15 February 2019 / 10 Jamad-Ul-Akhir 1440
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- Written by Shafiq Morton
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HUMANITARIAN organisations will often encourage their donors to attend their outreach programmes to see how things are being done. It’s a way of proving that they are doing the job properly, and offers a unique perspective to the donor.
So whether one travels across continents to see the digging a well, or follows a local distribution of food hampers, the occasion is always instructive – if not emotionally uplifting. This is because we inevitably leave such events having been humbled by the experience.
The humility that we feel boils down to an overwhelming feeling of shukr, or gratitude; a gratitude that Allah has been kind to us, that He has bestowed upon us things such as shelter and food; and that we have not been sorely tested with qada’ and qadar – fate and pre-destiny – like those we have just visited.
The point is that we feel humbled because we have been shown the true value of our rizq – our sustenance – through what others don’t have. We feel gratitude more specifically because we quickly realise that our Creator could take everything away from us in the mere blink of an eye.
Our gratitude soon extends to the fact that we have not suffered a tsunami, a flood, a drought, a famine, a mass family bereavement or a tectonic-shifting earthquake; that we have not been struck down by warfare, socio-economic collapse or oppressive leadership like some of our neighbouring countries.
Indeed, we are given a profound life-lesson that the Creator is the Generous, the Preserver and the Powerful – that He pulls the strings of the universe. We are taught through all of this that the distribution of charity, where the right hand should not know the left, has nothing to do with the self or the ego, but everything to do with the heart – the seat of taqwa and iman (God awareness and faith).
If serving others is done for the satisfaction of the ego, then it is not charity, but simply self-aggrandisement, say the scholars. Caring and giving has to be unconditional. Therefore, it must have no strings attached. But, humanitarian activism is not easy. It is facing the frailty of the human condition with all its energy-sapping demands.
“So it’s never about your name, or your fame. You must drown your ego in the sea of mercy,” said a Shaykh to an aid worker, “drown your nafs and feel happy, especially when you get a kick up the backside.”
The importance of caring for others less fortunate than us is given context by the Qur’an, which has ordered Zakah – the purification of wealth – as a pillar of faith. By doing this, our Creator has codified communal generosity, and stripped out its conditionality and pride.
Zakah is executed not only with empathy for those who will benefit from it, but with an awareness of Allah in the presence of Allah. It is done in a state of ihsan, perfect sincerity. This is one reason why it cleanses our wealth.
Hence, it is important to note that Surat ul-Hajj (one of the chapters which mentions Zakah) concludes with a mention of Zakah. True believers, say its last two verses, must kneel and prostrate to their Lord. They must do this, for Muslims have been gifted the faith of Abraham.
The verse continues that Muslims have also been granted viceregency, which is explained as the Prophet having witness over us, so that we can have witness over mankind. In other words, the Muslim must strive for rectitude in the shadow of Muhammad [saw]. The verses conclude:
“Therefore, say your prayers regularly and pay the Zakah and hold fast to your Lord…”
Zakah is mentioned 32 times in the Qur’an, but here it is explicitly linked to faith in action. And what’s more, if the believer obeys these injunctions he will find in Allah, an “excellent Master and an excellent Helper”.
The next Surah, the Chapter of the Believers, immediately reinforces the previous message by saying in its opening lines that those who are humble in their prayer, and those who pay the Zakah, will ultimately be the heirs of Paradise.
And whilst Zakah and charity is executed without fanfare and without a need for public recognition, it does get the ultimate accolade in the eyes of Allah, for as verse 94 in the Chapter of the Prophets declares:
“He, who does good works while he is a believer, shall not see his efforts disregarded, We record them all…”
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 337
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.
- Written by Super User
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THOSE I’ve spoken to in the ‘humanitarian sector’ all agree that in the last decade or so, it seems as if the world has gone mad.
Military coups, morally bankrupt leadership, xenophobia, Islamophobia, widespread famines, floods, droughts, riots, protests, earthquakes, super-storms, tsunamis, raging fires and geo-political conflict dominate the discourse.
And if that is not enough, the rich have got even richer, and the poor have got even poorer. Indeed, it has become a cruel and greedy world, where dictators, bankers and corporations rule, and where the promise of materialism and the fear of oppression are used to anaesthetise our higher sensitivities.
This has all exacerbated the great social divide, despite experts saying we have enough technology, food and other resources to lift billions of people out of poverty and ignorance. Never before in history has man had the tools he has at hand today for everyone to live in relative ease. And yet, the suffering and pain endures.
Some of our scholars say that humanity has gone godless and ego-mad, leading to selfishness and a lack of self-respect and belief, which in turn leads to a restless, unfocused and troubled society. However, amongst the clamour of this madness there is still good, and there are still good people and there are still good things.
I would argue that organisations such as SANZAF stand for the latter. Executing the divine injunction of Zakah – a pillar of Islam denoting the purification and redistribution of wealth – SANZAF has in the past four decades gone from strength-to- strength within a community that like so many others, has experienced increasing and urgent developmental needs.
However, times are a-changing. For as the elder generation of Zakah payers gracefully departs this earth with our good du’ahs, the donor profile is shifting to younger people with different perspectives.
Not least has been the improved financial situation of a post-apartheid, millennial generation of South African Muslims that has directly benefited from better schooling, university education and better job prospects. In other words, with education and opportunity has come more distributable wealth.
The biggest challenge facing any humanitarian organisation in our community today is how to harness this wealth whilst remaining socially relevant and economically effective. Marketing becomes absolutely critical to this process, where potential donors are distracted by so many things, especially social media, which shrinks the world to a hand-held device – the virtual global village, the digital ‘days of our lives’.
Late last year, SANZAF had a marketing ‘imbizo’ that mapped out the future trajectory of the organisation with regards to its profile and media presence. This was done in a way that ensured SANZAF would not lose its soul to crassness, or deviate in any way from its core values of delivery, compassion, hope and dignity.
The moot point is that SANZAF is not exempt from current trends. So like any humanitarian or faith-based organisation, SANZAF will find its donors of tomorrow determining their payments online on their hand-held devices, whilst they scroll daily through music, news, Qur’an, Hadith and the issues of the day. In other words, Zakah – like so many other things – will become a cyber-experience.
Most times, these consumers will be informed by short video clips, or inter-active apps, that spring to life when clicked. And in a world where we have been largely desensitised to violence and other horrors, SANZAF will have to be creative to grab attention without resorting to the noisy pornography of media sensationalism.
Indeed, the donor of tomorrow will be a discriminative, penny-wise and tech-savvy person, leaving organisations with little place to hide. This is where the legacy of SANZAF, with its reputation for public accountability, hope and of maximising compassionate outputs for each rand, will stand in good stead. The point is that these virtuous old values will never die, but that the methodologies of understanding them surely will.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 433
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.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 333
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.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 456
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.”