18 April 2019 / 12 Shaban 1440
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- Written by Shafiq Morton
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THAT poverty is a huge problem in our country is a dead given. With our visible rich-poor divides and discontent boiling over in poor areas, social stability is without doubt, a massive socio-economic challenge.
In 2017, Stats SA revealed that 30.4 million South Africans lived in poverty. In a population reaching almost 60 million, it means that 55 per cent of our fellow citizens are poor.
According to Oxfam, 13.8 million South Africans live in what is categorised as “extreme poverty”. In other words, they live below the 2015 demarcated line of having to survive on less than R441 per month.
This has been mitigated somewhat by the social grant system, a policy measure designed to alleviate poverty that was introduced in 1998, and primarily aimed at children. Today, South Africa is proudly the only African “welfare state”, and last year nearly 18 million South Africans (nearly 30 per cent of the population) were benefiting from state grants.
However, this is a 27 per cent increase from 2009 when there were 13 million recipients. Government has had to budget R567 billion for grants for the next financial year, and the implications for the fiscus are obvious, especially if jobs and the economy do not pick up in the near future.
This is highlighted by the fact that there are only 7.6 million registered taxpayers in South Africa - about 13 per cent of the total population - with an estimated 1.8 per cent of those taxpayers contributing nearly 80 per cent of the taxable total.
All of the above plays out profoundly in the Gini coefficient, something which measures income inequality with 0 representing perfect equality, and 1 representing perfect inequality. On average, South Africa scores at 0.6 which is dangerously high.
According to Stats SA general, Pali Lehohla, it is the youth that bear the burden of poverty through unemployment, pegged nationally at about 30 per cent, but proportionately higher in sub-economic areas.
“They (the youth) graduate from poverty as children into being unemployed as youth,” he says, adding that poor children are the most vulnerable, being less likely to attend school, and even if they do, doomed to performing poorly.
According to Stats SA, the Western Cape and Gauteng have the least occurrences of extreme poverty, with Limpopo and the Eastern Cape having the most occurrences. However, Gauteng and the Western Cape are experiencing major challenges in dealing with rapid urbanisation and impatiently rising expectations. This places a huge strain on existing infrastructure that is already struggling to keep up with demand.
Tragically, up to 30 per cent of taxable income is ferreted offshore, thus denying South Africa’s citizenship of precious resources and developmental opportunities.
It is into this raging national stream that NGOs such as SANZAF venture in an attempt to build up individuals, families and communities. The ultimate aim is not merely to alleviate poverty, but to offer hope and to eradicate it. Most humanitarian organisations today have moved away from band-aid, which does not resolve the core issues.
And it is against the depressing and daunting background of the above that one’s spirit is lifted by the fact that Islam, through noble Prophetic conduct and the mercy of Sacred Law, militates directly against poverty.
This is something that Islamophobes spectacularly fail to see; the compassion that is demanded of Muslims in the sense that if one stomach is hungry, all stomachs must feel it, and that two per cent of one’s residual wealth has to be redistributed to the poor as an act of worship.
Of course, we have to be conscious of social reality, but that does not mean to say we can’t be positive about change. We should not be put off by adversity. That was certainly the Prophetic example - where in a single generation - a nation was created and transformed through divine love into a principled power.
And as Ramadan, the month of heightened awareness and peace approaches, we have to embrace the tests. There can no place for doom and despair. Towering trees have grown from a single, tiny seed into six metre giants. It is, indeed, time for us to create a forest by planting hope in the hearts of the needy.
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Photo by Shafiq Morton
- Written by Shafiq Morton
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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
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THE other day, I was asked where the idea of Zakah came from. It was an interesting question, because the questioner was not satisfied with my answer.
“Qur’an and Hadith can be used to explain the application of Zakah,” he said, “not its origins and original context.”
I realised then that we can take our pillars of faith for granted. It’s like an old granite building weathered by the years. It has always been there, so we accept it being there. Like the building, the pillars are there when we learn about Deen, so we just accept them without demur.
This led to a search. I had to find an answer to the origins of Zakah. Eventually, I came across an academic paper by two Utah Valley University professors, Abdus Samad and Lowell Glen.
Entitled the ‘Development of Zakah and Zakah coverage in monotheistic faiths’, the paper gave an easily accessible perspective:
“Zakah, a contribution from the wealth of the rich to the poor is neither a new nor an unknown concept to mankind. It is a continuation of Celestial order which has been in existence since time immemorial. The virtue of the obligatory contribution from wealth was proclaimed and instructed by God thousands of years before the birth of Islam through his messengers – Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets (may peace rest on them).”
The Qur’an, as the authors noted, was full of testimony to this. For example, in 2:83 we hear specifically that Moses was told that his people had to be just to relatives, parents, orphans and the needy, that they had to speak with clemency, perform their prayers and that they had to pay their Zakah.
From this, it is clear that charity and generosity to those less fortunate has always played an important role in prophetic faith, and human history.
We can track the social concept of Zakah – firstly defined as a cleansing process, and secondly, as growth and fertility – to the ancient civilisations. It can be traced back 5,000 years to Egypt where the fifth dynasty Pharaoh, Henku (2563-2422 BC) declared:
“I have given bread to all the hungry of the Mount Cerastus, I have clothed him who was naked...”
During the Homeric age (700 BC), the contribution of charity was an important element within Greek culture. The porter Eumaeus welcomed the wonderer Odysseus with these words:
“Stranger, I am not allowed to despise any guest, were he more wretched than you. Strangers and beggars come – all come from Zeus. I have little to offer, but I give it with a willing heart…”
In 600 BC, the Persian monarch, Cyrus the Great, became the first known constitutionalist. His empathy for the poor and downtrodden was recorded on clay tablets in the Akkadian language. Cyrus protected the ancient Jews, and we see the order to perform charity in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.
In those days, the economy was agriculturalist, with the result that there was great emphasis on the fruits of the land. According to the Old Testament, Jews were required to contribute a tenth of their crops and herds to charity [Leviticus 27:30-32]. At harvest time it was enjoined that:
“…a man must not harvest his ﬁeld up to the edge of the ﬁeld, or must not gather the gleanings of his harvest but leave something for the poor men and wanderers to glean…”
In fact, the author Joseph Schacht identifies the old Aramaic word “zakut” as meaning charity. The idea of an annual payment – the Prophet [SAW] used to disburse Zakah on the 1st of Muharram – can be found in the Jewish sources. In Deuteronomy [14:1], the injunction is:
“Every year you must take a tithe of what your ﬁelds produce from what you have sown and in the presence of Yahweh, your God, in the place where he chooses to give his name a home…”
The Gospels of Jesus are resplendent with references to charity. The feeding of the 5,000, for example, is loaded with allegorical meaning, as are many of Jesus’ recorded actions. Luke 11:41 declares:
“But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.”
It is quite evident, that as one scrolls through history, that charity had pre-conditions relating to excess wealth and the cleansing of wealth on an annual or cyclical basis. What the Prophet [SAW] brought to us via the Qur’an and his Sunnah was a divine convergence of historic social awareness.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
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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
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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
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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.