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Moulana Suhail Wadee – Humanitarian and Custodian of Ashraful Uloom

Humanitarian.

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

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

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

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

Water delivery in Hankey, organised by Moulana Suhail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered’ Provides Reusable Sanitary Wear to Underprivileged School Girls

A strong woman stands up for herself. A stronger woman stands up for others.

Fiercely strong and firmly dedicated, Mooniba Bhyat is an incredible woman who proudly stands up for all less fortunate girls in South Africa.

Founder of D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered, Mooniba Bhyat is the innovative brainchild and businesswoman behind an organisation which aims to break down barriers in the stigmatic world of menstrual health.

UNESCO stats show that 4 million out of the 7 million school girls in South Africa go through their monthly cycle without being able to afford basic sanitary wear. Mooniba came across this startling piece of information after researching why young girls around the country are absent from school so often or drop out completely.

Her investigation four years ago prompted her to establish D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered, an organisation that focuses on giving girls their dignity back. Mooniba, who is a regional sales leader and mentor for Honey, partnered with the awe-inspiring Dr Fatima Bhabha to bring this imperative cause into existence.

Ms Bhyat researched and developed the most effective solutions for juvenile girls and teens, and came to the conclusion that sustainable and reusable menstrual health products were the way forward. Even the most basic of disposable sanitary pads can cost up to R30 or more a month. That works out to over R360 per year for each girl that doesn’t have any money at her disposal. Over four years, that equates to R1440. The washable sanitary pads endorsed by Mooniba only costs R200 for a pack of six, with each one lasting four years. These SABS-approved pads are made from natural fibre and comply with environmental laws and ‘green’ initiatives, making it far superior to the throwaway type which takes over 800 years to decompose.

Girls at rural and township schools are given inspiring talks by Mooniba Bhyat and her team

Thanks to the menstrual health products which fall under the D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered umbrella, Mooniba also develops young, ambitious and resilient entrepreneurs. The organisation offers three productive opportunities:

  • A skills-training centre that teaches women how to sew washable sanitary pads.
  • Women are given an opportunity to earn an income from selling different menstrual health products, including: washable pads, menstrual cups and more affordable disposable pads.
  • Budding female entrepreneurs are mentored and enrolled in a training and development program.

In the last three years, Mooniba has travelled across the country from Alexandra, Kagiso and Soweto in Johannesburg to deprived areas in Cape Town and Durban, seeking to educate and empower young girls at schools. She gives informational talks to the female youth on menstrual health and how to take care of themselves. Through this amazing initiative, girls are given the opportunity to complete their academic careers with dignity, cleanliness and comfort.

Mooniba hands over a pack of ‘dignity’ to a young school girl

One of the biggest challenges faced by Mooniba was unshackling the shame and raising the volume of the uncomfortable, hushed conversations that surround menstrual health. She found difficulty in addressing patriarchal-led corporates whose assistance and funding could only be secured once they fully understood the problem. Mooniba slowly but steadily opened the doors to this somewhat awkward dialogue, and began spreading the message and educating the public on the dire circumstances related to not having proper feminine hygiene products. Another challenge she incurred was broadening the restricted thoughts of young girls who fearfully shied away from talking about their personal menstrual health, mainly because they could not afford its monthly repercussions. After overcoming these issues, Mooniba found that her cause was much easier to cultivate.

D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered was instrumental in handing over R1 million worth of washable sanitary pads (6500 packs) within the last year. Mooniba’s hard work and commitment to the cause has rewarded her with excellent feedback from girls she’s helped. She recently revisited a school where the young women expressed how beneficial the reusable sanitary towels have been, enabling them to avoid missing school days and yield better academic results.

The packs of reusable sanitary pads are prettily and discreetly packaged in drawstring bags for each girl

Mooniba says that her campaign targets rural areas where education is deficient and stigma is amplified. She was appalled to find the unsafe replacements these girls use for sanitary towels out of sheer desperation. In areas where there is no water available, she encourages the girls to use a menstrual cup, which has a ten-year lifespan. D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered intends to empower these small-town women by setting up more skills centres which will allow them to generate an income and provide this vital female necessity to their local communities.

One of the proudest moments for Mooniba was having a young boy, Ismail Khan, get involved in the campaign. The 15-year-old volunteers at an orphanage in Hillbrow and noticed the need for feminine hygiene products. With help from his mother Dr Mehroon Khan, they successfully raised funds and supplied 20 sanitary packs to girls in the orphanage.

Marketing and social media haven’t been forthcoming about using washable pads or menstrual cups, with people having a very narrow viewpoint on the matter. Dr Bhabha, who recently joined forces with Ms Bhyat, mentions that we need to change mindsets and create awareness around these more sustainable products. D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered plans to launch their social media platforms in the new year with that intention in mind. Dr Bhabha relates: “The more people that talk about it, the more people are going to learn about it and the better the effect we’re going to have.”

School girls all over the country could use this amazing initiative to complete their schooling career.

The more people who get involved with this initiative, the better. Mooniba and Dr Bhabha invite everyone to do something for their communities. We need women and men to help empower and educate young girls around the country; give talks at schools, host fundraisers and help pubescent females develop pride and self-esteem. “When you fundraise for a pack of pads, you’re giving a young girl dignity for four years,” adds Mooniba. Interested benefactors can place an order with the D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered organisation, which will then hand it over to their skills centre where manufacturing takes place. This will expand the circle of empowerment; providing the unemployed with jobs and despairing girls with confidence.

Changing perceptions and melting the ice off a usually frosty topic, Mooniba Bhyat and Dr Fatima Bhabha are making strides in female empowerment and menstrual health. They brazenly advocate the privilege of girlhood rather than its limitations. 

For more information on D.A.R.E. to Be Empowered and how you can get involved, please contact: