Books essential for freedom - Ramaphosa
Books essential for freedom - Ramaphosa
Johannesburg - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday said that reading was essential for freedom and a better future.
"Books are essential for freedom... For a nation reading is a gateway to a different, better future," he said in a speech prepared for delivery at the Youth Engagement Harare Library in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
"[Books] allow a person to break free from the chains of ignorance and intolerance... Literature is a powerful tool for social dialogue, cohesion and nation building."
Although the country had many good libraries and writers, only 14% of South Africans were active book readers, he said.
"A mere 5% of parents read to their children. We must change that.
"There should be no substitute for books in the lives of young people. Our youth must be addicted to reading, not drugs, alcohol or izikhothane [showmanship] culture."
Teaching in an Islamic school: A Non Muslim's Perspective
Teaching in an Islamic school
This is an edited version of an article that was originally printed in the October 2010 print edition of Teacher.
Coming from a non-Islamic background, Andrew Turcinovich was a little apprehensive when he got a teaching job in an Islamic school. Here, he explains why he needn’t have been worried.
I’m no expert or scholar in cultural and religious matters; neither am I a Muslim, but I do teach in an Islamic school, where I work with extremely generous and kind-hearted staff and students, so it baffles me when I hear anti-Muslim sentiments being expressed.
Having lived abroad for nearly 14 years, both in Singapore and the United States, and having travelled the world countless times over as a professional tennis coach on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) world tour, I’ve met numerous people and experienced numerous cultures. There’s a time to call it quits on the ATP world tour, though, and when my time came I completed a Masters in Teaching at the University of Melbourne, and was fortunate enough to begin my new teaching career at the beginning of this year at Ilim College – an independent Prep to Year 12 Islamic school in Melbourne with an enrolment of 1,000 or so students.
Coming from a non-Islamic background, I was both excited and frankly apprehensive about what this year had in store for me, not least because I was a ‘beginning’ teacher, and we can all remember that harrowing experience, but also because I was walking into a culture with which I was to an extent unfamiliar.
I needn’t have worried. I’ve been welcomed overwhelmingly by the entire staff at Ilim College. I’ve seen warmth, openness, real care and true collegiality – and no faculty rivalry or political in-fighting. The predominantly Muslim staff has accepted me from the get-go and I immediately felt that I was a part of the Ilim College ‘family.’ The focus at Ilim College is on academic excellence, and you see that in the day-today professionalism of the teaching staff, but there’s something even more distinctive than that: food.
Food is embedded in Islamic culture. How often do you walk into the staffroom kitchen early on a Monday morning, and see the table brimming with a kaleidoscope of the most wonderful assortments of foods and colours? At Ilim, plates are piled high with flat breads; dishes filled with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheeses, olives, and bowls are filled with various dips. Teachers, me included, sit at the table, immersed in conversation, and eating. More than likely, a colleague will be cooking Kavarma – a Bulgarian stew using spiced beef or chicken – in a massive pot in the staff kitchen for all to enjoy at lunchtime.
This arrangement is not formalised or structured. Teachers bring along what they have and everybody shares. This notion of communal celebration and sharing, hospitality and kindness has made a big impression on me. The passionate discussions in the male staffroom is another aspect of the school which I’ve not experienced in other school forums. Topics such as religion and politics are not taboo, and I’ve been involved in many interesting and thought-provoking conversations.
Don’t think I’m going to gloss over the male staffroom I just mentioned: yes, we have male and female staffrooms. This separating of the sexes also applies to students on the school premises. Male and female students have generally assigned areas, which discourages intermingling during recess and lunch. That’s not to suggest that the genders don’t mix; they do.
In the staffroom, you’ll hear teachers from Turkish, Lebanese, Sudanese, Ghanaian, Croatian, Pakistani and a host of other backgrounds, speaking the language of their culture. The diversity of the teaching staff is a real strength of the school, as the teaching faculty has a broad range of teaching experience in many countries around the world, and many teachers hold masters and doctoral degrees. In fact, the staffroom sometimes reminds me of a mini United Nations.
Of course, the Islamic faith is a ubiquitous force that is the bedrock of the school culture. Teachers are engaged in prayer in the staffroom on a daily basis and demonstrate a profound dedication to their faith. They also demonstrate a profound respect for the beliefs of others. Daily prayers, attended by both students and teachers, are conducted in the school mosque.
Like all schools, there are students and staff who are more devoted to their faith, while others are less so. The teaching of the Qur’an is taught as a subject in its own right, and students must be able to recite verses of the Qur’an as part of their academic progress. On occasion, students are also given the opportunity to recite verses of the Qur’an at school assembly or on special occasions.
The Scholar and the Ruler
During one of his visits to Madinah, the Umayyid Khalifah Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik (54 - 99 A.H.) wanted to meet someone who had lived with a Companion of the Prophet if such a man was still alive. Sulayman's most meritorious act may have been that he had nominated Syedna Umar bin Abdul Aziz as the next Khalifah. His worst was the killing of Muhammad bin Qasim as he took revenge from the relatives of Hajjaj bin Yusuf. Overall because of his good character he was known as Miftahul Khair (Key to goodness). On being informed that Abu Hazim was the only such person, he sent for him. Here is the conversation that followed between them as reported in Musnad of Darimi. (It is taken here from Maariful Qur'an). It is self explanatory and full of gems of wisdom. It has advice for the rulers, for the scholars on how to deal with the rulers (without compromise or unnecessary aggression), and for everyone on how to behave in this life.
Sulayman first complained that Abu Hazim had shown discourtesy by not coming to meet him on his own. Abu Hazim replied, "O' Chief of the Muslims, may Allah protect you from saving something that is not true. You did not know my name before today, nor had I ever seen you. How could then I have come to meet you?" As Sulayman looked around Imam Zuhri said: "Abu Hazim is right."
He then continued: "Abu Hazim, how is it that I don't like to die?"
"The reason is simple. You have decorated and embellished this world, and turned your habitation in the other world into a desert. Naturally, you don't like to leave a flourishing city for a desert."
Sulayman: "What would it be like when we appear before Allah tomorrow?"
Abu Hazim: "The man who has been doing good deeds will appear before Allah like the man who returns from a travel to his loved ones, while the man who has been doing evil deeds will appear like the runaway slave who has now been brought back to his master."
Sulayman burst into tears, and said with a sigh, "I wish we could know how Allah would deal with us." Abu Hazim replied, "Assess your deeds in the light of the Book of Allah, and you will know."
"Which verse of the Holy Qur'an can help us do so?"
"Here is the verse: 'Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, and the transgressors shall be in a fiery furnace.'" [Al-Infitar: 82:13-14]
Sulayman: "Allah's mercy is great; it can cover even the wrong-doers." Abu Hazim replied with another verse: "Surely the Mercy of Allah is close to those who do good deeds." [Al-A'raf: 7:56]. There are many who try to justify their crooked ways using this argument. This gentle reminder may help rid them of their complacency. We should first change our behavior so we can deserve Allah's mercy. Then we should hope for it.
Sulayman continued: "Tell me, Abu Hazim, who is the most honorable among the servants of Allah?"
"Those who are mindful of their fellow-human beings, and possess the right kind of understanding to know the truth."
Sulayman: "Which is best among good deeds?"
Abu Hazim: "Fulfilling the obligations laid down by Allah, and keeping away from what He has forbidden." This answer is important in setting our priorities right. For many times people pay attention to nawafil (voluntary deeds) while ignoring faraid (obligatory deeds) and indulging in sins.
"Which supplication (dua) is likely to be accepted by Allah?"
"The dua of a man for you for whom you have done some good." This is not a minor point. If the rulers and all people in authority were driven by the desire to earn duas from the people they ruled, the crisis of governance in the Muslim world could be ended.
"What is the best form of charity?"
"Giving as much as one can, in spite of one's own need, to a man in misery without trying to make him feel grateful and without torturing him with reminders of your favors."
"Which is the best form of speech?"
"Speaking the truth plainly and unreservedly before the man who can harm you in some way or from whom you expect a favor."
"What kind of man is the wisest?"
"He whose actions are governed by obedience to Allah, and who invites others as well to it."
"What kind of man is the most foolish?"
"He who helps another man in committing some injustice, which mean that he is exchanging his iman for the worldly gains of the other person."
Sulayman agreed with all this and then asked him pointedly, "What do you think of me?" Abu Hazim wanted to be excused from replying to such a direct question, but Sulayman insisted. Abu Hazim said: "O chief of the Muslims, your forefathers established their rule over the people with the help of the sword and against their will, after killing hundreds of men. Having done all this, they departed from the world. I wish you could know what they themselves are saying after their death and what people are saying about them."
Fearing that Sulayman might be displeased by such straight talk, one of his courtiers rebuked Abu Hazim for having spoken so rudely. He replied: "No, you are wrong. I have not said anything rude but only what Allah has commanded us to say. For Allah has enjoined upon the 'ulama' to speak the truth before the people and not to conceal it." And he recited this verse of the Holy Qur'an: "You shall make it clear to the people and not conceal it." [Aal-i-'Imran: 3:187]
Sulayman then asked, "Alright how can we reform ourselves now?"
Abu Hazim: "Give up your pride, acquire a spirit of fellow-feeling for the people, and give them justly what is due to them."
"Well, is there anything you need? What can we do for you'?"
"Yes, I have a need. Please help me to save myself from Hell and to enter Paradise."
"This is not in my power."
"Then, there is nothing you can do for me."
Upon Sulayman's request Abu Hazim made this prayer for him: "O Allah, if you approve of Sulayman, make the well-being of this world and the next easily accessible to him; but if he is your enemy, drag him by the hair towards the deeds you approve of."
At the end of their meeting Sulayman asked him for some special advice. Abu Hazim said: "I shall make it short. You should have so much fear of your Lord and reverence for Him that He never finds you present at the place He has forbidden, and never finds you absent from the place where He has commanded you to be."