“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare
While we can argue that Yusuf Mohamed falls into all three of these categories, the last phrase truly defines where he is today. Standing at the helm of Islamic Relief South Africa, Mr. Mohamed takes the notion of ‘greatness’ and zealously amplifies it.
The life we meticulously plan for ourselves isn’t always the life Allah has ordained for us. Yusuf can firmly validate this thought because ten years ago, he would’ve never imagined himself as the local CEO of one of the world’s most well-recognised and highly-acclaimed humanitarian agencies.
The Cape Town born-and-bred altruist defines himself as three things:
A traveller, as narrated in a Hadith of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), explaining that we should reside like travellers in the temporary abode of the world, with all actions targeted towards gathering provisions for the journey to the Hereafter.
An activist, as he constantly reflects on his purpose in this world and tries to make a positive difference in the lives of everyone he encounters; and,
A father, who has the loving support of his three wonderful children and wife.
Graciously accepting the CEO position at Islamic Relief South Africa in December 2016, Mr. Mohamed cherishes the opportunity to contribute in any way he can with the capabilities Allah has given him. Yusuf has the strong belief that “meaningful change starts with yourself.” He doesn’t sit in the passenger’s seat in life’s kinetic carriage, but rather opts for a more purposeful and proactive approach.
Prior to working in the humanitarian field, Yusuf helped run his family’s supermarket business and worked in Project Management. While at university, he became involved with the MSA (Muslim Students Association) which was introduced to him by the head of Africa Muslim Agency’s Cape Town office at the time, Mohamed Lamesh – more fondly known as Abu Usama. His MSA membership led him to participate in projects supporting the Hospital Welfare and Muslim Educational Movement (HWMEM), Palestinian solidarity groups and Islamic Relief. The Economics-graduate shared many noble ventures with like-minded individuals through his college aid-work and established strong bonds and life-long relationships with them.
Yusuf rests his life’s achievements and inspiration on the benevolently broad shoulders of his late father, Mohamed Saleh Mohamed, a man whose indestructible faith as well as spiritual conviction and virtuous teachings have been a blueprint for Yusuf’s own existence. His father had a holistic approach to Islam and chose to promote the religion through social activism and uplifting the lives of the less fortunate. His humility is something Yusuf affectionately remembers as he remained steadfast in living simply and modestly, even after successfully building his supermarket chain from the ground up to thirteen branches. He would conscientiously plan his entire workday around salaah times and filled his home with the encouraging words and practice of Islam. His father taught him that no matter what you achieve in life, it shouldn’t affect the values you hold important. Yusuf is ever grateful for having his dad as an irreproachable role model and finds fortitude in his words: “Your connection with your Creator is the key to everything.”
Islamic Relief is the largest Muslim NGO in the world with offices in 42 countries. Yusuf serendipitously crossed paths with Islamic Relief founder, Dr. Hany El-Banna in 2002 during his visit to South Africa and was inspired by his passion for serving humanity. Yusuf tried to convince him to open a local branch in Cape Town, however, due to logistical considerations, the South African office officially opened its doors in Johannesburg in 2004.
Islamic Relief resolves to develop and create sustainable long-term solutions for impoverished communities, and not just hand out provisional hampers. They are the largest NGO currently operational in Gaza and have the largest field office in Bangladesh. They empower Bangladeshi women by helping them set up small manufacturing-based businesses, so that they’re able to earn a reasonable income for themselves and their families.
“Islam is about empowering people,” Yusuf says, and that in order to break the cycle of poverty, we need to make the destitute independent. The 45-year-old attributes his own philanthropic aspirations to the foundations of compassion and kindness laid out by his father, adding that he’s blessed by Allah in being able to recognise his responsibility to society.
In March 2017, Islamic Relief was nominated in the Top 500 NGOs in the world, where Swiss-based NGO Advisor ranked them in the Top 20. This ranking is based on governance, impact and innovation. With millions of relief organisations around the world, this is a remarkable accomplishment for Islamic Relief. Yusuf says that this amazing feat was only achieved through the sincerity in which the organisation was started, the dedication and commitment of its field workers and the sacrifices its members make to alleviate the plight of people. Their accountability framework is something that Yusuf is very proud of, mentioning that being accountable for anything they receive from donors is the key to the organisation’s success.
Yusuf’s best tips for a sustainable NGO:
Do everything with sincerity and for the right reasons. If you’re doing it for publicity or thanks, it’s the wrong reason. Do it for the sake of Allah.
Always keep in mind that we are accountable to Allah, ourselves and our donors.
Complete every task to the best of your ability and with the utmost effort.
Mr. Mohamed believes that platforms like Proudly Muslims of South Africa actively promote the positive contributions Muslims make to society and the needy. Islam commands us to assist all people in need – irrespective of religion, nationality or race. He says that Muslims shouldn’t isolate themselves from their communities, but rather integrate with them, without comprising on Islamic values. With global negativity shadowing Muslims everywhere, it’s important to showcase our developmental efforts in South Africa. This will inspire other Muslims and the general South African public to do better.
Yusuf advises prospective philanthropists: “Don’t overlook any opportunity to do good.” Allah gives each of us an opportunity every day to make a positive difference in the world. Referring to the beloved Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), Yusuf says that it took just one person to sow the seeds of Islam and create change.
Looking to the future, Yusuf aims to develop himself further in order to maximise his potential and live up to the high standards he has set for himself.
His favourite Quranic verse: “If Allah assists you, who is there that can harm you? If Allah forsakes you, who is there that can assist you after Him? And in Allah alone, let the believers put their trust.” Surah Al-Imran (3:160)
His philosophy: “Wherever you can make a positive difference – do it.” These are the words he personally lives by, and mentions that giving someone a smile or a kind word doesn’t cost you anything; it’s an act of charity.
Yusuf Mohamed breathes life into the theory that greatness exists in all of us. He positively shapes the world with each determined step he takes, pausing along the way to help every indigent being he comes across. From a simple smile which brightens up someone’s less-than-ideal day to a magnanimous task such as delivering relief to refugees, Yusuf readily and most obligingly lends his capabilities to uplifting people in any way he can.
We wish him every success in his significant position as CEO of Islamic Relief South Africa.