FATIMA ASMAL writes that Ramadaan is the opportune time for one to think deep about trying to make a positive difference in our own country – in addition to international causes. But, international causes should not take the place of local causes.
IT’S the Friday before the Cape Town Cycle Tour is due to take place. Ismail Dhorat, from Gauteng, who is riding the shorter addition – 42km race – for the first time, has agreed to use the opportunity to raise funds for two medical students who are part of the bursary programme of the Institute for Learning and Motivation – South Africa (better known as ILM-SA), a non-profit organisation I founded in 2006.
Securing a place in medical school isn’t easy so you take what you get, hence both Brooklyn and Rical are studying away from home, significantly escalating the costs attached to them studying.
Shortly before Brooklyn matriculated, in 2020, both her parents were retrenched from the company that they worked at, leaving them puzzling as to how they were going to fund her dream of becoming a medical doctor. Someone put them in touch with us, and we were able to fund some of Brooklyn’s needs from our lillah reserves.
In Durban, Rical’s mother, a nurse, faces the same dilemma. Her husband is unemployed, and her income isn’t sufficient to fund Rical’s tuition fees and accommodation. She reached out to us in October 2021 – Rical was nearing the end of her fourth year, but faced exclusion because she was owing the university in excess of R100 000. We activated a social media appeal, and were able to raise the funds required to keep her dream alive.
Since then, sourcing the funds to assist these two young women has proven to be challenging – and has entailed the activation of repeated social media appeals, as well as reaching out to specific donors.
When Ismail agreed to undertake a #ride4education to assist them, we were very grateful. However, as widely as this campaign has been advertised, the fundraising has been painfully slow, begging the question: ‘How would people respond if he was riding for victims of the recent earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria?’
On a daily basis, we see appeals for funds for the earthquake victims, on WhatsApp and social media. That the global ummah has come together to assist our brothers and sisters in their time of dire need, is heartening indeed.
But when I was recently trying to raise a few thousand rands to enable an Uber driver in Cape Town to have his car repaired, someone on Facebook commented that Turkiye and Syria, and not he were a priority!
Alhamdulillah, millions of rands are being sent the way of Turkiye and Syria, and I’m certain that every cent thereof is required. But, as South Africans we need to remember that we are living in a country which in 2019, the World Bank determined to be the most unequal in the world. In fact in 2020, the United Nations Human Development Report (HDR) noted that about 11 million South Africans live on less than R28 a day (R800 per month).
Being involved in a non-profit, I come into contact with people who don’t have access to basic necessities on a frequent basis.
Every month, I receive a message requesting basic food items from Muhammad* a gentleman in his thirties, living in an informal settlement, who cannot secure employment.
Then there’s Uncle Ahmed,* a seventy-something old man, who should be enjoying retirement but is instead in a constant state of anxiety because his salary doesn’t cover his rent.
There are single mothers – widows and divorcees – who aren’t able to pay for electricity. The list goes on and on. Unsurprisingly then, we encounter a shockingly high number of individuals who have resorted to taking loans – often interest bearing ones – in an effort to make ends meet.
Alhamdulillah, it is relatively easy to assist these individuals as they usually qualify for zakaah assistance, and since the discharging of zakaah is compulsory upon every financially able individual, this category of funding is not hard to come by.
But then individuals like Elvis* and his wife Sharona* who are not Muslim come along – they found themselves without an income overnight, and were forced to sell their possessions – including their fridge – to buy groceries, and we are faced with a dilemma: how do we assist them?
The limited lillah funds we have at our disposal are used to cover our operating expenses, and not wanting to turn anyone away, we turn to crowd-funding to raise funds for lillah causes.
The same applies when it comes to the severely under-resourced Embizweni High School, in the township of uMlazi. The school is surrounded by an informal settlement from which most of its learners hail. A walkabout reveals multiple broken windows, overpopulated classrooms and a library housed in a tiny container structure, and it is not uncommon for the principal, Mr Khubone, to tell me that they do not have a Maths or Physical Science teacher.
We assist the school with meals for matric learners in the run-up to examinations, when intensive study ‘camps’ are held, and again, this entails intensive crowd-funding campaigns.
Recently, the school has experienced a spate of burglaries, and Mr Khubone asked us to assist with a security system. Sadly, an organisation on our scale is unable to fork out in excess of R50 000 lillah to assist, and we anticipated that a crowd-funding campaign would be unsuccessful so we referred him to a larger, significantly more well-resourced organisation, which we hope will be able to assist him.
One might argue that it’s the government’s responsibility to assist its people, but let’s face it – that’s not going to happen, and at the end of the day it’s up to each and every one of us to try to make a positive difference in our own country – this can be in addition to assisting with international causes. But, international causes should never take the place of local causes, for charity does indeed begin at home.
What better time to start than the month of Ramadaan, a month that is inextricably linked to the concept of giving? It is my hope that in addition to discharging our zakaah this month, we strive to include a lillah component to our giving. After all, lillah is entirely voluntary and is likely to attract more reward from the Almighty.
*not their real names
- Fatima Asmal is a freelance journalist and the founder, co-director and a trustee of ILM-SA a Durban-based non-profit involved in various projects, including the provision of bursaries to tertiary students and assisting seven underprivileged madrasahs for children in rural KZN and its townships. She may be contacted at email@example.com
This article was first published in the March 17, 2023 print edition of Muslim Views.