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.

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.

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.

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.