Of Service: An Interview with Nakhlistan
“And they feed for the Love of Allah, the orphan, the indigent and the captive.” – Al Qur’aan Surah 76 Ayat 8
Nakhlistan is a Persian word that meaning ‘oasis’. It’s also an organisation in Cape Town that runs a feeding scheme every year at Eid giving tens of thousands of people a warm meal that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Feeding another is love in action. We spoke to Fatima Allie about how Nakhlistan began and how they manage such an incredible feat of love every single year.
How and why did the Nakhlistan Eidul Fitr feeding scheme begin?
Over the past 33 years, Nakhlistan has been feeding the needy and the destitute in all areas of the Western Cape, especially on the day of Eidul Fitr. This is a day of celebration after Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days during Ramadaan. Ramadaan is about caring and sharing and that is exactly what Nakhlistan stands for. In 1984, 3 friends realized that in the Athlone area where they were living, their neighbours did not have food for Eid celebrations and this is how Nakhlistan started with only 2 pots of food. 33 years later in 2017 Nakhlistan cooked 169 130lt pots of aknie and fed over 85 000 of the less fortunate on the day of Eidul Fitr. Nakhlistan also affords the community the opportunity to witness the cooking of the food. It truly is a cooking phenomenon of note!
How did it grow so big over the years?
Nakhlistan is not state funded, so all donations come from the community and businesses. Nakhlistan started off small. The donations literally came from corner shop businesses, and was spread by word of mouth. Also as Community Radio in Cape Town grew, Nakhlistan became a household name. Social media platforms and community media also play a big role in the growth of Nakhlistan.
Who are your volunteers?
Ramadaan is a month of reflection. It is a month when Muslims are on a higher plain of consciousness, where wanting to share is of utmost importance. In 1984 family and friends assisted Nakhlistan. Every year the same people came and brought their sons along and today the youngsters of 1984 are cooking the food. We have a well co-ordinated network of volunteers who come from our community.
Could you share some of the numbers of what went into last year’s event?
Ingredients: 4 tons meat, 3.7 tons rice, 3 tons potatoes, 1.5 tons onions and spices!
Wood: 40 000 pieces
Volunteers: 150 – 200
Size of Pots: 130lt
Spoons: Size of a wooden oar
So in 2017 we can safely say that Nakhlistan provided over 100 000 meals to the needy. This includes food parcels and Iftaar (eating at sunset) tables within the less fortunate communities. The broad areas of distribution are Atlantis, Danoon Mosque, Khayelitsha, Hanover Park, Newfields, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Valhalla Park, Kensington, Factreton, Garden Village, Kriefgat, Sherwood Park, Macassar, Ocean View, Vrygrond, St. Montague Village Cafda, Masiphumelela, Lavender Hill, Sea Wings, Hill View, Blackheath, Sarepta, Blue Downs, Belhar, Delft, Blikkiesdorp, Mandalay, Hout Bay, Clarkes Estate, Elsies Rivier, Victor Verster Prison, Ruyterwacht, Old Ages Homes in WC, Kewtown, Athlone, Mowbray, Uitsig, Chattsworth in Malmesbury, Bishop Lavis West, Phillipi, Heideveld, Capricorn, Crossroads, Langa, Gugulethu and Nyanga.
Nakhlistan has also sent much needed funds to Palestine, Syria and India.
What takes place on the night of cooking?
When the moon for the Islamic month of Shawaal is sighted, it is the day of Eidul Fitr. After the evening prayers, the Imaams come to the field, make a special Duah (prayer) and the cooking starts. No video footage or picture will be able to truly capture the atmosphere on the night of the cooking. Shukoor Mowzer, Director of Nakhlistan always says that he invites the community to come and see how he burns all their money. Both young and old come to witness the cooking. There are tears of joy, thankfulness and appreciation from all in attendance. The smell of the food cooking, and the smoke and heat from the fires creates an unforgettable feeling that you are part of something majestic, this phenomenal cooking occasion.
What have been some of the highlights over the years?
There have been numerous highlights and I will mention only a few.
A gentleman working in a bank met Shukoor Mowzer and shared his story that as a boy he lived with his grandmother and every year Nakhlistan would provide his grandmother with food and food parcels during the month of Ramadaan. As a grown man today, he in turn is supporting Nakhlistan and is forever thankful to Nakhlistan.
A pensioner came by taxi and by foot to drop off his donation in the rain.
Young students collected money throughout the year so that they could sponsor between 1 – 3 pots of food to donate towards Nakhlistan.
What makes aknie a good dish for this purpose?
Aknie is an aromatic rice, meat and potatoes dish. The meat, potatoes and rice are all cooked in the same pot which makes dishing into small containers perfect. There is no sauce that leaks. It is just a tender meat with spicy rice and soft potatoes. A perfect warm meal. Nakhlistan’s recipe has been developed and perfected by Shukoor Mowzer.
Nakhlistan’s aknie recipe:
1kg lamb / mutton pieces (or chicken)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
1 cup boiling water
3 large onions, finely chopped
1 T butter or margarine
1 cup buttermilk
1 large whole fresh green chili, slit open
1 T garlic and ginger paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh dhanya
2 1/2 t salt to taste
2 1/2 t red leaf masala
2 ts ground jeera
1 t chili powder
2 t turmeric
1kg basmati rice
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 t jeera seeds
6 cardamom pods, slit open
4 pieces of stick cinnamon
1/4 cup water
Wash the mutton pieces, drain and set aside.
Place the mutton pieces in a large mixing bowl and add the buttermilk, green chilli, garlic and ginger paste, dhanya, salt, red leaf masala, ground jeera, chilli powder, and turmeric. Mix thoroughly, ensuring that all of the mutton pieces are covered in the marinade.
Rinse the rice in a colander. Drain and set aside.
To a large pot on medium to high heat, add the oil and heat. Add the chopped onions along with the jeera seeds, cardamom seeds and cinnamon and braise till golden in colour.
Add the marinated mutton pieces along with the marinade, the 1/4 cup of water and simmer on medium heat for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and almost cooked. Add the potatoes to the mutton pieces and simmer until potatoes are halfway cooked.
Add the rice directly on top.
Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for 35 minutes. Stir from the bottom upwards so as to mix the meat, potatoes and rice at the same time.
Remove from heat and serve with dhay (buttermilk with garlic and dhanya mix) or tomato & onion salad.