Dedicated to the late Gogo Sophie Mokwena. May this profile bring honour to your memory for the impact you have made on Taariq’s life and may you live on through all his accomplishments.
“Growing up was tough. I’ve lived in different orphanages, been alone, living on the street and eating out of bins. Allah guided me to become a Hafiz-ul-Quran and amongst the top African Nasheed artists.”
These struggles shaped Taariq into the man he has become. At 33, he has a new album on its way, as well as a new show on ITV called The Nasheed Show, which is currently in production. He is a proud father to 11 month old Mizaan and 8 year old Jamal, and is one of the humblest souls one will encounter.
Taariq was born Thando Mokwena, he shared his mother’s womb with his twin sister Thandeka who sadly passed away at the age of four. Sophie Mokwena, the woman Taariq fondly calls Gogo (grandmother), was a stranger to him. A stranger who ran the day care his mum abandoned him to at four years old, along with his twin, Thandeka, and younger sister Aaliya. Taariq was not aware that Gogo was not his biological grandmother until she told him so at the age of 11. She cared for them as any grandmother would; fed them, housed them, clothed them, made sure they went to school and gave them the occasional smack to keep them in line.
When Taariq was six years old, a woman approached Sophie and asked to adopt Taariq in order to give him a better life. Sophie agreed, but soon Taariq realised that the real reason she had adopted him was to take care of her cows. He faced ill-treatment that eventually drove him to run away. Afraid to go back to his Gogo because he felt that she might get angry, he lived on the streets for approximately two years. He met a group of street boys, all from abusive backgrounds, and befriending them made life on the street more bearable. This band of brothers looked out for each other; they scrounged for food and found shelter together at nightfall. Their company made him feel less alone and made living in the streets tolerable. After a while, street life grew harder and he found his way back to Gogo, who was shocked to find out what had transpired.
Life as a pre-teen is challenging, and just like other teenagers Tariq was unsure of who he was. At 12 years old he had a void in his life and questions that needed to be answered. He wanted to know what he did to cause his mother to abandon him. At school his friends would say “mummy bought me this” or “mummy did that” and he had a longing for this motherly connection. He begged his Gogo to allow him go to Johannesburg to find his mother, and after two weeks of relentless badgering she finally agreed. All he possessed was a letter his mother once wrote with an address he wasn’t even sure she stayed at anymore, but he knew he had to try.
Gogo allowed him to go to Johannesburg accompanied by a neighbour from their area. She dropped him off in Eldorado Park, the place of his mother’s last whereabouts. Taariq searched all day for Cecil Daniels Street, but couldn’t find it. He located a place to sleep for the night, and when he woke up the next day he decided to try again. He asked people to direct him towards Cecil Daniels Street and eventually managed to find his way there. Tariq was filled with excitement as he stood outside the house in the picture his mother had enclosed in the letter. To his dismay, the woman who answered was not her. He showed her the picture and thankfully the woman recognised her. She told him that his mother didn’t go by the name he had mentioned, that her name was now Zaakira; she had converted to Islam.
Amazed by his story, the woman took it upon herself to help Taariq. The woman took him to the Green Mosque on Keurboom street, where she relayed his story to the Moulana of the mosque who then he offered to take him to Zaakira. A short while later they found themselves outside a house in Bushkoppies.
“Zaakira, we came to visit and I’ve brought you a gift,” Moulana announced at the door. Taariq was full of excitement and recalls how he smiled from ear to ear. Upon opening the door, the Moulana asked his mother, “Do you know who this is? He says his name is Thando and that he is your son.”
His mother began crying and embraced him. Over time, she told him how she had been through so much, but never forgot him and his sisters. She explained why she didn’t come back, but all that mattered to Taariq was that he found her. Taariq gave his mother the tragic news of the death of his twin, shortly after she had left. He discovered that his mum had been blessed with two more beautiful daughters, Faaiza and Leila. Two weeks after his arrival she introduced him to Islam and provided him with Islamic literature in Zulu. One Jumuah morning, he took his shahada, and Thando took on the name, Taariq.
He was enrolled into the local Madressa under the guidance of a Kenyan Moulana, who Taariq says was excellent at making him understand what he was teaching. He would pause lessons for an hour sometimes, and allow his students to express themselves and ask any questions they may have. Within a month he could debate with a non-muslims about Islam. Taariq says he will always make dua (pray) for the man who sharpened his arrows.
Taariq expanded his Islamic studies at Madressa-at-Tawhid, then travelled to Ladysmith to study under Moulana Abdur Razzack, and finally back to Johannesburg under the care of Qari Moosa Seedat at Madressa-Zia-ul-Badr. It was here that he completed his memorization of the Quran with the guidance of his teacher Moulana Abu Bakr.
Taariq loved to sing Zain Bhikha’s nasheeds (vocal Islamic music); his hero at the time. He would perform at madrassah concerts and would sing his favourite nasheed daily for Qari Moosa, “Salaatullah, salaamullah ala Tahaa Rasoolillah…”
Saturdays would start off with the boys sitting in their bunk beds and Taariq singing for everyone. He grew confident and discovered that he had a powerful voice that people wanted to listen to. For Taariq, it was a form of expression and healing.
When he completed his studies, he decided to pursue his dream of being a nasheed artist and rented a studio in Berea. It was there that he wrote “Shukriya Allah” a nasheed giving thanks to Allah for everything he’s been through; he believed that it was all part of Allah’s way. He delivered the CD to CII radio station where it was approved to play on air. He recalls how nervous he was during his first live interview, and is grateful to CII for the major role they played in his career.
Taariq has released 6 albums and has followers in South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and Mozambique. The highlight of his career is being the first African nasheed artist to collaborate with Zain Bhikha.
In 2014 Gogo passed away. The woman who shaped him in his early childhood, left this world before Taariq could tell her of his accomplishments.
Taariq is very grateful for Haroon Osman, his manager until 2016 who helped shape his career. Haroon opened many doors and exposed him to media spaces that he would not have had access to without him. Haroon also accompanied him to orphanages where he’d show children that their dreams are valid, and to bring them hope.
Taariq volunteers and sings for the children at the Maleeha Layla special needs school, and the children love him. He also volunteers at the Sayyida Fatima home in Kliprivier, Foundation of love in the South, Islamic Relief and Al Barakah Children’s Home. He takes part in an annual mass iftaar organised by Yasmeen Akoo at The Image Lifestyle Centre where over 3000 orphan children are fed. Yasmeen has been calling on Taariq since 2014, because he connects with the children who thoroughly enjoy his performances. His message to others involved in community work is not to do it for selfies and recognition. Shape the youth with your words, give them validation. Connect with them and they will realise their dreams are valid.
When he is not recording in studio or booked for shows, Taariq is a motivational speaker in schools and orphanages.
As a product of his background, he feels compelled to do what he can to bring the African community closer to Allah. He wants to change the perception that Islam is only for Indians, Whites or Arabs. He wants to show everyone that you can be a Black Muslim and be proud of who you are. He wants to see people to stand on their own; be able to stand firm and show the beauty of Islam.
He had no one to rely on as he grew up, and so he created a bond with God. He reached a point in his life when he realised that nothing moves without Allah. Knowing Allah is closer to him than his jugular, and knowing that everything that happened to him was from Allah has helped his healing.
Taariq is grateful for life and that Allah has given him more time to rectify the mistakes he’s made. He prays more and makes more time for his children. He is grateful for the people who support and play a role in his life. He is most grateful for the woman he calls the comfort of his heart, Aaliya; his lovely, understanding wife makes him feel complete.
“Long after we are buried society forgets and moves on, all you have are Allah and your good deeds.” His advice to others is simply, “Laa ilaha ilallah*, we are here to serve Allah. Different prophets came for different people, but the message was the same. Live your life and end your life with these same words.”
*The meaning of “laa ilaahah illa allah” is that nothing worshipped is worthy of worship except Allah—it is simultaneously a denial and affirmation. “laa ilaahah” is denial of all worship other than that of Allah. “illa allaah” is affirmation that all worship is for Allah alone without partners.