Khutbah: Friday 24 February 2017: From Responding to the Water Crisis to Actively Addressing Poverty and Hardship by Professor  Aslam Fataar

Khutbah: Friday 24 February 2017: From Responding to the Water Crisis to Actively Addressing Poverty and Hardship by Professor Aslam Fataar

O You who have attained to faith! When the call to prayer is sounded on the day of congregation, hasten to the remembrance of God, and leave all worldly commerce: this is for your own good, if you but knew it. (Surah Jumu’ah 62:9)


This ayaat on the imperative of yawm al-jumuah emphasises the need for us humans to come to rest, engage in personal contemplation and congregational prayer.

The jumuah is a time of submission to individual spiritual connection to Allah, and one’s co-existence with others in this world.

The waqt (time) of Jumuah is also a momentary pause from the challenges and afflictions of our daily life.

Jumuah is a time when we are at one with Allah and higher moral purposes, where we reset or recharge our commitments to goodness and fellowship.  

This is a time when, as the Qur’an explains, the ‘heart is at peace’, as Allah declares in Shura al-Shuraa (S26: V89) – “when he will only be happy when he comes before Allah with a peaceful heart”.

This is a time when we figure out how to approach Allah with a heart free of evil, with a sound heart, not only in the last moments of death, as the Qur’an exhorts, but also when one becomes aligned with life’s moral purposes. 

It is in moments such as our weekly congregational prayer that we are able to perceive clearly how we ought to live in the world, what our priorities are, and how we have to commit to a productive life in pursuit of peace and tranquility.

These moments offer an opportunity to develop and align ourselves to human practices that are responsive to eradicating need, difficulty and hardship.   

  1. We have in this city been alert to this moral purpose in our confrontation with one of the worst droughts to hit the city in living memory.

Staring a water crisis in the face forced us to focus on our bare existence, how to make do without water as the most important resource for our survival.

At its most basic level the crisis confronts us with our personal water consumption, for making food, washing, and even brushing our teeth.

Water, of course plays an enormous part of our existence. The Qur’an affirms this when Allah declares in Surah al-Anbiya (S21, V30):  “We made from water every living thing”.

A beautiful hadith recorded in Ibn Majah, emphasizes a heightened water consciousness in Islam: It was reported that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) passed by his companion Sa’ad, who was performing his wudu’ (ablutions), and said: “What is this wastage, O Sa’ ad?”   “Is there wastage even in (such a sacred act as) washing for prayer?” asked Sa’ad; and he (the Prophet) said, “Yes, even if you are by a flowing river!”

In a few words, Muhammad (pbuh) illustrated a fundamental principle regarding water and environmental sustainability. That is, even if we supposedly have abundance, we are forbidden to waste resources.

But we don’t have abundance.  The water scarcity forced us to respond with urgency. As citizens of the city, we have been making the following simple duah: Allah humma aghithnaa:  O Allah, send us rain.


The words of this prayer reverberates in our physical bodies, eliciting a proper response.  Beseeching Allah for rain has accompanied our adaptation to the urgency of the crisis.  It is clear that we are using much less water for our daily living. Mosques and our other social institutions have begun to limit their water consumption considerably, and we’ve curtailed water use for our ablutions.


It has recently emerged that many businesses, hotels, and industries are not complying with the water restrictions, incurring fines instead.  If you are an employee in one of these non-complying industries, I want to urge you to pressurise your work environment to comply.


Nonetheless, in the face of adversity ordinary people and communities have come to adapt to the practical imperative for drastic water reduction based on a simple and acute sense of moral and practical necessity.


It has in the process brought musallees, families, neighbours, religious and other groups of people together, and opened us up to the possibility of fellowship and cooperation, as encouraged in the Qur’an (Ma’ida: S5: V6) where Allah exhorts us to “help one another in furthering virtue and God-consciousness, and do not help one another in furthering evil and enmity”. 


The lesson here is that cooperation, when addressing a disaster (musibah) or in response to a need, provides us a greater chance to positively redress our circumstances.


  1. The water crisis highlights a larger issue. While we have become alert to the centrality of water in our lives, we have to properly understand and engage the human causes for the abnormal weather patterns globally.


Climate change and global warming is an incontrovertible scientifically proven reality.  The earth is getting warmer at an exponential rate.   If we do not change our consumption patterns, invest in Science to discover and harvest clean energies, oppose nuclear energy and fracking, and develop technologies that can replace our reliance on coal and fossil fuel, we will destroy the ecological sustainability of this planet.


The sparing and wise use of water in the city ought to be spur for a larger awareness of our longer term ecological sustainability.  The poor on this earth and in our city has been, and will continue to bear the brunt of our ecological destruction. 


The cooperation (ta’awan) required to address this crisis will have to happen via working with all human communities, with all our intellectual might and cutting edge research. 


We cannot keep on behaving with a short term consciousness, oblivious to the longer term human-made calamity that threatens our planetary existence.


But this requires more than our vigilance in addressing our current cycle of periodic drought. 


This requires us to develop a type of iman or consciousness, and activism or ‘amal-al-salihat (righteous deeds), that connect our spiritual commitments to a life in service to Allah, to the larger moral purpose of creating the conditions for sustainable livelihoods.


Belief in Allah disconnected from social purposes can so easily lead to an empty and narrow religious formalism. Allah warns in surah ma’un about this disconnect, when Allah asks: “Hast though ever considered [the kind of person] who gives the lie to all moral law?” (S107: V1).


The appropriate Qur’anic response is to connect one’s personal belief and ‘ibadah to the needs of the orphan, the needy, and the refugee.


Our ibadah must of necessity be a platform for making broader commitments to the earth’s sustainability and our common human survival. 


  1. The Qur’an encourages us to being responsive to large scale social changes. Allah declares in surah Bakarah (S2,V155):


And most certainly shall We test you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of wealth, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity (Q2V155).


This is a crucial ayaat.  It speaks to a number of major issues that afflict the human condition.


This emphasis here is on how situations change, sometimes rapidly, and how these changes throw our livelihoods completely out of wack, and putting our very survival as communities and a species in the spotlight. We are required to respond to:


  • danger associated with changing weather patterns, crime, and violence;
  • hunger associated with poverty and inequality as experienced by more than 50% of the city’s inhabitants in the its townships and growing informal settlements;
  • the changing socio-economic status associated with unemployment, loss of income and wealth,
  • and the displacement and suffering experienced by refugees when they search for more a stable life in foreign circumstances


Positing these as a test, a trial or a challenge to human survival, Allah (SWT) exhorts us to display patience and forbearance in the face of adversity.


Sabr, patience in adversity, requires human commitment that takes us out of our comfort zones.


What is required in addressing these crises are personal commitment, strategic intent and unity in purpose and action.


What is not productive is racist and xenophobic behaviour, narcissistic politics, protectionism, and closing the borders.


An acutely moral response is founded on a disposition of radical hospitality, the idea that we have to sacrifice part of our own comfort to ensure the solace and comfort of others.  This is not easy, but this is what is now required of us.


We are required to respond.  This is a fard kifayah (a collective community responsibility), whether we participate in the welfare needs of our neighbours, provide blankets and food for displaced refugees who are victims of xenophobic attacks, partake in local activism in the areas of social housing in the city, support schools to educate their children, provide safe health infrastructure for the disabled and psychiatrically afflicted, or organise in the workplace against exploitative conditions.


The Qur’an required us to develop a wide range of responses to address these challenges, and getting involved in one or more of them is now regarded as a recommended practice (mustahab).


Herein lies the glad tidings that Allah promises in the ayaat – the glad tidings that would come to those who are patient, active and constructively engaged in radical hospitality towards ourselves and others in times of adversity.


  1. I end off by making a plea for focusing on the task at hand, not side shows, or things that will demoralise us.


My point of departure is that we have to develop a maturity about first principles.  The Qur’an requires nothing less.  Eradicating poverty, disease and hardship is the primary organising frame emphasised in the Qur’an.


Managing our affairs in such a way that we honour our commitment to Allah is paramount.  We simply have to, as a community, do better to manage our affairs in such a way that we do not become distracted. 


Strife among families, groups and communities must be managed in a constructive and productive manner. 


We must avoid the temptation of engaging in petty sectarian battles or unnecessary destructive discourse which drain the oxygen that we need to focus on poverty alleviation and compassionate action.


The skirmishes between Hanafis and Shafis, open and closed mosques, Sunnis and Shias, and Sufis and Wahhabis, might seem enticing and tantilising, but they arise from a simple immaturity. 


These doctrinal or sectarian struggles are borne of a propensity for fitnah, in reference to the use of words, language and deeds to deny people the right to believe.  The early Muslims were the victim of the fitnah that the disbelievers visited on them which caused hostility, expulsion and even death.  


The Qur’an suggests that fitnah poses a threat to society’s normal order in the ayaat (Q2, V191), “and tumult and oppression (Fitna) are worse than killing.”


Sectarian skirmishes concentrate on the symptoms of difficult situations, not their causes.  The requirement is to identify the causes of our hardships and develop strategic action in respect of these. 


Sectarianism, prevents us from focusing on those issues that matter to communities and it is the call of this khutba to develop strategic discipline and focus.


Addressing the plight of communities in a world out of wack along a number of axes requires wisdom, non-judgmentalism, the exercise of one’s intellect, and commitment to the plight of our communities.


We must aim to establish practices that bring alleviation to those who suffer from undignified lives, and to confer dignity on all God’s children through patience and perseverance.


And, as Allah declares in Surah al-Israh (S17, V70):

And, now, We (Allah) have indeed conferred dignity on all the children of Adam.


Conferring karamah or dignity on all of Allah’s creation is the primary organising frame of human existence and it is to this pristine cause that we should now commit with clarity and unwavering purpose.




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