Decades of water corruption, mismanagement and climate change mean Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, is one of Africa’s thirstiest cities. In some neighborhoods, Muslim families, building on the altruism of their faith, are erecting free, clean public water wells on the doorstep of their properties.
“It’s the kiss of life, the Muslim water!” explained Natasha Bande, 23, a Presbyterian Christian and university student at Harare Institute of Technology who depends on the Muslim-provided free public water to cook and drink safely.
The absence of clean municipal water has defined Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe where nearly 4 million residents live. Climate-change-induced droughts; brazen theft of water purification and pumping funds; an exodus of qualified engineers — all have sealed the city’s water fate.
Worse, 30% of the water piped by authorities is lost through illegal connections and leaks on suburban distribution pipes. The results have not been pretty. On the few days water comes out of city home pipes, the liquid is dirty and smelly. It can be used only for bathing or watering vegetables.
In 2008, hundreds died in the city from contracting cholera, a Medieval disease, by consuming dirty municipal water. This was the worst cholera outbreak in Africa in 15 years.
“In Harare city, household refrigerators are packed with imported or locally purified and bottled water. The poor, widows, students, disabled can’t afford that. As Muslims, our free water wells are for them primarily,” said Abdul Karim-Noor, a Muslim entrepreneur in Belvedere, which is the largest Muslim neighborhood in Harare.
For 20 years, Noor’s family has imported Persian carpets from Qatar for resale to upper-class Zimbabweans.
“As a family, we sunk $1,000 to construct a piped water well right outside our house perimeter fence.”
“We felt so bad to see poor university students sacrificing their pocket money to buy bottled water,” he said. “As a family, we sunk $1,000 to construct a piped water well right outside our house perimeter fence.”
In the Belvedere Muslim neighborhood where Noor’s family lives, Abdul says a network of 30 other Muslim families has erected free, clean water wells outside their properties. Instructions like “5 buckets per person” are plastered on the water wells, but families lavishly fill their containers without anyone limiting them.
The Noor family’s free public water well has become a hit with the majority of Christian students in Belvedere who troop there hourly with buckets and tube containers to fill up on clean, free water. Even the city’s middle-class (teachers, pastors, accountants) drive up to the Noor family water well to fill up containers.
“I’m ashamed and inspired,” said Jared Langa, 44, a pastor with Zion Christian Church in Zimbabwe who every week drives up to the gate of the Noor family to fill up on water.
“Ashamed that in Harare City I have not heard of a wealthy Christian family providing free, clean water to a thirsty public. Inspired that our Muslim friends are demonstrating ‘faith with works’ as the Apostle James instructs.”
Harare City’s Muslim families like the Noors provide free, treated water because some are wealthy and easily can afford to do so. But for some Muslim families like that of Gamal Saad, living near Masjid Al-Abbas, the largest mosque in the Belvedere neighborhood, water monies come from abroad.
“We are in network with 10 other Muslim families who have constructed free water wells on our properties to collect about $1,000 each month from our local mosques and maintain the clean water piping and treatment,” Saad explained.
“A chunk of the startup money ($9,000) to erect free, public water wells on 10 family properties came from abroad; donations from mosques in the wealthy United Arab Emirates. Zakat (obligatory charity) and Sadaqa (voluntary charity) is a key pillar of our Muslim faith.”
Zimbabwe’s population is roughly 17 million. The U.S. State Department puts Zimbabwe’s Muslim community at just a tiny 1%.
Meanwhile, 80% of the local population adheres to the Christian faith. Interfaith relations are peaceful, and no violence has occurred. However, there’s deep verbal hostility and stigma shown toward the country’s Muslim community. In public discourse, Muslim religious practices — especially the bell that calls believers to prayer at dawn — are referred to with derogatory names like a nuisance. Local Pentecostal pastors fix their messaging on publicly encouraging youths to dump Islam; dubious local politicians make speeches insinuating that Muslim retailers in Zimbabwe are untrustworthy traders who hide money in pillows, not banks, and circulate it only in their Muslim community.
The Muslim water generosity for a thirsty city is making some local young Millennials keen to understand more about Islam and actually visit mosques for the first time.
The effect is that in Zimbabwe’s cities like Harare, Muslims sometimes do congregate in specific neighborhoods like Belvedere just for their peace of mind.
But the Muslim water generosity for a thirsty city is making some local young Millennials keen to understand more about Islam and actually visit mosques for the first time.
“I and my friends have visited a mosque three times since January,” said Danmore Moyo, 24, an Anglican and trainee dental assistant at a college in Harare. Danmore is an orphan and says his $70 monthly pocket money can’t cover his monthly food let alone bottled water. So he’s so grateful for the free, clean water the Noor family provides in his neighborhood.
“What struck me on visiting the mosque is the importance of water in their faith from washing one’s feet on entering the mosque, and of course the free Muslim water charity. I’m now no longer suspicious of the Muslim faith. I was wonderfully surprised to discover Jesus and Abraham in their sermons.”
Christians in Zimbabwe have a mistaken mentality that charity is uniquely a Christian phenomenon, explained Tendai Muchatuta, pastor and founder of the All Nations Church, which has congregations across Zimbabwe and South Africa. In Zimbabwe, corporate charity and relief organizations usually are of Western-Christian-colonial origin, the likes of Salvation Army charity shops, Catholics Relief Services, Save the Children, Presbyterian World Mission, or the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe Orphan Care Program.
“When you see these giant corporate Christian charities, you think, ‘Are these unmatched Batman-like heroes?’ You forget that, silently, Muslim families in Zimbabwe are directly offering free water, opening up their properties to the needy, strangers.”
For Muslims in Harare, free charity water wells are not a chance to brag but to deepen interfaith relations and relieve the poor and thirsty.
“In 2021, Christian primary schools sent minibuses to our mosques for tour — visits to learn more about our faith. It was wonderful,” said Imam Hani Kathrada, a Muslim cleric in Harare.
“We asked them what motivated them to reach out. They said: Muslim-provided free water made us intrigued about the mechanics of the Muslim faith.”
Audrey Simango is a Zimbabwe freelance reporter. Her work appears in New Arab, Newswee,; The Africa Report, and The New Internationalist.