Of pandemics, penury and philanthropy in South Africa: lessons from Islamic humanism
Keywords:Culture, Philanthropy, COVID-19, Islamic, Vulnerable, Community, South Africa
Purpose – The purpose of this article is to consider cultural ethos of philanthropy that has proved effective in
minimising the plight of the vulnerable in general and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. By
discussing the divergent philanthropic approaches that have been adopted to counter the challenge of the
pandemic, this article fulfils one of comparative laws’ crucial tenets to improve the local environment by
learning from other jurisdictions.
Design/methodology/approach – An exploratory and qualitative method through categorical and
theoretical analysis of recent and historical scholarship on the Islamic culture is undertaken. An extensive use
of journalistic and editorial reports on the South Af rican context is explored to demonstrate the plight of the
vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Findings – The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how economically and structurally fragmented South
African society is. More specifically, it has reinforced the existence of an “invisible” group of people – the poor
and vulnerable – who have been hit harder by the government’s responses aimed at containing the spread of
the COVID-19 virus. The depiction of an unequal and uncaring society has spurred extensive rhetoric and
reflection centred on the need to regain society’s conscience as regards the plight of the poor. This article finds
that much as there has an awakening towards societal inequality and vulnerability, there are, however, no
concrete suggestions upon which change of attitude can be founded. Further, it can be argued that the plight of
the vulnerable could have been softened had society cherished a culture of charity. Taking a cue from Islamic
culture, this article avers that there is a need to embed philanthropy within society’s cultural norms so as to
forge effective bonds and maintain social cohesion.
Social implications – The practical implications of this article relate to the need for the revaluation of the moral
campus of South African communities. It supports calls for the alignment of community attitudes with humanity
so as to improve the lives of the less privileged members of the society. Additionally, this discussion adds value to
the scholarship, which aims to engender community-based welfare schemes for the benefit of the vulnerable.
Originality/value – By highlighting socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the
vulnerable and highlighting the Islamic approaches to ameliorating the condition of the poor, it is hoped that
this article will stimulate debate that can bring change for marginalised groups. The analysis provides some
crucial discussions for potential societal interventions, which could assist in revisiting how society takes care of
the poor and vulnerable.