Giving alms to beggars


Many articles appear in the national press about giving alms to beggars, which includes money to the cleaners present all around us especially in mosques and particularly in the Grand Mosques of Makkah and Madinah. The opinions about giving such alms vary, which probably reflects the varying opinions of those in the general population. Many people are of the opinion that we should give alms to our brethren who are needy and poor and not able to earn enough to meet their needs. There are others who are against doing so because it is thought to encourage slothfulness and lead to a drop in the productivity of society.

Many newspaper reports, TV programs and films have shown how children and women in particular are picked up by professional gangs of beggars, who maim or blind them so that they will evoke sympathy from passersby. Women are given a child to accompany them because this gives the impression that they are struggling mothers, which makes people donate more money. All of these people are controlled by powerful mafias in various countries including ours, and while people are satisfied and content to give money to someone with a pitiable expression, what they are essentially doing is funding the powerful mafia which controls these beggars. Many times reporters have followed these beggars to their hideouts or tried to question them on the road but this racket is so efficiently managed that they are whisked away before any press reporter can get any information out of them.

The amount which maimed and handicapped beggars can collect is very high which is why children are maimed while they are young; their hands cut off or twisted in order to be dislocated, blinded, etc. This essentially means that with every riyal that we put into the outstretched hand of a handicapped beggar, we are contributing to the maiming of another child, thus encouraging the growth of this industry that thrives on the misery and plight of these beggars.

Beggars are left with festering open bleeding wounds sometimes with maggots in order to evoke sympathy and the more they collect, the worse their condition is made because it is we who are contributing and encouraging this industry of suffering.

There may be a few genuine people who may have suddenly lost their dear ones who supported them and are in genuine need of money in order to survive, but these are very few and they either have to join the mafias who run their business ruthlessly or be sidetracked and have to move over, making way for those who can collect more. While the few true ones in need struggle to cope with their new role as beggars, they are hardly likely to get anything, even to just fill their stomachs, since they are genuinely in pain and have yet to master the art of begging.

But as time passes, they become more adept at asking for money, more knowledgeable about the sites and timings of begging so that they can collect more money. It is at this point that they become professional beggars because their earnings from this profession enable them to fulfill their needs, support themselves and to even afford some luxuries. We have heard of some people who come in a Mercedes car, change into beggar’s attire and sit to beg, practicing begging as a full-fledged profession.

Regarding the cleaners who clean our streets and who are cheated by their employers who do not pay them enough even to survive, many authors have expressed the harmlessness of giving them something to tide them over their present difficulties. It is true that these cleaners are given a raw deal, promised higher salaries, given a paltry sum along with bad living conditions and made to work in the scorching sun for long hours. It may seem reasonable to help them with a small amount of money to boost their morale and help them tide them over. However, the way to fight this problem is not at the level of the individual cleaner but at a higher level of either their company or the government department responsible for cleaners. What seems objectionable is that these cleaners are able-bodied and are able to work thus increasing the productivity of society. However, relying on begging, they cease to contribute to society, raising its poverty level apart from losing whatever skills they have.

Those people who are concerned about the condition of cleaners must approach the concerned government officials and make their contractors give them better salaries with better living conditions. Many times people are recruited from their home countries with the understanding that although the signed salary amount will be low, the employee will make money from pilgrims and citizens thus perpetuating and establishing the cycle of begging for money.

At an individual level what happens is that although giving SR 2 or SR 3 may seem harmless and an act of genuine concern and charity, once the income of a cleaner at a particular place or in a particular area rises, people begin to bid for that position by offering money to their supervisors who oblige them accordingly.

A friend of mine told me that he knows a supervisor personally who accepted a bribe of SR 10,000 for a cleaner’s posting inside the Grand Mosque for a year. So even if a needy person happens to be in a place where he may receive some charity, his place will eventually be usurped by the highest bidder who in turn can survive only if he is an efficient professional sympathy evoker and money collector. I have personally witnessed cleaners throw away good quality bread, curd, and juice offered to them during Ramadan because what they were interested in was collecting money.

Although charity has been prescribed by all religions including Islam, it is not by charity that we can solve the problems of poverty. I believe that we should have a charitable bent of mind in the sense that we should be concerned about others in all our dealings to the point of doing good for the sake of doing good, without expecting anything in return from anybody except earning Allah’s pleasure.

A charitable mode of behavior in our dealings with fellow human beings is reflected in the way we have empathy for others, the way we conduct our profession, our day to day dealings with everyone especially those who are lower down the social ladder, the way we deal with orphans, the wayfarer, the uneducated, those without influence (wasta), the sick, widows, the unemployed, etc.

Charity is not a way to solve anyone’s problems except as a short-term stopgap arrangement until a better method is discovered and that is why we have to encourage productivity and honesty so that proper wages of the poor are paid to them on time not only to promote justice but also to ensure long-term productivity which will help to alleviate poverty.

Many people may use charity to dissipate the feelings of guilt which have built up in their hearts as a result of wrongs and injustices (sins) they have done to their near and dear ones, which pricks their conscience again and again. They give charity to sublimate this feeling and hope to earn Allah’s mercy quickly. However, is it correct to cheat a poor person of say SR 1,000 and then give SR 10 as alms to a beggar hoping to wash away one’s sins and to earn Allah’s pleasure with the beggar’s blessings? Some people may be filled with greed when they give charity, praying for a big catch, say a treasure from one’s parents or a relative who will leave them a big inheritance.

It appears to me that such people are living in a fool’s paradise and although there may be a few needy ones amongst the beggars who beg on our streets or the cleaners who clean them, it would be wise not to give away money directly to them. One must instead work for the betterment of humanity by being fair and compassionate to the people whom we deal with directly and also being compassionate to those whom we may not see but work for their welfare through agencies involved in this kind of work, which ultimately make those who are needy, independent of charity.

Shabbir Thingna,