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.
“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.
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org