In arid Zimbabwe, free Muslim water wells are the ‘kiss of life’ – Baptist News Global
Decades of water corruption, mismanagement and climate change make Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s thirstiest cities. In some neighborhoods, Muslim families build free, clean public water wells on the doorstep of their properties, building on the altruism of their faith.
“It’s the kiss of life, the Muslim water!” said Natasha Bande, 23, a Presbyterian Christian and university student at the Harare Institute of Technology who relies on free public water provided by Muslims for safe cooking and drinking.
The lack of clean municipal water has shaped Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, which is home to almost 4 million people. climate change-related droughts; brazen theft of water purification and pumping means; an exodus of qualified engineers – all of whom have sealed the city‘s water fate.
Worse, 30% of tap water by government agencies is lost through illegal connections and leaks at on-site distribution lines. The results weren’t pretty. On the few days water comes out of the city’s house pipes, the liquid is dirty and stinks. It can only be used for bathing or watering vegetables.
In 2008, hundreds died in the city from contracting cholera, a medieval disease, from consuming dirty municipal water. That was the worst cholera outbreak in Africa in 15 years.
“In the city of Harare, domestic refrigerators are filled with imported or locally purified and bottled water. Poor people, widows, students, disabled people can’t afford it. As Muslims, our free water fountains are primarily for them,” said Abdul Karim-Noor, a Muslim entrepreneur in Belvedere, the largest Muslim neighborhood in Harare.
For 20 years, Noor’s family has been importing Persian rugs from Qatar to sell to Zimbabwe’s upper class.
“As a family, we pocketed $1,000 to build a water well right in front of our house fence.”
“We felt so bad when we saw poor university students giving up their pocket money to buy bottled water,” he said. “As a family, we pocketed $1,000 to build a water well right in front of our house fence.”
In the Muslim quarter of Belvedere where Noor’s family lives, Abdul says a network of 30 other Muslim families have set up free, clean water wells outside their properties. Instructions such as “5 buckets per person” are posted on the water wells, but families fill their containers lavishly with no one restricting them.
The Noor family’s free public water well has become a hit with most of the Belvedere’s Christian students, who flock there every hour with buckets and pipe containers to fill up on clean, free water. Even the town’s middle class (teachers, pastors, accountants) travel to the Noor family’s water well to fill up containers.
“I am ashamed and inspired,” said Jared Langa, 44, a pastor at Zion Christian Church in Zimbabwe, who drives to the Noor family’s gate every week to fill up on water.
“I am ashamed that I have never heard of a wealthy Christian family in Harare City providing free, clean water to a thirsty public. Inspired by our Muslim friends demonstrating ‘faith by works’ as instructed by the apostle James.”
The Muslim families of Harare City like the Noors provide purified water for free because some are wealthy and can easily afford it. But for some Muslim families like Gamal Saad’s, who live near Masjid Al-Abbas, the largest mosque in the Belvedere district, water money comes from abroad.
“We are in a network with 10 other Muslim families who have built free water wells on our properties to collect about $1,000 each month from our local mosques to keep the water piping and treatment clean,” Saad explained.
“Some of the seed money ($9,000) to build free public water wells on 10 family lots came from abroad; Donations from mosques in the wealthy United Arab Emirates. zakat (mandatory alms) and Sadaqa (voluntary charity) is a mainstay of our Muslim faith.”
Zimbabwe has about 17 million inhabitants. the US Department of State places Zimbabwe’s Muslim community at just a tiny 1%.
Meanwhile 80% of the local population adheres to the Christian faith. Interfaith relations are peaceful and no violence has occurred. However, there is a deep verbal hostility and stigma towards the country’s Muslim community. In public discourse, Muslim religious practices – particularly the bell that calls believers to prayer at dawn – are referred to by derogatory names as a nuisance. Local Pentecostal pastors fixate their message on publicly encouraging youth to abandon Islam; dubious local politicians make speeches implying that Zimbabwe’s Muslim retailers are unreliable traders who hide money in pillows, not banks, and only circulate it within their Muslim community.
Muslim water generosity for a thirsty city is leading some local young millennials to learn more about Islam and actually visit mosques for the first time.
The effect is that Muslims in Zimbabwe’s cities like Harare sometimes congregate in certain neighborhoods like Belvedere just for peace of mind.
But Muslim water generosity for a thirsty city is leading some local young millennials to learn more about Islam and actually visit mosques for the first time.
“Me and my friends have visited a mosque three times since January,” said Danmore Moyo, 24, an Anglican and prospective dental assistant at a Harare college. Danmore is an orphan and says his $70 monthly allowance can’t cover his monthly groceries, let alone bottled water. That’s why he’s so thankful for the free, clean water that the Noor family provides in his neighborhood.
“What I noticed when visiting the mosque is the importance of water in their faith through washing feet upon entering the mosque and of course free Muslim water donation. I am no longer suspicious of the Muslim faith. I was wonderfully surprised to discover Jesus and Abraham in their sermons.”
Christians in Zimbabwe have the wrong attitude that charity is a uniquely Christian phenomenon, explained Tendai Muchatuta, pastor and founder of the All Nations Church, which has congregations across Zimbabwe and South Africa. In Zimbabwe, corporate charities and aid organizations tend to be of Western Christian colonial origin, such as Salvation Army Charity Shops, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Presbyterian World Mission, or the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe Orphans Program.
“When you see these giant corporations Christian charities, are you thinking, “Are these unmatched Batman-like heroes?” They forget that Muslim families in Zimbabwe are silently offering free water and opening their properties to the needy, strangers.”
For Muslims in Harare, free charitable water wells are not an opportunity to show off, but to deepen interfaith ties and provide relief to the poor and thirsty.
“In 2021, Christian elementary schools sent minibuses to our mosques for tours — visits to learn more about our faith. It was wonderful,” said Imam Hani Kathrada, a Muslim cleric in Harare.
“We asked them what motivated them to come forward. They said: Free water provided by Muslims has made us fascinated with the workings of the Muslim faith.”
Audrey Simango is a freelance reporter from Zimbabwe. Her work appears in New Arab, Newswee; The Africa Report and The New Internationalist.
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