Zareef Minty – Entrepreneur, Lawyer, Thought Leader and Innovator

Not everyone can say that they started their first successful business at just 16 years old. Not everyone can say they’re a radio host and a best-selling author. Not everyone can be rated on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Not everyone can win a reality TV contest focused on leadership skills. Then again, not everyone is Zareef Minty.

 

Leaving his hometown of Klerksdorp in the North West Province to pursue an LLB degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, Zareef knew he was destined for great things. The youngest of three siblings, Mr Minty has always enjoyed the concept of breaking the conventional and disrupting the paradigm.

Shattering the myth that people from small towns are more relaxed and content with what they are doing and what they have, Zareef was led by his ambitious goals and dreams. He’s constantly innovating, changing and developing. “Regardless of where I grew up, I knew that I wanted to be impacting the lives of millions positively,” Minty reveals.

One of his career highlights was making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, a remarkable feat for a young South African Muslim, and one that we can all be proud of.

In the midst of his entrepreneurial pursuits and promising legal career, Zareef makes time for this passion; philanthropy. He works very closely with Reach for a Dream and has also established his own charitable venture called the Build-A-School Foundation. This education-based initiative aims to build three schools by 2022. A recent partnership with Islamic Relief has fueled his enthusiasm to add as much value as he can through humanitarian work. “Their organisation truly changes lives and assists our brothers and sisters all around the world,” he states.

Named by Mail & Guardian as one of the Top 200 Young South Africans, Zareef has always believed that his purpose in this world is way beyond him. “It’s to inspire and change the lives of millions,” Minty is confident that if we change the mindsets of our youth, we can make a change to the world.

Islam is at the core of Zareef’s entire life. His principles and values are aligned to those of Islam. He faithfully mentions, “Many don’t really understand that God is everything. The role that God plays in our lives is incredible. Everything comes from him.”

Zareef’s most rewarding moment occurred during his television appearance on One Day Leader (of which he won season 4). It was his involvement in building a beautiful playground for underprivileged children in Kaya Sands that was most moving for him.

The 25-year-old says that his proudest achievement is his educational platform, The Generational Wealth Education. “I believe my proudest moment was that second when it hit me, thanks to God that I finally created something sustainable that will change the lives of millions of people someday. Insha-Allah.”

 

Wise beyond his years, Zareef says that the fear of failure is something that limits many of us. He advises that we need to get rid of that fear and build confidence and validation from within. Shedding his own fear, it was after being rejected by 19 publishers that Zareef was able to release his book, Empire. His self-belief never allowed him to give up and led to one of his biggest dreams come to life – having his book published and sold in Exclusive Books stores. During the first month, it became a national best-seller in South Africa. “Anything is possible if you believe in your abilities and talents,” he notes.

Zareef’s life motto: “Choose happiness. We underestimate the importance of actually being happy. Being happy with yourself, being happy with your journey, and being happy with your own life.”

The best-selling author is greatly inspired by his mentors. He’s also inspired by people like Cristiano Ronaldo because of his level of excellence and determination. “I am a huge fan of his humanitarian work too, especially with Syria,” Zareef goes on to say.

His favourite Quranic verse: “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (Q. 94:5-6).

He believes that in the remembrance of God, any hardship will be alleviated. “Every difficult moment will pass, and if you work hard and are extremely consistent, any difficulty can turn into an opportunity to dominate,” Zareef expresses.

Zareef finds that ‘success‘ is subjective. It means different things to different people. “For me, success is happiness. Success is convenience. Success is leaving a legacy for generations to come,” he explains.

Every year, the young lawyer sets 500 goals for himself. One of his major aims for the next 7-10 years is to delve further into politics and become the Minister of Education someday. He previously gained experience in the field as the National Youth President of the Patriotic Alliance.

He advises other budding humanitarians to “know your ‘why’”. Acknowledging why you’re doing something keeps one consistent and focused. While difficulties do arise and rejections from potential sponsors and donors can be demotivating, Zareef encourages do-gooders to be consistent and remember the end goal: benefitting hundreds of people and bringing ease to their lives. Insha-Allah.

 

The trailblazing entrepreneur is grateful for everything. “Every single thing. I’m grateful for the opportunity to wake up in the morning, I am grateful for having a bed to sleep on. Having clothes to wear. I’m grateful for mercy and for understanding. I’m grateful for wisdom and for my parents.”

His greatest life lesson is to be humble and grateful.

Zareef is an avid believer in the value of Proudly Muslims of SA, adding, I think it’s absolutely beautiful and incredible. We need more platforms to motivate and inspire our people. Thank you to PMSA for developing this platform.”

He isn’t concerned about being personally remembered by society, but hopes that the good work he does will. Zareef would like to help millions of people in the world. “I want what I establish for our people to be remembered, and for it to be extremely sustainable, so it helps even more people with time. Insha-Allah. It’s such a beautiful blessing to have the ability to bless others.”

 

At his youthful age, Zareef Minty has achieved so much more than most of us would in a lifetime. With his unstoppable passion, earnestness and energy, his faithfulness and trust in the Almighty, and admirable tenacity to make a positive impact on the world, Zareef has only one way to go from here… straight to the top!

Dr Mohammed Siddique Tayob – Medical Philanthropist and Innovator

Medical practitioner by profession, philanthropist by choice, Dr Mohammed Siddique Tayob spends his days between remedying the ill and uplifting the destitute.

Native to Middleburg in Mpumalanga, Mohammed Siddique’s modest upbringing in the Apartheid era, coupled with the principled belief system imparted to him by his conservative and religious parents, have both played a significant role in shaping him. Being witness to the severe injustices and dire socio-economic deprivation of the country’s majority helped structure the framework for Mohammed’s righteous and moral values.

It was, in fact, these humble beginnings and exposure to humanitarian crises and disaster situations while travelling that inspired Dr Tayob to become more involved in charity work. “The suffering and loss of dignity in the refugee camps and rural areas in Africa moulded my thinking and desire to serve,” he says.

A graduate of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, Dr Tayob never ceases in his quest for betterment, having completed a Board Leadership Programme and a diploma in Occupational Medicine and Health from the University of Pretoria. Two of his three sons have also followed in his medical footsteps.

Mohammed Siddique’s studies and experience set the wheels in motion for many business enterprises. The Department of Economic Development in Mpumalanga have also recognised his contribution to the formulation of the BEE policy for the province.

The length of Dr Tayob’s philanthropic résumé is remarkable, and extends across numerous enterprises. He’s been involved with various notable charities for almost two decades and dedicates much of his time to the upliftment of others.

Some of the organisations he’s worked with and founded:

AGRÉMENT SOUTH AFRICA October 2007 – Nov 2010

Member of the:

  • Board of Directors
  • Audit & Risk Management Committee
  • HR & Remuneration Committee (Appointed by the Hon. Minister of Public Works of South Africa)
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL – South Africa Chairperson in 2003 and 2004
PAUL HARRIS FELLOW AWARD The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International 2013
HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION OF SOUTH AFRICA Secretary from 2001 – 2015
BAMBANANI ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT (BED) Founder and Chairman: Develop professional black new entrants into healthcare with an incubator programme – 1999 to current.
MEDINOVA MERC TRAINING ACADEMY Founder and Chairman: 2017 to present

 

For Mohammed Siddique, Islam is a way of life mapped out for us by Almighty Allah, and the practical example set by Nabi (SAW). “Our only purpose in this world is to serve Allah’s creation, irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed. Islam made me conscious of the importance of a relationship with the Almighty and trusting in His provision and guidance in all matters of life.”

He acknowledges that all we have comes from the Almighty, and it’s important to be grateful for all the good and the bad, as it gives us the opportunity to learn and grow and to get to know our Creator better.

Hardship teaches us to trust the Almighty and good times teaches us to thank Him and be grateful for all the good things He has provided”. Mohammed emphasises the significance of praising and thanking Allah in times of hardship because it is only then that we are reminded of His goodness and kindness towards us.

The medical philanthropist finds nothing more rewarding than to see a genuine, heartfelt smile or a sign of gratitude in people’s eyes. He finds that the challenges people face are emotionally low points, but the differences we can make are the highlights.

Mohammed avoids the glorification that comes with pride, and says that the feeling one gets when helping others is one of gratitude. He is thankful for being part of an opportunity to make a difference, and at the same time, feels ambivalent of life’s uncertainty. “Everything we possess can be taken away in the blink of an eye. I could be the person on the other side of the table receiving someone’s generosity,” he proclaims.

His life motto: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough. Anything is possible if you’re willing to make the required sacrifices.”

Mohammed’s greatest role model is his wife, Dr Ayesha Bassa. “She is the smartest person I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing – intelligent, wise, principled and pious.” He admires that even after acquiring multiple degrees and diplomas, she still finds the time and will power to engage in an extended Aalimah course. “She cooks a fresh meal every single morning, goes to work for the whole day and is busy with her online classes every night,” he says of her reverently.

His favourite Quranic verse is from Surah Al-Mu’minoon: “Successful are those who believe and do righteous deeds.”

Success for Dr Tayob means having ultimate humility in what you do.

Looking to the future, Dr Tayob wants to empower as many people as he can, especially the youth. He hopes to scale up training programmes to have a meaningful and sustainable global impact.

Every little bit helps. Ultimately, the combined effect has a global impact,” he recommends to aspiring altruists. “If every single person just makes a small difference to another person’s life every single day – even if it’s just a smile or handshake – the combined effect is immense,” he advises.

The father-of-three is most grateful for the opportunities that Allah has blessed him with, and is fortunate to love the work he’s involved in.

His greatest life lessons: “Let Allah be the only judge,” and “don’t be influenced by arm-chair critics.”

Dr Tayob believes that the Proudly Muslims of SA initiative will inspire people to achieve more.

Mohammed’s parting advice: “Everyone dies but not everyone gets to live. Make every moment count.”

He would like society to remember him as someone who made a difference.

 

While working in the medical profession requires one to be academically knowledgable and skillful, it takes virtue of character, deep compassion and patience to truly touch and enhance the lives of others. Dr Mohammed Siddique Tayob always reaches far beyond what’s required of him, and intuitively tends to what is needed by others.

 

Rashid Bhikha – Pharmaceutical Industry Pioneer and Healthcare Education Specialist

When paring off the many intricate and remarkable layers of Professor Rashid Bhikha, we’ve discovered that behind the accomplished academic, thought leader, healthcare enterpriser and learned businessman, is a man committed to family and philanthropy. Every step Rashid has taken in his life hasn’t been without discernible point; it’s been a purposeful and conscious stride in the betterment of South African healthcare services, education and training.

Chairman and founder of the Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb, Pretoria-raised Bhikha is passionately involved in improving the level of local healthcare and integrative medicine. During his early years as a pharmacist, Rashid built Be-Tabs Pharmaceuticals into the largest privately-owned generic medicine manufacturer in South Africa. In 2007, after 33 years under the Bhikha family leadership, Be-Tabs Pharmaceuticals was sold to an internationally-renowned pharmaceutical company. In 1997, after extensive research into Tibb (Arabic system of medicine), both locally and overseas, he founded the Tibb Institute to promote its teachings and practice in South Africa.

A sedulous learner by nature, after he qualified as a pharmacist in 1969, from the now University of KwaZulu Natal, Rashid attained several business diplomas and extensively researched and studied Islamic, Greco-Arab medicine (Unani medicine) and other complementary modalities. He established the training of Unani-Tibb at the University of the Western Cape in 2003 and completed his PhD in Education at the institution in 2005.

 

Professor Bhikha’s list of professional exploits is exceptional, to say the least. The considerable timeline that captures his life’s work underpins the theory about him being a diligent polymath and altruistic health entrepreneur.

1974 – Rashid started the first private and black-owned, pharmaceutical-manufacturing company in South Africa called Be-Tabs. The company was sold in 1997 to a leading multinational, and labelled as the largest independently-owned manufacturing company in Africa.

1997 – Founded the Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb (waqf), to promote medical practice and training of Tibb in South Africa.

1998 – 2001 – Established primary health clinics in partnership with local government (Kagiso, Leratonga, and an Aids home in Kathlehong.

2001 – Initiated recognition of Unani-Tibb as the 11th complementary health modality of the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa.

2003 – Started training of Tibb at the University of the Western Cape.

2005 – Assisted Tibb doctors in establishing clinics in King Williams Town, Butterworth, Pinetown, Cofimvaba and Mdansane.

2006 – 2008 – Tibb clinics were opened to facilitate practical training for UWC students in Mannenburg, Langa and Surrey Estate.

2007 – Established Tibb Health Sciences

2009 – 2014 – Launched Tibb School Programme.

2010 – 2013 – Institute upgrades AIDS home in Mayfair, trauma unit at GF Jooste Hospital, and Heideveld Home for women and children.

2012Tibb Institute produces 20 episodes of ‘Medicine of the Prophet’ for ITV.

2012 – 2018 – Tibb Lifestyle Advisors Programme for community healthcare workers / clinic health promoters launched. There are more than 5000 advisors trained.

2013 – Established 110 wellness desks

– Wrote and published seven books (5 consumer, 2 academic).

– Wrote, published and presented many articles and academic papers on Tibb.

– Recently co-founded the Asklepion School of Medicine in Greece.

His index of outstanding achievements does not end there. The healthcare philanthropist has been duly recognised for all his contributions in the betterment of his field.

2007 – Acknowledgment of services rendered to the community by the Islamic Medical Association, Pretoria.

2008 – Presented with the Inyathelo Lifetime Philanthropy Award from The South African Institute for Advancement.

2008 – Recognition of services to Eastern (Unani) medicine from Hamdard, Pakistan.

2014 – Honorary award from the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa for contribution to the IMA and the community at large.

2016 – Commendation certificate bestowed in recognition and appreciation of valuable services rendered to Unani System of Medicine, National Institute of Unani Medicine from the Bengaluru Minister of AYUSH, (Govt. of India) at the International Conference on Unani Medicine.

2018 – Presented with the Ibn-E-Sina International Award for outstanding contribution for the inception, procreation, and research and development of Unani Medicine Globally in Aligarh Muslim University, India.

Like many of the most influential Muslim South Africans of our time, Prof Bhikha grew up during the apartheid era, when injustice associated with the system was pervasive. He initially wanted to retire at the age of 40 and get involved in community work. However, in 1989, one of his three daughters faced an agonising illness, which was the turning point in Rashid’s life, urging him to focus more on healthcare.

The devoted father-of-four has worked extensively within the charity sphere. Three of the most unforgettable projects he’s been involved in include:

1. The establishment of healthcare facilities in underprivileged areas:

  • Tibb Institute’s journey towards achieving its vision of assisting the Department of Health in accessibility to healthcare provision began when the first two primary healthcare outreaches were opened; in Kagiso (July 1998) and Leratong (April 1999).

  • Later, an AIDS home-based care centre was established in Katlehong (in July 2001), in cooperation with the greater Germiston City Council, and handed over to local government.

2. Educating and providing information on healthcare management, including lifestyle management for chronic pain/diseases etc.

  • An important aspect of the social responsibility programme is promoting empowerment in health matters through education and training at consumer level. Workshops on the role of lifestyle in health promotion and in the management of chronic illnesses including HIV and AIDS, hypertension and diabetes have been conducted since 2005 to more than 1000 participants, many of them representatives from non-governmental organisations or local municipalities.

  • From 2010, training in health promotion has been formalised into a Lifestyle Advisors Course, in partnership with numerous health-related NGOs, wherein Tibb sponsored and trained Lifestyle Advisors, and provided information on the prevention and treatment of both acute and chronic illness conditions. Integrating healthy living Tibb principles with conventional medicine, provides a better understanding of the causes of illnesses thus empowering patients to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

3. Projects aimed at spiritual, cultural and emotional development through Zain Bhikha Studios.

 

At 73, Prof Bhikha still works a full and very productive day. His dedication as a family man and head of the family business is resolute. His daily tasks involve all aspects of the Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb, and to a lesser extent, Tibb Health Sciences. He also spends time as an advisor on matters related to the South African Tibb Association.

Islam is the propeller with which he steers his life’s course, “in keeping with being a vicegerent (khalifah) to establish Allah (SWT)”.

Humanitarian work was always on his list of life goals. It became a reality with his daughter’s illness. “I am very dedicated to delivering effective, affordable healthcare to all South Africans.”

Prof Bhikha’s most emotional achievement: Starting Tibb in South Africa.

His most rewarding accomplishment: Working at a grass-roots level to improve lives via the Tibb Lifestyle Advisors Programme.

His most humbling achievement in philanthropy was receiving the Inyathelo Award in 2009. Developed by The South African Institute for Advancement, the awards are a way to recognise, celebrate and acknowledge people in SA who consistently utilise their personal resources to further social development in the country.

Another momentous milestone which Prof Bhikha recounts is the ‘The Memorandum of Understanding’ with the City of Johannesburg, where he (Tibb) entered into a partnership to introduce Lifestyle Advisors.

 

Rashid has experienced many significant moments that have inspirited him throughout his life. He recalls some of the most memorable as:

  • Starting Be-Tabs in 1974, during the political climate of the time.

  • Opening the Tibb institute in 1997

  • Being a part of his children’s lives and watching them develop

  • Witnessing his son’s (Zain Bhikha) career unfold

  • Being alive to see the birth of his first great-grandson this year.

With fourteen grandchildren who look up to him, Rashid’s life motto is “be good and do good.”

He defines success as living a life in accordance with the Quraan and Sunnah. “Humility!”

With much affection and admiration, Rashid regards his wife, Mariam Bhikha, as his biggest role model. Her dedication and integrity are much to be adhered to.

Looking to the future, Rashid’s goals include ensuring that his family stays on the right path. He also hopes to consolidate a partnership with the government for health provision, and ultimately to make a difference in healthcare.

He advises all other humanitarians to remain true to their heart and intentions.

Prof Bhikha is most grateful for the Almighty, his deen, wife and children, and his health.

His greatest life lesson: Everything is in Allah’s hands so never presume to be in charge.

Rashid believes that the youth can benefit most from the Proudly Muslims of SA initiative, as it inspires the younger generation to be the best versions of themselves and stay true to their beliefs.

He would leave his legacy with these final words: “As long as you perform your duty to Allah (SWT) and don’t harm anybody, Allah (SWT) will always take care of you.”

Prof Bhikha would like society to remember him as an ordinary person who tried to always be humble, sincere, just and empathetic.

It is with much gratitude to Rashid Bhikha that the future of integrative medicine in South Africa has been solidified. His comprehensive research and assiduity in making the Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb the success that it is today is a legacy that will benefit the destitute plagued by unaffordable medical costs, as well as healthcare graduates and professionals for decades to come.

Safiyyah Sarang – Inclusive Education Specialist and Campaigner for the Hearing-Impaired

Sometimes, it only takes one person to stand up and canvass for the vulnerable collective; one voice for a community of people who sadly, don’t have their own. The deaf population of more than a million people in South Africa are often overlooked, lost in a wave of aid-seeking societies with more severe impediments. Safiyyah Sarang aims to change that, offering her professional and emotional support to the hearing-impaired, by being that one voice that speaks loud enough for them in a world of clamour.

Raised in Ferreirastown, an inner-city suburb in Johannesburg, Safiyyah learnt independence from a young age. Very empathetic by nature, she was let down a great deal, however, this taught her to take responsibility and be intrinsically motivated. Growing up in a middle-class working family provided her with the discipline to work hard and strive for the things she desired. “It’s funny, the things I strived for were things money cannot buy. Today I understand that being independent and having to work hard for what I wanted has only built character,” she reveals, “being independent has forced me to be street-smart as well. This helps me reach the youth. I was not very sheltered growing up and I’m grateful for that in certain aspects, because it makes me relatable to the children and adolescents I teach”.

Safiyyah achieved her Honours in BEd Inclusive Education from the University of Johannesburg, and currently resides as an educator at St Vincent School for the Deaf. Her campaign to bring awareness to the plight of deaf children is commendable, and she uses her time spent outside the academic arena to volunteer at different charitable organisations and projects.

This driven and enthusiastic English teacher describes herself as a passionate, diverse, optimistic, outspoken and dynamic Muslimah, striving to educate, empower and inspire the youth.

Her upbringing up in a religiously-minded community (Kholvad House) demonstrated to Safiyyah that Islam was more than just a set of beliefs. “It is who I am”, she says. “If someone hurt me, I was consoled by the fact that Allah would take care of me. And this has shaped the way I’ve view everything.”

 

Safiyyah has found great appeal in learning and understanding more about the selfless lives of the Sahaba (RA) (companions of the Prophet Muhammed [PBUH]), and she’s drawn to how they were commended by the Creator for their compassion and asceticism.

Her mornings begin early with prayers, and she commences with the intention to do the best she can to be beneficial to every living thing she encounters during the day. Safiyyah then heads off to work by 7:30 to teach English in sign language to deaf learners, ranging from 12-21 years in age. At 14:30, she makes her way home to pray and start the second part of the day; tutoring learners from the community.

She also makes time to attend meetings for upcoming volunteer work and does planning and campaigning; sharing motivational, inspirational or Islamic knowledge through social media in order to make a difference and assist the youth. Her fulfilling days usually end by 11pm, after sharing what she’s learnt and trying to uplift her family.

The youngest of two siblings, Safiyyah’s aspiration to get involved in humanitarian work was cultivated from adolescence, “I’ve always been drawn towards helping others. My desire to educate and empower has inspired me to help those who have no means to assistance first. Also, Islam has been one of my greatest motivators with regard to helping those in need,” she expresses.

The self-motivated educator has been involved in a number of humanitarian projects:

  • Thandilwazi Saturday school project – Saturday school for underprivileged learners
  • Nelson Mandela day with the University of Johannesburg

  • MSA (Muslim Students Association) at the University of Johannesburg (for a brief time)

  • Core volunteer team member for Islamic Relief SA on projects such as Orphan Iftaar, Eid shopping for the orphans and collection drives for Syria and Palestine.

  • Islamic Relief Charity Week walk for unity (2018)

  • Food for the Soul events

  • Al Buruj volunteer work for international speaker events

  • Teaching at a deaf school in Johannesburg and giving back to the youth of our communities

  • Speaking on deaf awareness at the Maleeha Layla event for children with special needs

  • Developing a campaign to cater to and aid the deaf community (currently in progress)

One of her most rewarding experiences was volunteering at a fun day for orphans, hosted by Islamic Relief. She seized the opportunity to engage and play with little children, which made her realise that all kids need is exactly what she’s always strived for, and those are things money can’t buy: a smile, a hug, a compassionate ear, someone to love them, and time. “I was still a university student then, and it was so rewarding to engage with them and give them moments of my life. From that day on, I was certain that this is how I wanted to live my life and I was so at ease with my choice of career,” she recollects.

Safiyyah relates that her proudest moment as a welfare worker was when a few little girls at the mass iftaar (breaking of fast) this year thanked her for smiling at them and asked her for hugs – this truly reinforced the idea that these children need more than just material things to be happy.

After recently being through a very tough personal experience, Safiyyah isn’t despondent. Instead, she thanks Allah for allowing her this difficult occurrence, as it was through her healing that she found her true purpose. Alhamdulillah. She goes on to say “even though this experience was extremely heartbreaking, it was Allah’s way of bringing me back to Him and to myself, which allowed me to regain my passion for humanitarian and charity work.”

Safiyyah lives by the motto: “It’s better to know and act like you don’t, than to not know and act like you do”.

Two phenomenal women whom she admires and looks up to are Ustada Yasmin Mogahed (in terms of education and Islam) and her cousin, Rukshana Mohammed Dindar (in terms of family and lifestyle).

 

Her favourite Quranic verse: “But Allah is your protector, and He is the best of helpers” Surah Al Imran (3:150).

This powerful composition has put her heart at ease every single time she’s been tested and every time someone has hurt her; knowing that Allah will help her through.

Surah Ar Rahman reminds her to be grateful for every favour that’s been bestowed on her.

She outlines success as having made a difference in people’s lives, and being known as someone who has inspired the youth to do better in their lives. To that, she adds that prosperity is having the means to provide for her parents and having a family of her own.

Safiyyah’s social concerns are at the forefront of her plans for the future:

  • Her short-term goal is to become more involved in youth empowerment and being a spokesperson for young females.
  • Her mid-term goal is to have the Deaf Campaign up and running, and to invite more deaf people into the fold of Islam.

  • Her long-term goal is to establish an orphanage/home with a madressah and school for the deaf and needy.

Safiyyah offers her insight to others involved in social and philanthropic work: “Give everything you can; it doesn’t only have to be monetary, focus on the youth and educate them so that they may educate others in the future.”

She is most grateful for having peace of mind, her health and Islam.

Her number one life lesson is to always to put her Creator first. She states, with much wisdom, “I’ve learnt that I should never sacrifice myself just to please others. I’m learning to be true to myself, love myself, and acknowledge my own value and self-worth, in order to protect my energy and remain positive.”

Safiyyah believes that initiatives like Proudly Muslims of SA aid in acknowledging people who make a difference, and in turn encourages and motivates others to do the same. She further mentions that by making our community aware of the good that’s taking place around them, they may be influenced to participate; hence this helps in uniting us as an ummah.

If today were her last, she would leave with this advice: “Become educated and then educate the youth so that future generations can continue to spread deen (religion) and goodness.” She would also recite the kalimah (Islamic declaration of beliefs).

Safiyyah wants to be remembered for inspiring the youth, standing up for her beliefs, helping society become aware of the deaf community and assisting people in bettering their lives.

 

Speaking in a language of kindness and compassion doesn’t require words, as Safiyyah Sarang has graciously displayed. She fills a void of silence with love, warmth, understanding and humanness. We will be encouraging and cheering her on as she sets new precedents for the deaf community.

 

Dr Zafreen Valli – Champion for Children with Special Needs

Not everyone has the courage nor patience to understand and work with special-needs children. Dr Zafreen Valli flutters her philanthropic wings as a guardian angel to these often overlooked individuals, using her expertise as a medical practitioner, her empathy as a compassionate Muslim woman and her concern and affection as a mother. Chairperson of Care4u2.Respite.Outreach, Zafreen spends every minute of her spare time finding ways to make the lives of these exceptional kids more comfortable, easier and full of joy.

Originally from Rustenburg, Dr Zafreen Valli currently resides in Johannesburg, and runs her medical practice from Emmarentia. She grew up in a home where community and social work played an integral part of her daily life and where giving back was taught to her at a very young age. This instilled core values, good morals and a sense of community in her.

Zafreen’s school teachers and principal always motivated her to reach her full potential and excel in everything she put her mind to. Learning about the Quraan and its principles from her moulanas and apas (Islamic teachers) in madressa – and living her daily life humbly – has helped her understand the purpose of life. Zafreen mentions, “Unknown to me, those days and those activities were guiding me into my very own path in doing community work.”

 

She recalls the valuable lessons from both her parents about respect, listening, understanding pain and grief, lending a hand whenever or to whomever it was required by, never turning a person in need away and most important of all; not to expect anything in return. She extends her benevolent hand to others “simply for the pleasure of the Almighty and with the hope that He accepts all of my efforts. Ameen. This in itself gives me contentment and purpose.”

 

Care4u2.Respite.Outreach was formed six years ago when a need was realised within the special-needs community. There were no avenues to turn to for much-needed help with various issues in their homes. Together with a group of talented and professional women, Zafreen has been on the organisation’s board since its inception and also serves as its chairperson. Care4u2 has steadily grown and expanded beyond the borders of Gauteng to other provinces across South Africa as well as Lesotho. Globally, they have assisted Syrian refugee families (living in Turkey) with special-needs requirements. Care4u2 works with Al-Imdaad and the IHH for Syrian refugee children.

Care4u2 services include:

  • The ‘Respite Care’ programme which gives exhausted parents and caregivers a well-deserved break by sending them away on a short vacation.

  • The ‘Outreach’ programme helps special-needs individuals and their families with the provision of food, clothing, specialised wheelchairs and assistive devices.

  • Learnership programmes and job placements are arranged for children afflicted by cerebral palsy, autism, spinal and muscular atrophy and dystrophy, etc.

A normal day for Dr Valli stretches across taking care of her children, running a home, attending to her practice and accomplishing all of this in between seeing her patients.

 

Dr Valli uses her knowledge as a medical practitioner to deal with special-needs children and their families with a much better understanding. On a daily basis, this includes trying to raise funds, monitoring all projects, attending meetings, ensuring that all the specs for the wheelchairs are correct, that all deliveries are made on time, and that the wheelchair fits the child perfectly.

Religion is the nucleus upon which Zafreen rotates her life. “Islam is truly a way of life. It teaches us unity, love, respect, tolerance and no prejudice and discrimination towards each other.” Her work with special-needs individuals spans across all races and religions, and exemplifies what Islam stands for; striving to serve all of humanity.

 

Dr Valli describes the most emotional project she’s been involved in: being able to assist a Syrian refugee and father of four children with cerebral palsy (who now live in Turkey). On hearing that they could give each of his children a wheelchair, he thanked the team profusely and most humbly declined, saying that just one chair would do. He said that the organisation should rather give the remaining three wheelchairs to other children in need. When asked why, he replied that there will never be a time when he and his wife will be able to take all four of his children out together. Since the children are severely affected by cerebral palsy, they would rotate the wheelchair among them for separate outings. His humility broke Zafreen’s heart, and we can fully understand why.

Her proudest philanthropic moment can be tracked to when Care4u2 helped Syrian refugees during its fifth year of existence as a welfare organisation. Alhumdulillah.

This mum of two boys experienced her most rewarding project when handing over an electric wheelchair to a twelve-year-old child with cerebral palsy. The little girl was completely fascinated by the hooter on her new chair. Her innocent laughter and excitement on hearing that beeping sound, and being able to press the button and achieve that result made Zafreen realise that all that matters in life is exactly this; a child’s smile at every accomplishment – a simple task for us, yet a huge task for her.

Zafreen’s biggest role model is her dad. To this day, he is very involved in community work and carries it out with such passion, that she cannot help but admire his enthusiasm and positivity for every project.

Her life motto: “Be passionate about what you do, persevere and never give up. Ask for guidance from the Almighty and have faith in Him always.”

Her favourite Hadith: ‘Innamal a’malu binniyat’. This translates from Arabic to “Indeed all actions are based on intentions.” Zafreen truly believes in these words and tries to lead her life by this principle.

Her favourite Quranic verse: Surah Al Fatiha – the opening lines of the Quraan. To Zafreen, a human’s entire being exists in this verse. She says it reminds us of how merciful and gracious Allah is, and that He is the master of the ‘Day of Judgement’. “We should worship and ask for help from Him only; to Guide us to the straight path and the path of those who he has blessed, not of those who have strayed.”

Zafreen is most grateful for having spent every single day with her mother for what was the last three years of her life. This experience taught her that the human mind is the most powerful tool in being able to cope and adapt to any situation and condition.

Her greatest life lesson: “Whatever happens to you happens with God’s will, not a single second earlier or later. What is meant for you will be.”

Dr Valli supports initiatives like Proudly Muslims of SA, as we play an important role in showing the world that Muslims and Islam are not what is portrayed out there. Islam is a religion of peace and teaches us all to love and live together with tolerance. Organisations like this one show our positive actions and portray how much good Muslims do in their daily lives.

If today was her last on earth, Zafreen would encourage others to remain steadfast in their beliefs. “Prayer and faith guides us and is the answer to everything. Also be the best person who you can be.”To Zafreen, success is based on our actions, mannerisms, relationships and keeping to your word. “These profound abilities are free and make one extremely wealthy in all aspects of your life,” she adds.

Her future goals include growing the Care4u2 initiative from strength to strength. Insha-Allah.

She advises other welfare workers to accept being judged and criticised, but to remain humble. “Have passion and continue to strive because every little bit that you do is changing lives and making a difference.”

Dr Valli hopes to be remembered as being part of an organisation that made a difference in the lives of special-needs individuals worldwide. Insha-Allah.

 

Making every day an outstanding one for children with specials needs, Dr Zafreen Valli seeks to change the world for them and their families. She helps provide them with mobility to make significant strides, nourishment and care to live longer, healthier lives and encouragement and education to uplift them to new heights.

For more information on how you can help, visit the Care4u2 website

 

 

Suraiya Nawaab – Community Mentor and Director of Islamic Careline

We all may have 24 hours in our day, but it somehow appears that Suraiya Nawaab has a few more, seeing how she spreads her time between two different NPOs. Director of the renowned faith-based counselling organisation, Islamic Careline, and National Director of the Muslim AIDS Programme, Suraiya found her calling in the upliftment and well-being of others. Her mindfulness and empathy for the crestfallen, misguided and vulnerable has established her as a social welfare leader, not only within the local community, but also across the country. We engaged in a heart-to-heart conversation with this accomplished and admirable philanthropist.

 

The third of five siblings, Suraiya Saloojee Nawaab grew up in Evaton, a peri-urban area in what is known today as Sedibeng. She currently resides in central Johannesburg, where she oversees both Islamic Careline and the Muslim AIDS Programme (MAP).

Her academic career began with a BA degree in Social Sciences from the University of Witwatersrand and followed with a postgraduate qualification in Counselling, Community Development and Sociology from the University of Johannesburg. She also attained her Masters in Islamic Studies under the guidance of esteemed scholar, the late Prof. Abdurahmaan Doi.

In 2012, the mother-of-two was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to deregister from a DPhil course, in order to concentrate on her treatment and recovery. She subsequently wrote a short narrative on this experience, entitled “Finding Allah: My Journey Through Illness”.

Suraiya offered her time as a volunteer at Family Life Centre, the 702 Helpline and Childline for many years until 1993. Then, in 1994, Mrs Nawaab, together with two colleagues – as well as the support of the Jamiat – started Islamic Careline, the first voluntary counselling service in the South African Muslim community. Today, she holds down the fort as the Director of Islamic Careline, which has a complement of six staff members and 16 volunteer counsellors.

In 1996/7, Islamic Careline was approached by the IMA (Islamic Medical Association) to assist the National Department of Health with a religious-sector response to the spiralling scenario of HIV and AIDS in the country. Together with the Jamiatul Ulama, they initiated the Muslim AIDS Programme or MAP, which originally functioned from Suraiya’s home in Mayfair. Today, with the grace and guidance of Allah, Suraiya is the National Director of MAP. This registered NGO has its head office in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, with provincial sites in KZN, North West, Gauteng, as well as the Western Cape.

Growing up in a predominantly apartheid-appointed ‘location’, with the majority of the population being underprivileged and from low-income families, inspired a sense of social responsibility and welfare in Suraiya. Her parents were pioneer business people in the area who gave so much of themselves – not only to enhance their business interests, but also to assist in uplifting the surrounding community. She cites their exemplary actions as being a huge influence on her.

Suraiya Nawaab, pictured first from left

One of the busiest and most productive women working in the welfare industry, Suraiya has been involved in many different and effective projects, including:

– Developing and conducting professional counselling services in the community and beyond.

– Dawah and upliftment programmes for community development.

– Training and community awareness programs.

– Upskilling and capacity development of staff and volunteers.

– Specialised play therapy, trauma counselling, reversions and family mediation services at Islamic Careline.

– Specific interventions for gender-based violence, drug abuse and various psycho-social matters.

– Development, training and initiating the first Muslim HIV/AIDS service in the country.

– Creating awareness, education and youth prevention programmes, an orphans’ and vulnerable children’s program, as well as a residential facility for children affected and infected with HIV/AIDS.

– Networking, fundraising and supervision of both MAP and IC services.

When commended for her vast sphere of welfare work, Suraiya expresses her gratitude for being able to accomplish it all to her Creator: “Alhamdulillah, all praises are due to Allah alone!”

Her days start with a spiritual early morning of zikr, prayer and contemplation. After having breakfast with her husband at home, she travels to the Islamic Careline office in Fordsburg. Her work days are spent responding to emails and looking for funding, training and development opportunities for IC and MAP. She offers an open-door policy for all staff in order to assist in troubleshooting implementation or other service delivery challenges.

She also supervises reports, attends meetings, mentors staff and oversees the day-to-day running activities of the office. “I am blessed to have a dedicated staff complement that assists me in my work. May Allah reward them all,” she adds.

In her spare time, Suraiya enjoys spending time with her children and four beautiful grandkids. She enjoys travelling, flower arranging and just relaxing in the quiet sanctuary of her home.

Suraiya has always had an inherent feeling within her that she needs to do more than just survive on this earth. This urged her down the humanitarian route. “I feel serious about making my life more about the well-being of others rather than just myself. I quickly learnt that the more unselfish you are in giving, the more you receive. They say you make a living by what you have, but you make a life by what you give!”

She was also inspired by the early realisation of the importance of educating oneself – which her dear parents insisted on. “We need to seek out our potential with the utmost humility and consideration for those around us.” She started Islamic Careline with these objectives in mind. “I felt the need to provide opportunities for women especially to find their potential, and fulfil their dreams of self-actualisation and integrity in a meaningful and constructive manner.”

Working at Islamic Careline has been emotionally moving for Suraiya, who has witnessed the zeal and dedication of young women as they blossomed and grew through the opportunities that they were presented with at the office. In terms of her clients, this guardian of social ethics says: “It’s richly rewarding to see how time and patience, together with empathy and negotiation, can facilitate in rescuing marriages and families. Alhamdulillah!”

One of her most rewarding experiences was developing an Islamic perspective to a global crisis for the MAP initiative. While Suraiya claims it to be a daunting and difficult task, she saw grounds for hope and opportunities for dawah, and found a means of debunking myths around Islam and Muslims, especially when working in diverse communities. She is also fulfilled by the knowledge she’s gained from keeping abreast of the HIV/AIDS landscape. “I am very grateful for having been part of this organisation,” she says, contentedly.

With much humility, Suraiya regards her proudest moment as the official and social recognition of both Islamic Careline and MAP; whether it was formally achieved in terms of an award or highlighted within general conversations in the community. “This still gives me a flutter in my tummy. And none of that would be possible without the help and support of all the well-wishers, staff and beneficiaries,” she says, gratefully. She’s also proud to have launched a book about her illness, and receiving positive feedback on it from readers who are benefitting by managing their own illnesses better. She is thankful to Allah for having blessed her with a trying time in her life, which culminated in her having the experience to help so many others.

Her life’s motto:Be grateful for every little thing in your life and ‘big’ things will follow.”

Suraiya finds a role model in anyone who epitomises the essence of being a Muslim woman without being apologetic about our value, according to the Quraan and Sunnah. On a broader level, Thuli Madonsela is someone who she truly admires.

Her favourite Quraanic verse: “And which of the favours of your Lord can you deny” (Surah Ar-Rahman)

When asked what her definition of success is, Suraiya responds, “The true accomplishment of success can only be found in the effort that was invested to attain it.”

Her future goals are to continue mentoring young people whenever she can. She wants to try and make a positive contribution to her family, community and country. She would also like to ensure that her loved ones – family or colleagues – realise the value of respect, integrity and gratefulness.

She advises anyone in the philanthropic field to constantly question their intention, to be honest and accountable in their dealings, and to know that the image that you portray is a powerful means of dawah (an invitation to worship God).

Mrs Nawaab is most grateful for being a servant of Allah.

Her greatest life lesson has been gratefulness and never losing hope in the mercy of Allah.

Suraiya considers the Proudly Muslims of South Africa initiative as a great opportunity for dawah, for incentivising people by acknowledging their contributions, and being at the forefront of social media as a pro-active and powerful tool of Muslim identity. “Jazakallah khair to the entire PMSA team,” she goes on to say.

Her last words would be the Shahada and to thank Allah for everything.

She would like society to remember her as a just, unapologetic and honest human being.

Our reverence for Suraiya Nawaab has been magnified after hearing her life’s narrative. A selfless luminary who sees potential and reform where most would relinquish their hope, she has inspired and saved so many homes, families, marriages and lives from despair and collapse. With her own life being enriched by helping others, we wish Suraiya well in her health and in continuing her great work; may her perseverance and unrelenting faith take Islamic Careline and MAP from strength to strength.

Moulana Suhail Wadee – Humanitarian and Custodian of Ashraful Uloom

Humanitarian.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as a person who is involved in or connected with improving people’s lives and reducing suffering. This one simple, yet powerful word is what describes and fully encompasses the values, morals and life’s purpose of Moulana Suhail Wadee. Currently at the helm of Ashraful Uloom Madrassah in Marlboro Gardens, Johannesburg, Ml. Suhail is an unsung champion of the destitute, as well as a religious leader and transformative stalwart of charitable enterprises.

Originally from Lenasia, Moulana Suhail’s family moved to a number of places before settling down in Marlboro, where he completed his matric. As a young child with big ambitions, he had no intention of becoming a Moulana or working at Ashraful Uloom, and would have preferred to go to university and study to become a doctor. Before Ml.Suhail did that, he decided to follow a friend to the Darul Uloom Zakariyya for a year to study hifz (memorising of the Quraan), and then decided to study further with Moulana Yahya Bham in Lenasia. During this time, at the young age of 19, his father sadly passed away while attending to some relief work in Mozambique. He denotes this as a life-changing event that altered his outlook on existence and thrust him into taking over Ashraful Uloom.

Allah chooses who he wants. Allah took me by force and put me in this work,” he says. With the support of his mother, who ran Ashraful Uloom at the time, he completed his hifz with Mufti Ahmed Moosa Data. At age 23, he married a woman that would support him in his journey and help him to grow Ashraful Uloom into the organisation it is today.

Moulana Yusuf Wadee from the Jamiat in Lenasia has been an inspiration to him and one of his greatest mentors. “He does remarkable work and you’ll never see his name in many of the projects he’s involved in. This shows his sincerity and dedication for the work that he does. When you sit and talk to him, you’ll never suspect the magnitude of the work that he does.” It was Ml. Yusuf Wadee who suggested that he study to become an Aalim, and Moulana Suhail took his advice. In 2010, he completed his Aalim course with Moulana Yunus Daya.

Water delivery in Hankey, organised by Moulana Suhail.

Allah has blessed me, Alhamdulillah,” he says. As a young boy, he relied on his intelligence to get him by and didn’t need to study as much for matric as the other students did. As people say, the smart ones are usually the naughtiest ones, and he jokingly says that “when people refer to Moulana’s children as the naughtiest children, I think they were referring to me.” His lack of ambition and nearly straying down the wrong path himself is what gives him the ability to empathise with others and understand their challenges in a non-judgemental way.

Becoming a Moulana was never on his list of professional objectives, due to witnessing the financial and community challenges his own father experienced. “It’s very selfless work that is often not appreciated.” After being suddenly plunged into the position, his perspective has changed, and today, he is awed and inspired by his father. He understands now that his dad was living for a higher purpose, a greater cause, and admirable principles and values.

Losing people closest to him has been a real eye-opener. Moulana Suhail’s brother passed on from leukemia as a child and while that was shocking to him, his father’s passing was truly unexpected, as well as a revelation. In hindsight, it was a turning point in his life that pulled him back from going down the wrong path as a young man. His son’s passing due to cancer, just a month away from his 7th birthday, was a painful time that solidified his belief in the fleeting moments of our lives. “You can go at any point. Within a few weeks, he went from being healthy to passing away,” he says, emotionally. The reality of how short life is made him want to do good work in this world while he is still here.

Ashraful Uloom was originally established in 1995, by taking in a few boys and allocating them to a home in Marlboro. In a short space of time, it grew and became a humanitarian organisation. At the peak of their work, while Moulana Suhail’s father was still alive, the organisation collaborated with the South African and Mozambican governments to fly in three cargo planes of relief aid every week. His father passed away en route to one of these relief projects in Mozambique.

The great work carried out by Ashraful Uloom has helped many disadvantaged communities.

Many organisations offered to take over the relief work during this revered family’s trying time, but Moulana Suhail’s mother, Apa Wadee, took the bold decision to continue the work at the organisation with her son. The relief work was then scaled down to focus on South African operations only; madrassah classes, training, seminars, business development, prison work, relief, welfare and community work, blanket drives and charitable missions in the townships. The organisation is now 23 years old and is growing exponentially; they have 35 permanent staff members and 100 volunteers on various projects. As part of the National Muslim Prison Board of South Africa and acting educational coordinator, Moulana Suhail develops educational programmes that are rolled out in prisons throughout the country. The Department of Correctional Services has also acknowledged their invaluable work with inmates in the country.

The most emotionally touching project for Moulana Suhail is their children’s home. It’s the closest to his heart because of the way it began with his father, and due to the knowledge he has about each boy’s difficult circumstances. “They come from challenging backgrounds. Some of their parents are on drugs, some are from abusive homes, some are orphans. They come to us for a safe haven and just seeing them play, laugh, joke and happy gives me the most pleasure.” The organisation houses and takes care of 24 boys, ranging from ages 7 to 18.

The work we do is because of Islam. The true essence of Islam is about helping and serving humanity and realising that you have an obligation to Allah Ta’ala. We do what we do because of Islam,” he passionately reiterates.

A project collaboration with Mincasa (Masjids and Imams National Advisory Council of South Africa) and IMASA (Islamic Medical Association of South Africa) has been one of his proudest moments. The organisations have jointly managed to support 200 ulema (body of Muslim scholars), muezzins (men who conduct the call to prayer) and apas (female Islamic teachers) with medical support. These individuals have really low incomes; some only receive as little as R700 a month and visiting a doctor is next to impossible. Seeing what his father went through as an Islamic teacher, Moulana Suhail says that being able to help people with similar struggles really means a lot to him.

When asked about his definition of success, he says: “Success can only be gauged once our eyes are closed for good. We don’t know if we are successful until we meet Allah. We can just have hope.”

His future goals are to develop and expand an institute that is next to a masjid in Mozambique, and as it is close to where his father passed away, he feels that it would be very apt to run a project there. He believes that a skills-development and women’s training centre would really benefit the community in this area.

Moulana Suhail recently arranged for water donations and distribution to the destitute.

Whatever you can do in this world, you must do it.” That is Moulana’s advice to others. “Every good action is a charity, it’s a reward and you don’t know what may be your ticket to paradise. To those who are already involved in doing this sort of work, continue to do what you do. Don’t ever become despondent because your (greater) reward isn’t here in this life, it is in the Hereafter.”

He is most grateful for his wife, children, parents and step-dad. He is also very appreciative of the family, friends and community that surrounds him. “They make life so much easier,” he says, and they inspire him to keep going.

He finds initiatives like Proudly Muslims of South Africa very important to encourage collaborations between organisations. “Everyone wants autonomy and that is understandable. We can keep the autonomy and still collaborate to have a greater impact. Ashraful Uloom works with many organisations and is open to working with others.”

We asked him if today was his last day and he could only say a few more words, what would these be? “Meet you on the other side,” he says jokingly, “but in all seriousness, consider your life very short, so do the most that you can in the life He’s given you.”

Bettering the lives of others is the driving force behind Moulana Suhail’s ambition and determination. It is with much humility and fortitude that he continues to inspire and improve the circumstances of the disadvantaged. While Ashraful Uloom was established and grown by his father, it is Moulana Suhail who persists in holding its name up to the highest merit, integrity and moral virtue.

For more information about Ashraful Uloom, please contact Moulana Suhail Wadee on suhail.wadee@madrassah.org.za

Zaahira Essay – Optometrist and Children’s Ocular-Care Advocate

Each morning, we open two gifts that we rarely think of as being exceptional. Our eyes are not only an optical guide that assists us to navigate our daily lives, they are a precious blessing that allows us to perceive 80% of all impressions, coordinate how we use the rest of our bodies and keep us out of harm’s way. Optometrist Zaahira Essay believes that everyone, regardless of socio-economic background, should be granted the opportunity to see the world through unclouded vision, and she does her best to provide them with that possibility.

Ms Essay calls Lenasia home. It’s a close-knit community in the south of Johannesburg, where she grew up after a move from Durban at the age of three. After matriculating from Lenasia Muslim School, she pursued a degree in Optometry at the University of Johannesburg.

Zaahira’s fascination with the faculty of sight developed from a young age; she admired her aunt’s beautiful green eyes and wondered why everyone else had brown eyes, but hers were so different. Over the years, her curiosity was never fully sated, so Zaahira decided to become an optometrist.

A year before graduating, Zaahira impressively managed the Paediatric Clinic at her university (UJ). After qualifying, she spent two years working for the West Rand Health Department in Krugersdorp, where eye health services were offered at the various clinics in Mogale, and during the same period, she also founded The Ruya Project. Currently, she spends her workdays at Torga Optical in Fourways Mall.

Growing up, Zaahira’s parents always encouraged her to get involved in community work and regularly took her younger sister and herself to an old age home to visit the elderly. In her teenage years, her father would take her to different organisations that required volunteers for charity work. Zaahira was also the secretary for the Lenasia Muslim Youth League, while at school. The group arranged and attended youth charity projects under the guardianship of Lenasia Muslim Women’s League. These experiences instilled the need in her to help others, and inspired her to establish a charitable non-profit initiative called The Ruya Project.

The Ruya Project aims to provide free eye-care services for kids from underprivileged backgrounds and communities. Zaahira goes out to the various children’s homes and does eye testing on their different premises. Glasses are also provided to the kids at no charge. Zaahira arranges her Ruya Project screenings on weekends when she isn’t working at her retail optometry job.

Zaahira also attends health days held by different organisations, such as the Radio Islam edition, where she assists with eye screenings. Previously, she also assisted at the Tiba Services for the Blind health day screenings in Lenasia.

Islam plays an influential part in her life, as “It teaches us to give charity in such a way that if you give with the right hand, your left hand should not know. As much as I want to create awareness regarding The Ruya Project, I still want to maintain that principle,” she adds humbly. “Any decisions I have made, every action that I’ve done, I always look to Islam for guidance. It is not only the beliefs we have, but it governs all that we do.”

Zaahira mentions an important saying by Prophet Muhammed (SAW): “The one who cares for an orphan and myself will be together in paradise like this,” and he held his two fingers together to illustrate. This Hadith was the inspiration as to why The Ruya Project was initially mainly focused on orphanages.

The newly-wed optometrist enjoys working with children and during her final year of studying, she boarded the Transnet Phelophepa train – a healthcare locomotive that travels out to assist rural communities. That was when Zaahira noticed the need for eye care in underprivileged communities, and that it’s something we take for granted. As a child, Zaahira’s mother suffered from a visual impairment at school and the teacher would punish her, thinking she was misbehaving. It was only later that they realised she couldn’t see properly and was not actually being naughty. This story is also one of the reasons why Zaahira decided to dedicate a project solely to aid children.

Zaahira recalls the very first screening she did at a kids’ home named Al-Hudaar. She helped provide three children with spectacles. When they were handed their prescription glasses, their reaction stirred her emotions. “They were so excited and had huge smiles on their faces. Their expressions are something I’ll always treasure,” she notes.

She’s most proud of getting the backing and involvement of different organisations like Brien Holden Vision Institute, Islamic Medical Association and Muslim Aid Australia. It gave her confidence in the project and the hope that the initiative could be taken even further to help more needy children.

One of her more personal life-changing moments was marrying Abdur-Rahmaan Jogee, who she praises as being the most wonderful man. “He has been so supportive of all my ventures, and has been instrumental in taking my dream of expanding this project further,” she blissfully mentions.

She finds the Proudly Muslims of SA initiative a valuable way to create awareness with regards to the various humanitarian plights that affect us, to celebrate those who help better the communities we live in, and to encourage others to get involved as well.

Her life motto: “To have a thing done, is to have it done well.”

She regards her parents as her greatest role models.

Her favourite Quraanic verse: Surah Ar-Rahmaan. Particularly, the line: “Which of the favours of your Lord would you deny?” as it lists all the favours that we as humans should be thankful to Allah (SWT) for.

Zaahira defines success as attaining Jannah (paradise). “Working hard in this world for the best in the hereafter.”

Looking to the future, Ms Essay would like to see how The Ruya Project grows and becomes bigger, and she hopes to reach out to more kids.

She advises fellow philanthropists to always believe in what you stand for, do whatever you can to help others, and persevere in your venture. “Even if you’re faced with criticism, continue with the good work that you do because every act counts and no deed is too small.”

Zaahira is most grateful for her family and their continued love and support.

Her biggest life lesson: “Life is too short to be anything other than happy.”

If today were her last day on earth, her parting advice would be to remember that everything you do in your life will come back to you, either in this world or in the hereafter; so always do good for others.

Zaahira would like to be remembered as someone who tried her best to do what she could with what she had, for those who have not.

Zaahira Essay is someone who finds true success in helping others. Her time spent relieving destitute children of their visual impediments leaves a legacy that they will never forget. These young, exuberant kids can now envision a better future for themselves, thanks to Zaahira’s selflessness and compassion. We wish her the best of luck with the commendable Ruya Project, and hope that she’s able to help even more children for years to come.

Ask Nanima? – Online Community Confidante and Philanthropist

“Beautiful is a woman who knows that people, places and things don’t define her. She is defined by her acts of kindness and a generous heart.”

Both these sentiments faithfully apply to an incredible force of a woman we’ve all fondly come to know as Ask Nanima? Hidden behind the veil of anonymity is a young, soft-spoken and determined mother-of-two who quietly and earnestly sets the wheels of compassion in motion.

Born and raised in Witbank, Mpumalanga, in the late 1970s-80s, ‘Nanima’ completed her schooling career before moving on to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where she studied a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Information Systems and Accounting. At the dawn of post-apartheid South Africa, she had an opportunity to attend a Model C school in Johannesburg, which exposed her to people of various races with different backgrounds. It was intimidating being the only Indian-Muslim child in the school, but it taught her to relate to people of various ethnicities and cultures. Nanima’s résumé details her career path working as an IT Auditor for KPMG and a Project Auditor at SARS.

Her parents have had the biggest impact on her life. She admires her father’s exceptional work ethic and sustained effort over the years. Nanima says: “My dad is in his late 70’s, but he still has more energy than the youth.” She attributes the person she is today to her mother, whose giving nature and friendliness has always inspired her. Nanima credits her siblings for playing their motivating part in her life. She admires that they are ambitious go-getters who have an action-driven outlook towards achieving their goals.

 

The Ask Nanima? network was born from a family discussion; her brother wanted to call it ‘Nanima’. They were inspired to start a platform where bored housewives could somehow help and interchange ideas with working mothers. Many big ideas had lingered in her mind over the years and she found this opportunity to be the perfect way to implement some of them. As a result, on 6 June 2007, the Ask Nanima? persona surfaced and now, more than a decade later, the name still holds its weight in solace.

The online platform was aimed at promoting home industries similar to the one her own nanima (grandmother) had run. She used to make papar (papadums) in the hot sun and sold them until she had enough money to send both her sons to study medicine at university. Nanima never envisioned that her digital stage would turn out to be what it is today. She affords her followers the same security of anonymity that she enjoys, and allows them to ask questions that they wouldn’t usually have the courage to, as well as voice opinions that they ordinarily wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing. Over time, she’d like to structure the platform to be more beneficial to people.

The anonymous questions have opened up a can of worms,” she says. “You can’t imagine that people are going through so much pain and suffering in silence.” It’s surprised her to see how lonely people are; they can’t seem to communicate with their loved ones. “People have lost hope in the mercy of Allah.”

People need to be kinder to one another.” Nanima speculates that since the questions come from ‘faceless’ people, it’s easy for others to judge and respond in abrupt and untactful ways. “They shoot from the hip,” she adds. On some days, she needs to leave her screen to calm down and recollect herself before responding to some distressing posts. The platform became a voice for the voiceless and the original aim was redirected to helping people feel better about their life situations. She feels that some followers’ reactions may be a disservice to the goal.

Nanima Foundation assisted with a robotics workshop for high school girls in Qunu

The Nanima Foundation started more recently in 2017. Helping people has been her primary aim and now with the foundation, she is able to do even more for the forlorn and destitute. She’s been involved with the distribution of Ramadaan hampers and a robotics workshop held in Qunu, in collaboration with Red Flight Mobile and Africa Rising. To date, Ask Nanima? has hosted 17 home-industry expos that promote breadwinning businesses. All proceeds from the stall hire at the home-industry expos are also donated towards charitable projects.

Bread is distributed by the Nanima Foundation to disadvantaged communities around Johannesburg

During Ramadan 2018, the foundation established the ‘bread pledge’. Sponsored by generous citizens of South Africa, loaves of bread are bought at R5 a piece. These loaves are then distributed to needy individuals in various townships around Gauteng, such as Alexandra, Ivory Park and Tembisa. The intent is to grow this initiative to other parts of the country.

1000 Good Deeds is a friendly challenge between Productive Muslim and Ask Nanima? Each dared the other to complete a certain number of good deeds. She encourages all to participate and suggest more good deeds for her to complete in order to reach her target. She hopes to inspire others to personally introduce this challenge into their own lives.

Nanima’s children follow in her philanthropic footsteps by helping to clean up the environment with their ‘river dirt catcher’ invention

Apart from these goodwill projects, Nanima is also an avid environmentalist. In 2016, the flooding of the Jukskei River caused debris and people’s belongings to flow down into her area from the Alexandra Township. This turn of events prompted her family to develop the ‘river dirt catcher’. This innovative idea was sparked by an invention in Sligo Creek, where the community used empty milk bottles to skim litter off the river. Nanima and her family tweaked the original idea by adding a pulley system, so that collectors wouldn’t have to touch the contaminated water and items. Nanima’s children were a huge part in the development of the river dirt catcher, and they won the silver award at the Eskom Science Expo. In June 2018, they were awarded the bronze prize at South Africa’s Eco-Logic Eco-Youth Awards.

She recounts that the work in her local community has by far been the most meaningful. Nanima, a typical young Muslim woman, had befriended the body corporate caretaker in her building; a typical older British man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She began working at the building’s body corporate mainly to assist him, as Parkinson’s patients have limited motor function. He would wait for her every morning at the guardhouse to have a quick morning chat. She recalls how he listened to her talk about her problems and gave her advice on how to manage them. His passing at the end of last year created a void that has been felt throughout their complex. “I didn’t realise how important he was in my life until he was gone.”

Workshops like Discover Yourself by Sadathullah Khan and Purification of the Heart by Dr Haifaa Younis have inspired Nanima to delve deeper into how she can make a difference. The Productive Muslim handbook encouraged her to be more aware of how she lives her life.

Nanima defines success by being a productive Muslim and an active part of the community.

Her favourite verses in the Quran are Surah Baqarah (2:216) and Ar-Rahman. Surah Baqarah, because it states, “…perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. Allah knows, but you do not know”. She also finds Surah Ar-Rahman very inspiring because it asks over and over again: Which of the favours of your Lord will you deny? “We should be more grateful for the blessings that Allah has given us,” she adds.

Her advice to those who’d like to get involved with philanthropic or environmental work is to find something that you’re passionate about and that makes you excited to wake up in the morning. “It can be a thankless, frustrating job, but if you know what your vision, mission and intentions are then that’ll keep you motivated.”

Her advice to herself (both younger and older) would be to have fun and not take life so seriously. With all the struggles that people face in the world today, it can be easy to lose hope, but she says we should always have a good opinion of Allah and never lose hope in his mercy. “Disasters are still happening all over the world, but Allah knows best. Remember that people like the Palestinians are martyrs, and what are martyrs? Martyrs are green birds in Jannah (paradise). So they are in a better place.”

Her biggest project going forward is herself, and she’d like to find her passion and purpose in this life. The AccidentalMuslims.com Johannesburg Unity Conference and the screening of the Freedom documentary by Julien Drolon inspired her to try to understand the Qur’aan better. She’d like to have the same feeling when she reads the Qur’aan as when she reads a book in English. She continues to search for understanding and spiritual connection so that she can teach her kids to connect with the holy book as well. “The Qur’aan was sent to all of us, not just a specific group of learned scholars.”

 

Nizamiye Mosque in Midrand. Image credit: www.stayhalaal.co.za

She makes a special duaa that women have more access to mosques. In Johannesburg particularly, ladies sections are not catered for at the masjids. “A lot of women feel isolated and depressed,” she says. This coming from the questions she has received on her platform. “My favourite mosque is Nizamiye Mosque in Midrand. I feel at home there…Masjids are Allah’s houses and they’re supposed to be the heartbeat of the community. Maybe more women would find peace and solace in Allah’s house, and make a few friends who would lift their depression and anxieties.” For revert Muslims who don’t have a support structure or community, the masjid should be that place for them, where they feel comfortable in going and have all their questions answered.

Nanima is very grateful for her family, especially her husband, who fully supports her in the most gracious way. “He provides for us so that I can do whatever I want to do, without having to worry about finances.”

She believes that it’s important to have initiatives like Proudly Muslims of South Africa, because the media portrays Muslims in a very negative light, whereas this kind of platform showcases Islam positively.

Her last words of advice would be to worry less and laugh more.

She wants society to remember her as someone who made a difference.

One of her favourite quotes: “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” – Napoleon Hill

From a simple online helpline to a place of hope and sanctity, Ask Nanima? has become a refuge for the broken, a rope of optimism for the dejected wishing to be pulled back into the folds of religion and society, and a lifeline for the silent who were afraid to voice their innermost thoughts or bare their scars. Nanima, we salute you for every restless and distraught soul you’ve appeased. We know that you will continue to humbly assist society in many more ways.

For more information, visit the Ask Nanima website.

Dr Jameel Desai – Maxillofacial Surgeon, Lecturer and Humanitarian

Dr Jameel Desai considers himself to be ‘an ordinary bloke’, but after having spent some time with him, we label him as ‘extraordinary’. This selfless maxillofacial surgeon donates his time and expertise in disaster areas and sacrifices financial gain to be of service to the larger South African community. In the face of tragedy and despair, he rebounds at life with a humorous and light-hearted outlook.

Jameel was privileged to have obtained his qualifications from two prominent South African universities; the University of the Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch University, and while his medical interest started early on in life, his desire to branch into facial pathology and surgery developed during his years as a medical student. He owes his inspiration to Dr Hafiz Kola, a family friend who is also qualified in the field, and in this way gets to positively impact the lives of people who’ve had to endure life-changing facial trauma caused by disease or injury.

His decision to give up private practice and work in a state setting was to fill a bigger role in society, but this did not come without challenges. He states that one of the biggest hurdles which South Africa faces is that state settings do not enjoy all the resources that private settings have and this results in a general apathy and negative mentality. “Trying to motivate and inspire people is a huge challenge,” Jameel says.

A typical day for Dr Desai starts with fajr salaah (morning prayers), a protein shake and a long drive to Pretoria from Johannesburg. He arrives at work in time to do his 7am rounds checking up on patients who’ve undergone surgery and inspect any new cases that have landed on his desk. A day of back-to-back theatre procedures sees him put the scalpel down at 5pm, but on days when surgery is not scheduled, he spends his time imparting his knowledge and skills to aspiring youth. Passion is etched on his face as he talks about teaching energetic undergraduates whose spark and vibe fills him with hope for the future of our country. “There are very talented and bright young people in South Africa,” he remarks.

An opportunity to assist overseas was presented to Dr Desai and his accomplished wife, Dr Shafeeqa Mayet (an anaesthesiologist), by Dr Qasim Bhorat, a core member of the Gift of the Givers medical team. A year after the war broke out in Syria, he contacted Jameel to ask the couple if they would contemplate risking their personal safety to donate their time and skills to help the victims there. This decision was not an easy one to make. The couple had to consider their children, but in the face of fear for their lives and their future, they put their faith in the Almighty and decided to answer this calling.

The Syrian crisis stands out in the doctor’s mind as the most brutal and horrific experience he has ever lived through. “To see the number of children being displaced, savagely injured, psychologically scarred and emotionally traumatised is something that continues to haunt me until this day.” He describes it as a genocide and not a conflict. He recalls an incident when a young boy stumbled into the hospital in Darkoush after having been shot in the chest. The Gift of the Givers team relentlessly worked on the boy for about an hour, but tragically lost the battle as he succumbed to his wounds. The boy’s father sat watching in a corner while an unbroken stream of tears flowed down his cheeks. His wife entered the hospital and responded to her husband’s embrace by beating him with her fists unable to contain her excruciating grief. The team discovered later that the husband was a part of the Free Syrian Army and that he had accidentally shot their only child.

After his service in Syria, Jameel subsequently travelled to various other disaster zones, including Gaza and Nepal. He is now on standby and forms part of the core Gift of the Givers medical team. He encourages those who would like to play a bigger part or assist in any way to never underestimate the value of their input and service since all these issues need funding and awareness. He also finds that a significant amount of word-of-mouth awareness is spread by the well-informed ‘aunty’ who is at home listening to the radio, chatting on the phone or online. “They awaken the communities around them,” he says.

Being Muslim is important to Dr Desai because it instils an obligation to live life with integrity and compassion, and to give of oneself unconditionally for the pleasure of the Almighty. He says that it’s a constant reminder that we are here to serve a purpose, and that Allah (SWT) has given us gifts which we should put to good use.

His definition of success is ‘the amount of free time you are able to generate and give of yourself without financial pressures and constraints’. He jokingly remarks: “Once I reach that stage, I will let you know.”

Today’s youth is at a delicate crossroads in that they are recipients of a culture of callousness. He feels that there is a lack of self-respect and respect for others. The youth need to recognise that they are the value of this country, the future of this country and they should conduct themselves accordingly. Upon reflection of his younger days, his advice to his young self would be to take better care of himself, and to come down to earth and get rid of arrogance at an earlier age because the biggest stumbling block is one’s ego.

When it comes to society, he doesn’t feel that he is important enough to be remembered but he would like his close family and friends to remember him fondly and say that he was a good guy, a gentleman who fought for what he believed in and fought righteously.

He says that it’s great to have organisations like Proudly Muslims of South Africa because it is important that society knows that even as a minority we make a sizeable contribution, and that Muslims are governed by a specific set of rules in Islam which forces us to be a people of integrity, compassion and love. “Muslims in SA are committed to the cause of bettering the community as a whole,” he confirms.

We’re all born blessed with a special gift or talent bestowed on us by our Creator, and while we may not all have the stamina and aptitude to specialise in the complexities of maxillofacial surgery, it’s clear that Dr Jameel Desai is indeed fulfilling his destiny as both a world-class medical professional and brave humanitarian. May he continue to touch the lives of hopeless patients and victims, and give them reason to admire themselves in the mirror and smile once again.