2020: Facing the daunting challenges, finding hope

THE social welfare sector faces overwhelming challenges in 2020.

Climate change, a stark reality, broods angrily over us: killer heat waves, raging bushfires, floods, landslides, sudden freezes, melting polar icepacks, high intensity hurricanes and mega droughts – leading to famines, social despair and geo-political blowback – are just some of them.

Add in the burgeoning effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in societies unprepared for its effects and the onset of Artificial Intelligence. Then there are ever deepening rich-poor divides, corrupt leadership, rising unemployment, poverty and multiplying socio-political grievances.

And now, there is – of course – the deadly Chinese coronavirus, which if it is as serious as initially believed, will have a massive impact on world travel, the world economy and our health systems around the globe.

In South Africa, we are exempt from none of the above, many of our challenges embedded deeply in the existing realities.

Economically, like so many other countries, we have reached a tipping point. In our case, welfare beneficiaries now outnumber a shrinking pool of taxpayers by nearly two million – the latest figures revealing that 17 million of us receive some kind of welfare compared to just over 15 million taxpayers (out of a population of nearly 60 million).

The rich-poor divide is distinctly disturbing, the World Bank rating us as the most unequal society on earth. In 2012, Oxfam reported that 10 per cent of our wealthiest had 65 per cent of the country’s wealth.

As daunting as the challenges are, organisations such as SANZAF have no choice but to roll up its sleeves and jump into the fray. Society demands it, Deen demands it. The odds may well be huge, almost Tsunami-like, but our ethos militates against despair. This is something we have to constantly remind ourselves of.

The examples are there for us in the conduct of the Prophet (SAW) and in the verses of the Qur’an. The Prophet went through many challenges in his life, but each time Allah would remind him of his Favours and reassure him that, yes, He was still thinking of Him.

Words from the verse in the Chapter of the Expansion of the Breast are hugely profound in this respect, when Allah reminds the Prophet not once, but twice, that – indeed – after every difficulty there will be relief. This is the only instance in the Qur’an where Allah, the Highest, repeats a divine promise so emphatically in one verse.

The Qisas al-Anbiya’, the Chronicles of the Prophets, give us more instances of hope after despair.

For instance, the Prophet Yusuf would eventually marry Zulaikha, the wife of the Egyptian courtier, whose attempted seduction saw him going to jail. His father, Nabi Yaqub, blind from grief at the loss of his son, would also be happily reunited with Yusuf after many years of suffering and separation.

Nabi Ayyub, once wealthy beyond measure, was restored to health after going through massive trials of the spirit. Nabi Ibrahim was saved from the fire of Nimrud and granted two sons, who would become Prophets, after many decades of longing for fatherhood.

Each of these stories, and there are many more, are each in themselves a universe of wisdom and instruction. Each of us as individuals, and as communities, will be tested. Surat al-Baqarah, the Chapter of the Heifer, reminds us that there is no guarantee these tests will be easy, but that Allah will not take us beyond our capacities, though at the time it may not seem like it.

On an individual level, there is a very beautiful verse in the Qur’an which states that Allah will make things good for us after these extreme trials. In the Chapter of Divorce is embedded the divine promise that if we remain conscious of Allah, and do not violate the sanctity of others, He will make a way out for us and provide for us from unexpected sources.

To face the world with hope, and to make that essential difference, we have to listen to the voices of the sages. They advise us to worry about the things we can deal with, but to leave the rest to Allah. This is no way means we must sit back and do nothing. Far from it. The wisdom is that if we deal with what’s directly before us in the right way, the bigger issues will ultimately benefit.