2 March 2019 / 05 Rajab 1440
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- Written by Shafiq Morton
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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.”
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 763
IN South Africa, women’s month – celebrated in August – is a tribute to many things. It is remembered due to the famous march to the Union Buildings on 6 August 1956 by African women protesting the passbook, and, it is an acknowledgment of the challenges women still face today, such as discrimination.
Sadly, the Muslim community is not exempt from this inherent chauvinism, and nor is it exempt from the curse of domestic violence, something that SANZAF’s field workers regularly encounter in their counselling sessions.
If we resort to the Prophetic example, there is ample evidence that most of us have forgotten just how anti-racist, and just how anti-chauvinist, the blessed Prophet Muhammad was. Apart from abolishing the bizarre and cruel Arab practice of burying infant girls, he never – ever – denied women access to Din.
This is how, for example, Nusaybah bint Ka’b, who out of concern at the casualties at the Battle of Uhud, picked up a sword and went into combat to defend the Prophet. She would go on to fight at the battles of Hunayn and Yamamah.
Together with Umm Asma bint ‘Amr bin ‘Adi she had also requested to take the ba’yah, the oath of Islam at Aqabah, face-to-face with the Prophet. It is significant that the Prophet had agreed without objection.
This, then, is just one of many accounts about the dynamic role of women in Islam, so buried and so forgotten in our history. It is ironic today that whilst some obscurantists wish to confine women to the periphery, women are centre stage: running NGOs, teaching our children, running our households and sitting as judges in our courts.
So this August it is only appropriate that we remember one of Islam’s finest figures, Sayyidah Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.
Martin Lings in his classical Prophetic biography writes that “one of the richer merchants of Mecca was a woman – Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, of the clan of Asad. She was first cousin to Waraqah, the Christian, and his sister Qutaylah, and like them she was a distant cousin to the sons of Hashim”.
She had already been married twice, and since the death of her second husband it had been her practice to employ men to trade on her behalf. That was how she had hired Muhammad, known as ‘the trustworthy one’, a reticent young man renowned for his uprightness and honesty.
Khadijah had been hugely impressed by this young man, whose gentle ways had entered her heart, enlivened by the accounts of her slave, Maysarah, of their journey to Sham where Bahira the monk had recognised the Prophet, and two Angels had shaded him from the sun.
The Prophet, blessings upon him, was twenty-five years old. Khadijah saw a man of medium stature, inclined to slimness, with broad shoulders and a proportioned body. She saw that his hair and beard were thick and black, not altogether straight, slightly curled.
But, in addition to his physical beauty, she saw that there was radiance in his face – and this was particularly apparent on his forehead, and in his warm eyes. Khadijah knew that she herself was still beautiful, but she was fifteen years older. She was an independent woman, and the thought had struck her: would Muhammad be prepared to marry her?
One of the people she consulted was Waraqah, to whom she recounted the miraculous events of the Prophet’s journey to Sham. Waraqah had confirmed to her that Muhammad would be a prophet.
Given this, Khadija’s words of proposal are astounding. She expressed no wish for status, and never referred to his prophethood, which would occur 15 years later. Instead, she referred to his character:
“Son of mine uncle, I love thee for thy kinship with me, and for that thou art ever in the centre, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that; and I love thee for thy trustworthiness and for the beauty of thy character and the truth of thy speech.”
What is outstanding, even today, is that Sayyidah Khadijah was not only financially independent, and older than her husband, but that she proposed to him. Following this, Sayyidah Khadijah would be the Prophet’s faithful consort for 25 years, and give birth to his four famous daughters: Fatimah, Ruqayyah, Zainab and Umm Kulthum as well as his son, ‘Abdullah, who would pass on in his infancy.
Waraqah had warned his cousin of tests to come, but she had said nothing about this to her husband. And when he had run down from Jabl Nur after the frightening experience of the first Revelation, it was to her that he had sought consolation, saying: “Cover me! Cover me!”
And indeed, it was Sayyidah Khadijah who was the first to support him; it was Sayyidah Khadijah who became the first Muslim; and it was she, together with the Prophet, who would suffer the abuse of the Quraysh and the barbs of Abu Jahl. But more significantly, is that whilst she still had wealth – before the infamous and crippling boycott of the Bani Hashim – she would be the first Muslim to give charity.
This is something for which Sayyidah Khadijah is not always given her proper due, especially in a male dominated world.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
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FEW realise that Zakah, the ritual purification of surplus wealth, is better distributed with the underlying intention of sustainability. Charity, of course, is critical in relieving an immediate crisis – but to alleviate it one has to have strategies in place to ensure that the experience is not repeated.
This is why providing hope is such an important element of Zakah. Hope is a condition of the heart that actively wishes for something better, but to flourish, it has to be actively nurtured by something that offers a solution. It is the fishing rod of charity, as opposed to the fish.
One thing that the Prophet Muhammad [SAW] realised after he migrated to the oasis city of Madinah in the 7th century was that poverty and ignorance could become a problem. This awareness was heightened by the fact that the emigrants from Makkah, having fled Quraysh oppression, were destitute.
That was when the Prophet [SAW] encouraged the residents of Madinah, the Ansar, to adopt the emigrants from Makkah, the Muhajirun. He instructed them to look after each other in compassion. “Feed the hungry,” was the first thing the noble Prophet said to the people of Madinah, who took up his instruction with fervour.
There were many early socio-economic challenges, but few of us realise that the Prophet worked to overcome them through the means of education. The traditions are there – but mystifyingly – we seem to ignore or forget them. For one of the first things the Prophet [SAW] did in Madinah was to encourage those who were literate (even if they were Jews) to educate the illiterate.
Today, over 1,000 years later, this simple – but effective – model still applies. The most impactful way of transforming a society, of eradicating poverty and reducing unemployment, is via education. Nelson Mandela knew what he was saying after his release from Robben Island when he said that we had to focus on “education, education and education”.
As the beloved Prophet said to A’ishah in a similar vein, “Allah neither sent me as a person who causes difficulty to others, nor did He send me as one who desires hardship and difficulty. Rather, He sent me as a teacher and the one who causes ease to people…”
This, of course, embodies the very first Qur’anic revelation of “Iqraa”, a word which carries a far deeper import than just reading and reciting. In fact, the scholars will tell us that implicit in this command is a directive for us to understand things so that we can become conscious beings, cognisant of the Mercy of Allah, and everything of His around us.
Today, this ethos is firmly rooted in SANZAF. Last year alone, SANZAF distributed R27.7 million for tertiary level bursaries and for its Education, Empowerment and Development programme (SEED), which incorporates the Future Leaders’ Programme, mentorship and personal support to learners and students, as well as satellite projects such as honey harvesting, small-scale farming and entrepreneurship training.
Experts tell us that poverty can only be eradicated by an “ecological” approach. This is achieved via a focus on knowledge and skills training after a person’s primary needs such as hunger, shelter and security have been met.
That the institution of Zakah meets the above criteria like a glove is a no-brainer. The greater picture of Zakah, enjoined by every single prophet – Jewish, Christian or other – is that it roots for the underdog, calls for dignity and compassion in execution and extolls the virtues of elevating the human spirit.
The SANZAF bursary programme is one such vehicle, with thousands of students having benefited from it already. The significance of this particular project is stressed by the fact that young people, who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the system, are allowed to enjoy a bright future.
In the South African context, the social impact is massive. Just one student graduating and finding a job, or starting a business, will not only be able to fill the national skills vacuum, but will also have the power to lift an entire family out of poverty. This in turn regenerates the economy. And as the application process for the SANZAF bursary programme opens, we need to bear this in mind, for it is a project well worth our support – moral or otherwise.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 828
QURBANI, the ritual sacrifice of a permissible animal during the Eid ul-Adha period at the end of the Hajj, is regarded as the most preferred sadaqah (or charity). When asked to explain Qurbani, the blessed Prophet Muhammad had told the Companion, Zayd ibn Arqam, it was the custom of his father Ibrahim, who was given a ram instead of his own son, Isma’il.
When Zayd had asked what spiritual benefit there was, the Messenger of God had replied that there was a reward for every single hair of the sacrificed animal. The Prophet, peace be upon him, had explained that what made the Qurbani special was that it was performed purely for the sake of Allah, and Allah alone. The Udhiya, as it is sometimes called, was accepted even before the blood reached the ground.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
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MUHARRAM, one of the sacred months in which the Holy Qur’an forbade fighting, marks the beginning of the Islamic year, the Islamic calendar being determined by lunar – as opposed to solar – cycles. This means that the lunar year is 10-11 days shorter than the Gregorian one.
And whilst lunar dates rotate seasons in a 33 year cycle, the significance of the Islamic historical events do not recede. In other words, the original date is remembered symbolically. This expresses a historical vitality.
In Islam, Muharram is a special time – one of giving, personal sacrifice and historical sorrow, followed by joy and mercy. According to Prophetic Tradition, Muharram is one of the four sacred months preferred for fasting, especially the first ten days, which are resplendent with spiritual reward.
Anas ibn Malik reported that the blessed Prophet said that whoever fasted the first Friday of Muharram would have their previous sins forgiven, and whoever fasted three days of Muharram – the Thursday, the Friday, and the Saturday – Allah would inscribe for them worship and prayer for 900 years.
Sayyidah A’ishah related that whoever fasted the first ten days of Muharram would inherit Paradise. She said the reason for fasting in ‘Ashura was when the Prophet [SAW] had noticed the Jews of Madinah fasting on the tenth day. When he had asked them why, they had told him it was the day that Musa [as] had freed the Bani Isra’il from the clutches of the Pharaoh.
The Prophet had said in response, “I have more rights to Musa than you.” So he had fasted that day and had ordered for its observance on further days.
In another Hadith, the Prophet related that whoever recited Surat ul-Ikhlas 1,000 times on the day of ‘Ashura, Allah would look at that person with Mercy, and would place him amongst the Siddiqin (The Truthful).
The sadness of ‘Ashura is the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Sayyidina Husayn, at Karbala. It is a saga of selflessness and personal sacrifice. So much so, that when the Prophet [SAW] once held his grandson in his arms, he wept, as the Angel Jibril had informed him of Husayn’s eventual fate, bringing him a lump of Karbala clay.
But from all of this, comes liberation – liberation from trial and tribulation. It is the ultimate Mercy of a Merciful Creator. For on ‘Ashura, Husayn entered Paradise. ‘Ashura, is indeed, a day of great historical and spiritual significance. The Qisas al-Anbiya’ informs us that many beautiful things happened to our Prophets, may Allah Almighty bless them all, on ‘Ashura.
For instance, on this day, as the scholar Imam Rajab al-Hanbali points out in his writings: Allah accepted the repentance of Adam; saved Nuh and the Ark; extinguished the fire of Nimrod; spoke to Musa; restored Ayyub to health; reunited Yusuf with his father Jacob; took Yunus out of the whale; destroyed the Pharaoh’s army and raised Jesus to the Heavens.
The grace of Muharram, and ‘Ashura, is also expressed through charitable action. Says Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, quoting classical sources: “Whoever clothes a naked person Allah will release him from a painful punishment. He who visits a sick person, Allah will grant him a reward…whoever places his hand on an orphan’s head, or feeds a hungry person…Allah will feed him a feast from Paradise…and whoever makes ghusl (a ceremonial bath) on this day will enjoy excellent health and freedom from sickness and laziness…whoever provides generously for his family on this day, Allah will be generous to him throughout this year…”
Without doubt, Muharram marks an auspicious time for all Muslims. Interestingly, Muharram was also the month in which the Prophet [SAW] used to collect Zakah, and distribute it to the poor and needy. Therein lays tremendous significance, as the Prophet [SAW], a wise man beyond our ken, knew the great importance of hope and renewal for us all at the beginning of a new year.
May Allah Almighty grant us all success in 1440 AH. Ameen.
- Written by Shafiq Morton
- Hits: 945
THERE is a famous line in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, an 18th century novel about the treatment of children in industrial England. Mr Bumble, the portly supervisor of a child workhouse, gets enraged when Oliver asks for some more gruel, a watery, ill-cooked broth.
“Please, sir, can I have some more?” asks a frightened Oliver, who then meets the wrath of the unfeeling Mr Bumble.
Whilst there is a long distance, historically and geographically, from Charles Dickens to South Africa, I am often reminded of this scenario when poor people knock on our door. Of course, it is a scene played out in many cities and towns throughout South Africa on a daily basis.
Some of those who knock are brazen, with a sense of entitlement, but on the other hand, there are those who are respectful – even Oliver-like – in their requests for help. For these people, just to walk up to a strange door has taken up their last reserves of pride.
Indeed, these are the souls we have to take extra care of, because they are not only begging for food, but their very dignity. We have to remind ourselves that Allah, the Almighty, can elevate – or reduce us – in the mere blink of an eye.
And as winter bites, and as the Western Cape experiences welcome rain, we have to remember that the cold weather is not a boon to the less privileged, but very often a severe setback. On the Highveld, where people have to burn things to stay warm, there are shack fires – and in the Cape as the rains come, so do the floods.
Cold, wet, hungry, homeless and shivering, the South African underclass faces many daunting challenges, challenges we ourselves would probably not be able to deal with, should we be suddenly taken out of our own comfort zones.
Think for a minute what a person hears, and sees, when they knock on your door, and you open it…the smell of food, the sound of a TV, a toilet flushing…a wave of warmth and comfort. All things they don’t have.
The other day, just as the rains had let up and the sun had broken through the clouds, a young woman knocked on our door. We had never seen her before, a sure sign that this was someone who really needed help. After the years, you get to learn the signs. The “regulars” have their routines.
She was a sweet person, desperately hungry, who told us that she lived under a nearby bridge, and that she was waiting for the social worker to find her a bed in a night shelter. Her background story was a typical one of abandonment, and lack of living space in a Cape Flats backyard. The city’s streets had been her only recourse.
She sat on our stoep to eat some of the food that that had been warmed for her, another sign of need, and loneliness. The hungriest will always eat immediately, and those collecting for families or communes will quickly scurry away.
After she’d eaten, the young lady made a request, which for some might have sounded a little odd.
“Please, sir, can I have some soap? Even if it’s an old bar.”
Given her circumstances, it was not an odd request. This was a call for self-esteem. We had gained a little of her trust, and to refuse her would be crushing. So we dug in a cupboard, and came back with a new bar of soap and some facial cream.
“Jor. It’s new stuff. Thank you, auntie!” said the woman to my wife. Her smile was worth a million dollars. For us it had been a small sacrifice, but for her it had meant the world.
Indeed, small things can teach us so much. Many years ago an old hand from an NGO had advised me to never give the underprivileged inferior goods. “Don’t give anybody something you yourself wouldn’t use,” he had told me, “never!”
Of course, SANZAF fully embraces this policy of giving the best. And in the dark moments of winter, a small thing such as a “dignity pack” (soap, shampoo, cream, toothpaste etc.) can make such a huge difference. The truism is that hope – the ultimate aim of sadaqah and Zakah – does not have to cost the proverbial arm and a leg, and that we don’t have to be a Mr Bumble.