We caught up with Radia Bawa Hendricks, founder and director of Zahraa Institute, an independent educational institute for women focusing on understanding the Qur’an.

HIKAAYAT: You began memorizing the Qur’an at a very young age under the tutelage of the late, Sheikh Yusuf Booley. Tell us about learning the Qur’an from a man of such knowledge and wisdom.


RADIA BAWA HENDRICKS: What I learnt from My Esteemed Sheikh Yusuf is that Quran is a lifestyle. It transcends memorization and demands that the one immersed within its words be ready to view life through a different lens. My teacher was a man of Quran and the love and respect for the Quran which he embodied became a goal for us to emulate.


H: You then went on to finishing high school at age 15. How did you reconcile the fact that your life and childhood was so different to everyone else’s at that age?


RBH: To be honest, it did not really bother me much as I never shared the notion of “norm” or “societal standards” as being the benchmark which we strive for. That was my norm and it worked for me and thus, I did not deem it a differentiating factor between my life and the life of others who were all living their own norm. Additionally, the quranic memorization circle is made up of many different people of different ages, life stories and backgrounds. This teaches one to respect and value open-mindedness, to realise that there are many ways of arriving at a particular destination.


H: You are the founder and director of the Zahraa Institute in Cape Town. What was the journey to making the decision to found such an institute for women?


RBH: Memorisation of the Quran is a gift, but I felt that it was a gift which was in my possession for all these years as being a haafitha, but an unopened one. When I studied Quran and Quranic translation and explanation, little by little, the gift began revealing more of its splendor and majesty. Something shifted inside once I could finally see the gift with better clarity once I embarked on the study of the Arabic language and Quran. After I tasted this sweetness, there was nothing I wanted more than to share what I had found, to share with others the clarity, beauty and the literary miracle of the Quran. Zahraa Institute was founded on this intention to equip women from all walks of life with a chance to understand the word of Allah within a safe and supportive environment.


H: The work you do forms a part of Muslim women reclaiming their access to knowledge and learning. Although it has always been a part of the deen, for some time, we seem to have lost this. Why do you think this is? And what can we do to ensure that Muslim women remain engaged in the pursuit of knowledge related to their deen?


RBH: I think that female scholarship has always been thriving even if it has been happening in smaller and more closed circles previously. With the advent of technological advancements and the information age, knowledge is more widely disseminated and cultural barriers towards women in positions of public scholarship are slowly disintegrating as the world realizes that we are in an age where we are challenged by the enormity of many existential and faith crisis which are extremely common especially within the current generation. I always feel that we will be engaged within religious related matters as long as we realise that the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet (saw) are not merely a code of laws and a list of do’s and don’t’s. The link between the text and the context must be highlighted so that we see the value of the applicability of the Islamic teachings within all spheres of our lives.


H: What advice would you offer to those seeking to develop a closer and more meaningful relationship with the Qur’an?

RBH: The Quran is the banquet of Allah and an invitation has been extended to each and every one of us to attend this banquet and benefit from the splendor, beauty and company which this banquet offers. Firstly, we need to make an intention to accept the invitation to this banquet and then commit ourselves to the labour of love involved in this course of action. There are levels towards developing a relationship with the Quran and an imperative part of this is to commit to undertaking a deeper study of the Quran, its language and meanings. Secondly, a certain level of consistency should be adopted and a time should be devoted to the Quran daily, even if it be for a short while. The last advice I would offer would be to examine our perceptions of the Quran and to examine whether we truly have internalized the virtues of the Quran, such as its healing nature, it being a source of contentment and clarity among some of its other virtues. Within the Quran, there is a cure for our physical, emotional as well as intellectual challenges and to truly commit to the Quran, gives one clarity and peace in all these aspects.


Where is the first place you’re going to after lockdown ends?

Definitely the beach.

Give us the name of a great book you’ve read recently.

“The Autobiography of Malcom X”.

What’s your favourite Iftar snack?

Hummus and carrot sticks.

What’s the most important thing your mother taught you?

To approach life with a positive attitude.

Where is your most-loved place in Cape Town?

Fish-Hoek beach and Signal Hill. I simply cannot choose one sorry!


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