Archive for the ‘Islam and Muslims’ Category

Cape Town Ramadaan 2017 Calendars?

Posted on the May 25th, 2017 under Islam and Muslims by

With Ramadaan around the corner, one will find lots of Ramdaan calendars containing the Salaah Times for the month. This is particularly important as Muslims starting fasting from sunrise (Fajr prayer), and break their fast at sunset (Maghrib prayer).

I have already come across quite a few, but there’s something that stands out from them: For Cape Town, they all have different salaah times, which depending on the calendar you follow, means you’ll either be fasting earlier or breaking the fast later. The purpose of this blog post is three fold:

  1. To show evidence of these differences without commenting on which one is more correct/accurate.
  2. Related to the first point, to raise awareness of the issue to get Muslim scholar/leaders to rather address the issue.
  3. To call and raise the importance of providing salaah times in an open format.

The Different Salaah Time Calendars for Cape Town

If one were to classify the Salaah Time calendars for Cape Town, they could fall into three broad groups:

  1. The Printed/Distributed Calendars in Cape Town (Wembley one being a standout)
  2. The Jamiatul Ulama KZN Perpetual Calendar
  3. The Calendar based on Calculations using the Muslim World League – Angle Based Rule method.

1) The Printed/Distributed Calendar

Taking a look at most of the printed/distributed Islamic calendars in the Cape, I’ve often found it difficult to accurately match the formula/calculation method as it’s usually slightly different/out to the formulas/calculation methods found on the Internet.

For reference purposes, I will refer to the one published by the Wembley Group of Companies annually for the past 25 years, these calendars chronicle sites and events of historical significance in Islam alongside beautifully photographed images. The concept and content of the calendar is usually done by veteran journalist and Radio Voice of the Cape presenter, Shafiq Morton. (The first one on Shaykh Yusuf’s Kramat in 1994 was done by him, as well as the latest one. Cannot say for sure each edition was done by him).

The calendar is available for download at http://wembley.co.za/calendars/.

For the purpose of reference, lets consider the Fajr and Maghrib times for today (22 May 2017) and for 27 May 2017 which is predicted the 1st of Ramadaan.

22 May 2017: Fajr – 06:16, Maghrib – 17:52

27 May 2017: Fajr – 06:19, Maghrib – 17:50

Re-use of the “Printed/Distributed Calendar”

a) Muslim.co.za (Disclosure, run by me). The Salaah times from the Islamic calendar was manually copied and typed into an excel spreadsheet, and then exported into a database table. It gets treated as a perpetual calendar in that Salaah times on a given Gregorian date will always be the same regardless of year. Random checks are performed in Muharram with newly printed Islamic calendars to ensure they are still the same.

b) Cape Town Muslim Events – Source: WhatsApp Daily Profile Photo

 

c) Balmoral Supermarket (I assume many other companies will too) Source: https://www.facebook.com/balmoralsupermarket/photos/a.314665238725457.1073741829.314257428766238/647582772100367/?type=3&theater

 

 

2) The Jamiatul Ulama KZN Perpetual Calendar

The description in the Jamiatul Ulama KZN Calendar shows that it is either based on or generated using the Prayer Time Calculator V2.5 by Dr Monzur Ahmed. The one for Cape Town can be found here: http://jamiat.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/ptpCAPETOWN.pdf

Re-use of the “Jamiatul Ulama KZN Calendar”

From my brief investigation and comparison of the salaah times, this calendar is used by:

  1. Voice of the Cape – http://www.vocfm.co.za/resources/salaah-times/
  2. Salaahtimes.co.za (Acknowledges that they use the Jamiat KZN data) – http://www.salaahtimes.co.za/cape-town
  3. Samd.co.za – http://www.samd.co.za/salaah_times_CT.html

In my opinion, there are two reasons why the Jamiatul Ulama KZN calendar used by so many others:

  1. The Jamiatul Ulama KZN generated such calendars for many of the major cities and towns in South Africa using a known tool.
  2. From a software development perspective, it was easy to extract this data to show daily salaah times, for example. (This is what muslim.co.za uses for all other towns besides Cape Town).

The Salaah Times for comparison:

22 May 2017: Fajr – 06:09, Maghrib – 17:52

27 May 2017: Fajr – 06:12, Maghrib – 17:50

The Maghrib times are exactly the same as the ‘Printed Calendar’ but the Fajr Time is 7 minutes earlier.

Radio Islam Perpetual Calendar for Cape Town

The Radio Islam perpetual calendar for Cape Town (available at http://www.radioislam.co.za/salaah_times/Ct/Cape_Town_SF.htm) is similar to the Jamiatul Ulama KZN one, but a minute later for each item.

The criteria is mentioned, viz.

  • Location: Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA
  • Juristic Method: Hanafi, Timezone: GMT +2
  • Calculation Method: University Of Islamic Sciences, Karachi
  • Maghrib: +3 minutes after Maghrib (sic) (Probably meant sunset)

The Salaah Times for comparison:

22 May 2017: Fajr – 06:10, Maghrib – 17:53

27 May 2017: Fajr – 06:12, Maghrib – 17:51

The “Taqweem” Calendar

Again similar to the Jamiatul Ulama KZN one, but out by a minute in some instances:  http://taqweem.rapidsoft.co.za/report_perpetual.php?ID=141

The Salaah Times for comparison:

22 May 2017: Fajr – 06:09, Maghrib – 17:52

27 May 2017: Fajr – 06:12, Maghrib – 17:49

 

3) Calendar based on Calculations

These calendars can be found on a few websites like livingislam.co.za are usually based on widget provided either by Islamic Finder or SalaahTimes.com. Even though the salaah times provided are not the same as the printed one in Cape Town, many websites use them in my opinion because these are the only ones easily available to be integrated. Perhaps a poor reflection on local Muslim developers for not coming up with one?

The Salaah Times for comparison from https://www.islamicfinder.org/world/south-africa/3369157/cape-town-prayer-times/

22 May 2017: Fajr – 06:09, Maghrib – 17:50

27 May 2017: Fajr – 06:12, Maghrib – 17:48

The Salaah Times for comparison from https://www.salahtimes.com/south-africa/cape-town

22 May 2017: Fajr – 06:09, Maghrib – 17:49

27 May 2017: Fajr – 06:12, Maghrib – 17:47

The last one in particular seems to be the source for the calendar generated by the South African Students Association in the Arab Republic of Egypt (Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=127922454437974&set=ecnf.100016606606825&type=3&theater)

The calendar based on calculations has a similar Fajr time to the Jamiatul Ulama KZN calendar, but an earlier Maghrib time.

Summary of Differences

Comparing the earliest and latest times between the different calendars for Fajr and Maghrib shows their is up to a 7 minute difference between the times for Fajr and a 3 minute difference for Maghrib (in one case, 4 minutes).

As mentioned, determining which one is more correct/accurate is a task for the Muslim scholars/leadership to resolve.

 

The Need for Providing Salaah Times in an Open Format

 

Will tackle this in a new blog post, Insha Allah

Lessons from the Isra and Mi’raj from the Perspective of a Parent with a Child with Autism

Posted on the May 26th, 2014 under Human Rights,Islam and Muslims,Productivity,Reflections/Thoughts,South Africa by

The Isra and Mi’raj are the two parts of a Night Journey that, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad took during a single night around the year 621. The Qur’an makes reference to this event in Chapter 17 (Al-Isra) verse 1:

Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

Now whilst many people will expound on the significance of the journey and the night, events that occurred, and how the Salaah (5 daily prayers) became ordained, I believe it also offers lessons and inspiration for people with special needs and their parents and those who support them.

From the perspective of a parent of a child with Autism, no other Islamic event resonates with me more than that of the Isra and Mi’raj.

The Isra and Mi’raj in the Face of Rejection and Dejection

Ask any parent of a child with special needs as to what has been their greatest challenge and battle. Many will think it is the ‘burden’ of the child or the financial cost factor or the sacrifices of time.

On the contrary, these parents will tell you the greatest challenge and battle has been to face rejection: rejection that kids can have a disorder or disability; rejection that disorders or disabilities exists; rejection that their kids cannot behave ‘normally’; rejection with the notion that ‘parents probably did something wrong’, and hence are ‘being punished’.

And what makes this challenge even harder is put simply: the loss of support.

Accepting that you have a child with special needs is tough. Tougher than this is coming to accept that people for whom you believe would support you through thick and thin, will abandon you when you need them the most.

My greatest source of comfort has been to know that our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) went through a similar phase, in what has generally become known as ‘Aam-ul-Huzn’ or the Year of Sorrow.

The period was referenced by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the toughest time of his life, and preceded the event of the Isra and Mi’raj. It is the period where he faced a number of misfortunes:

  • The public boycott where the Meccans banished the Banu Hashim to an area known Shib Abi Talib (Valley of Abu Talib), and refused to trade with them resulting in hunger and privation.
  • The death of his wife Khadija (RA), the first person to accept Islam and upon whom he could always rely on.
  • The subsequent death of his uncle, Abu Talib, whose protection ensured that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would never face any direct harm.

Following these misfortunes, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also faced the brutal rejection of the people of Ta’if who stoned him. Such was the extent of his injuries that even his shoes were filled with blood. The Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) came to him with the Angel of the Mountains and said that if the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wanted, he would blow the mountains over the people of Ta’if.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instead replied with the following prayer:

O Allah, To Thee I complain of my weakness, my lack of resources and my lowliness before men.

O Most Merciful! Thou art the Lord of the weak and Thou art my Lord. To whom wilt Thou relinquish my fate! To one who will misuse me? Or to an enemy to whom Thou hast given power over me? If Thou art not angry with me then I care not what happens to me. Thy favor is all that counts for me.

I take refuge in the light of Thy countenance, by which all darkness is illuminated. And the things of this world and next are rightly ordered. I wish to please Thee until Thou art pleased. There is no power and no might save in Thee.

As time has passed, I’ve realized that my role is not to force people to accept that autism exists, or to force people to accept my son. As a matter of fact, such efforts might not only have been in vain, but also a poor utilization of time and effort.

Instead my role has to be to not only support my one son who has autism in particular, but to assist all my kids to become the best they can be, to the best of their ability.

In doing so, we prove to others that autism is not a burden, but an opportunity to show others, that no matter the weaknesses of our kids, we will not give up on them. The goal is not to make them compete or be better than others, but better than what they can be, and in doing so, remove the stigma of autism.

Our weakness and lack of resources will only be outdone by our determination.

The Isra and Mi’raj as the Turning Point in Turning Perspective

At this low point in time, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was taken on this glorious journey. Some scholars are of the opinion that there were a few reasons why the Prophet Muhammad’s journey started at the house of Umm Hani, and not his own.

  • Firstly, it was closer to the Kaaba.
  • Secondly, some opine that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stayed there after the incident in Taif to not reveal the extent of his injuries to his immediate family.

The latter point is, in my opinion, also reflective of how many parents of kids with special needs put on a ‘brave face’. Deep down, they are filled with concern of the future, and what would happen when they are no longer around.

These are natural to have, but have to gradually fade into an action plan. Firstly, the best way to prepare for the future is to build it. Secondly, we cannot tell how long we will be around, so best make every minute of it starting now.

The less time spent fretting about other people’s opinions, thoughts and behaviour, means more time to do something constructive.

The Isra and Mi’raj and the Scent of People who Don’t Give Up

One of the incidents of the Isra and Mi’raj that is only occasionally shared is this one:

On the journey of the Isra, the Prophet smelled a very nice odor. He asked Jibreel about this pleasant scent and Jibreel informed him this good smell was coming from the grave of the woman whose duty used to be to comb Pharaoh’s daughter’s hair. This woman was a good, pious believer.

One day, as she was combing Pharaoh’s daughter’s hair, the comb fell from her hand. At this she said, “Bismillah.” The Pharaoh’s daughter asked her, “Do you have a god other than my father?” The woman said, “Yes. My Lord and the Lord of your father is Allah.”

The Pharaoh’s daughter told her father what had happened and he demanded this woman blaspheme and leave Islam, but she refused. At that, the Pharaoh threatened to kill her children.

He brought a great pot of water and built a great fire under it. When the water boiled, the Pharaoh brought her children and started to drop them into that pot one after the other.

Throughout all this, the woman remained steadfast to Islam, even when the Pharaoh reached her youngest child — a little boy still breast-feeding — but she felt pity for him.

At that, Allah enabled this child to speak. He said to his mother, “O Mother, be patient. The torture of the Hereafter is far more severe than the torture of this life, and do not be reluctant, because you are right.”

At this the woman requested Pharaoh collect her bones and the bones of her children and bury them in the same grave. The Pharaoh promised her that — then dropped her into that boiling water. She died as a martyr. The good odor the Prophet smelled coming from her grave is an indication of her high status.

Adapted from: http://www.islamawareness.net/Isra/miracle.html

Kids with special needs are also kids of Jannah (paradise), and some would argue this is a fanciful thought. But when you meet a child that is unable to talk or unable to verbalize his/her thoughts, perhaps it is that their tongue is protected from committing sin, a child who unlike others cannot display disrespect verbally or demonstrate foul language that he/she has learnt.

These are indeed the kids of paradise. The question is: will we use them as a means to enable us to also enter paradise.

The Isra and Mi’raj and the Journey You’d Never Imagine You’d Undertake

The story most often told is that of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his meeting with different prophets on different levels of Jannah.

Since the inception of Raa’id being diagnosed with autism, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, finding a school for him, getting him to therapies, etc.

The one question I occasionally ponder is: How would our life have been, had he not have been diagnosed with autism? A few answers:

  • We probably would never have met other wonderful parents who also have kids with special needs.
  • We probably would never have given up evenings to attend support groups and learn from the experiences of others.
  • We probably would never have been invited by the University of Cape Town to use Raa’id in a pilot programme that they wanted to roll-out, a programme that would benefit hundreds of other children.
  • We probably would never have been as passionate about any disorder as we now are.

The ‘early days’ were daunting. It remains a marvel when we meet parents whose kids have recently been diagnosed with autism. We see our old selves in them; they are starting to undertake a journey that we undertook a few years ago, a journey we’d never imagine we would undertake.

The Isra and Mi’raj and the Special Verses that could be only be Shared in a Special Way

During the Mi’raj or heavenly journey, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received a portion of verses of the Holy Quran of which I cannot help but remind myself of on a daily basis. Beyond my personal attachment to them, these verses of the Holy Quran have certain special characteristics that no other verses of the Holy Quran have:

  • Firstly, these are the only verses of the Holy Quran that were not revealed on Earth.
  • Secondly, these are the only verses of the Holy Quran that were not revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel). Instead they were given directly to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the night of the Mi’raj.

Now if one would ask, if these verses are so special, what would they relate to: does it refer to the Majesty of Almighty Allah, does it perhaps refer to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), or perhaps this glorious journey of Mi’raj.

The special verses of the Holy Quran that were shared in a special way on this special night refers to the wonderful capacity that mankind has. The verses that were revealed form part of the last verses of Surah Baqara (the second chapter), and the last one reads:

Allah will not place a burden on any soul greater than it can bear.
It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.
(Pray:) “Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord!
Lay not on us a burden Like that which Thou didst lay on those before us;
Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear.
Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us.
Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith

Raising a child with special needs is an enormous responsibility, eased only with the knowledge that this is the Almighty’s will, and that He only grants this to people with a special capacity, one they might not realize they have.

Conclusion

Now in 2014, it is barely a few weeks after the Autism Awareness month of April, that Muslims will celebrate the auspicious night of the Isra and Mi’raj. In a few years to come, these will overlap each other, as the Islamic calendar year is shorter than the Gregorian one.

Tonight as people fill up the Masaajid, you may see a young child behaving in a way you may consider ill-befitting the sanctity of a Masjid. That child may or may not have a disorder. That child will not be Raa’id though.

Raa’id, because of his autism, cannot stand crowds and restrictive space. He is only six now, so it concerns us whether one day in the future he will be able to perform Jumu’ah.

The truth of the matter is that more and more parents will be pondering this concern.

  • In 1970, the numbers for autism was 1 in 10,000.
  • In 1975, it was 1 in 5,000.
  • In 1985, it was 1 in 2,500.
  • In 1995, it was 1 in 500.
  • In 2001, it was 1 in 250.
  • In 2004, it was 1 in 166.
  • In 2009, it was 1 in 110.
  • In 2012, it was 1 in 88.
  • Last year, in 2013, it was 1 in 50.

Preparing For Hajj – Some tips for techno hajjis

Posted on the September 27th, 2010 under Internet,Islam and Muslims,Reflections/Thoughts,South Africa by

Going on Hajj nowadays is so much different from years ago. As someone that was fortunate to be there in 1995 and last year (2009), the differences were stark. No longer did we have queue for prepaid phones, we could video chat (skype) with our family back home. No longer did people have to wait for photos to be developed. We shared them immediately on Facebook. And yes, we took photos of ourselves inside the Haram and MMS’d it home!

Opting to take our gadgets also came with its own preparation. Having learnt from the advice of well-wishers, as well as mistakes from previous trips, here are some tips we can offer.

Electricity – Get a Travel Plug Converter

Saudi Arabia uses the Type F plug, South Africa the Type M. One Hajji noted that his hotel also had the Type G plug (as used in the UK), but this is very rare.

I found a travel plug converter at Diskem, but its generally available at stores like Cape Union Mart. Also try places that sell suitcases. Type G to Type M is easier to find and available at Clicks for instance, but rather take the Type F. This also makes a handy gift to Hujaaj!

We also took with a multiplug allowing us to comfortably power the laptop as well as charge our cellphones, camera battery, electric tooth brushes, electric shavers.

Saudi Arabia also uses 220V so there’s no need to change the voltage on your equipment.

Type F Plug

Type F Plug

Type M Plug

Type M Plug

Type G Plug

Type G Plug

WiFi and Internet

Even if Wifi is advertised  free in your hotel, it may only be available on a certain floor. Check with your travel agent whether the hotels you are staying in offer WiFi and whether WiFi is offered on all floors or just some. I found WiFi more available in Medina than in Makka. It may be because of the construction work, but speculation on my side.

Internet on your Cellphone

Have a habit of quickly checking Facebook on your cell phone, I was shocked to see how expensive this is with airtime just running away. My guess is that it costs something in the region of Rs2 (Saudi Riyals) a megabyte which would be more expensive than South Africa.

Tip: Keep this is mind that their billing rate may be different. Also check your airtime balance regularly, and modify the settings of programs that connect to the Internet. In my case, one of them was one that downloads the daily weather.

3G Internet for Your Laptop

It is possible to take your 3G card with and purchase a one 30 day data bundle from a service provider in Saudi Arabia. There are two advantages to doing this:

  • If your hotel does not offer WiFi on your floor, you can comfortably Skype and video chat with your family in the comfort of your hotel room.
  • If your package involves moving to Azizia, you’ll have Internet access there! Azizia is nice, but WiFi is not standard there 😉

Some tips on purchasing a data bundle

1) Saudi Arabia has two main operators: STC and Mobily. STC is the equivalent of Telkom, advertises everything but has nothing and unlikely to help you if they sense you are going to make them THINK or do some real work. The service from Mobily on the hand was wonderful. They knew their products, no queues.

2) Purchase the data bundle in Medina

Makka is full. Since it is also winter there, there is a shorter time between the Waqts and also to get to the Haram on time. By the time you get to the front of the queue, its time for Salaah. However, try and purchase it closer to the end of your stay in Medina, but with enough time to go back to them if any issues arise (about three days before you leave). A data bundle lasts for 30 days. The later you purchase your data bundle, the later for your stay in Makka you can use it. Otherwise you run in the dillemma of wanting to purchase a data bundle just a few days before Haj and risk losing the balance of data/airtime.

3) Requirements

I purchased the data bundle at the Mobily Store in Central Medina (opposite the Hilton hotel). They required a photocopy of my passport (which I did not have) but accepted my Al Anwar card. Best to take a photocopy of your passport with.

4) The connection settings for Mobiliy is built into Ubuntu, just setup a Mobile connection. For Windows users, they are:

Number: *99#
APN: web2

However, the pamphlet given is quite handy. The salesman will also tell you that you can bring your laptop to them and they will help you set it up!

AIR Time

Recharge Card

Recharge Card

Airtime is sold in various denominations. However, if you buy a larger, you stand to gain extra airtime. For example, a Rs100 airtime card gives your Rs150 airtime (cant recall exactly, but it was in this region).

Best of all, the cards have two scratch areas, so even if it is a single card, the airtime can go on to two phones. As they say in Cape Town, “Klap together”.

This also offers the opportunity for the budding entrepreneurs in Makka and Medina. Check that you are not paying the extra Rs50 when you dont have to. Also, some of them will sell you half the card for Rs75. There are so many of them, just walk away and move to the next guy.

Internet Banking

The number one rule: Update your profile to receive your One Time Password (OTP) via email. By default, most people receive their OTP via SMS. Unless you have international roaming activated and WORKING, you may not receive this, which may stop you from performing any transactions via the Internet.

Standard Bank users can only opt to receive their OTP via SMS or email. FNB users have the option of receiving the OTP via email in addition to SMS.

However, for both of them, you need to setup the OTP via email before leaving your hometown. Usually someone from the branch has to phone you, ask you to verify your details, etc. before they set this.

For Standard Bank, if you set up a recipient, you will not need to enter a OTP when doing a transfer to them.

ATMs, Banking in General

Please check that your card does not expire whilst you are on Haj. Banks usually have your new card a month before they expire, and you can request them to send you one earlier as well.

You are able to do cash withdrawals at Al Rajhi bank. In Makka, they are situated in front of the Hilton hotel. In Medina, there’s an ATM on the first floor of the Hilton Hotel. In most of the more modern malls, they do accept cards. Some of the smaller shops usually share one machine that services a group of them, so you may have to walk to another point to have your card swiped.

Wires

Make a checklist of all the wires and cables you need to take with. Its annoying to be on the other side of the world only to discover you dont have a cable you need.

Back Home Preparation

Apart from checking that you are hooked up, ensure that your family is likewise. Are they able to connect to the Internet, start skype, etc.? Does their webcam give a grainy or feed, etc.? Run a few checks before you leave, and also put them in contact with someone thats knowledgeable. If they are going to use someone else’s Internet connection, ensure that you have budgeted for this as well.

Lastly,

Where possible, assist your fellow Hujaaj if you can. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that the best of people are those who assist others, and how much greater is this in the Holy Cities. If you find any of these tips handy, please make Duah that the Almighty grants the author to apply these tips himself in the Holy Lands, Insha Allah

Quick Guide to Ramadaan Do’s and Don’ts

Posted on the August 21st, 2009 under Islam and Muslims by

Got this in an email. Neat!

Ramadaan Highway Code

Ever wondered how the Kaaba looked inside

Posted on the March 6th, 2009 under Islam and Muslims by

From an email I received recently, I decided to lookup some more information:


This what we usually get to see when the King of Saudi Arabia visits the Kaaba in Makkah

Muslim Pick Up Lines

Posted on the March 4th, 2009 under Islam and Muslims by

1. OH MY GOSH! I just saw part of your hair, now you’re obliged to marry me.

2. Our parents engaged us when we were little, they must have forgotten to tell you.

3. I’d like to be more than just your brother in Islam.

4. To watch you pray is a sin of its own.

5. Will my platinum VISA cover your dowry?

6. You can’t play basketball with a jilbab on, marry me, and we will go one-on-one our entire life.

7. Muslims are supposed to have many children, and I am willing to do my part…

8. Will you help the cause of the Ummah by helping me fulfill my deen?

9. Wanna pray in jamaat? shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet?”

10. Assalamu alaikum, so what time does a hur al-ayn (beautiful person from Jannah) like you have to be back in paradise?

Recapturing the Life of Mohamed Amin

Posted on the August 9th, 2006 under Islam and Muslims,Reflections/Thoughts by

Scouring through my old cds, I found an article I wrote years ago on the life of Mohamed Amin, including this rare picture of his prosthetic arm. I’ve tried googling for it, but to no avail. True to my academic immaturity at the time, no references are cited :-(.

Furthermore, either Google does not do justice to a search on his name, or the websites used those years have gone down. Nonetheless, I hope this article plays some part in the remembrance of his life and contribution…

Recapturing the Life of Mohamed Amin

by Tohir Solomons

It takes the humaneness of one to make a difference to the world Mohamed Amin has shown us. Working in a profession connoted with lies and disinformation, Mohamed Amin taught us that we cannot be deceived to our own humanity.

It’s nearly 10 years ago that we witnessed the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines ET961 into the Indian Ocean. And sadly with that, was the life of the greatest photojournalist in the world. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Mo (as he was affectionately called) covered the politics, sports and wildlife of the African continent. A man of compelling bravery and pictures, his life continues to inspire the commoner.

Early Life

At the age of 14, Mohamed Amin’s plea to join the photographic society was turned down. He was considered to be too young. Added to this, young Mo could not receive any encouragement from his family. Photography is seemingly an inappropriate profession for a Muslim, they argued. Determined to do photography, Mohamed Amin persuaded a friend to lend him his father’s Rollicord camera. He took it to the society and was admitted. Having access to equipment and the dark room, he managed to teach himself the art and science of photography.

In 1960, Mohamed Amin quit school in the middle of an exam. He decided there was no point of going through an exam because he’d get a paper he didn’t need. He also felt that the study couldn’t assist him practically in the field of photography. It was his belief that interest could well cover for teaching. Added to this, the African continent was about to experience a decade of turmoil and transition. Mohamed Amin wanted to make his mark covering the independence of Tanganyika.

In 1962, a friend introduced Mohamed Amin to a 16mm camera (video camera). Two white liberals had escaped from a jail in South Africa, stolen a Cessna aircraft and flown to Dar es Salaam. On his way to the airport, Mo borrowed a 16mm camera. He first took the stills and then made the two get back in the plane and come out again while he filmed. It was in this way that he started coverage for BBC and ITN. He also got the nickname ‘Six Camera Mo’ for being draped with stills and cine cameras.

Mohamed Amin received a tip off to the Zanzibar revolution in Tanzania in 1964. He traveled to Dar es Salaam on an early morning flight, and was the first cameraman in the region. For four days, his film coverage led world television bulletins at CBS, Visnews and ITN. Soon there after, he started working as a reporter for Visnews (predecessor of Reuters).

It was chiefly due to his work in Uganda that the world’s perception of Idi Amin changed. Captured and tortured for covering a coup in Zanzibar in 1966, he was released only after intense international diplomatic pressure. In 1969, Mohamed Amin was voted British Cameraman of the Year for his coverage of the assassination of Tom Moboya, a Kenyan Minister. He had not only recorded the event but also organized the transport and accompanied the dying man to hospital.

Ethiopia – 1980s

Mohamed Amin will best be remembered for helping to bring the attention of the world to the famine in Ethiopia in 1984. War was raging at the time in Ethiopia with Soviet and Cuban troops fighting the rebel movement. Though Amin had been trying for months to get a visa, the then Mengistu regime was in particular extremely suspicious of journalists. Eventually he managed to visit the famine-stricken regions along with Zack Njuguna (his soundman), and two journalists, Michael Buerk and Michael Woolridge.

Describing the situation in an interviewed with Mary Keevil in 1992, Mohamed Amin said,

“I had no idea how bad the famine was going to be until we got there. It was only when we saw what we saw – 80,000 people wanting to be fed in a camp with no food for possibly more than a handful of 50 or 60 people.

The Ethiopians being such a proud people, they just sat there holding their babies knowing they were going to die, but they didn’t make an issue of it, they just sat there… I’ll never forget those scenes… they calmly just sat there awaiting their fate. That came across strongly in the pictures. The poor guy distributing the food would just pick a person here or there… but people would die in their thousands… by the time the aid got there, very sadly it was too late to save a lot of he people. One million died before the food arrived, however, if it had not come maybe seven or eight million would have died.”

The seven minute clip was shown on BBC’s Six O’ Clock news on 24 October 1984. The pictures were stark and shocking, but the reaction, unprecedented. Over a billion people saw it throughout the world. The unique broadcast inspired millions to launch the ‘We are the World’ campaign, the greatest ever global act-of-giving we have seen. It was to have so much impact that it led Bob Geldof to launch Band Aid and Live Aid, the international humanitarian organizations. Speaking on the incident, Bob Geldof replied that he was a provoked by the broadcast: ‘I dare you to turn away, I dare you to do nothing’.

Mohamed Amin, however, was more emphatic about the situation.

“I think the reaction of the people of the world was tremendous. It wasn’t from the governments… it was from the hearts of ordinary people around the globe who saw those helpless people. It was their outcry that made the organizations and governments do something.”

Mohamed Amin returned to Ethiopia a few months later to do a follow-up story. He was, however, banned by the Mengistu government for also doing a story on the rebels.

Loss of an Arm

Mohamed Amin’s ban was lifted in 1991 following the fall of the Mengistu regime. He traveled to Ethiopia to cover the fall. The war was still continuing, and a few days later there was a huge explosion at an arms depot. Mohamed Amin along with his sound recordist John Mathai and reporters Michael Buerk and Colin Blane went to visit the scene. Suddenly there was an explosion, and Amin’s camera fell to the ground. As he tried to pick it up and put it to his eye, a rocket hit him. A heavy camera bag containing equipment had prevented the rocket from hitting his chest. Mohamed Amin was bleeding heavily and lost the use of both arms. Tragically, John Mathai, his sound recordist, was killed on the spot.

In hospital, Amin’s nightmare continued. As the war raged on, the hospital was short of medicine, blood and doctors. Fortunately, Reuters and Visnews assisted him tremendously. They managed to persuade the rebels’ government to open the airport, and Amin was flown to Nairobi for surgery. His right arm could be saved, but unfortunately, not his left. The surgeon decided to amputate, trying to save as much of the arm as possible.

Everybody thought that his career as a cameraman was over. The sooner he got used to this he was told, the better. Mo, instead, began an international search for a prosthetic arm to prove his skeptics and doubters wrong. He spoke to Visnews in London about modifying his camera so that he could work with one hand. A few months later, he went to the United States where John Billock designed an arm for him that could operate a camera. In fact, he had two prosthetic arms made for him. He used to joke with airline personnel checking the prostheses in his luggage, “I’m in the arms business.”

Speaking on the accident, Mohamed Amin said,

“Since I lost my arm I have been busier at work. At first I was a little slow, now I think I am faster than before. I think you try harder. I don’t really think I have a disadvantage.”

Mohamed Amin was awarded the M.B.E. in 1992 to honour thirty years of covering trouble spots in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Sudden Death

It used to be joked that wherever Mohamed Amin went, there was news! And sadly, this was also how he met his death.

On November 23 1996, Mohamed Amin was returning home on Ethiopian Airlines flight ET961 from Addis Ababa after a business trip. The airplane was hijacked by three Ethiopians claiming to be armed with explosives. After a struggle with the crew, the plane crashed into the sea just off the coast of the Comoros Islands, breaking into three. Mohamed Amin died on his feet still trying to negotiate with the terrorists.

Speaking on his death, Michael Buerk said, “Having spent all his life as a front-line war cameraman, to get killed in a news story that he wasn’t covering, after surviving for years against the odds, was difficult to come to terms with.”

Mohamed Amin’s Impact on the World

Mohamed Amin will best be remembered for his compelling pictures of the Ethiopian famine in 1984. He was instrumental in shaping the future of humanitarian assistance.

Mike Wooldridge speaking of events of seventeen years ago said, “I believe that the Ethiopian famine became a watershed not only for my own life but for the aid agencies and the media. I would like to think that the media has improved from its earlier coverage, so that it can explain famines and people will understand that it is not simply about crop failures and drought”.

Bob Geldof, speaking on Mohamed Amin’s impact on the world, said:

“Time and again, Mo moved the world from apathy to an understanding of responsibility. He was a great journalist and a great man. For good or for ill, he changed my life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others.”

Mohamed Amin, though a recipient of many awards, also has a few awards named after him. Reuters launched the ‘News World Mohamed Amin Award’ in 1997 to reward acts of outstanding courage, professional skill or initiative in bringing news. The American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists established the ‘Mohamed Amin Humanitarian Service Award’ to honour humanitarian spirit among disabled persons.

Mohamed Amin and Our Future

Former US President George Bush commenting on the death of Mohamed Amin said, “Millions are alive today because Mohamed Amin risked his life time and again…”

This rare achievement makes one reflect on the many leaders who are guilty of the opposite. There are leaders who are responsible for hundreds and thousands of unnecessary deaths, not to make mention of the misery caused. George W. Bush, in pursuing a blind policy for hunting ‘terrorists’, will most certainly join the disgraced list of leaders with blood on their hands.

Mohamed Amin’s outstanding courage and determination is inspirational. Rejected by the photographic society and discouraged by his parents, he overcame all of this to become the most celebrated photojournalist in the world. Even the loss of an arm failed to lessen his spirit. It only added more significance to the value of life.

A concluding thought… If Mohamed Amin was alive today, how do you think he would have tackled the issue of AIDS?

Maulana Imran Nazar Hosein’s Website

Posted on the May 4th, 2005 under Internet,Islam and Muslims by

Further to my recent posting on Blogging as a Sadaqatul Jaariyah, I was glad to hear that Maulana Imran Nazar Hosein now has a website at http://www.imranhosein.org/. Maulana Imran was a student of the famous Maulana Fazul-Rahman Ansari of Pakistan.

On Maulana Imran’s last tour to South Africa, he clearly highlighted the problem of Riba (usury), and what could be done to overcome this starting at a micro level. Some of his proposals are being implemented in places such as Indonesia and Australia. Hopefully the website can be instrumental in this part.

Already the website covers some topical issues, such as the debate on Terri Schiavo, so the website is worth a visit (and bookmark).