Tune in to ITV Networks on a Thursday morning and you will be cordially greeted by iTrend presenter, Zaheerah Bham-Ismail, a woman who’s inner and outer beauty transcend the glaze of your LCD. While Zaheerah is usually the one asking all the questions, we’ve turned the lens around to unveil an empirically personal side to the adored public figure.
Zaheerah could write a comprehensive reference book on multi-tasking, successfully juggling a family life with children, a TV career, social work and her day job as a Speech and Hearing Therapist. If that isn’t enough to encouragingly jolt you off your chair, the 39-year old also makes time to perch on the Commonwealth Businesswomen Africa Board.
Before commencing her career in Speech Pathology and Audiology, Zaheerah attained a BA degree in Psychology and English, then acquired Montessori certification and studied Human Resources and Marketing. She made her television debut while still at high school, moving on to the Voice Radio Station and eventually found her métier at iTrend on ITV. Zaheerah believes that “If it’s meant to be and the opportunity is right, it will present itself.”
Married at 19, Zaheerah says that a union of longevity relies on sharing similar value systems and identifying one’s moral compass. Celebrating 20 years of matrimony, Mrs. Bham-Ismail advises our betrothed youth to go for pre-marital counselling which will greatly assist in adequately preparing them for marriage and provide them with essential problem-solving skills.
A leading figure of the Islamic television industry, Zaheerah describes herself in three words; sensitive, loyal and honest. While we may add many more positive attributes to that list, Zaheerah mentions that she prefers to keep her private life secluded from the prying gaze of the social media matrix. She adds that these digital outlets often provide a ‘filtered impression’ and not a realistic view of someone’s life.
Zaheerah is fortunate to have been surrounded by many exceptional influences and mentors throughout her life, starting with her (late) father who taught her the importance of social work, and thereafter her father-in-law whose knowledgeable perceptions helped frame her pre-conceived notions about the world. Edris Khamissa, Ashraf Garda, the late Shamima Sheikh, Suraya Nawaab and Dr. Shaheda Omar are all incredible individuals whom she looks up to, stating that she learns from everybody she comes across. “Allah sends people in your life that you can learn from,” she expresses.
Zaheerah takes solace in the wisdom and inspirational words etched in her memory by her late father. His death ten years ago and her sister’s passing last year mark two of the most despairing, life-changing points in her life. She stresses the importance of spending time with loved ones, especially the elderly, as they have an amazing treasury of experience and insight to share. The tragic losses she’s endured has made her grounded and more appreciative of each moment. Zaheerah says that she’s so grateful for Imaan (faith) because it’s a rope that you hold on to, and it pulls you through and gives you hope.
She defines success as ‘contentment’ and dusts away the idea that monetary success is a benchmark for happiness. Zaheerah indicates that to her, true success lies in how you make other people feel and the respectability with which you raise your children to have. She teaches her daughters that “If you can go out there and treat everyone with the same amount of dignity, regardless of who they are or what the person has, then that is success.”
This working mum-of-three balances her countless duties and activities by praying to Allah for barakah (blessings) in each day and leans on her extraordinary support system – comprising of close friends and family – to get her through it all. She says that as women, it’s okay to ask for help every now and then. We’ve been indoctrinated into thinking that by accepting assistance, it would declare us bad mothers or wives, however, with the innumerable tasks we have to manage every day, having help is quite necessary.
In her downtime, Zaheerah loves reading, citing her favourite books as Forty Rules of Love by Elif Safak and Desperately Seeking Paradise by Ziauddin Sardar. Quranically, the powerful verses of Surah Ar-Rahman and Surah An-Nur always provide her with a sense of hope, light and mercy. The talented presenter says that she lives every single moment of her life thankful to Allah.
Zaheerah’s work as a philanthropist deserves its own Wikipedia page, her adolescent hopes of becoming a counsellor led her to work at Islamic Careline and the Teddy Bear Clinic in her younger years. She chairs the Caring Women’s Forum (which is in it’s 22nd year of operation), she’s on the Board of the Islam Charity Network and is a non-executive member of Crescent Haven Children’s Home as well as the Pulmonary Hypertension Kids of South Africa Foundation. Zaheerah’s passion for humanitarian work also seats her on the Board of Madressah IHSAN, an organisation that caters for adults and children with disabilities. She says that even on a bad day, spending time at the institute centers her, and teaches her gratitude and appreciation.
“I believe anybody can do anything. Charity is small bits that we do every single day – it doesn’t have to be anything huge.” Zaheerah is astounded by the charitable work being done by women, especially in smaller towns, as these are the unspoken heroes who are making groundbreaking changes in South Africa.
Her advice to the youth: “Stay grounded.” Living in the age of the digital fishbowl, it’s easy to get lost in the hype and try to fit in. However, Zaheerah encourages them that it’s actually better to be different and stand out. She advises the parents within her generation to spend quality time with their families, even if it’s spent doing the simplest of things.
Her life motto: “Live for now.” Acknowledging that life is temporary and that there are no guarantees, Zaheerah makes the most of every moment and teaches her girls to harness the ‘power of now’.
Zaheerah would like to be remembered as someone who tried her best. The women she’s inspired and the charity groups she supports will emphatically bear testimony to this fact.
Even if you’ve met her for the briefest of moments, Zaheerah Bham-Ismail is someone who will leave a lasting and magnetic impression on you. The notable media presence and philanthropic legacy she’s built is a stepping stone for women in South Africa, proving that with the right attitude and dedication, we can achieve anything. Family-orientated career girl, goal-digger, dynamic orator, selfless social worker and overall superwoman, Zaheerah plays many roles, each one with grace and honourability.