Zain Bhikha – Islamic Vocalist and Songwriter

Islamic singer and songwriter, Zain Bhikha needs no introduction as his inspiring lyrics and harmonies placidly drift through our stereo speakers and his unmistakable, reposeful voice usher us even closer to a beautiful religion that is so misrepresented in the media. You may know him as an artistic trailblazer of our time, however, we raise the curtain and shine a spotlight on the humanitarian side of this incredible voice artist. 

The Pretoria-born virtuoso began pursuing vocal euphonies from the age of two, an inherent gift that took him 18 more years to share with the world. After the tragic and sudden passing away of a close friend in 1994, Zain began to question the purpose of life and was reminded of its impermanence. A simple, yet sincerely recorded melody procured him the winning title of a singing competition held on Radio 702 in the same year. This impressive achievement marked the starting point of his artistic career, which has spanned over two decades.

Zain decided that if he were to engage in the profession of vocal arts, he would write and sing songs that were meaningful, motivated only by the love and glory of Allah. Zain warmly acknowledges the inspiriting encouragement he’s always received from his parents. They nurtured his creative aptitude from a young age, and supported his poetry writing and drama classes in school. He regards his profession as self-expression and is completely unfazed and not driven by the idea of fame. Starting out, Zain mentions that he had “zero expectations” and since then, every professional and artistic milestone he’s reached has been beyond anything he could ever have imagined.

The opportunity to travel around the world and meet incredible artists like Yusuf Islam and Dawud Wharnsby, unlatched his understanding of what it truly means to be Muslim. It taught him to make the most of life before returning to our Creator, by being the best we can be and striving for social justice. He says that as Muslims, it’s our responsibility to give to those who don’t have anything, to take care of the poor, to smile at each other and “to make things better while you are here.”

Zain says that he has benefitted most from his songs, as they’ve allowed him to become a better person. “My music mirrors my life experiences,” Mr. Bhikha says about his inspiration behind writing the incredible verses we have become so familiar with. He regards his children and their life phases as a great contributing factor to his lyrical work. His advice to aspirant youth is to pursue their artistic passion as a hobby and not as a full-time job, as the combination of faith and creativity can lean on precarious turf. Zain’s eldest son, Rashid has followed in his father’s accomplished footsteps having released his debut album, ‘Degrees of Separation’ last December.

One of Zain’s career highlights was a trip to London in 1999 where he met and recorded a song with Yusuf Islam, who remains as his mentor and source of inspiration. This introduced Zain’s gifted vocals to an international audience. While he may have fans as far as Australia and USA, Zain’s heart and roots are proudly engrained in South Africa and the rest of our beautiful continent. In fact, one of his favourite shows was a performance in the Ivory Coast. He cites traditional African acoustics as a considerable influence on his own unique musical style as it draws similarities to the use of drums in Islamic harmonies.

Zain has found that music and lyrics are a powerful unifier, it brings us closer together as Muslims around the world. He feels blessed that so many people resonate with his music, especially young children, who can often be heard singing along to his lyrics. Zain has a worldwide following of all ages yet he remains extremely humble. “We don’t earn our talents, Allah gives it to us,” he says. 

The father-of-four runs an NPO called Zain Bhikha Studios, where all proceeds from his album sales are donated to worthy charities. Zain also aids healthcare projects and supports two clinics in Cape Town. He works with Islamic Relief South Africa regularly, assisting with their orphan sponsorship programme and water provision for drought-stricken countries in Africa. Zain lends his dulcet tones to songs in aid of crisis fundraising – the most recent being for the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. “If we do small things consistently, we can make a difference,” he adds. Zain is also fond of doing shows and workshops at schools, both to inspire children and to learn from them. All funds raised at these events are distributed to charitable causes. 

Amidst the wars, oppression, racism and Islamophobia, Zain advises us to stay positive and remember the positivity held by our beloved Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), who always had tawakkul (trust in God) and relied on Allah through good and bad times.

His most rewarding experience was working with The Leadership College in Manenberg, Cape Town, where he helped produce a theatrical performance called ‘An Orphan’s Tale’. The spiritually uplifting play featured children from the college, some of whom never acted or sang before. They performed sold-out shows to raving audiences for two years. Zain was emotionally fulfilled seeing these young kids deliver the heartfelt message of the play so beautifully.

“We need strong role models, especially women.” Zain expresses what so many of us are thinking, stating that women are the drivers of our communities and homes, and the first teachers to our children yet they are often marginalised.

Zain says we need an initiative like ‘Proudly Muslims of South Africa’ in order to spread the message and gift of Islam to broader communities and show them the social justices that our religion brings. He expresses that we need to be inclusive of all communities – local and immigrants – if we’d like to continually enjoy the freedom to practice our religion here in South Africa. He adds: “We can create a mass amount of social change.”

Zain appeals to the youth to overcome the challenges they face with regards to self-esteem and believing in themselves: “No matter our flaws or self-proclaimed deficiencies, Allah loves us just the way we are.” He goes on to say that social media can also have a negative impact on young people because they compare their own lives to a digital ‘highlight reel’ of others, which leaves them feeling defeated and inadequate. Zain says it’s important to reach out to them through different initiatives like sports, music or drama. He intends to further his philanthropic work in this manner.

The esteemed recording artist runs a creative workshop called ACE – The Art of Creative Expression – where he motivates the youth at different schools. He advises us to do small things in our own capacity and mentions that money isn’t a requisite for helping others. Giving up our precious time to volunteer at an old age home or orphanage provides one with inner peace and contentment.

His greatest life lesson: “Be true to yourself and keep the intention of whatever you’re doing real.” Zain relates that life is temporary and loss is inevitable, however the only constant is our Creator and returning to him. “We need to prepare to meet our Creator in the best of ways.”

His life motto: “Making the most of every moment and taking the most from every person you meet.” Many of his life philosophies are symbolically embedded in his song lyrics but one that encapsulates his last album, The Passing Traveller is: “Live life as a traveller – be simple, be humble and be kind.”

Zain would like society to remember him as someone who told good stories, wrote about hope and positivity, and brought smiles to children. He wishes for people to continue listening to his songs and use them as an inspiration to find their way back to the Creator.

Zain Bhikha is the living embodiment of every soulful word he’s lyricised and every beautiful melody that he’s played. He perfectly defines what it means to be a ‘Proudly South African Muslim’ and is an exemplary ambassador of who we are on a local and international stage. He brings joy and upliftment to thousands through the power of his words and music. We wish him every success in continuing his artistic and philanthropic pursuits.

Khalil Aleker – Entrepreneur and Co-founder of AccidentalMuslims.com

Being a Muslim youth in an antagonistic society bent on degrading us is a tremendous challenge. The negative depiction of Islam in the media only serves to dissuade the younger generation, who often shy away from being associated with our 1439-year old religion.

Enter Khalil Aleker, a progressive entrepreneur, consultant and coach who knew that he had the capability to change perceptions. While he works as an Employee Engagement Manager during the day, Khalil spends every spare minute revolutionising the way we view Islam via his podcast and website, AccidentalMuslims.com

It’s only been a year since AccidentalMuslims.com was launched, however, what it lacks in age, it makes up for in drive and dedication. Khalil, along with co-founder Zaheer Parker, spearhead this revisionist platform which has started conversations across the country and begun altering opinions in the most inspiring way possible. 

While the name ‘Accidental Muslimsmay be perplexing to some, it’s a title that Khalil is closely connected to. While at high school, Khalil – like most teenagers – was internally conflicted with regards to religion. He thought that because his parents were Muslim, he was automatically a Muslim and as such, it was not a resolute decision he had made but merely a religion he had inherited. Being surrounded by good friends, turning to the Quraan and having a circle of knowledge changed him into someone who now consciously befits the title ‘Proudly Muslim’. Since then, Khalil and Zaheer were actively involved in the MSA (Muslim Students Association) at university, and they’ve set out to empower the youth.

These were the first rungs of inspiration on the ladder to AccidentalMuslims.com Witnessing how easily the youth were swayed and how afraid they were to be Muslim under the critical public eye, the two entrepreneurs founded their Cape Town-based organisation. They wanted to steer the youth back to Islam in a creative way, hence the prominence of podcasts on AccidentalMuslims.com

With over ten years of experience in the IT world, Khalil believes that podcasts are the way of the future. He says that people really value their limited time, and with podcasts, it’s easier for them to listen to content while multitasking; be it in the car on the way to work, while running up a sweat in the gym or preparing family meals in the kitchen.

In the beginning, many were dismissive of their idea, however Khalil put pessimism aside and arduously worked towards making AccidentalMuslims.com the success it is today. With over 12 000+ downloads of the podcast episodes, Khalil says that with the right intention and by putting everything in Allah’s hands, they were able to achieve their goals.

Inspiring speakers at an AccidentalMuslims.com meet-up

Podcasts were only the start to what is now a prospering platform. The idea to “bring the online community offline” got Khalil and Zaheer out of the studio and onto the podium, where they began hosting meet-ups for like-minded ‘Accidental Muslims’ and podcast fans. This grew in popularity and size which got the creators to organise a conference in Cape Town. Comprising of inspirational guest speakers from all walks of life, the conference proved to be a crowd-pleasing event which Khalil hopes to take to other South African cities as well.

The 35-year old says: “We believe we can learn from everyone.” At AccidentalMuslims.com, everyone is given an equal opportunity to express their beliefs and ideas, regardless of race, age, disability, culture or religion. “What AccidentalMuslims.com is about, is to raise people up and give them that platform to be better leaders.”

Attendees at the AccidentalMuslims.com conference in Cape Town

AccidentalMuslims.com is a registered NPO which tried to regularly team up with other charity organisations around the country. They have aligned themselves with Ilm SA in Durban, which provides bursaries to disadvantaged communities of all religions. They are also invested in Islamic Relief’s orphans project and are currently in talks with Penny Appeal South Africa

 

As we experience the highs and lows of faith and life, Khalil advises us to value the simple moments with loved ones and appreciate the magnanimity and graciousness of God.

Khalil’s proudest moment won’t be found in just a single accomplishment. He is in awe of the many blessings and opportunities brought by his organisation, including being featured on websites, being on live TV, speaking on radio, the success of their conference and having big brands aligned to their initiative.

His most touching experience thus far has been an encounter with a woman at their Durban chapter launch, who expressed how the AccidentalMuslims.com podcasts changed her life and gave her purpose after her depressive divorce. Khalil also recalls how an elderly Christian woman from Pretoria became closer to Islam through his platform. These gratifying micro-moments make Khalil proud and validate his journey as a positive thought-shaper.

Khalil’s best advice is: “Just do it. If you really want to do something and if you really believe in something, do it now.”

His future goal is to spread AccidentalMuslims.com’s groundbreaking change and optimism to Johannesburg early next year. They plan on hosting leadership conferences in both Johannesburg and Durban in 2018. Another interesting objective on deck is the launch of a TV series.

While we eagerly await that exciting new chapter to AccidentalMuslims.com’s logbook, Khalil Aleker continues on his inspirational quest to transform the youth by giving an aural lectern for remarkable speakers to be heard. You can listen to their captivating podcasts with the unsung, everyday heroes of our communities on www.accidentalmuslims.com

Alternatively, download the free mobile podcast application called ‘Stitcher’ and subscribe to AccidentalMuslims.com 

International Profile: Yvonne Ridley – Journalist and Human Rights Activist

It’s not often that one is afforded the opportunity to bask in the company of revered journalist, Yvonne Ridley. As serene as she is steadfast, Yvonne’s resolute spirit and veracity allows her to sculpt a more truthful representation of Muslims in the media. 

The British journalist became a ‘figure of fame’ after being captured by the Taliban in 2001. Agreeing to read the Quraan after her release had a profound effect on her own life; an effect so dynamic and compelling, that she reverted to Islam soon after in 2003. Her motivational talks and advocation for peace and women’s rights has been lauded the world over, especially within the Islamic sphere. She has become a global symbol of what Muslims are truly capable of, and her solitary voice speaks decibels louder than the cacophonous discourse from Western media.

Inspired by the conceivable change of the written word, Yvonne dreamed of becoming a journalist at age 14, determined and convinced that she could, in fact, help make those changes. “People would think that it’s the easiest thing in the world to tell the truth. Oh my word, it is not.” Yvonne’s candour about the state of media today is refreshing in a world where false-flags hang high and half-truths make headlines. Powerful entities prevent journalists like Yvonne from reporting the entire truth, with some correspondents paying the price with their lives in confinement.

Islam has completely changed Yvonne’s life in all respects. It has allowed her to become more focused, productive and more at ease with who she is. As a journalist in the Middle East, Ridley realised that she had to learn more about Islam in order to report objectively on it. A woman of her word, she upheld the promise to her captors, who asked her to read the Quraan upon her release. Assuming she’d find chapters on female subjugation, Yvonne was surprised to discover that the Quraan is actually the word of God, and not a written compilation of the men of God – a belief she held as a former Christian. She expresses that the Quraan is evidence that “As women, we are equal in spirituality, worth and education.” Yvonne’s investigative research into the history of women in Islam enlightened her on the liberties and self-determination these inspiring women had while being at the forefront of business, trade and the battlefield. She finds that as Muslims, we’ve gone backwards instead of forward since then, and in order to see progress, she urges all Muslim men and women to examine whether the latter have been given these equal rights today.

Yvonne is a speaker and campaigner for women’s rights in Islam

A fierce protector of female rights in Islam, Yvonne campaigns for women to have more prominence in the Islamic world. She mentions that our holy scripture should be a reference for patriarchal regimes to place more women in positions of power. “Our governments and rulers should reflect the people we are ruling. We need to see more women in places of decision-making. We need to see more women in all walks of life, and then we will start to see countries developing and evolving, and moving forward.” Yvonne prudently imparts that with women at the helm of policy-making, there would be less violence.

The 59-year old mother-of-one comments that Islam gives women the self-esteem to be both great mothers and career women. Often misconceived as a feminist, Yvonne reserves the same level of respectability for men as she does women, and advises them: “Instead of being our biggest detractors, be our biggest helpers.”

Yvonne hails one of her greatest achievements as being on the crew of the first boat to enter the port of Gaza in over 41 years, and with that, breaking the siege of Gaza by sea. Yvonne kept her composure when most of us would’ve crumbled, being surrounded by Israeli gunboats in the dark of night with all communication cut off. After the possibility of facing her demise, Yvonne and her team were fortunate to have survived the unnerving ordeal, and successfully sailed into the harbour where they were welcomed by more than 100 000 Palestinians. The President of the United Nations praised their efforts and compared their peace attempts to those of Mahatma Gandhi.

The humility and resilience of the Palestinian people strikes a soul-stirring chord in Yvonne each time she visits there. “They never give up their struggle. They never lose hope.” Yvonne admires their enduring spirit, often being witness on the front line during the worst atrocities that have befallen them. While they may be deprived of food, water and basic necessities, they are infinite in their source of courage.

Yvonne’s love for South Africa is rooted in our country’s remarkable ability to have overcome the struggle from our dark past to a hopeful future. She commends us on how far we’ve come and notes South Africa as a “shining beacon in the world and a testament to change”. Yvonne states that it was the forgiving nature of the South African people that brought about that change, and this makes her optimistic that the same can be achieved by Middle Eastern countries in turmoil.

Yvonne is a stalwart supporter of civil liberties, stating that “Human rights are for everyone. Human rights trump people’s skin colour, culture and nationality.” 

Her long-standing life motto: “I want to make changes and I want to make changes for the better.”

Her greatest life lesson: Islam has thought Yvonne self-respect and self-esteem. She’s learnt to respect herself and to not be reckless with herself, mentioning that “Before we can love others, we need to learn to like ourselves. We need to learn to appreciate and value ourselves first, then only we can do the same for others.”

Yvonne would like to be remembered as somebody who stood up for the oppressed, who gave a voice to the voiceless and most of all, as a good woman.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would think of Yvonne Ridley as anything less. A women who radiates grace and regality, Yvonne’s formidable pursuit for peace and women’s rights puts her in the status of so many iconic and heroic crusaders before her – Nelson Mandela included. She gives Muslim women the pedestal they so rightfully deserve to stand on, and claim their position as leaders and equals in modern Islamic society. From the combat zones of war to the media battlefields, Yvonne Ridley is a valiant soldier of truth and empowerment.

Dr Shaheda Omar – Children’s Rights Advocate

A courageous person is someone who, despite their fears, faces adversity head on. As Clinical Director of The Teddy Bear Foundation in Johannesburg, a multi-disciplinary facility for abused and neglected children, Dr Shaheda Omar always displays immense courage, commiseration and resilience, even when confronted by the most heart-shattering cases. Working with abused children is by no means an easy feat, however, this sentient 61-year-old lives by the principle that by treating each child as your own, it facilitates their healing and helps break the cycle of violence.

Born in Lichtenburg in the North West Province, and having grown up in the densely populated suburb of Ferreirasdorp in Johannesburg’s CBD, Shaheda loves the exuberance of the city. She reminisces about the invaluable kinship, care, generosity and kindness in the inner-city, where neighbours always looked out for each other. It was a place that defined the true spirit of Ubuntu. Despite growing up without material luxuries, Shaheda found that social and emotional comforts were more meaningful, and helped shape her into who she is today. This upbringing taught her to “love people and not things, and use things and not people.” 

She attended Ferreirastown Primary School and completed her matric at Roodepoort Indian High School, which was a politically active institution during the Apartheid era. Shaheda had the fortune of being educated by anti-Apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, who prescribed to the students that education was their passport to a better future. He, along with two of her other teachers, were arrested and detained for their role in the struggle during which Timol passed away in 1971 while in police custody.

To get to school each morning, Shaheda would walk 30-40 minutes to Fordsburg, take a 45-minute train from there to Roodepoort, where she and her school mates would then walk another 25 minutes through unsafe areas to reach their destination. Her school lacked many resources and had no sporting facilities, play area or library. She encountered an inspiring librarian who introduced her to books, reading and literature. Eagerly wanting to read, but not having any money to buy books, Shaheda would walk the long distance to the closest library in Fordsburg to fulfill her literary quests. Experiencing these deprivations, as well as the Group Areas Act and separate education systems for people of colour, made Shaheda determined to improve her situation. It amplified her thirst for knowledge, and made her realise that “education is her greatest weapon.” 

Dr. Shaheda Omar is the Clinical Director of The Teddy Bear Foundation

Shaheda has since built a rather impressive resume upon the foundation of those words, achieving both a Bachelor of Arts degree and Honours in Social Work through UNISA. She has also attained diplomas in Medical Technology, Marriage Guidance and Counseling, as well as Sexual Abuse Evaluation. She then went on to complete her Masters in Mental Health and PhD in Childhood Sexual Abuse at the University of Johannesburg. Many of her research articles have been published in the academic sphere and she’s done presentations at national and international conferences on the subject of child abuse. While she considered herself to be reserved while growing up, Shaheda overcame the inferiority complex infringed on her by the inequitable laws of Apartheid through studying and working. She sought courage in having an impact on changing things around her. “When you continue doing things in the same way, nothing will happen. But if you confront your challenges and do things differently, amazing things will happen.”

Islam is an integral part of her daily life, noting that she is broadly grateful to Allah (‘God’ in Arabic) for every mercy and blessing. She cannot start or end her day without the remembrance of her Creator. Shaheda’s spiritual connection to Allah provides her with the inner strength and fortitude essential to endure the traumatic and stressful nature of her work. This type of anguish could mentally, emotionally and psychologically reduce one, but prayer (reading holy scriptures and Quranic verses) is the driving force that invigorates her and gives her the conviction to power on, regardless of what she’s experienced.

Her professional journey began counseling children at schools and working with HIV/AIDS patients. Initially, she was overwhelmed by working with child abuse cases, however she returned to the field once her own four children were grown up, and once she had more professional and life experience under her belt. She was headhunted by Childline, where she counseled the elderly and adolescents for three years. The Teddy Bear Clinic approached her thereafter, and she accepted the position which has since allowed her to grow and assist many victims of child abuse and their families. Shaheda wrote up a diversion programme for young sex offenders and children who sexually abuse other children. She also recruited volunteers, as well as wrote and developed training material, and coached counsellors in South Africa and other African countries. Shaheda chooses to impart her invaluable knowledge and experience to empower others, in hope of reaching the goal – ‘Child Abuse No More’. She wrote a court preparation programme for abused children and their parents, compiled a school outreach programme and published a book regarding the issue of young sex offenders. We also commend Shaheda for being instrumental in changing the sexual offences legislation and policy in parliament.

She believes “Reputation is precious but character is priceless.” Shaheda says that healing children is the greatest reward and one can never stand as tall as when you yield to help a child in need. She is passionate about developing programmes enabling inclusion for children from marginalised backgrounds, including those with special needs and the historically disadvantaged. She is currently trying to capacitate people living in rural areas on identifying, managing and reporting child abuse. Other than her demanding day job, Shaheda also sits on different organisational boards and offers her time, counsel and input outside office hours, which often extends into nights and weekends.

Teddy bear therapy

During her 35 years as a philanthropist and social worker, Shaheda has worked with various organisations including the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP) in Limpopo, a child abuse facility in Rustenburg, a paralegal resource centre in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, as well as abused children as far as Namibia. Her team also deals with many cases of gender-based violence and sexual violence in schools around Diepsloot, Johannesburg.

One of the major challenges she’s faced is having limited resources; human and financial. She’s been turned away from funding and encountered people who were indifferent to her cause. Witnessing destitute victims who didn’t have any money to access resources was a revelation for her to reach out and meet their needs. She sacrifices her time, effort and personal responsibilities to lend emotional and psycho-social support to victims. An evaluation of the positive changes she is able to make in the lives of children has fueled her passion to continue her philanthropic pursuits.

Shaheda has implemented the use of K9 therapy for court preparation

Dr. Omar is grateful for all the small mercies and achievements in her work domain, as these are the building blocks that culminate into something big. She is particularly gratified by the success of the innovative programmes used to help abused children including drama, art and music therapy, and also K9 (dog) therapy to assist kids with court preparation. Evading any recognition or pride for her hard work and dedication, Shaheda says that seeing the impact made on the children gives one a sense of confidence in continuing this journey. She says it’s important to “turn a crisis into an opportunity.” She never takes sole credit for any triumphs, stating that it’s all a team effort. “It’s not about winning or failure. Getting recognition is great but failure only makes one stronger. You only fail if you fail to not try again.”

A therapy session scenario

 One of her most disconcerting projects were children (aged 12 and under) who sexually abuse other children. This despairing experience broadened her thought process and made her realise that one can never be judgmental in this line of work.  She grimly recalls the soul-destroying case of a 4-year-old boy who was sexually abused, which sticks with her as a poignant reminder of the powerlessness and defenselessness of children. While one may lose all faith in humanity after dealing with such abhorrent cases, Shaheda always finds grounds for hope and positivity. She believes that there’s hope for every child you reach out to, provided they get the help they need.

Dr. Omar says that the Proudly Muslims of SA initiative creates an awareness that nothing is impossible. “There’s so much out there to be done, and a platform of this nature will inspire and motivate people to jump out of their comfort zones and assist others.” 

A safe haven for children inside The Teddy Bear Clinic

Her advice to the humanitarian in us all is to be honest, demonstrate courage, be true to yourself and compassionate to others. She prudently expresses that adversity and hardship doesn’t define you, and even though you don’t have control over what has happened to you, you do have control over how you respond to it. 

Her philanthropic goal for the future is to establish a support structure for children with disabilities, as they are the greatest targets for predators.

Her life motto: “I don’t believe in perfection, I believe in striving for excellence. People get rewarded for productivity, not perfection.” 

Shaheda would like to be remembered as someone who was always ready to embrace any challenge and willing to defy inequalities, confront deception and do whatever it takes to help others. 

Child protector by profession, guardian angel by our designation, Dr. Shaheda Omar is an exquisite and luminous ray of light to children who have been through their darkest days. Her selfless and empathetic efforts give innocent victims the power to rise above their haunting experiences with the promise of an optimistic future. She returns the true meaning of ‘childhood’ to each young life she saves.

For more information about The Teddy Bear Clinic, please call 011 484 4554 or visit ttbc.org.za

Dr. Shenaz Ghood – Events Organiser, Transformational Coach and Social Uplifter

“Who you’re being is far more important than what you’re doing.” This is one of many inspirational quotes by Dr. Shenaz Ghood, whose reservoir of infinite wisdom and knowledge could fill volumes of self-help books.  Two hours spent in her presence gifts one with more life lessons than could be learnt in ten years. She exudes a vivacious and optimistic energy, leaving those who have been lucky enough to make her acquaintance feel more enlightened and hopeful.

For the past 8 years, Shenaz has been uplifting people through many mediums of social and humanitarian work, unwrapping people’s potential to bring out their best selves. The 49-year old metaphysical health coach dedicates her life’s work to healing and helping others.

Shenaz calls Pretoria home, where she grew up in Marabastad and completed high school in Laudium. She praises her father for being a huge inspiration in her life, and refers to him as one of the kindest people she has ever known. He owned a clothing business, buying and selling used clothes to people who couldn’t afford the cost of brand new attire. At 7 years old, Shenaz’s virtuosity for entrepreneurship emerged; she collected bottles from people’s houses and sold them at shops to collect pocket money, which she later spent at the local arcade playing video games. She accompanied her father on his many business dealings throughout her schooling years, and learnt the ins and outs of the trade. At 18, Shenaz started her own business, selling tracksuits to college students while on campus. She currently runs a successful hardwood flooring business. Her keen sense of business knowledge and savvy ingenuity is something she still carries with her today, and she constantly invents new concepts and seeks interesting opportunities.

While studying Pharmacy at Rhodes University, Shenaz began to realise that healing could come both physically and emotionally from alternate sources, other than medication. She left her studies soon after to pursue many different courses in energetic-healing modalities including kinesiology, reflexology, hypnotherapy, magnetic therapy and acupressure. This mother-of-three also achieved her doctorate in Acupuncture through the Open University of Sri Lanka. Her current passion lies in Negative Emotional Decoding; helping people steer away from their dismissive emotions and channel their inner positivity instead. Shenaz believes that ‘love’ is the ultimate healing factor. Metaphysical health coaching is one of her many talents, and she provides therapy – often free of charge – to those who need it. 

Becoming a mother taught her selflessness, gratitude and unconditional love. Her dedicated and heartfelt involvement in social work can be ascribed to these irreproachable qualities. She leads by example, supporting her children and learning pivotal lessons through each of their life’s journeys.

Shenaz and her Eid Shopping Festival team

The Eid Shopping Festival came to fruition when Shenaz discovered a gap in the market and an opportunity to help other aspiring female entrepreneurs and home industries. A project of the Ghood Foundation, the festival offers over 300 exhibitors the chance to sell their products. Any profit made at the event is charitably returned to grow and develop it further for the exhibitors. A massive undertaking, Shenaz helps relatively unknown entrepreneurs grow into established businesses by providing them with training, education, coaching, communication and marketing strategies, as well as branding. Some of these women have went on to trade their merchandise on an international market. She uplifts and motivates these enterprising home industry executives to create exciting, new and dignified opportunities for themselves. Her goal is to mould these vendors into the most successful entrepreneurs that they can be.  Watch this video on Facebook about the Eid Shopping Festival

Excited shoppers at the ‘Dignity Store’, led by The Ghood Foundation

Shenaz believes that rather than giving hand-outs to people, it’s more beneficial to coach them on how to be the best that they can be at their trade. While the Ghood Foundation donates blankets, groceries and food to the underprivileged, Shenaz finds more meaning and satisfaction in helping people sustain themselves. “People have abilities, but not opportunities.” Shenaz explains that she identifies a person’s strengths, assets and abilities, and then gives them unsurpassed opportunities to develop further. Skills development, interpersonal relationship adeptness and business etiquette are just some of the services which she generously teaches to entrepreneurs. 

Shenaz’s charitable ventures are endless. She works with various local organisations to facilitate donations or Zakaat (mandatory charity) for those in need who approach her. She works closely with the Gift of the Givers, and her charity work is funded by all her own enterprises. Shenaz has also established the ‘Dignity Store’ where those less fortunate can shop for necessities for free. Entrepreneurial skills development and human upliftment is a fundamental part of the Ghood Foundation which is a cornerstone for creating opportunities and changing lives.  They offer call-centre training which involves instructing up to a hundred people for free, providing them with vital skills that will lead to permanent employment. Shenaz also initiated a project called Ghoodies, which provides entrepreneurs who are strapped for cash with a social franchise that they can then pay out over 5 years. Watch this video about the Ghood Foundation

Shenaz is also trying to raise R11 million to fund The RX3 Centre, a community-based Recovery, Rehabilitation & Reintegration Facility for Drug & Substance Abusers. The centre is the first of its kind, and will equip patients and substance abusers with various useful skills, making their reintegration back into society a more agreeable process. She believes that people should not be judged and that their behaviour can be disciplined and corrected. With drug abuse becoming the epidemic that it is, and witnessing children as young as 6 years old become cocaine addicts, Shenaz recognised the need for this type of centre. To further combat the rampant drug problem, she is launching a Youth Empowerment project – a written course that will be submitted to the Department of Higher Education for inclusion in Life Orientation modules at schools. The next phase of the project will be a Hope Teen Centre to help children aged between 10-18 years with emotional and behavioural disorders, along with their families. The conception and duplication of this three-pronged project in as many locations as possible is her philanthropic goal for the future.

Islam isn’t merely a religion to Shenaz, it’s a way of life. It provides her with guidelines on how to live happily, healthily and wholesomely. Islam guides every step that she takes and encourages her to make differences in the lives of all those around her. Shenaz firmly believes in the love of God Almighty, as compared to the fear of God. With her mother being a revert, she grew up in a staunch Islamic environment which led her to seek a deeper understanding of the science and sensibilities of the religion. She actively sets out to decipher the simple elements of Islam, stating that when you understand how every aspect is done, it imparts more meaning and makes you aware of living in the ‘now’. She places prominence on the Arabic words ‘Bismillah hir rahman nir raheem”, stating that Allah (God) is most kind, most merciful, most gracious and most forgiving, and says that if you could live by these words, what more could anyone want from you as a person. She regards Islam as a phenomenal religion, and that by understanding its dynamics, it puts one in a powerful and knowledgeable position. She mentions that sometimes the perception of Islam gets warped, however if you read the religion and apply it as what it truly is, it’s remarkable.

Proudly Muslims of South Africa finds an avid supporter in Shenaz, as she says Muslims are currently stigmatised and ostracised, falsely called terrorists and kicked out of their homes and countries. “This type of initiative will change mindsets and allow people to see what Muslims are doing. Traditional media has a negative spotlight on Muslims, therefore it’s important to highlight the positive work we do and show that we are good people who display kindness and generosity.” Shenaz adds that South African Muslims are part of a huge economy that helps millions of people around the world with billions of Rands in aid and relief.

 

When asked what inspires her charity and social work, Shenaz replies: “People are endless. They have forgotten who they are and why they are here, and they’ve forgotten that serving others makes them feel better. They have forgotten that forgiving is not for the other person, it’s for themselves. I want them to learn love again for their fellow human family.” She regards time as her most valuable asset, expressing that giving away her time (and therapy) is more precious than giving away financial aid.

Her proudest moment was watching the Eid Shopping Festival come to life, after working for an entire year towards it. It connects communities and grows businesses. 

Shenaz finds the greatest satisfaction in the small wins she experiences each day. Knowing that she has helped individuals in dire straits to overcome their difficult situations gives her the most emotional fulfillment.

She advises other aspiring philanthropists to take care of themselves more and love themselves enough, because if you don’t, you won’t have anything left of yourself to give to others.

Talking about taqdeer (fate), Shenaz extends her treasured insight: “Nothing in your past could be any different, because it has brought you here, now. Spirituality teaches us that everything happens for a reason. One should not dwell in the past – move forward, take what you have learnt and use it to improve upon yourself tomorrow.”

She lives by the motto: Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.

Her greatest life lesson centers around the fact that people lose the essence of generosity and kindness by only assigning monetary value to it. However, even by simply just smiling at someone, it can change their lives. “There is so much reward even in the tiniest of deeds.” Shenaz says that serving humanity in the smallest ways is most profound and rewarding for her.

“Everyday we’re teaching, we’re educating, we’re training, we’re transforming.” – in her own words, Shenaz sums up everything she lives her life for. Silver linings are her expertise, and she never sees anyone at face value. Instead, she sees people for far more than they believe they’re worth. In the battlefield called life, we could all use a cheerleader like Shenaz Ghood, ardently motivating us from the sidelines.

 

To get involved with the Ghood Foundation, email info@ghoodfoundation.com 

For more information about the Eid Shopping Festival, email info@eidshoppingfestival.com 

Christina Majola – Daycare Founder, ‘Ouma’ and Nurturer

Kindness and warmth are just two of Ouma Majola’s many intrinsic traits. Wearing her heart on her sleeve, Ouma has devoted the past 24 years to social and welfare work. While she may be a mother of one, Ouma is a nurturer, caregiver and counsellor to many. She started the Little Rose Centre in Kliptown, Soweto, in 1993 and it has since become a sanctuary to over 170 children.

 

Born in 1959, Christina Nomayeza Majola – more fondly known as Ouma Majola or Safiyya – comes from a doleful background. Sadly, she lost her parents when she was just 12 years old, and moved in with her elder sister and brother-in-law thereafter. She schooled at Hlakanipani in Dlamini, Johannesburg, and attended Lilydale High School where she completed Form 2 – today’s equivalent of Grade 9.

Ouma (Safiyya) Majola

 

Her conversion to Islam was largely inspired by her only son, Nhlanhla. As a single mum, she feared he would succumb to the pressure of gangs, drugs, alcoholism and the roguishness elicited by an unfavourable socio-economic background. One day, he expressed that he wanted to accept Islam which she didn’t dispute. He attended an Islamic boarding school for five years to learn more about the religion. Ouma observed the kind of man her son was becoming, abound with respectability and discipline. It encouraged her to revert to Islam as well, and in doing so, she experienced a change within herself. She says that Islam taught her that as Muslims, we don’t judge others based on what they do or have.

Ouma notes that growing up as an orphan, there were many people who offered her welfare, however, due to her pride, she declined any assistance. She didn’t want to be helped, but rather be of help. Ouma dreamed of starting her own NPO to help underprivileged children who come from a background like her own. She didn’t let her lack of a formal education immobilise her goal of bringing change to the lives of others. 

After moving to Kliptown, Ouma’s good intentions were given a tangible start with the help of a Suraya Hassan from Islamic Relief, who was involved in local community work; cooking for and feeding the needy. Suraya approached Ouma and fostered her interest in starting a vegetable garden to aid the destitute. Once the gardening project was underway, Suraya once again assisted Ouma with the next phase of her plan; opening up a daycare centre for vulnerable children in the informal settlement. They broached the matter with City of Johannesburg, which donated an old double-decker bus. The bus served as the founding point for Little Rose Centre where a playgroup was housed for four years, and at the time, Ouma was only able to offer kids meals once or twice a day. Although small, a roof over a child’s head was far better than none at all. 

 

Some of the structures on the Little Rose Centre site. The green container is the original shack Ouma started her daycare with.

Islamic Relief sponsored a more stable structure for the children in the form of a container in 1995 and Woolworths followed suit with three more in 2004. They also gave her the opportunity to study Early Childhood Development, so she could have the theoretical credentials necessary to help identify the problems these children face. 

Little Rose Centre in Kliptown, Soweto

 

Slowly but steadily, Ouma’s plans for her daycare facility were falling into place. With generous sponsorships from many different agencies, her vision was becoming a reality. Shamalindi, a Belgium-based relief organisation donated a more stable structure for the children, which was a requisite for Little Rose Centre to be liable for a government subsidy. Sage Foundation sponsored a library container and books which eliminated the long distances the kids walked to get to one. Fujitsu equipped the centre with a much-needed computer lab and a container to furnish it in. Ouma mentions Faizel Gattoo from Lenasia as someone who has also helped her organisation considerably. She also recalls Dr. Nana Hassan, who supported her project from the start and took care of the needs of the entire community, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

Little Rose survives only on the donations that individuals and various organisations offer monthly, and is run by a group of dedicated volunteers. Some volunteers even cross borders, coming from overseas to stay and help out at the centre.

 

The playground at Little Rose Centre

 

It devastates Ouma Majola to see kids from high-risk households being removed from their families by social workers. Determined to find a solution, Ouma offers her créche as a refuge to those children and provides them with stability, care, food and an education. She conducts home visits to ensure the children are being well taken care of and to identify any potential problems, organising medical help and social-worker intervention when needed. Ouma also completed courses in HIV counselling to aid the many families living in the area affected by the disease. Selfless and sympathetic, Ouma regards other peoples needs as her first priority above anything else. 

Ouma Majola and a few of the children she takes care of

 

Ouma welcomes children of all races, nationalities and religions, and never discriminates against anyone. Her heart and establishment is open to 170 children, with 110 (from ages 1-6) attending daycare and the remaining attend the after-school program. Of these, 18 orphaned children live full time at Little Rose Centre. Her efforts don’t just stop with the younger generation. Little Rose Centre also functions as a soup kitchen, providing one meal a day to the needy members of the community.

Ouma Majola applies an attitude of gratitude to every aspect of life and is thankful to God Almighty for all she has been able to achieve in her charity work. Initially, her most difficult challenge was not having enough resources as she couldn’t bear seeing a child go hungry. She praises all the volunteers and sponsors who helped her build Little Rose Centre from the ground up, saying she couldn’t have imagined doing it alone.

The library at Little Rose Centre

Her proudest achievement is based on the progress that Little Rose Centre has made. From the double-decker bus in which she first started, to seeing how her centre has developed and grown over the years into a place of hope and mercy, she says all this success is due to the power of God and the support of her loved ones. She advises others to always work together towards humanitarian goals.

Left: Colourful drawings decorate the centre.  Right: Inside one of the rooms in the dormitory.

 

She finds solitude in being able to offer a safe haven to children who come from homes without parental love or concern, providing her symbolically wide shoulders to lean on, along with endless affection and comfort. It gives her so much joy to see the kids she fosters excel at school. Having the ability to help them – even in the slightest – fills her with pride.

Ouma Majola says that Proudly Muslims of SA is a great way of showing the good work Muslims are doing. “It is something we should be proud of.”

Inside one of the classrooms at the daycare centre

She teaches children at the center to exercise tolerance and patience and to be independent, adding that everything she does, she does so for her Creator. 

Ouma wants to be remembered as someone who always gave whatever little she had away and lived to benefit others. She wants people to be proud of her and follow in her philanthropic footsteps, continuing the good work at Little Rose Centre.

In a world overcome with weeds, Ouma Majola has planted a garden of hope for the children of Kliptown. She waters it with faith and love, and continues to grow it into a place of shelter and happiness. A place that these children can joyfully call ‘home’.

 

For more information, visit www.littlerosecentre.com

Yusuf Essa – Realty Entrepreneur and Skills Developer

Multi-award winning company, Choprop SA has its prestigious reputation firmly embedded in the property industry. A 100% black-owned business with branches allotted all over the country, its founder and CEO, Yusuf Essa is widely recognised for his company’s excellent service and meteoric rise to the top of the property game. However, this is only the commercial part of what makes the Choprop brand unique. The uplifting social work carried out by this enterprising and caring entrepreneur is what takes his company from ordinary to uplifting.

Yusuf 'Choppee' Essa

The immense success achieved by Yusuf, also known as ‘Choppee’, by his friends and family, isn’t something he inherited or merely had handed to him. Growing up as the youngest of four siblings in Laudium, Pretoria and losing his father when he was just 9 years old, Yusuf recounts his childhood as being a trying one. The financial difficulty for his family to make ends meet is a memory that keeps him grounded today. He looked up to his eldest brother, who was like a father figure to him.

 

After leaving school in Standard 9, Yusuf set up his first sales venture as a hotdog vendor in 1990. A year later, he ran a café in Laudium. His interests in business were expansive from a young age, demonstrating an innovative edge and resourcefulness. Following the closure of his café in 1993, Choppee worked as a Sales and Marketing Manager for two years, and then moved on to owning a ‘cash & carry’ business, which in time expanded to several outlets. He simultaneously owned eight cellular dealerships in different townships, including Mabopane and Mamelodi.

2007 was the year that marked the beginning of what is now the largest independently owned B-BBEE Real Estate groups in South Africa. Yusuf and his wife, Shazia, were inspired to turn their house-hunting hobby into a real estate agency. With humble beginnings operating from their garage, Choprop was born, and through ten years of sheer determination, fixity of purpose and intrepid business acumen, Yusuf transformed an idea into an empire.

Although Mr Essa has completed numerous courses, training and workshop events, he credits experience as the best teacher. The 44-year old father of three has found growth from adversities, helping him to develop an attitude of resilience.

Choprop makes front page business news

 

As wide as his influence in the property world is, it’s Yusuf’s impact as a philanthropist that is truly remarkable. He is the Deputy Chairperson of Laudium Cancer Care, a cause that’s very close to his heart, as many of his family and friends have been affected by the disease. He is an honorary member of Care Services for the Aged and regularly holds charity auctions and fundraisers. He is also involved in a project with Awqaf SA, called the Darus Shifa Family Centre, in Raslouw, Pretoria, where 60 homes are to be built as part of a care centre for the aged.

Yusuf would like to emulate the beloved Prophet Mohammed (SAW), stating that Islam has everything to do with moulding him into the person he is. Being accountable for his actions, and knowing that all dealings are answerable to the Almighty Allah, keeps him principled and in check.

 

A near-death health scare at age 38 changed Yusuf’s perspective on life and made him look at his existence differently. He views his charity and social work as a way of giving back to society, mentioning that he has been so blessed and therefore wishes to live a purposeful life through philanthropy.

Choprop sourcing new real estate talent at Thola Umsebenzi in Shoshanguve

The staggering rate of unemployment in South Africa is something Yusuf would like to see change. In his capacity to make a difference, Choppee offers motivational talks and recruits talent from various townships who have an aptitude for real estate. Initially, he found the recruitment process challenging, having to go out into high-risk areas struck by poverty. He saw a niche in the market to empower those less fortunate, encourage transformation and boost careers. Yusuf established the Choprop Academy of Learning, where he provides realty courses, skills development and training for the new recruits, franchisees and existing agents. He offers the 2-day Intensive Basics Real Estate training for free to people who cannot it.

He ties in his humanitarian work through his business, creating more leaders in his industry. He provides previously disadvantaged community members with wealth-creation opportunities, allowing them to become self-employed with an unlimited earning potential.

Jobseekers in Tembisa line up to be recruited by Choprop

His proudest charitable achievement is seeing his vision of creating job opportunities come to life and thrive. Many of the agents he has recruited from the townships are now established and successful in their careers and are able to earn a dignified living. This gives him the utmost contentment and satisfaction.

He sees Proudly Muslims of SA as a great platform for Muslims to get noticed for their great work in the bigger scheme, especially with Islamophobia on the rise. He says that majority of Muslims live meaningful, purposeful lives and don’t want to take credit for their excellent humanitarian efforts, however it’s now become a time when it’s imperative to change perceptions.

Yusuf advises other aspiring philanthropists to “Make a difference in your own life first. Get yourself into a position where you are able to go out and make a difference from the top down.”

The Choppee Journey

Mr. Essa can also add ‘author’ to his long list of impressive accomplishments, recently penning a book called ‘The Choppee Journey’ which follows his life’s passage from a modest, grappling upbringing to his progressive evolvement into a successful entrepreneur.

His life motto: “To create value and leave people better off than I find them.”

Choppee’s greatest lesson is not to take life for granted. He’s learnt to live in the moment, bury his ego, stay open to constructive criticism and improve upon himself.

He would like to be remembered for the difference he’s made and for being a good and generous businessman, son, husband, father and friend.

 

Yusuf Essa lives out the philosophy that if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. He actively seeks out budding estate agents and teaches them the trade, permitting them to live a life they never imagined they could have before. The solid foundation on which he has built his business will continue to stand tall as a platform for its employees and beneficiaries to prosper for years to come.

Moulana Mohamed Chodree – International Humanitarian and Islamic Scholar

The most generous of philanthropists are not those who write cheques, but rather the incognito souls who physically alter lives with their time, toil and considerable will to make a positive change.

Moulana Mohamed Chodree perfectly falls into this category. Determined to make a meaningful difference in lives of the less fortunate, this father of four never wavers when asked to help out. Brought up by a mother who personified strength and kindness, Chodree is ever grateful for her encouraging and supportive role in his life. He advises mothers everywhere not to take the lessons they instil in their children for granted, as these are the lessons that will play a pivotal role when faced with life’s challenges.

Darul Uloom Zakariyya in Lenasia, where Ml.Chodree studied

The 36-year old was born and bred in Gauteng, with early beginnings in Boksburg. He stayed in Roodepoort, then schooled in Azaadville until Standard 4 at Yusuf Dadoo Primary. Mohamed then opted to commence with his Islamic studies at Darul Uloom Zakariyya in Lenasia, attending Hifz classes in the mornings and secular studies in the afternoon through Damelin. He left soon after to complete technical courses in IT and mobile phones, dipping into the corporate world for a short while.

A 4-month Jamaat trip in 2001 to Pakistan and Bangladesh reset his perception about life, realizing how much more there is to it. He enrolled at Darul Uloom Zakariyya once again in 2003, completing his Islamic education in 2009. He rates madressah as being the ‘university of life’, surrounded by and learning from the many interesting nationalities of people who attend. He states that the lessons you learn there, you can’t learn anywhere else. In 2010 he spent a year in Jamaat, journeying through India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to spread the word of Islam. After his return, he taught at a madressah in Balfour, Mpumalanga, sharing his Islamic knowledge with Grades 0-9. A year later, he accepted a post at the Johannesburg offices of Al Imdaad Foundation. While he doesn’t work at the organisation anymore, he gained great experience there.

Being in a madressah environment since the age of 12, Mohamed says that he came across a broad spectrum of people from all walks of life. He recollects the camaraderie between the students, and his desire to help those who were less fortunate than him. Many of the sponsored students who come from all over the world, come from poor backgrounds. They didn’t have the luxury of going home for the weekend and receiving allowances and treats. This imprinted the value and importance of sharing on him, as this is what it means to be Muslim.

He fondly recalls that while living in Roodepoort, his mother used to provide food and sandwiches at their home for anyone passing by. Her generosity is an inherited gift, as Mohamed teaches his children to never turn a beggar away. “Whatever little you may have, that person has less, so always give them something.” He notes that Islam places a great emphasis on giving, and the hands that give are better than the hands that take.

Paramedics is a field that Mohamed is exceptionally passionate about. He realises that this type of proficiency will be a great enhancement to his humanitarian work. His avidity to attain these life-saving skills prompted him to complete his matric when he was 30 years old. This isn’t an undertaking any adult would willingly want to endure, however Mohamed registered at ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training), took night classes and received his matric certificate, and has since gone on to study a course in Paramedics. He is currently procuring his 1000 hours of community service, working with local ambulances.

Darul Uloom Zakariyya in Lenasia, Johannesburg

The domain of humanitarianism has allowed Mohamed to travel extensively, to dangerous and far-reaching parts of the globe such as the Far East, Jamaica, Africa, Jordan and the Syrian border in Turkey. Locally, he has crossed all nine provinces in the name of welfare, assisting with the collection and distribution of hampers. On one occasion, during flooding in Alexandra, Johannesburg, Mohamed describes the devastation the victims suffered. Some lost the entire contents of their homes, while others were emotionally wrought by the loss of a loved one. Handing over a hamper, which may seem minute to us, means the world to someone who has lost everything. He is also involved in a feeding scheme run through 30-40 hospitals, where outpatients are given a sandwich daily. He mentions a woman who desperately waits for her meal, often asking for another helping out of sheer hunger. Her utterance of a kind prayer in gratitude and a look of contentment on her face is something that deeply moves Mohamed.

“Don’t think of humanitarian work as too small or too big.” Mohamed has had first-hand experience of seeing how the charity we give benefits the underprivileged and touches lives. Encouraged from a young age by his mum and family members, Mohamed always wanted to be involved in philanthropy. This is a goal that he has been lucky enough to live out in his day-to-day life.

He finds that the concept of ‘time’ poses a challenge in terms of his social work. Your family life often takes a backseat and you have to be available 24/7 in case of an emergency event. “Disaster doesn’t have a time,” he says. “Early mornings, late nights and weekends are the sacrifices that one expends when working in this field.”

His proudest moment was witnessing an old lady regain her sight after undergoing a cataract operation sponsored, among 70 others, by a generous benefactor in Witbank. The woman was so exhilarated to actually see her daughter again. This Cataract Camp was arranged by the Witbank Muslim Jamaat. Another incident he casts his mind back to was helping a Syrian refugee in Turkey, who had nothing to feed her newborn baby, being so malnourished herself. They did everything they could to get her health back, for which she was enormously appreciative.

What moved him the most emotionally was seeing the struggle of the Syrians. Once affluent members of their community, who used to freely give out Zakaat (mandatory charity) were now the ones receiving Zakaat. Overnight, their fortune and lives had changed, and not being a nation that begs, this was a blistering jolt to their humility. 

Mohamed expresses that South Africa needs an initiative like Proudly Muslims of South Africa, as there is so much great work being done across all provinces, even in the smallest of towns, and these benevolent acts need to be showcased. He also mentions that Islam preaches “What the right hand gives, the left hand shouldn’t know about.”, however with the volatile cloud that currently looms over our country, we need to highlight the efforts of Muslim citizens.

Darul Uloom Zakariyya

Ml. Chodree would like for the bureaucracy within his line of work to dissipate, and hopes that all humanitarian systems will unite and follow a more uniformed process. He says a lot of work has to be done to make South Africa an inclusive society.

In the words of a Ladysmith imaam (Islamic prayer leader) he once met, Mohamed says he learnt that social work is a thankless job, and one shouldn’t expect a pat on the back each time you do something good. You need to it solely for the pleasure of the Almighty Allah (SWT).

Moulana is grateful to all his ustaads, teachers and mentors at Darul Uloom Zakariyya. Everything he has achieved thus far wouldn’t have been possible without their guidance.

His greatest life lesson is to never judge a book by its cover, as you never know the truth someone may be concealing behind their exterior.

His life philosophy: “Never turn a beggar away empty handed.” These are his mother, Nacema Bhamjee (Patel)’s words, which he sacredly carries with him throughout his life.

His parting advice is dedicated to all the patrons of South Africa, who try their best to make our beautiful country a better place. He points out that you shouldn’t let agitators or haters derail your good intentions or deflate your enthusiasm. Allah SWT knows what’s in the hearts of people, and with that sincerity, your goals will be achieved.

Moulana Mohamed Chodree gives a deeper meaning to the word ‘philanthropy’. Using his inherent compassion for humanity and erudite Islamic insight to pilot his life’s path, Mohamed leaves a trail of solicitude and appreciation wherever he goes.

Sharifa Ahmed – Teacher and Nurturer

“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”

Compassion, courage and kindness. Three significant words that don’t even begin to describe the magnanimous force that is Sharifa Ahmed. The soulful 60-year old’s unlimited energy and enthusiasm for helping others is outstanding.

Sharifa’s early years were charred with grief when she lost her beloved mother at just 7 years old. The youngest of four children, Sharifa grew up facing many challenges; having to adapt to governesses and a new step-mum. These encounters chiseled her outlook on life and helped her develop a deep sense of compassion for others. “I think our experiences shape us to be better people,” she explains.

She completed her matric at Laudium Secondary School in Pretoria, and at age 18, marriage titled the next chapter of her life. Sharifa then accompanied and supported her now late husband to Karachi, Pakistan, where he studied Medicine. Living in a foreign country didn’t deter Sharifa. In fact, she used the communication barrier as a catalyst to launch a teaching career. Sharifa taught ‘English as a foreign language’ to the many different linguistic groups living in the city including Pakistanis, Iranians, Vietnamese and Burmese. Sharifa then accepted a post as a Foundation Phase teacher at a Grammar School branch of Cambridge College. After two years of hard work and dedication, she was promoted to Headmistress of the school, an impressive feat for someone without any formal tertiary education. Sharifa then welcomed her new position as a lecturer at the Aga Khan School of Nursing, where she remained until 1989.

Upon returning to South Africa from the world’s fifth most populous country, Sharifa worked at a school for children with special needs. With many years of experience under her expansive wings of knowledge, she now tutors students from Grades 0-8 at her home.

A dedication to the life’s work of Sharifa Ahmed

Sharifa feels truly blessed to be a Muslim, and explains that she sought refuge in the Quraan and Hadith when she became a widow. The incredible story and strength of Bibi Hajar (wife of Prophet Ibrahim AS and mother of Prophet Ismail AS) inspired her most. Hajar (RA) and her infant son were abandoned in the desert but through her courage, faith and perseverance, they both survived.

She joined an NPO called The Gardens five years ago, which specialise in social work for local hospitals. They arrange transport services for the underprivileged from Laudium to Kalafong and Steve Biko Hospitals. They feed and distribute fruit, tea and coffee daily to the outpatients who wait for hours on end to be seen by a medic, often without food. They also conduct hospital visits and provide toiletries for patients in need. Sharifa offers her services and time to co-ordinate visits, and also transports volunteers to the hospitals. She also previously worked with an organisation called Angels of Hope

Charity work became a prominence in her life after her husband passed away. Sharifa prayed to Allah for guidance, hoping that even if she could make one person smile, that it would make a positive difference. 

When the hospital welfare project first started, Sharifa realised that not many women in the community were aware of it. She conquered this marketing setback by using BBM (Blackberry Messenger Service) which was a masterful communication tool at the time. There are now 105 women involved.

Among her proudest moments are when children join her for hospital volunteer work during the holidays, as well as the role she played in helping three women revert to Islam within the last four years. Exemplifying all that it means to be modest, Sharifa says she feels so blessed to help the outpatients each week, and that The Gardens gives her much needed joy and a sense of purpose. She is constantly amazed by the humility of the patients when they’re given meals.

Sharifa wholly connects with Proudly Muslims of South Africa stating that it creates awareness that each one of us has a talent and skill to offer and share, solely for the divine pleasure of Allah SWT.

Her advice for others wanting to do charity work: “Whatever you do, reflect upon it. Do it with your heart and you will see magic.”

Her philanthropic goals include more volunteer work and assisting children through her tutoring, which she fervently prays to Allah to help her do.

Her life motto: “And whoever saves a life, it is as though he has saved the lives of all mankind.” (Quran 5:32)

Sharifa wishes to be remembered as someone who tried her best to make a positive difference to anyone she may have come into contact with. 

Always wearing her heart on her sleeve, Sharifa Ahmed has taught us that the true spirit of giving is not just through bank deposits, but rather in giving of one’s time, personal effort and abilities. These are the actions which people will recall; the handing over of food and pouring of a cup of tea, a kind smile on a difficult day, and on those days, Sharifa offers the kindest smile of all.

Abdullah Sujee – Principal and Teaching Professional

A teacher ignites the fire that fuels a student’s thirst for knowledge, curiosity and wisdom.

As a man who values education and the ability to shape young lives through it, Abdullah Sujee’s inherited teaching gene continues to drive his life’s work. His father, who was also a teacher, inspired him early on in life, making him realise the power of serving humanity. Sadly, in 1983, when Abdullah was just 12 years old, his beloved father passed away in their hometown of Evaton, Gauteng. Riots during the same year caused Abdullah’s family to lose their business, and both devastating incidences resulted in them moving 25km away to Roshnee. Abdullah held his father in the highest regard, and after this tumultuous turning point in his life, knew he wanted to continue his dad’s amazing legacy.

 

Abdullah continued to school at Roshnee Secondary School and moved on to the University of Durban/Westville in 1993 to complete his B.Paed (Arts IV). Thereafter, he attained a certificate in Methodology from the Teacher Training Academy as well as a diploma in Remedial Education from the University of Johannesburg (formally known as RAU). His passion for learning led him to further his studies in 2003, achieving a B.Tech qualification in Education Management. A teaching stint during 2001 in Saudi Arabia opened his eyes to the impact other teachers were making internationally. After years of hard work, Abdullah is now contently established as the principal of Roshnee Islamic School, a position that has given him the strength to persevere and an edge to lead.

Abdullah perceives teaching as so much more than just a job. The zealousness and commitment which he lavishly bestows on his vocation has earned him many impressive accolades. He won the National Microsoft Innovative Teacher Award in 2006, and represented South Africa in Philadelphia, USA, where he was awarded the Peer Review Award. In 2007, he won the National MITA Peer Review Award, returning a year later as a judge. In 2008, Abdullah was the national winner of ENGEN’s My Best Lesson Award. These awards did nothing but humble and inspire him to excel further in his field.

Islam provides Abdullah with a framework to live, think and act in a manner that is wholesome. He says that it separates the fluff from reality, gives him meaning, and shines the light needed to deal with life’s trials and tribulations.

The Proudly Muslims of South Africa initiative appeals to him due to the sacrifices made by our heroes of the past who gave up their lives for us to be free from oppression.

Abdullah’s life experiences impelled him to give back to society. He helped form an organisation which founded the Sabeel ur Rashaad Propagation Centre in Sharpeville, of which he is now the Chairman. He offers his expertise in leadership, mentorship, strategic planning and collection duties. Sujee realises the need to teach skills to people living in townships and also to enhance the growth of Islam.

He has overcome obstacles in the face of his humanitarian work by widening his circle of influence and meeting with more people involved in social work. Abdullah expresses that going on Tableeg (Jamaat), an Islamic missionary movement that focuses on urging Muslims to return to primary Sunni Islam, helped him build trust among people and form bonds with them.

Abdullah’s proudest charitable achievement was helping to build the first masjid in Sharpeville, which is noted as a hallmark of excellence.

One of his most emotionally moving experiences occurred in Ramadan 2015 when he performed It’ikaaf in Masjid-ul-Huda in Sharpeville. This Islamic practice involves staying in a mosque for a certain number of days and devoting oneself to prayer, while staying away from worldly affairs. His stay in the masjid saw him colourfully collide worlds with two ex-prisoners, a three-week Muslim revert, a 10-year old school boy, a university graduate and an unemployed man, amongst others. Abdullah spent his ten days and nights of It’ikaaf teaching and mentoring this group in all aspects of Islam and prayer. On one occasion, a man came to perform Nafl It’kaaf and brought his two children along. At supper time, Abdullah unassumingly opened a box of treats gifted from his town, Roshnee. The man handed a hearty chocolate doughnut to his 6-year old daughter, and she was absolutely gobsmacked at the reality of beholding one and relished every bite. He then gave her a croissant, and never having seen or eaten one before in her life, this little girl was elated. The trio spent the night in the masjid, and when the girl was shown the dormitory, she was thrilled to see a double bunker with two cosy blankets and a pillow. Abdullah was deeply touched by the exhilaration and appreciation this little girl had for items that we usually take for granted.

Abdullah encourages others to get involved in humanitarian work by reading the Seerah of Nabi Muhammad (SAW). If you’re looking for more inspiration, he believes that you should take time out to stay with the locals in a township and live as they do for three days.

His future philanthropic aspirations are to build a masjid and SETA-approved skills centre in Evaton.

His life philosophy: Don’t refuse the opportunity, let the opportunity refuse you.”

Abdullah’s greatest life lesson is that “Adversity is your best teacher.”

He would like to be remembered in terms of the meaning of his name, Abdullah, which is ‘Servant of God’ in Arabic.

 

Roshnee Islamic School is so fortunate to have such an inspirational, dedicated and compassionate leader at their helm. Abdullah Sujee is the embodiment of a teaching institution whose morals and exceptional attributes are what all young graduates should aspire to.