Radia Bawa-Hendricks began memorising the Qur’an at the age of four and a half, completing at nine. She is the founder and director of the Cape-based Zahraa Institute (previously known as Darun-Naim li-Zuhur) which is focussed on enabling women with no Arabic background to develop a meaningful connection with the Qur’an.The talented Radia began high school at the age of 10 and had completed her Matric at the age of 15. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree in media and communication science at the University of South Africa. Radia is one of the speakers at the upcoming Muslimah Today Conference to be held in Durban, and The Weekly Gazette got an opportunity to interview her to find out more about this inspiring woman.

WG: Tell us a bit about your childhood/ upbringing?

RB: My home was one filled with love, books and two dedicated parents. Most of my childhood was spent memorising the Quran which was challenging but definitely one of the greatest gifts in my life.

WG: Being younger than your class mates when you matriculated at 15 years old, did you feel alienated?

RB: At that point, I had integrated quite well within my peer group and thus, I felt completely comfortable with my situation and truly began to appreciate the opportunities it presented. My most difficult phase of integration was when I had just started high school at the age of 10. Socially, things were quite daunting but after a while, I started to fit in with the help of a few wonderful friends.

WG: How did you achieve such remarkable academic success, beginning high school at 10 and matriculating at 15?

RB: I believe that we are bound by the limiting norms which are imposed on us by society. I do not in any way feel that I have achieved remarkable success as I believe that each person is capable of amazing things once they are comfortable with transcending what is considered to be the benchmark in our society. Nevertheless, I owe any successes I may have achieved to God, my parents and a carefully thought-out daily routine.

WG: You began memorising the Qur’an at just four years old- tell us more about this- were you mentored?

RB: I met my amazing teacher, Sheikh Yusuf Booley, who basically took me under his wing at that tender age and truly motivated me to achieve the memorisation of the Qur’an. My parents were as devoted as I was to the task and they facilitated my journey as best as they were able.

WG: When did you learn Arabic fluently and how did this develop your faith?

RB: During high school, I was blessed to have started my higher Quranic studies with Sheikh Ismaeel Londt. I was completely in awe of the beautiful language of Arabic and the meticulous sciences of religion.

My lessons with him prompted me to further my Arabic studies on a full-time basis at the Darun Naim Institute in Cape Town. Learning the meanings of the Qur’an became a solace and comfort to me and added meaning to all aspects of my life.

WG: Do you feel that study of the Arabic language is a priority for scholars of the Qur’an?

RB: Definitely, as we can only access the treasures that the Quran contains by using the keys which represent the Arabic language. The bulk of our classical resources are written in Arabic and to lack any Arabic foundation, in essence means that we are depriving ourselves of accessing centuries of scholarly contributions.

WG: What challenges (if any) have you faced in your journey?

RB: I honestly feel that the challenges are too insignificant to mention compared to all the opportunities and blessings I have encountered.

WG: What inspired you to start the Zahraa Institute (previously known as Darun-Naim li-Zuhur)?

RB: When I found true purpose and solace within the Quran, I sincerely wanted women out there to discover their purpose and to nurture the great potential within, which is ignited by Quran. I also found that there is a need for females to come to a safe space in which they are nurtured and supported in their personal journey of studying Quran.

WG: As the founder and director of the Zahraa Institute, what are some of your goals in illuminating the path ahead?

RB: I envision that we become a nation of women who understand the meanings of what God has intended for us to know through embarking on this course of study. I envision our entire community changing through us achieving a higher state of consciousness about our identity and purpose of existence. This consciousness then should transcend beyond ourselves and translate into us becoming positive change agents within our communities and social spheres.

WG: Tell us about some of your greatest accomplishments?

RB: I would consider my completion of Quran to be the greatest gift I was bestowed with. Second to that, receiving my ijazah (license to teach) in various readings of the Quran whilst studying in Egypt was a major highlight in my life along with meeting the most inspirational teachers. I also consider my three beautiful girls to be one of my greatest gifts.

WG: What inspired you to study media and communication?

RB: I feel that we need to understand the power of the mass media and the implications of how the mass media affects our perceptions of the world. Communication is at the heart of our lives as we are continuously communicating and thus, I felt it was a good starting point to begin my tertiary studies.

WG: Tell us more about your involvement with the Light on Light women’s foundation?

RB: We are affiliates and share a deep bond based on our common vision of empowering and educating women. I admire their efforts and the amazing work that they do for our community.

WG: What are your thoughts on motherhood and the challenges women face?

RB: Motherhood is such a tremendous gift and responsibility. I am amazed that in such a short space of time, a little human being is created and comes into this world with such enormous potential to serve God and humanity. Unfortunately, I feel that we as Muslim mothers face so many challenges from the community to parent in a certain way and to follow the benchmarks set by society that we are often afraid to do something different within our families.

WG: What is your advice to people seeking to ‘nurture the light within?’

RB: Self – care through connecting with God and never neglecting our growth and self – purification. The reality is that only once we nurture ourselves, can we truly channel our energies towards our families and communities.

Muslimah Today is a conference organised by ILM for Women, a branch of ILM-SA.It is attended by women from around the country and has various aims including inspiring attendees towards holistic practice of the Islamic faith, and fostering a spirit of sisterhood within the Muslim community. Radia Bawa-Hendricks will be speaking on ‘Dhikr as a means of self-transformation’; and ‘Reframing our approach to salaah’.

This year’s conference will take place at the Al-Ansaar Hall at 189 West Road on the 26th and 27th of August. A total registration fee of R350 (which includes meals, tea and a goodie bag)is charged per delegate and pre-booking is essential. WhatsApp 083 271 4500 or email to register.