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).
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.