RAMADAN, that heady month of spiritual activity, has come and gone. And now, the first six blessed days of Shawwal are passing us by. During the Holy Month we said farewell to friends and family with sadness, and we welcomed the new-born with joy.
In our age of mass communication, digitalisation, and globalisation, time seems to fly. Life, it seems, is so very fleeting. For us as Muslims life goes beyond life; it passes on as a continuum into Heaven or Hell.
The Prophetic message is that we have to have a balance – a balance between the material and the spiritual. This is reflected in the Prophet’s [saw] most famous du’ah: “Allahumma rabbana atina fiddunya hasana taw wa fil akhirati…”
In this prayer, the Prophet [saw] would ask Allah for the best of both worlds, and exhort his Companions to do as much good as possible – not only in the unique window of grace that is Ramadan – but throughout our short lives.
Indeed, Ramadan is a brief encounter, but its role in polishing the heart and its potential contribution to the relief of humanity is immense. The Prophet [saw] was said to be the most generous in Ramadan, but Allah – the Greatest – even more.
Shaikh Ahmad Hendricks of the Azzawia reports, via the authority of his Shuyukh in Makkah who report from Prophetic sources, that for each day of Ramadan – when the Shiyateen have been chained down and doors of Jahannum closed – Allah the most Merciful, releases 600,000 souls from the Fire.
But that is not all, on the night of Laylut ul-Qadr – the Night of Power – Allah releases the equivalent amount of all souls released for the whole month to date. And if that is not enough – on ‘Eid, Allah in His Supreme Generosity, liberates the equivalent of all the souls released during the whole month.
And even if anyone wishes to question the validity of this account (which they are free to do) we certainly should not lose sight of the kernel of its message – the fruits of Ramadan – via the 10-day phases of its Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation, which are Divine promises.
But that is not all, the ordained charity of Fitrah or Fidya to validate the fast, the voluntary giving of Sadaqah and the payment of Zakah in Ramadan become the re-distributive elements of wealth and the agents of social relief.
SANZAF, which is a certified distributor of relief according to Shari’ah, was just one of the many agencies working at the coal face this past month. Witnessing its energies and outreach – 23, 600 fitrah parcels were delivered nation-wide – one can only feel proud that the SA Muslim community is compassionate and caring.
The organisation is shy to crunch numbers, but having the licence to do so myself, I have estimated that at least 100, 000 individuals would have directly benefited from SANZAF’s fitrah parcels alone. That is a lot of people, more than your average football stadium. Add in other organisations such as Gift of the Givers, Awqaf and Islamic Relief and the outreach gains even more momentum, the figure probably nudging up to 250, 000 at least.
In fact, having worked in the Muslim media for decades, this past Ramadan seems to have surpassed all the others in terms of giving. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps our community has become more middle-class since 1994? Perhaps our hearts have been softened by events around us?
But let’s, for interest’s sake, crunch some more numbers.
Our Muslim population in South Africa, grossly underestimated by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, is about 3-4 million of 55 million (not 2.5 million). It’s a long story how I come by these numbers, so let’s just use them as a marker, because it led me to thinking about them in terms of social upliftment.
If 2 million adult SA Muslims paid their fitrah – pegged at a minimum of R12 up to R40 – one begins to see the picture. If, for argument’s sake, each person paid R20 then there would have been an injection of R40 million into our economy. Again, that is a substantial number. Add in Zakah and other charities, and I estimate the figure to climb to about double that amount, to R80 million.
In terms of poverty relief, this is significant. Not enough to bridge the poor-rich divide nationally, but enough to show that Islamic charity has the capacity to make a difference, albeit a temporary one.
On a global scale, Muslims according to the Pew Report are 1.6 billion – 23% of the world’s population. If again, for argument’s sake, 1 billion adults were to pay 1 dollar in fitrah, a billion dollars would have immediately entered the world economy in terms of poverty relief.
Admittedly, I’m neither an economist nor an accountant, but even the simple, conservative maths shows the massive impact of charity and Zakah, which cleanses wealth due to it being ‘ibadah. Indeed, in the era of debt enslavement and gross interest excesses, we have a Prophetic model of social development right in front of us.
For that reason, I think it’s all the more important there is no duplication of effort (a curse in our community) and that our institutions – widely acknowledged for their effectiveness internationally – are further empowered by our continuous contributions. The difference is there for us to make; we can change the world.
SHAYKH Hamza Yusuf of the well-known Zaytuna Institute in the US, gives an interactive lecture on the payment of Zakah, its conditions, the adab of giving Zakah and those who are entitled to receive Zakah. It is a useful refresher for those of us thinking about Zakah at this time of the year.
Shaykh Nur ul-Mubeen, Oudekraal, a beneficiary of our first charity? Image © Shafiq Morton
IT is my considered view that the institutions of Fitrah, Zakah and Sadaqah have existed in the Cape for longer than we realise. And if my hunch proves correct, we could say that Islamic charity of some sort has been practiced at the Cape for over 350 years.
This would mean that SANZAF, established in 1974, only formalised what had already been in existence. Of course, as an institution SANZAF has done much good work to increase the Zakah base, to educate the community and to uplift thousands of needy people.
Going through historical accounts of life during the early days of the Cape Colony, first as a Dutch East India Company outpost and then as a British colony, I do not find any direct mentions of Zakah or Sadaqah. In other words, given all the details of life at the Cape, we don’t – at first glance – see any charity in action.
Apart from the early historians observing things through a patronising Orientalist lens, and not having access to the inner social workings of the slave or Muslim community, it should not be a surprise. However, if one looks for the right things through a Muslim lens, it becomes more obvious that in spite of poverty, the first Muslims at the Cape must have either practised charity, or been its beneficiaries.
Islam at the Cape was held together because the early community, unlike in Brazil or the United States, had spiritual centres of focus and learning via the exiled Sufi Shaykhs from Indonesia.
And whilst things such as fiqh – the application of Sacred Law – would not be a strong point (the Statutes of India banned any religious practice except the Dutch Reformed one) the community would have been united in faith. Secretive communal exercises such as the Ratib ul-Haddad and visiting the tombs of the Awliya (or saints), would have been critical assembly points, especially as the Jumu’ah could not be performed.
The Sufi Shaykhs would have been the focus of solace for the slaves and vryeburghers (Free Blacks) who first landed as labourers and farmers in 1658. Sayyid Mahmud and Shaykh Abdurahman, who arrived from Sumatra in 1667, were kept away from the city as exiles in Constantia, but this did not prevent escaped slaves from finding their way to these wise men in the forests.
Early archival records indicate that slaves running away to hide in the mountains, or stowing away on ships, was a headache for the authorities, and resulted in some harsh punishments for those who were caught.
The arrival of Shaykh Yusuf in 1694 supports this idea. An internationally renowned Javanese scholar who’d lectured in the Makkah haram, his Zandvliet home – 30 kilometres from the city centre in the bush – was widely acknowledged as a rallying point for escapees and those seeking succour. There is complete scholarly consensus on this.
I have often wondered whether we appreciate enough the fact that so many of our karamats are situated in the surrounding mountains close to streams. This is because these Shaykhs had established communities far from the prying eyes of Dutch East India officials. At Oudekraal, for example – where Tuan Sayyid Ja’fr is buried – I have identified at least 30 grave sites.
To carry deceased bodies from the city in those days as far as Oudekraal would have been daunting, if not impossible. The only conclusion can be that there were secret Muslim communities living on the slopes of the Twelve Apostles and that they buried their dead there.
This hypothesis was developed by Adil Bradlow in his research on the Cape, as well as the late Dr Achmat Davids and Shaykh Yusuf da Costa, who has written extensively on our early history. Whether one agrees with Sufism is not the point. If it hadn’t been for the pioneering efforts of these Shuyukh, Islam would have shrivelled on the bough like it did in Brazil and the US.
When the public practice of Islam was prohibited it was these intrepid men and women who carried the light of iman from the city to the bush, and when Islam could be openly practiced at the Cape, from the bush back to the city.
It is a beautiful story, except for one thing. How did these people sustain themselves? At places like Oudekraal there would have been plenty of fish, but what about clothing, cooking utensils or other such supplies?
Reports indicate that these communities would have had contact with the outside world via woodcutters or herdsmen. These people would have secretly smuggled goods to those hiding on the mountain. It begs the question: surely these refugees would have been the earliest beneficiaries of Islamic social charity at the Cape?
The most empowered participants would have been the vryeburghers, Free Black Muslims, who though restricted in many ways, could own slaves and private property. It is my view that they were the first practitioners of Sadaqah, or even Zakah, in Cape Town.
Today, I think we need to ponder on the fruits of their generosity, as humble as it may have been. For had these people not supported our early scholars over 350 years ago, none of us would be around today.
THE SANZAF International Zakah conference, held at the beginning of May in Cape Town, may not have attracted as many people as the recent Justin Bieber concert, but in terms of impact it certainly put the Beliebers to shame. Focusing on Zakah as a tool for humanitarian relief, it harnessed a wide range of local and international expertise.
With sessions on financial planning, women and Zakah, Zakah and NGOs and Zakah for entrepreneurs, conference goers were offered a wide choice of topics pertaining to the dynamic role that Zakah can play beyond its conventional understanding.
In the opening address, former Muslim Judicial Council president Maulana Igshan Hendricks, said it was critical that the local ‘ulama attended such events, and was disappointed by their lack of presence, though scholars such as Maulana Muhammad Carr, Maulana Sarfaraaz Hamza, Shaykh Basheer Moosagie, Shaikh Shahid Sulaiman, Maulana Abdul Fattaag Carr and Maulana Ta Ha Karaan did later make valuable contributions to the event.
Speaking to some of the international guests at the two day conference, they agreed Zakah in Africa – where rich-poor divides run deep – is a challenge. But lack of infrastructure, scarcity of funds, overwhelming poverty and even politics has not prevented civil society from rising to the occasion. To this end the Sudan-based Global Union of Zakat Rite was formed to address the question of Zakah in 2016.
Founded by 20 Arab and African countries, it has a membership of 40 Zakah organisations with its goals to spread awareness of Zakah and to build the capacity of Zakah agencies. SANZAF is an affiliate of the Global Union.
Shamsuddin Bolatito, co-ordinator of the Global Union said that educating people to be Zakah officers was one of its first steps. This, he said, was being done in collaboration with the Islamic Research and Training Institute of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah and the Accounting and Islamic Standards Organisation in Manama, Bahrain.
Both Professor Osman Khieri, head of the Global Union’s Strategic Council in Sudan, and Muhammad Lawal Maidoki of the Sokoto State Zakat and Endowment Commission in Nigeria, agreed that the ultimate prize was to be able to react immediately to humanitarian crises in Africa, as opposed to being reliant on international NGOs or the UN.
The swiftness of response from inside the continent was a critical factor in easing pain and suffering for communities affected by things such as fire, flood or famine.
Maidoki said that in the Sokoto region nearly 2 million people lived on less than a dollar a day. Whilst the Sokoto State Zakat and Endowment Commission enjoyed patronage from the region’s leadership, there was a need for the establishment and monitoring of Awqaf institutions needed to support and fund projects.
Dr Nunung Nurul Hidaya, lecturer at Ashton Business School in the United Kingdom, brought attention to a necessary inter-face between Islamic finance and philanthropy. She emphasised that Zakah and Sadaqah institutions should not be overwhelmed by the business for profit motive.
Islamic finance, she said, was essentially rooted in philanthropy with poverty alleviation and redistributive justice its aims. It had the potential to take care of the needs of the extremely poor and destitute.
She gave two examples of how in recent years Zakah has risen to play a significant role in alleviating poverty. Brunei, an oil-rich nation of a population of about 500,000, had experienced a 55% growth in Zakah in the past decade, disbursing R179 million in 2010. Indonesia’s Zakah-spend had increased 32 times in ten years, R3 billion being distributed in 2012.
Using Indonesia as a model, she said integration of organisations, their public accountability and accounting standards were still challenges. She also said that Islamic financial institutions were still too reluctant to embrace the Prophetic risk-sharing model in creating start-ups for the poor.
Dr Nunung also said that women were becoming increasingly significant players in the paying of Zakah, especially in countries where women were in the workplace. This point was emphasised in a radio interview with Fayruz Mohamed, national deputy chairperson of SANZAF, who headed a session on Women in Zakah with Western Cape General Manager, Yasmine Francke.
When asked about the role of SANZAF, the international guests said they were impressed by its capacity and outreach in a society where Muslims are a minority group. They said that SANZAF’s sophisticated distribution networks – via its 40 or so nation-wide offices – were particularly impressive.
SO much is written, and said, about Zakat as a noble institution of giving to the poor. A means of cleansing one’s wealth, it is without doubt, a hugely transformational aspect of Islam with the potential of alleviating – if not eradicating – poverty.
It is for this reason that the Prophet [SAW] was exhorted by divine inspiration to make it a pillar of faith. For surely, if we do not wish for our fellow beings what we wish for ourselves (as in Hadith) there can be no humanity in us, let alone a sense of social justice.
In this sense I would venture that perhaps one of the most neglected, least understood aspects of Zakat is those who qualify to receive it. We all know that Sacred Law has defined eight special categories of people who are able to receive Zakat.
Unfortunately, the pressures of alleviating immediate social needs in a sharply rich-poor divided world, has led to a neglect of the depth of Zakat. Zakat is far more complex than just the handing of money or goods to the poor, who form the first category, or layer, of recipients.
Imam Naqib al-Masri, the famous Shafi’i scholar, outlines the eight categories we use today but adds a lot of subtle detail in his famous Umdat as-Salik. What is profoundly evident is that Imam Shafi’i saw Zakat more as a means of social empowerment and upliftment than just poverty relief.
In fact, all the great imams went to great pains to elucidate on the question of Zakat, and it comprises a substantial body of work in Fiqh.
In modern terms, the first level of Zakat qualification extends to the low income or indigent – in other words, the poverty stricken. This is where, as I’ve already said, most of our institutional energy is focused. Of course, it is understandable that this is the case.
The second is those in difficulty – for example, communities displaced or dispossessed by an earthquake, a tsunami, a fire or a war. Here one still sees lots of institutional energy, but perhaps if it was wider understood as a vehicle of Zakat, even more could be done for people in places such as Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay or war-torn Syria or famine-struck East Africa.
Of course, we have to remind ourselves that the distribution of Zakat is determined by human needs, and not by the politics of the day.
The third category, which involves our Zakat institutions, entitles those who work in the Zakat environment to be entitled to a living wage. It is interesting to note – in a community where so many Muslim employers don’t pay fair wages – that this principle was mooted over 1,400 years ago.
The fourth category, Zakat for those who need to be reconciled – which includes new Muslims, those who are wavering in their Deen and even non-Muslims in need – is a much under-estimated vehicle for creating social harmony. I knew of a famous Shaykh who used to overwhelm reverts and non-Muslims with gifts, saying that the Prophet [SAW] had done exactly the same thing.
The fifth category – those in bondage – may seem like an anachronism, but as some Shuyukh have pointed out, it is still applicable in the case of human trafficking where people urgently need to be given their dignity.
The sixth category, the remittance of debt, is a principle embodied in Surat ul-Baqarah, verse 280:
“If the debtor is in a difficulty
Grant him time until it is easy for him to repay.
But if you remit it by way of charity
That is best for you, only if you knew.”
The burden of unreasonable debt can destroy families and ruin lives. Debt relief is a critical aspect of social relief. In this case, one can keep a roof over people’s heads and prevent a descent into even worse poverty and dependency.
Zakat , the seventh category, can be utilised on the path of Allah. The old Shafi’i text books talk about Zakat funding Muslim army volunteers. The more contemporary Shafi’ite interpretation extends to the funding of mosques, education and other socially uplifting programmes.
The eighth, and final category, is that of the wayfarer. Whether a traveller, a refugee or someone in need on the road, they all qualify for Zakat. This say the scholars, is a great gift from God. Nobody in Islam, anywhere, should ever suffer discomfort as should every other human being.
In conclusion, by looking at those who can receive Zakat, an exciting universe of humanitarian possibilities and social empowerment opens up, which goes way beyond putting a band-aid on an elephant.