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.
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.