departure here is that Christmas is a festivity in which kindness is encouraged. The other great monotheistic faith, Judaism, has the institution of tzedakah, or charity, which – not unlike Zakah – is regarded as a social obligation.
In the same vein, our two holy days (the two ‘Eids) encourage exactly the same things – via the fitrah or fidya, the compulsory charities of ‘Eid ul-Fitrah, and the sacrifice of ‘Eid ul-Adha, where the meat is distributed to the under privileged. Arguably, so does the mawlud – the commemoration of the birth of our beloved Prophet Muhammad [saw] – when people are given food after its rituals.
It is quite evident then, that notions of wealth purification via giving to the poor have been with us as humankind for a very long time. In Islam, it has been fully codified for us and made easy. We have different kinds of charity (sadaqah, lillah) and Zakah, a legal pillar of worship – a potent instrument of poverty eradication.
However, for Zakah to succeed as an institution it is my belief that it has to be underpinned by a culture of giving. This spirit of giving is what acts as the glue that keeps communities together, and makes Zakah such a natural step-up from the spontaneities of sadaqah, or voluntary charity.
In Cape Town, we have had this spirit for over 350 years. It is reflected in our Javanese heritage. In Java, it is called slametan, a communal feast offered after a social event symbolising the unity of those participating in it. Scholars such as Clifford Geertz have said the slametan became the core ritual of Javanese faith practice.
A slametan, says Geertz referring to Java, can be given to celebrate almost any occurrence, including births, deaths, engagements, marriages, events on the Islamic calendar, moving to a new house, and so forth. Depending on the intention, the mood and emphasis of the event may vary, but the principle would always be the same.
Locally, the slametan has followed the Javanese tradition closely. In the days of 17th century slavery at the Cape, a gadat (dhikr session), a mawlud or a doepmal (name giving ceremony) would be followed by a meal, or sweetmeats. Rich and poor would mix freely during the meal, the poor receiving charity devoid of social discrimination, or loss of personal dignity.
The intention of the host would be reflected in the word slametan, derived from the Arabic salam (peace), which hinged around the idea that the generosity of the host would ensure him peace with his Creator. In this, nothing is wasted too, the celebrants leaving with parcels of food, or barakats, as we call them at the Cape.
It is heart warming to see that so little has changed over the centuries in terms of this gallant tradition, which is the building block of successful communal life. We can safely say that the spirit of slametan is still alive and well in Cape Town, South Africa.
The positives are just so many: people gathering together for a common good; a poor person taking food back to their hungry family; children being acculturated with a noble tradition; those well off making sadaqah of their gifts, and even non-Muslims leaving the gathering with good thoughts about Islam.
Or, as our anti-apartheid struggle heroes might proclaim in 2018: “long live, slametan, long live!”
THE annual SANZAF 5 Pillars Quiz, which involves the participation of selected madrasahs in underprivileged areas in the Western Cape, took place on 9 December at Masjid ul-Mubarak in Delft. Delft, which is in the northern suburbs on the Cape Flats 25 kms from the Cape Town city centre, may be close to the leafy towns of Kuils River and Stellenbosch, but leafy it is not.
It is poor, suffers from 50 per cent unemployment, crime and gangs, and is sandy, windswept and architecturally soulless, though the people are warm and welcoming. Delft is also home to Blikkiesdorp, known as ‘Tin Can Town’.
Blikkiesdorp is what the City Council calls a TRA, a euphemistic abbreviation for ‘Temporary Relocation Area’, which is in reality an unprotected urban Gulag of badly constructed corrugated iron shacks – hot and sandy in summer, and cold and muddy in winter.
It is to Blikkiesdorp that many of the victims of gentrification in the city have been relocated, often against their will, but with no other choice. For many residents, ‘temporary relocation’ has become a permanent limbo – of anger, hopelessness and social deprivation.
One of the six madrasahs competing at the quiz was the Blikkiesdorp madrasah under the guiding hand Maulana Razaan Sydow. The children may not have won on the day, but their mere presence was a triumph of recognition, an acknowledgement that even under the most difficult of conditions, children are learning.
The point is that madrasah education is under-rated, especially in terms of the social values it imbues in young learners after school hours, the time when social problems manifest themselves in terms of hunger, boredom and lack of facilities, and when the attraction of the gangs becomes an omnipresent allurement.
Sadly, today the madrasah is a poorly neglected institution – what with children in more affluent neighbourhoods finding their schools making strenuous demands on their time, and those in less affluent areas, falling prey to socio-economic abandonment. On each side of the scale, the education of Deen is sacrificed.
It is for this reason that the madrasah teachers of the Cape need to be saluted for their selfless contribution and perseverance. It is a tough job, satisfying yes, but still tough, because most madrasahs are under-funded. This is a massive blight on our community, which seems to have forgotten that learning has to progress from the cradle.
Yet in spite of this, the madrasah teachers, the mu’alims and mu’alimahs, soldier on – preventing countless young people from losing their values in a jungle of social despair. And here, it is not just a question of ‘alif, ba, ta, tha’ or even learning the six pillars of faith, it is the question of Deen providing a moral anchor, a compass in a wayward and confusing world.
For me, the 5 Pillars Quiz has never really been about the winners, but more about the occasion. It is when the children enjoy a day of fun – and challenges. Standing in front of a microphone, and answering questions in front of an audience based on the famous 5 Pillars Quiz game, can be daunting.
The 2017 quiz was won by a bright young student, Nafeesah van der Schyff, from Masjid ul-Badr, extension 23 in Belhar. In the final round of 21 questions, she romped away from the rest of the field, dominating the buzzer. Zuhair Charles, also from Masjid ul-Badr, came second with Layla Jansen of Madrasatul Sagheera in third place.
Nafeesah won R1, 000 in cash with second place getting R 700 and third R 500. The winners were also given a 5 Pillars Quiz game. Each competitor was given a certificate as recognition of participation, which is the focus of the event. SANZAF also donated R5, 000 to the winning madrasah, which evoked tears of joy at the end of an uplifting and informative quiz.
MUCH is said about Zakah as an instrument of poverty alleviation. However, Zakah as an instrument of social relief cannot exist in isolation. The Deen, by its very nature, is not a closed system. The fact that the doors of ijtihad – legal reasoning – are still ajar indicates dynamism within Islam.
In other words, instruments within the Shari’ah are open-ended, adaptable and sympathetic to the needs of society. Zakah as an institution is linked to worship – it is regarded an act of ‘ibadah – mentioned many times in the Qur’an.
Islam is the only faith that sets out in such minute detail the mechanics of wealth redistribution. All faiths promote generosity, especially to the poor, but Islam addresses it in detail, codifying it and clearly marking out its recipients. As such, Zakah expresses itself collectively. Its aim is to relieve, uplift and energise the ummah.
Interestingly, Zakah has a close kinship to another Shar’i mechanism, waqf. Defined as a trust or endowment held in perpetuity for Allah’s sake, and with selling or individual ownership forbidden, a waqf is essentially a communal, fruit-bearing investment.
Remembering that Zakah is dependant on wealth, waqf is an ideal partner to Zakah as waqf is a wealth generator. As waqf is fully asset and Shari’ah-based, it offers a pure source of wealth untainted by haram initiators such as speculation, usury and investment sources such as breweries, casinos – or even non-environmentally friendly industries.
One of the first awqaf in Islamic history was Bir Ruma, the well in Madinah, that Sayyidina ‘Uthman purchased from a Jewess, who was charging people for its use. Sayyidina ‘Uthman turned the well over to the community, thus freeing up the monies that would be spent on water for other useful social purposes, such as Zakah.
Another waqf was created out of the estate of Rabbi Mukhayriq, a close friend of the Prophet [saw], who fought with the Muslims at Uhud. He told the Prophet [saw] that if he died in battle, he would bequeath him his seven palm groves. He was killed in battle and the groves were made waqf, thus benefiting the whole community, the profits from the date harvests providing charity for the poor.
From these abovementioned primary models, waqf developed into a sophisticated system that shaped social cohesion, created wealth and released Zakah. When the Islamic realm was at its peak, as much as one-third of agricultural land was waqf, as were roads, mosques, schools, hospitals, water sources, bridges and buildings.
The ‘Sunnah’ of waqf, to put it one way, is self-sufficiency – a decentralised social-‘ism’ that looks after the individual without state intervention, which is the biggest problem in poor countries today – where governments are incapable, or too inherently corrupt – to look after their own people.
The point here is that the marriage of waqf and Zakah is the anti-dote to the disease of state incapacity and incompetence. If Muslim communities fully embraced these instruments, even as minorities, the impact would be noticeable. And as the waqf institutions matured, so would their outreach.
In this equation, the end game is not just poverty alleviation, but poverty eradication via a re-circulation of surplus wealth. The distribution monies derive from the self-sustaining, profitable institutions, which incrementally build up base funds.
The marriage of waqf and Zakah is, without doubt, a win-win for our community in the long term. The maths is very simple: take a waqf of one million rand producing a surplus of R100, 000 in year one. By year ten, it could be distributing R500, 000, as the waqf investment swells to five times its size.
In other words, as our collective wealth increases, so does our collective Zakah. The happy marriage of waqf and Zakah is certainly something worth thinking about.
IT is a clear plastic bag with a slightly reinforced handle to take some extra weight. It is not unlike a high quality bag that should contain expensive perfume or toiletries, except that instead of a designer logo from a high range store, it has the green SANZAF imprint.
Indeed, the SANZAF Care Bag, as it is called, is something that will allow dignity in measures that the bag itself will not be able to contain. It is always humbling to realise that it's the smallest of things that raise the broadest smiles and have the biggest impact.
The idea behind the Care Bag is that together with the usual food parcels - which SANZAF hands out by the thousands each year - recipients can also enjoy basic necessities like soap, toothpaste, sanitary towels, toilet rolls, toothbrushes and deodorants.
I would suggest that it is an indictment on our awareness of hunger when we think that feeding is its short-term solution. So often, what is needed - in addition to the necessary hand-out - is something that adds cheer, dignity and appreciation of one's humanity.
We often forget, I think, that cleanliness is often a huge issue for the impoverished, with access to running water a luxury, and toiletries an expense too far for the already stretched budget.
I saw this experience first-hand in Mogadishu in 2011, when hundreds of thousands of families - many buried on the way - had fled to the city from the parched countryside to escape a devastating famine. Most had trekked hundreds of kilometres in searing heat with only the clothes on their back.
I was travelling with an aid agency that was handing out food parcels and toiletry packs in the Somalian capital. I remember a woman opening one, and espying Nivea skin moisturiser. There were shrieks of joy and laughter as she showed it to those around her, joking that now she'd look "sexy".
It was microscopic moment amidst a massive human disaster, but it had lifted everybody's spirits, for this was a woman who'd seen half her family die on the side of road from starvation.
And just today, as I was writing this, there was a knock on my door. We get many people coming to our house asking for food, money and clothes - a constant reminder of the sea of poverty that surrounds us in South Africa.
But what caught my attention was that this person, a young man from one of our SADC countries where its president is aged and corrupt, wanted some washing powder. "I need to wash my clothes. You can't smell when you look for work," he said.
I gave him a few scoops in a packet and some food, and he departed with a smile. My charity had cost me absolutely nothing - in fact I probably could have done a lot more - but for this young man the meal would pick him up for the day, and a few scoops of washing powder could mean a job.
It reminded me that as human beings we really have to be aware of those around us. Who knows what is going on behind the cheery faces? Because what we take for granted for ourselves, is often a game changer for others.
This is why projects such as SANZAF's Care Bag need our unstinting support. Being clean, smelling clean, enjoying access to sanitary pads and toothpaste should not be an exception to the rule. Cleanliness is a right, not a privilege.
Feeding someone is not just filling their stomach, but imbuing them with barakah and the active du'ah for something better, by allowing them the dignity to improve themselves. A Care Bag is the perfect start.
Adapted from the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation
ZAKAH is an ancient Islamic practice based on one of the five pillars of the religion. This obligation for us to give alms to the less fortunate is aimed at alleviating and eradicating poverty. Yet in many countries, poverty is a grim and persistent reality despite Zakah institutions.
What can we learn from success stories in Zakah management?
The Zakah model ensures the net transfer of wealth to the poorest people at the bottom of the pyramid
Poverty occurs due to the lack of transfer of assets to the poor. The Zakah model ensures the net transfer of wealth to the poorest people at the bottom of the pyramid, without burdening them with repayment and interest.
Zakah has to ensure sustainability for the recipients over the long term. A Zakah project jointly initiated by several corporations in Bangladesh has demonstrated success in helping poor families increase their income.
A post-assessment of the project found that not only was the original Zakah capital intact, but it had increased by nearly 15 per cent. The study also recommended a phase-out exit strategy of another two years, which will enable the families to be self-sustainable instead of relapsing into poverty.
Marriage of Waqf and Zakah
While Zakah can be a short-term arrangement, for long-term rehabilitation and poverty alleviation, Waqf institutions are needed to open up opportunities for the poor to access funds in the future.
Case study: Bangladesh
IN a village in Bangladesh, villagers were divided into groups of 30 families. Money was transferred to them and left for them to self-manage. In total, 90 lakhs had been given in three tranches over three years. The money belonged to the villagers, but they were told to use it in a sustainable way.
At the end of the three years, it was found that not only was the original Zakah capital intact, but it had increased by nearly 15 per cent. The villagers had also increased their income by 80 per cent.
They had used the initial sum to generate further income and send their children to school. Health levels and communal harmony had improved. The non-Muslim fishermen bought their own nets and boats and the
Muslim families bought equipment for their bamboo business, or for cattle rearing.
In the traditional microcredit model, repayment and the interest can become burdensome for poor families. But in the Zakah model, a net transfer of wealth to the poorest people is ensured—a model that has proven to not just bring temporary relief, but to help alleviate poverty sustainably.
Zakah payers should be served as customers and treated as shareholders
To successfully institutionalise Zakah, the role of Muslim scholarship must be respected. Scholars need to work with practitioners to develop a framework for Zakah distribution, and come up with authentic and relevant solutions.
Zakah payers should be served as customers and treated as shareholders. As customers, Zakah payers want education and a deeper understanding of Zakah, including support for calculating Zakah. As shareholders, they want easy and accessible collection, an integrity of management, transparency of information and clear communication.
Zakah payers should not be taken for granted, even though Zakah is an obligation, as this attitude will cause a lot of disenchantment among the payers.
Transforming lives of Zakah recipients
To better serve Zakah recipients, data gathering and management are critical for correct distribution, to measure the impact, and to set a future agenda for advocacy and policy.
Zakah should not only aim to alleviate poverty among its recipients, but should also transform their lives. Gaining a deeper understanding of the community that needs help will enable the Zakah funds to be used more effectively, and strategically. This approach also enables Zakah organisations and institutions to determine whether those asking for aid are truly eligible, and are not violating social security laws.
Zakah should go beyond mere charity-giving
While the traditional understanding of Zakah is that Muslims give obligatory alms with the intention of sharing their wealth with the poor, Zakah should go beyond mere charity- giving. Hence, Zakah should be used for education, training, jobs creation and empowerment of people.
Furthermore, as Zakah is not always appropriate in all situations, the boundaries have to be very clearly defined.
Case study: the Zakah Foundation of America
THE Zakah Foundation of America was established in 2001, after the September 11 tragedy, with the aim of showing the true kindness and goodness of Islam through Zakah activities.
Khalil Demir, executive director of the Zakah Foundation, explained that the Foundation serves, firstly, as a resource centre on Zakah; and secondly, as a Zakah collection and distribution centre that is open to Muslims and non-Muslims.
With offices and operations in 40 different countries, the Foundation is able to carry out a lot of on the ground activities to distribute Zakah funds. For one, the funds are used for emergency relief in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Gaza and Afghanistan, making the Foundation possibly the most active charity organisation inside Syria and its surrounding areas.
‘As education is the only way to empower societies and communities, we also have schools in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic. Through sadaqah jariyyah, we opened around 200 water wells last year, with each well serving around 500 families, and also distributed 500 milk cows to selected families,’ Khalil said, adding that hundreds of thousands of people also benefit from the Foundation’s Ramadan programmes around the world.
Institutionalising Zakah in society
The institutionalisation of Zakah needs to be carefully managed to achieve:
Establishing a proper collection and distribution method of Zakah is of spiritual and economic concern. To achieve this, more dialogue is needed across the state and community Zakah institutions to share knowledge, information and best practices. Islamic financial institutions have a significant role to play here.
One challenge of institutionalising Zakah stems from the concern that employees of a Zakah organisation could be biased or corrupt. This is why such institutes have to be stringently audited, as they are no different from any other institution, such as a government or a bank.
There is good and bad. What is needed is carefully managed and nurtured institutionalisation that gives scale to Zakah distribution, while making sure there is quality in terms of how it is distributed, and how communication is conducted with Zakah payers.
The WIEF Foundation is the organising body of the Annual World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), it comprises a Board of Trustees, who are supported by an International Advisory Panel and a Permanent Secretariat based in Kuala Lumpur.
The WIEF is focused on enhancing the economic well-being of the ummah via strategic alliances. It aims to package the Muslim world as a lucrative trade and investment location, and works to strengthen networking and to foster the exchange of ideas, information and knowledge.
The Foundation also undertakes various capacity building programmes under the WIEF initiatives of the Businesswomen Network (WBN), Young Leaders Network (WYN), Education Trust (WET) and Roundtable Series. For more info: https://infocus.wief.org/zakat-poverty-alleviation/