The Beg Issue

Most – probably all of us – have seen them. Hanging out at the traffic lights; waiting near the shops; collapsed in despair in some shoddy, makeshift home of cardboard and paper.

They ask you for small change – a few cents, sometimes a bigger amount. Sometimes they want food. Sometimes a job.

And many times, without thinking, our reaction is in the negative: “Sorry, can’t help you”; “No”; “I don’t have anything for you.”

Or worse: we don’t even look at them. No acknowledgement of their presence. As if this lesser being is not worthy of a moment of our attention.

You know who I’m talking about: beggars.

And the question on my mind today, and for a long time, is how to deal with them.

Everyone has an opinion on the issue; and everyone has their own approach. Which is why I wanted to write about this. I’m seeking a broader view, and hoping to find a solution that I can implement and be satisfied with.

My introduction paints a picture of cruelty: a person that doesn’t care for the less fortunate, and brushes them aside so easily to continue with other matters. This heartless individual may justify the position by saying: “I work hard for a living – while this person just lazes around on the street, doing nothing and expecting people to support him / her.”

But I’d like to think that most of us are not that heartless. And we do have sympathy for beggars; and we do give to them – even if it’s small tokens.

But is this the right thing to do?

THAT, dear readers, is my question.

As Muslims – and perhaps people of any other religion (except satanism and other weird cults) – are we not encouraged to care for those less fortunate? Is it not a duty upon us – those who “have,” to help those who don’t have?

It’s called basic human compassion – and it’s something that every human being is born with (even those in the aforementioned ‘cult’ category above).

But when is giving to a beggar right; and when is it wrong?

Well, the reasons for NOT giving to beggars include:

  • Begging should be discouraged. By giving, it encourages begging, because the beggars know they’ll get money and they’ll just come back for more – rather than trying to find a legitimate source of income.
  • Some beggars are just plain lazy. They’d rather beg than go out to genuinely try to find work. (And I’ve heard first hand of people who prove this, by going to welfare organisations and then being picky about what they’ll take. Sometimes they don’t want anything except money).
  • It encourages beggars to become dependent on other people. Following on from that, this dependency can become a serious problem in some cases – where the person who gives develops a kind of friendship/relationship with the begging person; and then that begging person takes advantage. (Which has personally happened to me).
  • Some street kids would rather be on the street, because they love the freedom.
  • Many who beg use the money for alcohol or drugs. In many cases, you can’t tell who is a drug user and who is sincerely in need.

But the arguments FOR giving to beggars include:

  • Helping the poor and needy is our duty not only as Muslims, but as humans.
  • If we can afford to give something, and they seem to genuinely need it, why not give?
  • The verse in Surah Al-Ma’un (Small kindness), which talks about those who “refuse small kindness”. Fasting and prayer are supposed to soften our hearts – and aren’t those in need, those who beg, an opportunity for us to give to others?

You can probably add more to these lists – so please do.

But my main question is: what is your approach to beggars; and how do  you justify that approach?

It’s not a clear-cut issue; and as far as I can tell, even in Islam, it’s not so clearly discussed. I’ve yet to hear a talk, or read an article, that discusses the issue in detail and realistically in the South African context.

We know that begging is discouraged in Islam. But what about people who try to find work but can’t?

I mean, South Africa has a very high unemployment rate (as do other places in the world) – and there just aren’t jobs for everyone. (Or, jobs that pay a decent enough wage).

What then?

How do you know if a person genuinely went to look for work or not?

How do you trust someone who genuinely appears to be sincere? (I’ve heard that we should trust a fellow Muslim and not be suspicious, because if that person is really in need and we deny them, the wrong is on us.)

What if that person keeps coming to the same place, always with a different reason? Do we ‘give once, and not again after that’? How does that solve the problem?

Do we send them to relief organisations? Even though we know that the organisations, sometimes, just give a little bit of food / clothes, and can’t do much to help them in a sustainable way.

Please give your views on the issue, and if you have any good resources to share, please add the link.


21 thoughts on “The Beg Issue

  1. If someone comes knocking at the door I would normally try to help out but mainly with some bread or tin food. On the streets and with youngsters I normally dont give anything for the very simple reason that there is a never ending line up of these people and where do you draw the line?
    There are organisations within the community that are set up with beggars in mind so rather support them.

  2. My Mother always says that every begger is Allah’s way of giving you an opportunity to do good. Charity and Alms are a big part of the Islamic way of life.

    I always give something. Even if it’s menial. Whether it’s food (tin food is a fav) or fruit or old clothes and shoes. For the naughty kids on the street – it’s 20 cents or 50 cents… sometimes I don’t give them any money and will buy a half loaf of bread with chips or something.

    The thing is, we don’t really know in what condition the person who’s asking for alms, is in. He could be lying, he could be manipulating you, but that’s not for us to decide. Allah SWT alone knows the persons intentions. And if he/she is being deceitful, surely he/she will pay the price with Allah SWT… because no deed goes unpunished. As long as we do our part… thats all that matters.

    Thats my opinion, how I see it anyway.

  3. THanks for your comments.

    Edge: I agree that the organisations are better equipped to handle these situations. But doesn’t it make you feel bad when you come across a person that really seems to need it – and they seem to have given up on welfare/charity organisations?

    What about those who are selling things (e.g. incense, books)? Do you buy from them – since selling something is more dignified for them than just receiving out of pity?

    Azra: I agree on how important it is to give; and also that it’s not up to us to judge a person’s intentions.

    But do you think exceptions can be made when, for example, you can visibly SEE that the person is a drug user or a drunk? Is supporting them just going to encourage them to keep the same lifestyle – because they know they can go on indulging in intoxicants and there’ll always be someone to give them food or money?

    And how do you handle the issue of ‘regulars’? (i.e. beggars that you see very regularly – and they come to expect things from you because you always give them).

    For example, I’ve got one ‘regular’ who’s a Muslim brother (a refugee from elsewhere in Africa), and I see him often. He’s obviously in need – rent, family to support, etc. And I think he’s got an expectation that he’ll always get something from me – which is fine if it’s something small; but i feel sorry for him and sometimes i’m tempted to give more. But i had an awful experience a few years back, where a ‘regular’ developed a dependency on me – and it just got very ugly. So, i’m scared to develop any kind of friendship with someone like that who’s in need – because i’m scarred by what happened in the past.

    Anyway – so what’s your position on ‘regulars’?

  4. Hey! This is really timely, I was walking past a cathedral today and thought to myself that it had been a while since I got to appreciate some historic christian architecture so I wondered in for a was actually quite delapidated and some restructural work was going on so I didnt hang around too long. As I walked out, there was a homeless person sat on the side of the pavement and asked for some loose change..Bordering poverty myself, I was not able make a significant contibution to his financest, but thought I’d advise him to go and sit inside the church out of the cold, but he just shook his head and made a face!! If he wont turn to the Lord, the Lord wont turn to him :-/

  5. Perhaps his reaction is just a reflection of the secularised societies we live in, where faith – no matter what religion – is often seen as an impractical, separate thing that should be practised privately and left out of our public lives.

    In an ideal Islamic society (which I don’t think exists today – even in so-called ‘Muslim countries’), there is no such thing as a beggar, because those with the means are supposed to take care of those without. That’s not to say that you can be lazy and just rely on social welfare – but my point is the system of charity in Islam is such that the poor are taken care of.

    One of the sayings of our Prophet (peace be upon him) is that poverty breeds disbelief. In that context, the man has fallen into the trap of poverty – which in turn could have elicited that reaction from him.

  6. I like to give to charities I come across. And when I visit poor countries I give to beggers. But in Canada…I dont like giving to beggers. I see the same ones (for the most part) at the same spots everyday. There are resources available for them and for them to just be begging and not (seemingly) doing anything else for themselves…I don’t know.

  7. AA-

    Here in Saudi Arabia (especially in Mecca and Madina), beggars are very commonplace. Problem is that many of them are parts of gangs where some gang leader sends out the kids and women to beg. And if they aren’t part of these gangs, many of them are just running a scam, pretending to be poor or handicapped. Its very sad how they prey on people’s kindness.

    So I end up simply turning them away, choosing to send my charity to reliable sources. I must admit that I’m not 100% comfortable with this approach, but I simply can’t justify giving money to some (potential) con-artists.

  8. Thanks for your contribution.

    I didn’t think of the criminal angle in all of this. It’s rather sad that such a rich nation has poverty; and even worse because it’s supposed to be an Islamic state – where zakaah and charity are supposed to take care of the poor. Like I said – there probably is no ‘ideal Islamic state’ in existence today.

    Your system can make you feel guilty – but it’s fully justified. My wife had suggested a system for me where I don’t give to someone on the street; but rather take the money I would have given them and put it in a jar. And then, when the jar has enough, donate that to an orphanage or other organisation. That way, you can turn the person away without feeling so much guilt – because you know that you’re not being miserly; you’re still giving – but rather channelling that money to a place yo ucan be sure of.

    Unfortunately, I’m not very strong and that system didn’t last very long with me.

    So, I’m kind of mixed up between different approaches. Hence the reason for this post.

  9. Dreamlife – In response to your question. I dont buy from people trying to sell incence or books or whatever. Simple reason is that living in my community you tend to see these same beggars a lot and tend to learn if they on drugs or drink and you also hear the same old story from them each and everytime.

    I’ll tell you about an experience I had with a beggar once. There was this indian muslim man dressed in islamic attire and stuff and he asked for money with some sad story about how his family have no food etc and so I helped him out with whatever I could. 2 days later I was on holiday in Durban and lo and behold guess who who knocks on my window with the same story? Yes the same man. So he made it all the way from Pretoria to Durban while his family were starving.

    Maybe i’ve lost faith in the individuals so I choose to support the organisations.

  10. Apologies for this delayed response.

    >>> Is supporting them just going to encourage them to keep the same lifestyle – because they know they can go on indulging in intoxicants

    One has to wonder, that if NOT giving the intoxicated guy a few slices of bread will make him quit his addictions? Probably not. Because addicts rarely give up their addictions. So for eg. if he/she is not going to get anything from begging, they’ll resort to stealing etc. When we decide to give, the persons circumstances shouldn’t matter, because that is not our business, it is between that person and Allah SWT. So he/she could have R50 in their pockets, and you only have R20 but they ask you for a R2… and if you have the R2 to spare, then give. The Prophet SAW gave freely of everything he had – even when he had nothing. How the recepient chooses to use the money is up to him and he will be punished for any wrongdoing… thats my opinion anyway.

    >>>And how do you handle the issue of ‘regulars’?

    Here I agree with you, it’s a tricky situation. We have regulars too. In the past, my Mother would often get them to do some kind of ‘work’ for her… maybe some gardening, cleaning up etc. in exchange for whatever she wants to give them. But these days, its incresingly difficult to trust people because of security issues, so I usually give what I have in excess. With regulars, I never give money. I give fruit and bread and maybe leftover food… and on the odd day I don’t have any fruit, bread or leftovers… then I tell them that I don’t have anything. You don’t want to be bankrolling the guy. Again, just my humble opinion.

  11. Dreamy- this is a wonderful post and one that really resonates with me. My husband and I were having this exact conversation a couple of weeks ago on a visit home from the local Engine garage. A man was sitting all huddled up outside the garage and he just looked so…sad! Theres no other way to descibe it- he looked sad and in despair. What was more weird is that i sat in the car starring at him and felt my eyes prick with tears and my husband as if telepathically hearing my thoughts whilst inside the store, deposited some small cash in his hand on the way out. We proceeded to discuss the manner in which we give or dont give and it seemed as though we generally had the same outlook: give whatever little you can because we just dont know what its like to be them.

    Allah Ta’ala is the One who Gives. Our situations can be reversed in an instant and as muslims we must have compassion and mercy then only can we attain His Mercy inshaAllah. Its so easy to get angry at some of the beggers who come across “fake” because it makes you wary and reluctant to give to others whose plight may be absolutely genuine. Its truly really sad; there are some who like you said just dont bother to try hard enough whereas there are others who may be in desperate need- what difference will that 5 rand make to you? Thats how i think of it. What hardship will befall me if i give this man who is asking 5 rand? nothing… subhanAllah it doesnt make me any poorer but it can make the difference of a meal to him. Its like i said to my husband on that journey back home, who is to know whether this begger is asking because he is ill, or he has a family, or his children are sick.. we just dont know. We live comfortable luxurious lives in contrast, we dont have to worry about medication and basic sanitation, food or shelter… we have been blessed with these Alhamdullilah!

    I guess the only time i am reluctant to give money is when i can see and its obviously apparent that the individual asking is pissed and conked out of his/her head. I wont give the money if they are going to spend it on alcohol. Ihave even told some individuals that i will not give them money if they spend it on alcohol- some plead and say they dont want drink but rather food. In this case, i either give them food myself (this is a habit of mine in general too, alhamdullilah i pack leftover food and get hubs to hand it out), go into the shop and buy him bread or give him the money and watch him go buy bread lol.

  12. beggars in pakistan are tiresome – especially the cross dressing types. i admit, i only hand out cash on a few occasions. i know that the entire begging scene works like pimping… and i dont have the answers. i dont know how i can help them.

    the big issue however is totally different. they’re selling a product and don’t hound you. and the organisation has made leaps and bounds style progress into the rehabilitation of disenfranchised people in our community.

  13. JazakAllah for the responses. Despite everyone’s inputs thus far (and this is now an old post), I still haven’t come to any firm resolution. I’m inclined towards giving – because like Zahera says, others are in more need than us – and that little bit doesn’t take much from us (on the contrary, giving is to our benefit). But then there’s the issue of supporting a begging lifestyle. My wife is sooo firm against giving to streetkids because she’s heard from an expertthat, for lots of them, they CHOOSE to be on the street because they want the freedom. And many times, that money you give them goes to supporting a drug habit.

    You see, if we could genuinely see a person’s situation – see where they’re coming from, why they ended up where they are, etc – then it would be so much easier to decide what to do. There’s this desire to give because the person is less fortunate – but there’s the fear that you may be hurting them more by giving (because giving just reinforces a lifestyle of begging).

    I admire those who genuinely go out trying to get work – even if it’s odd jobs or whatever they can get. Those are people who, if I really knew their situation, I’d be inclined to give a lot. But there’s the fakers, lazy ones, and substance abusers too…it’s always confusing 😦

    As for the Big Issue – it’s a good initiative. Here in South Africa, we have a booming traffic light trade: people sell all kinds of things; from hangers to washing lines, black bags, toys, handcrafts….people SELLING something is more dignified than begging.

    Anyway, I just finished reading an article in Al-Jumuah Magazine (Muharram 2010) which comprehensively speaks about the ideal Islamic financial system; and how, when things are set up right and there’s Divinely-inspired values behind the system, poverty is pretty much elminiated (or at least very dramatically reduced)….

    How I wish we could go back to pure principles when it comes to worldly affairs 😦

    • You should read this article:
      I agree with Sis Zaheera…But I would not know how to act in such situations as there are very few beggars here in Singapore…
      For this past Ramadhan, I would go to this particular Masjid for Taraweeh Prayers and everyday, the same women will be sitting at the gate with a baby and 3 young kids. She asked her children to do the begging(I heard her) Every night, I passed her with guilt. I don’t know what to do. I made du’a to the Ever-Listening, All-Knowing. One day, as I was passing by her, I heard her scolding, shouting and insulting one of her children about the money that child collected from what I understand. I took this, and the fact that she did not enter the mosque to pray i’sha’ in congregation which is more worth it than begging as Allah will help His Servants out of hardship if they ask. Anyway, I took this as a guide from Allah to not give money to a person who “oppresses” and who does not give children their rights and those who prefer this world over the next. But maybe with ones kind contribution to them, Sllsh might open their hearts to Him…
      Then again, I might be wrong but Allah knows best:)

      • JazakAllah for adding to the discussion. It’s still a confusing issue for more, and still I’ve never heard an ‘alim give a khutbah dedicated to the topic. I guess it’s one of those confusing issues of our times, and we just have to do the best we can – what we think is right at the time, and ask Allah for guidance in it.

  14. Personally, I don’t understand why so much thought needs to go into the practice. If you give to a kid that supports a drug habit, maybe you should start focusing on why they choose that lifestyle and working on ways to address that issue. If you don’t give them that money, they’re gonna find other ways of getting it. You’re not where the buck ends.

    Giving to people who ask gives you an upper hand, it cleanses your earnings and it makes sure you always have some lee way in your budget for donations (not zakat). What is wrong with that? I have never understood why people don’t address the root cause of begging.

    Moderation’s the key.

  15. Personally, it’s because I think it’s the responsibility of government and the social welfare-type organisations – who specialise in addressing these issues.

    In the bigger picture, I think as long as the political, economic, and social systems are as messed up as they are – there will always be begging.

    Take God out of the equation, and you have man-made systems…all of which are doomed to failure – because man is not perfect; so how can man create something that will be truly successful?

    I’m bashing secularism again – but to me, the argument is as simple as that.

  16. The question of “What is wrong with that?” ?

    My answer is that nothing’s wrong with that – until you start questioning the authenticity of the person asking. Whether you do that or not, I suppose, is the issue here.

    I just know that in my country, begging is extremely, extremely common. So, when you see someone begging at almost every traffic light; outside every 2nd shopping complex; and outside almost every masjid – you tend to ask yourself which cases are genuine (and hence worth giving to) and which cases are not.

    Which is how this whole debate began in my head.

  17. Peace be upon you all

    The baseline answer to your question DreamLife is to do what your heart tells you to do 🙂 For each individual it is different, based on the conditioning of their hearts they will act accordingly. Some will be content to give to everyone and anyone, others might choose based on criteria that you mention, and yet others might totally shun the notion of giving … whatever the cause of action, always remember that it is the intention that counts so make the intention solely for Allah irrespective of whether you choose to give or not and then your individual reasoning should be secondary. Note, I said this is the baseline approach, the lowest level approach if you want to call it that 🙂

    If you are still not content and seek a greater solution to address the issue i say that there is a solution and it is Islam (yes, yes, readers rolling their eyes I know) 🙂 but it is true. Do I need to elaborate ? 🙂

  18. JazakAllah for that. You’ve boiled it down to the very simple principle of putting intention first; which is something that slipped my mind in this whole discussion.

    I was thinking about the outward elements of this; but I didn’t stop to realise that actions are by intentions – and that applies not only to the person doing the action; but it may also apply to the consequences of the action.

    Meaning: in the outward view of things, you may consider an action foolish. But if you do that action with the right intention, Allah may make the consequences positive.

    For example, the case of someone who you *think* is on drugs asking you for money. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t give to them – but just say you make the right intention (as you specified), and then give them something; and through that act, Allah guides them away from drugs and to a better life.

    It’s so easy to forget the power of intention. We have no power to do ANYthing – because Allah determines the consequences; but we have the choice of what to do. And behind that choice is the intention. So it’s so important to keep intention at the forefront of our thinking….

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