Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Profile: SA comedian Halal Bilal

Bilal Randeree aka Halal Bilal is nothing short of a trailblazer. With a career, travel adventures and several comedy shows under his belt, Halal is certainly an inspiration for young people the world over. Desi Kid caught up with this zealous individual:

What was it like growing up in a small town like Newcastle (situated in Northern KwaZulu-Natal)?

It was physically strenuous - I had to climb a massive mountain, swim a raging river and navigate through a wild bush just to get to school - or at least that’s what I tell people who ask this question! Newcastle is not that small - growing up there is like growing up anywhere else.

I have loads of siblings - 6 brothers and 2 sisters - so in short, you definitely learn many lessons simply by having amazing parents that can not just manage so many kids, but do a fairly decent job of it! I remember having fun, learning and fighting a lot – ‘coz that's how boys grow up in small towns like Newcastle...

How did you discover a talent for comedy?

I fell into comedy by mistake - I was working with Islamic Relief and Riaad Moosa (the funniest man in SA!) to arrange the Allah Made Me Funny (AMMF) fundraising show for orphans. During the run up for the show I somehow found myself on stage and, with the support of Riaad and the AMMF guys from US, the rest is history!

Your message to aspiring artists?

The message I would like to share, is the important message that I was given - comedy, like the internet, television, radio, music, poetry and many other forms of art and expression, are tools - tools that can be used to spread good or bad. Be confident, sincere and try to use your skills, talent or just plain nerve to encourage and spread good messages. I have seen how much of an impact on the youth a good comedian has with just a few minutes; compared to long, ill-prepared lectures!

Take us through your very first stand-up performance... the high points, the adrenalin, the ambience...

First show I did was at the Nino's in Lenz - Riaad Moosa was hosting the So you think you're funny show and I didn't find any of the other guys that funny, so thought I'd give it a shot.. Got my laughs and did a few more shows with Riaad on his Strictly Halaal tour.

Where have you performed since?

Performed in Jo’burg, Durban and Cape Town. Loads of gigs in London during my six months there. Recently did a gig at the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow conference in Doha, Qatar.

You recently performed at the Made in India comedy festival held at the ICC Durban. What was it like performing alongside some of the funniest Indians in the industry? Who are your 2 favourite Indian comedians?

The crowd was obviously very Indian, so it was good fun - always easy to make fun of Indians! The other comedians were really good and I enjoyed performing with them - I guess my favourite two would be Riaad Moosa and Russell Peters.

What do South African Indians bring to stand-up that other comedians ordinarily might not?

Dhal and rice:) All South African comedians are different from other comedians - comedy has played an important part in helping people move forward from our past.

What would you regard as being your greatest achievement thus far?

I am still struggling to achieve something great - pray that I do it in this life! Perhaps an achievement I would like to share with the hope of encouraging others is to have memorised the Qur'an. But also, I feel that my relationship with the Qur'an is still ongoing, and the achievement is reached only at the end of our lives - if I have lived according to the Qur'an, learned to understand and practise upon it, and to keep it close to me my entire life. I have had a few minor achievements so far though - like finishing matric, finishing university, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant (CA), and finally realising that as a Muslim, I have a greater role in life than just working to pay the bills.

How did the Muslim Professionals' Network (MPN) come about, and what is your involvement in it?

We started the MPN about 2 years ago and until now focused on Islamic finance and economics discussions. There has been a small team working on this since its inception. We have recently found new recruits and are extending our range of events and activities to support the needs of Muslim professionals in general.

You have just enrolled into a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism and Media Studies programme at Rhodes University for 2009. Where do you hope to take this?

As a CA, I wanted to sharpen my financial reporting skills and therefore decided to take up a course in economic journalism. Identifying the media as a powerful tool in altering perceptions, I identified a gap in the way reports on the current global economic meltdown are presented to the layperson. My endeavour is thus to hone my skills in financial reporting so as to be able to unpack the current financial crisis, its cause, solutions, and long-term effects in a manner that is accessible to the layperson.

Having travelled extensively throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world, what would you regard as your MOST memorable experience?

Loads of memorable experiences - will write a book or two about them someday! But the one that really stands out for me is my time spent in Kashmir, doing voluntary work at a hospital there. I could never forget the face of that child – the child who still smiled, despite suffering burns during an explosion in a refugee camp. I recall physically holding him down as the doctor cleaned his wounds. That marked a watershed in my life: it made me realise how much we take for granted; how complacent and plain darn selfish we can be. We have so much to offer to the world: all it takes is the right attitude and a clear purpose.

Your favourite place in the world?

I have many favourite places - the most recent place I lived in was Damascus and really miss it - hope to go back at some point and complete my studies of the Arabic language.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

54 students graduate with certificates in Islamic Law

From a modest intake of just 14 students in 2004, to a staggering 85 in 2008; the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Certificate in Islamic Law course has proved its weight in gold. The course has had wide appeal across cultural, religious and racial lines. It gives non-Muslim students a better understanding of Islamic Law in particular; and Islam in general. For Muslim students, a definite draw card has been the comparison of Islamic Law to South African law in issues that affect them in their daily lives, like marriage, divorce, succession, Islamic banking, and medical science.

The course boasts a diverse student profile. 'Ulama (Muslim theologians), lawyers, accountants, businessmen, bankers, medical doctors, social workers, NGO staff, lecturers, ex-teachers, home executives, students, and matriculants have all found relevance for it in their lives. This indicates that perhaps people might want to study Islamic Law not so much from the point of view of wanting to practise law, but to get an insight into Islam. An analogy may be drawn with those who might study philosophy or psychology to get insight into human thought and behaviour, and not necessarily to practise as psychologists or philosophers.

So exactly what is Shari'ah (or Islamic Law) and how does it differ from western law? Course-coordinator Adv Muhammad Vahed explains: "Western law is man-made law; it's changing all the time, depending on circumstances. Whereas Islamic Law is divine law and is applicable to all Muslims for all times, wherever they may be situated." In the context of the Certificate in Islamic Law course, students are equipped with knowledge on a wide spectrum of Islamic legal issues in order to create a better understanding of the practicality of Islam in a secular state. Every module commences with an overview of western law followed by a detailed discussion of Islamic law. Contemporary issues such as the Amina Lawal Zina (adultery) case, the 'Khatif girl' rape case in Saudi Arabia, the cartoon cases involving the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), including the local Jacob Zuma cartoons in the context of freedom of speech, the Muslim Personal Law Bill, and the global financial turmoil are examined.

UKZN is the only tertiary institution in South Africa that offers this course, which has created a huge demand for it nationally. But UKZN is not a correspondence university and therefore the course was offered in 2008 as block lectures at three new centres in other parts of South Africa. The immediate result was a significant increase in enrolment – 40 more students joined the course outside the Greater Durban area.

The 2009 Certificate in Islamic Law graduation took place on Saturday, 31 January, at the UKZN Westville Campus Graduate School of Business hall. 54 graduands were honoured at the ceremony, along with 31 students who received certificates of attendance. Mrs Munirah Osman (lecturer in the School of Law at UKZN) stated: "In a time when social injustices and challenges are facing many countries, this course is especially relevant." Future plans were also unveiled for the certificate course, such as developing it into a postgraduate diploma, and later on an LLM (Masters in Islamic Family Law/ Criminal Justice/ Islamic Banking/ Medical Jurisprudence).

Mr Shabir Chohan, CEO of Albaraka Bank (corporate sponsors of the certificate course), highlighted that in the wake of the current global economic crisis, flaws in the way business was done in the past have surfaced. "Governments bailing out banks show them to be really just treating the symptom and not the cause. Islam has the solution; based on risk-sharing, interest-free investment. This is evident from Islamic banking in several countries remaining largely unaffected." The reason for this is that Islam prohibits any form of speculation, whereas western banking and finance trade in debt and paper, which have no intrinsic value.

The Address by Class of 2008 segment of the programme was particularly engaging. Here, graduands treated the audience to a first-hand appraisal of the course:

"I had done an 'alim (Islamic theology) course, yet I learned so much in this course, especially in comparing Islamic Law to conventional law." (Mawlana M Salim Omarjee)

"The benefit of this course lies in its day-to-day practicality; it was fascinating to compare and contrast South African or western and Islamic Law… May Allah ta'ala strengthen this course and make those who take this course better human beings." (Dr Yacoob AK Vahed - Overall Top Student 2008)

"As a magistrate, I know about crime, theft of property… But it was for the first time in my life that I compared South African law with Islamic law. And it made me realise some aspects of South African law should change. A fascinating aspect for me related to the appointment of judges by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s) and Umar (r.a.). Their criteria were so stringent and strict, that only the best judges were chosen." (Referring to moral righteousness of a person being one of the main criteria for appointing a judge under Islamic Law. South African law does not give such prominence to this character trait in the selection of judges.) (Ms Fathima Moola)

"Only after I enrolled for this course did I realise how little I knew about Islam – a religion into which I had been born and practising all my life… It (the course) has equipped me with deeni (religious) knowledge, tawfiq (success) and hidayah (guidance) to follow the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah." (Mrs Ayesha Agjee – retired school principal)

Separate graduation ceremonies will take place in the South African provinces of Western Cape and Gauteng on February 7th (Sat) and 8th (Sun), 2009 respectively.

Students interested in enrolling for the 2009 Certificate in Islamic Law course should contact Mawlana Mulla on 079 796 7307 or

For more details on the UKZN Certificate in Islamic Law course, go here.

BACK Adv Muhammad Vahed (Course-coordinator and Executive: Regulatory and Compliance - Albaraka Bank) announces the names of graduands
FRONT Dr Yacoob AK Vahed is awarded for being the Overall Top Student 2008 by Prof Salman Nadvi (retired Professor of Islamic Studies) and Prof Mohseen Ebrahim (Course-coordinator and Professor in the School of Religion and Theology - UKZN).

Monday, February 2, 2009

To emigrate, or not to emigrate: that is the question.

The Eastern Express recently carried a story, India welcomes SA's professionals: Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, architects need only prove their forefathers' origins in its 30 January 2009 edition. The question is: how many South African Indians would consider migrating to their land of origin?

Indiafrican, a blog initiated to create dialogue amongst Indians in Africa, is interested in exactly this. If you're a South African Indian, we'd like to hear from you. Please fill out the short Emigration Survey below and email it to by no later than Friday, 13 March 2009.

Emigration Survey 2009

1. Your Age _______________
2. Your Gender _______________
3. Your profession ____________________________
4. Place of residence (suburb and city)
5. Have you ever been to India? Yes/No _______ If yes, what was the reason for your visit? (for example: work, vacation, I was born there) Please include the duration of your stay in India, for example: family vacation, 10-20 December 2007) _____________________________________________________________________________________
6. Would you consider migrating to India? Yes/No _______ Why/ why not? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
7. If you were to migrate to India, would you:
7.1 stay there temporarily, or permanently? _____________________
7.2 go there alone, or with family? _____________________________
8. What are your views of South Africa in general (in terms of its socio-economic
and political climate?
9. What are your perceptions of India?
10. Do you consider your homeland to be South Africa or India? ______________________