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Charity and Beneficence in Islam; an Interview with Abdullah Makwinja

Islam has set a very high standard for charity. The charity must be in the way of God; it should expect no reward or return in this world; it should not be marred by subsequent references or reminders and never should any annoyance or injury be caused to the recipient.

The Quran puts a strong emphasis on charity. Dozens of verses command and encourage giving charity:

{2:271} If you give alms openly, it is well, and if you hide it and give it to the poor, it is better for you; and this will do away with some of your evil deeds, and Allah is aware of what you do.

{2:215} they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: Whatever wealth you spend, it is for the parents and the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, and whatever good you do, Allah surely knows it.

{17:26} and give to the near of kin his due and (to) the needy and the wayfarer, and do not squander wastefully.

{2:195} and spend in the way of Allah and cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands, and do good (to others); surely Allah loves the doers of good.

Happy is the man who makes others happy. According to Islamic ethics, our joy and happiness are not complete unless we make our less fortunate brethren happy. It is a lesson worth remembering, especially in this era of materialism, when scant regard is paid to the moral and ethical values which are so much emphasized by religion. Islam has set a very high standard for charity. The charity must be in the way of God; it should expect no reward or return in this world; it should not be marred by subsequent references or reminders and never should any annoyance or injury be caused to the recipient. In the present-day jargon, the aid must be without any strings. God says in the Qur’an:

“Kind words and covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury (to the self-respect of the recipient)”.

Admonishing the believers not to nullify their charity by reminders and by causing injury to the recipients, God condemns false charity which is done so that others may see how generous the donor is. God compares such so-called charity to “a hard-barren rock, on which is a little soil. On it falls heavy rain which leaves it a bare rock. ” So, a false charity will be washed away on the Day of Judgment, leaving the selfish and egotistic motives naked for everyone to see and despise.

In contrast to it is the true charity, done for the sake of Allah and with the conviction of faith. Such a charity is likened to “a garden, high and fertile. Heavy rain falls on it and makes it yield a double increase of harvest; and if it receives no heavy rain, light moisture is enough for it.” True charity is also likened to “a grain of corn; it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains, and God gives manifold increase to whom He pleases.”

According to Islamic ethics, a donor should remain obliged to the poor brother who accepted his charity. It may seem strange to worldly people like us. But look at it from the Islamic point of view and you will understand. A donor helps the recipient in this world by giving him certain aid or some material benefit which is bound to perish in due course. But that charity brings the donor nearer to the Grace of Allah, which is ever-lasting, and which will benefit him on the Day of Judgment. Thus, the recipient of charity helps the donor in a far better way than the aid which he receives from the donor.

It has been declared in Islam that the poor are the family of Allah and the rich persons are the agents of Allah. An agent has no right to despise the children of his principal when he is required to pay some of the principal’s money to his children. This is the ideal of Islamic charity.[1]

Ijtihadnet has interviewed brother Abdullah Makwinja, the head of the College of Fatima Zahra (AS) in Zimbabwe. He was born in 1967 in a Sunni Qadiriyya family, in Kadoma in Zimbabwe. He is married with four children. He moved to the school of Ahlul Bayt (AS) in 1987. From then he became an enthusiastic propagator of the school of Ahlul Bayt (AS). In 2008 He graduated at the Islamic University of Ghana with B.A Honors in Religious Studies, Islamic Option.

4th March is known as the day of “Charity and Beneficence” in the Islamic Republic of Iran. How do you look at this concept from an Islamic perspective?

Charity is an act that is highly emphasized in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his Ahlul Bayt (AS). In the Holy Qur’an, salat (prayer) and charity are mentioned one after the other, showing the importance of charity. Believers are exhorted to pray and give charity. Hence Imam Ali (AS) gave charity whilst he was in salat.

Many Zimbabweans know you as a man who is involved in charitable activities, the most prominent of which might be the establishment of the College of Fatima al-Zahra (AS). What were the motivations that led you in this path? Which Islamic teachings were effective in this regard?

I was motivated by my parents especially my dear late mother. Since when I started my primary education, she would encourage me to attend Islamic classes at our local mosque and would make sure that I performed my daily prayers. Most of the time I used to find myself alone at the Madrasa (traditional school). Muslims in Zimbabwe are a minority and therefore, Muslims youth would feel ashamed to be associated with Islam. This was due to the white missionaries’ propaganda against Muslims. There were many misconceptions and superstitions about Muslims and Islam, so much so that Muslim children would hide their Muslim identity.  Then I decided to pass by my Muslim friends’ houses inviting them to attend Islamic lessons. Even at my primary school, I began inviting my fellow Muslim students to attend Islamic lessons. Through my activities, the number of students increased at the Madrasa. When I completed my primary education, I formed a youth organization which was then called “Ansar Muslim Youth” thereby the work of calling others to Madrasa became a group work. At times we used to walk about 20 to 30km visiting Muslim youth to motivate them to come to the Mosque. Thus, tabligh has been part of my life since childhood.

When, why and how did you come to the idea of establishing a charity organization in the form of a college?

As I said earlier on about my involvement in tabligh, as I became mature, I gained more insight into Islam. After graduating I felt the need to establish an educational institute to provide an opportunity for the Muslim youth to Islamic education and secular education. The founding father of Qom Ayatollah Hayeri is my role model and inspiration. So, I managed to establish this organization with the support of my wife.

Please introduce the College of Fatima al-Zahra (AS), its features and aims for those who might not have heard about it.

Fatima Zahra (AS) College is a product of Fatima Zahra (AS) women’s organization which was formed in 1995 by my wife. The main objective was to educate Muslim women about Islam. It is through her activities and hard work that the center was purchased which then became the center for Islamic activities, pre-school, and children’s home. Later on, it turned into a college and children’s home and all was through my wife’s efforts and her team. The college is registered with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary education. It is also registered with Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council as an examination center.

As a charity institution, how did you manage to provide all the expenses of the College? Did you encounter any problem in all these years?

The College and the orphanage since its inception do not have a spending budget. Therefore, from day one we encountered financial challenges, and Alhamdulillah with Allah’s help, we are surviving. We thank all brothers and sisters who always remembers the college and the orphanage.

We are told of the significant role your wife has played in all these charity activities. Would you please shed some more light on this?

Alhamdulillah for my wife. She comes from a Christian family, she reverted to Islam. She comes from a charitable family. When she became Muslim, she became very active in teaching Muslim women, and she managed to spread the message of Ahlul Bayt (AS) in Zimbabwe through the Fatima Zahra (AS) women’s organization which she founded.

Let’s hear from you about the graduates of the College and the achievements of the students in different fields.

Most of the graduates of the College further their education at universities in Zimbabwe. One Ph.D., three masters, 11 B.A degree. Currently, the orphanage is housing 60 children. Among the graduates, there is a lawyer, an architecture, a nurse, and a teacher.

How can you define an Islamic model of charity in Africa? What are the necessary features of such a model?

An Islamic model of charity in Africa should have education as its priority rather than giving out food only. The best feature of any charity organization is education. Education enables a person to stand on his own.

What is your plan for the future? Do you think of establishing new charitable centers?

Allah willing we would like to establish charitable educational centers in the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe to cater to those who can not afford education.

The foundations and basics of charity and beneficence have been outlined in the narrations. What is your understanding of these foundations and how did you manage to implement them?

I understand that charity is a form of worship by serving the creation of Allah.

In your viewpoint, what are the necessary measures to spread the culture of charity-related notions such as waqf in Africa? Which aspects have been neglected and need more attention?

It is through the charity that the beneficiaries learn and appreciate the importance of charity. Most of the beneficiaries of charity are more likely to give charity in the future. Hence the idea of charity is best propagated by the act of charity rather than words.

As a well-known Shia figure in Zimbabwe, do you have any estimation of the Shia population? How is their economic condition? Is there any center taking care of poor Shia families?

Today the Shia centers are found in 4 provinces out of ten provinces in Zimbabwe:

Imam Hussein (AS) in Manicaland Province

Imam Reza (AS) Center in Mashonaland Central Province

Imam Khomeini Center in Mashonaland West Province

Fatima Zahra (AS) Center in Harare Province

There are about 3500 African Shias in Zimbabwe. Most of them are rural farmers. The Fatima Zahra (AS) College and Orphanage take care of the poor Shia children by providing accommodation, food, and education. However, the center is not able to meet the needs of the poor Shia families. Helpers do come but not consistently.

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Reference

[1] See https://www.al-islam.org/fast-sayyid-saeed-akhtar-rizvi/ideal-islamic-charity

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