by MAHMOOD SANGLAY
SHAIKH Abdullah Asali is a man of steadfast faith against daunting trials. He is the imam of Al Fatiha Masjid, in Site B, Khayelitsha, on the R340 route. The mosque was established in 2002 and he has served the Muslims of Site B since 2014.
The township, Khayelitsha, was established in 1983 by the apartheid-era Minister of Co-operation and Development, Piet Koornhof. According to geographer Grant Saff, by the mid-1980s, Cape Town had become one of the most segregated cities in South Africa.
Site B is one of 22 sites in Khayelitsha but was developed in the post-apartheid era. The area typically consists of a high number of informal settlements, informal backyard dwellers and Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) housing.
Some of the sprawling sites of Khayelitsha house residents in abject, unhygienic conditions. Rains bring public toilet effluent into living rooms and cut out electricity supply. Children play on the banks of open sewers, cows roam alongside mounds of refuse and many sites are suffused with the stench of squalor.
This is part of the setting for Al Fatiha Masjid, a microcosm of enduring faith against formidable odds. Shaikh Asali is the imam and he performs all the administrative and management duties related to the mosque, including that of chairperson, secretary and treasurer.
No funds are collected from the congregation because no one can afford to contribute to the maintenance of the mosque. Therefore, Shaikh Asali draws from his remuneration to cover its maintenance costs, including water and electricity. And he supplements his income with the produce of a vegetable garden adjacent to the mosque.
Shaikh Asali is also a participant in the Imamate Ta’awun Programme (ITP) run by the South African National Zakah Fund (Sanzaf) and the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC). Shaikh Asali keeps meticulous records of matters related to the mosque, and says that there are approximately 220 Muslims in Site B.
Al Fatiha Masjid accommodates 75 worshippers for Jumuah prayers, including women. The shaikh runs a number of classes for children and adults from Monday to Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays, he offers hifdh classes. Missionary work is an added function fulfilled by the shaikh.
He was born in Malawi, in 1970, into a Muslim family. His father founded and established the first madrasah in their village, Chiwamba, in Dedza District, and earned the title Chifundo (the kind one) due to his good work.
Shaikh Asali completed his primary and secondary schooling in Malawi, studied the Quran for two years, attended Madrasa Taleemu Deen, in Dedza, a boarding school for both Islamic and tertiary studies from 1980 to 1984, followed by a darul uloom in Blantyre, till 1991.
Thereafter, he worked in Johannesburg at the Al Tawheed Islamic Centre till 2009 where he met Shaikh Sulaiman Salama, who founded the Fajrul Islam Centre, in Cape Town.
In 2010, Shaikh Asali was asked by Shaikh Salama to work with him in Cape Town at the centre till 2014. Following this experience in teaching, he commenced duties at Al Fatiha Masjid.
The mosque drew the attention of at least two major philanthropic initiatives over recent years. In 2016, Muslim Hands undertook the renovation of the mosque by upgrading the ablution area, replacing the carpets and repairing the walls and roof.
Soon thereafter, Awqaf SA added an extra room for Jumuah overflow, and installed a roof for the wudu area.
As a participant in the ITP since 2019, Shaikh Asali is dependent on ongoing support from the programme, subject to direct community support. The programme is intended to include not only a reasonable monthly salary but also basic benefits like a hospital plan and unemployment insurance for imams.
The ITP was launched in November 2018, and has been supported by a few benefactors.
There are currently over 15 mosques enrolled for the capacity-building programme and three imams from impoverished communities are currently on the payroll. However, this is but a fraction of what is required to support imams and mosques in poor communities.
The target is to assist at least six imams by the end of 2020 and to double this figure on an annual basis. In order to achieve this objective, the MJC and Sanzaf appeal to the Muslim community to support the ITP.
Further information on the programme may be obtained from Moulana Hassiem Cassiem at 082 499 3637 or Imam Maghdie Sadien at 082 448 8302.
The banking details for the ITP is: SA National Zakah Fund, Albaraka Bank Account Number: 78600086308, Branch, Code: 800000.
Photo top: Shaikh Abdullah Asali of Al Fatiha Masjid grows a vegetable garden adjacent to the mosque. He is pictured here in 2016 showing some of the abundant spinach crop that supplements his income to meet the operating costs of the mosque.
Photo HASANAIN ABDULLAH / File
This article was updated to reflect the date the photograph was taken.