Prophet Muhammad said: “(Angel) Jibril kept recommending me to treat my neighbour well until I thought that he would tell me to make him one of my heirs” (Bukhari: 6014).
When we look to contemporary examples of what it means to truly embody the principle of care for our neighbors, we see the legacy of Nelson Mandela. He became President of South Africa after being former political prisoner, and championing the rights of disenfranchised South Africans. For many humanitarians across the world he has illuminated a path the we can all find lessons in. Here are a few highlights of his impactful life.
1. MANDELA TOOK 1948 APARTHEID LEGISLATION HEAD ON
The apartheid system implemented racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa for half a century from 1948 until 1991. The laws separated races on public property; limited places where native Africans were permitted to work; stifled land ownership and outlawed marriage between white people and people of other races. Mandela was leading figure in ANC which in 1952, ANC launched the Defiance Campaign against apartheid, the first “large-scale, multi-racial political mobilization against apartheid laws under a common leadership.” The 50 year political struggle resulted in the repeal of the majority of apartheid legislation.
2) HE PRIORITIZED RECONCILIATION
National reconciliation was a top priority for Nelson Mandela. In one of the most famous events, Mandela rallied the nation symbolically behind the rugby team the Springboks in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was held in SA. The World Cup title went in the hands of SA that same year. Afterwards he presented the trophy to the team captain.
3) HE ORGANIZED TO FIGHT AGAINST THE SPREAD OF AIDS
AIDS took one of Mandela’s own sons. He formed a coalition called The Elders, whose mission is to research and take responsibility for the outbreak of HIV/AIDS as well as economic depravity, and the impacts of climate change.
4) THE NELSON MANDELA CHILDREN’S FUND
In 1995, Mandela founded the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, a charitable organization which aims to help individuals from birth to age 22, particularly orphans of the AIDS crisis. In 1999, he also founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation to promote his vision of freedom and equality for all.
5) THE 1993 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
In 1993, Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”. 6 years later TIME magazine inducted him into the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Inspiration for our work
At times, humanitarian work can feel like a climbing mountains with no peak in sight. In those periods, organizations that are service-oriented toward people in need (and those who work for them) can find strength from those who were strong. We can look to find our humanity in those who proved what it means to be human. Nelson Mandela, at more points in his life than we can count, gave of himself toward the principles of justice and love. As Islamic Relief USA moves forward into new frontiers of service, we will continue to reflect on and be inspired by his legacy.