Maputo’s Muslims rally to help Cyclone Idai victims hundreds of miles from home

A movement of Islamic businessmen and community members has raised $300,000 for those affected in Beira

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Macsud Samsadin sits in a white cap and long, cream, Islamic jubba, offering water and rissois – breaded prawns with green chili – to guests for free. His small halal takeaway joins on to the yellow and white Jumma Mosque in downtown Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

“You are my friend,” the 47-year-old says. “There is no price. Tomorrow we are going to die, we must make life easy.”

The hospitality of the deputy of the Mozambican capital’s oldest mosque is not unique. In the past fortnight, members of the Muslim community around the city have clubbed together to help thousands of their compatriots some 1,200 kilometres north.

In central Mozambique, Cyclone Idai has left a scene of carnage rarely witnessed before in the southern hemisphere. More than 450 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands lie in displacement camps and officials have confirmed the first cases of cholera as fears rise that a new disaster is about to unfold. In Sofala Province, the area worst affected, the city of Beira is 90 per cent destroyed and the town of Buzi lies underwater.

Word has spread around Maputo through chatter, WhatsApp and Facebook that there is a group of Muslim men coordinating a significant relief effort for victims of Idai.

Ahmad Salim, a 24-year-old of Pakistani descent who works in his father Mohammad’s utilities shop, says they have already given some of their goods to the aid drive, pointing in the direction of the group’s centre, calling them the “Communidad Musulmana” - Portuguese for Muslim community.

A 10-minute drive away from the Jumma Mosque, the coalition of Muslim men, who call themselves “the Muslim movement to support the victims of Cyclone Idai”, host a meeting of about ten people at their community centre to plan for the relief effort.

Several organisations have grouped under one umbrella to join forces and help Beira to defend itself from the aftermath of Idai. In this coalition, there are around 70 staff members in Maputo and a wider network of up to 400 volunteers in Beira that will help its delegations to deliver aid in the country's fourth city.

On the day the men meet, a ship is leaving Maputo port for Beira, loaded with 400 tonnes of goods in 14 large containers, sent by the movement after their campaign raised funds to the tune of $300,000 (Dh1.1mn).

To get the deliveries to the ship, the men have hired trucks, while some locals have offered transport for free. All of their plans are being coordinated with the Mozambican government and the local authorities in Beira, meaning the efforts of this Muslim movement are being endorsed at the highest levels of state.

The men began with a press release, then took to social media and started to contact companies as part of what they say was an “aggressive” campaign.

“The response was very, very good,” says Farook Jassat, the 60-year-old spokesman of the movement.

Volunteers of the Muslim movement to support the victims of Cyclone Idai put up a banner at their community centre in Maputo, Mozambique, March 23, 2019. Jack Moore / The National

“We have people who donate two, three dollars and we accept because that is their intention and that is their willing power, so we don’t refuse. For everything coming in, we want the spirit to be there, and it is there.”

The aid delivered to Beira included foodstuffs such as rice, water treatment, corrugated sheets for damaged roofs, and mosquito nets because of the increasing threat of malaria as the floodwaters begin to stagnate.

“We will give to all the population without discrimination,” the spokesman says.

While estimates vary wildly, at least a fifth of Mozambique’s population is Muslim. Mr Jassat says the community has a strength grounded in its religion, one that promotes giving to others. “Help one and help a nation, that is our philosophy, that is our principle,” he explains.

The movement’s next aim is to reach 500 tonnes of goods. They hope the road from Maputo to Beira will be cleared soon so they can dispatch aid at a quicker rate. The movement has been frustrated by the inability to contact people inside Beira, too, with the city sitting in virtual darkness at night because of the lack of power after the cyclone hit.

The front of the Jumma Mosque, the oldest in Maputo, Mozambique. March 23, 2019. Jack Moore / The Nationa

More impressive is that the men who sit around the movement’s office have given up their day jobs to assist the aid mission. “We are all business people, some work in companies but we have all given up this to allocate our time to this need,” Mr Jassat says. For those who don’t own their own companies, their bosses have been flexible and “most of them have accepted” their time off to help.

But what is driving them to drop their daily lives in the untouched calm of Maputo to help thousands of people so far away?

Mohammad Salim, 64, a Muslim from Karachi, Pakistan, sits outside his shop in downtown Maputo, Mozambique. March 21, 2019. Jack Moore / The National

“We are Mozambicans and we are Muslims, so our duty is to help and do whatever is possible,” he says as his fellow movement members nod in approval. “We are here in Mozambique and we have to help our own nation.”

While the urgency to help Beira’s needy is immediate, there are concerns that aid agencies will forget about Mozambique and leave when the next disaster arrives. But both the movement and the deputy of Jumma Mosque say they will not abandon their people.

“This is a long-term help. This is not one month, but maybe one year or two years. It’s what we have to do. We have to help them,” Mr Samsudin says.

“They will have to start again in life. We can’t do nothing.”