Posted by: Dawud Israel | August 16, 2007

Beggars and Choosers

I gave some help to a beggar today. I had my doubts that he was actually telling the truth and was in genuine need, but I staved it off. And thankfully, right after I left I saw his hands were graying and all crust-like-I knew he was a genuine street-person. There are those who say that it would not be helping society but rather hurting society to give money to them-because you would be giving them money to supposedly go out and do drugs. But then the question then becomes what about you and I? Don’t a number of normal people already do drugs and have other vices? And the question must be asked are we ‘helping society’ or merely doing something to make us feel that we are not futile? A society of scabs will make it difficult for one scab to recognize itself as one. And when a person comes along who is not one-they will be seen as one.

It would be an interesting argument to state that beggars contribute more to society because they pull on people to give and develop morality and conscience. But back to the point–is it worthless to give to them? If they are indeed a crook and they do come to realize they are doing something wrong-because of that money you faithfully gave them, than that amount of money you donated is now worth more than they have made and that donation has transcended money to become a donation-to change a life in a powerful way.

A man said that he would give something in charity. He went out with his object of charity and unknowingly gave it to a thief. Next morning the people said that he had given his object of charity to a thief. (On hearing that) he said, ‘Oh Allah! All the praises are for You. I will give charity again.’ And so he again went out with his charity and (unknowingly) gave it to an adultress. Next morning the people said that he had given his charity to an adultress last night. The man said, ‘Oh Allah! All the praises are for You. I gave my charity to an adultress. I will give charity again.’ So he went out with his charity and (unknowingly) gave it to a rich person. The people next morning said that he had given his charity to a wealthy person. He said, ‘Oh Allah! All the praises are for You. I have given charity to a thief, to an adultress, and to a wealthy man.’ Then someone came and said to him, ‘The charity that you gave to the thief might make him abstain from stealing, and that given to the adultress might make her abstain from adultery, and that given to the wealthy man might make him take a lesson from it and spend his wealth which Allah has given him, in Allah’s cause.’ ” (Prophet Muhammad, Sahih al-Bukhari)

When they come asking for money you do not know their condition and nor does Allah expect you to interrogate them and find out if they really need it. (Ironically, how many of us need to eat and drink so much-but we merely do so because we can? Or how many of us actually need spice on our foods?). You have been told by Allah to give to the hungry and that is what is expected of you. All you truly know for certain is that this person is asking for money (or food) and that they need it. Even if they are lying-they would not have enough to live off of-so you can almost think of this as their ‘skill’ or ‘trade’-the only thing they know how to do and how to survive from.

And yet there is a strange irony in not giving money to a beggar. Here you are refusing to give a human being-a creature to be valued-a few pieces of money (something which inherently is without worth but assumed to have value) thinking you know better. This is the essence of idolatry. You give that worship to other than the One deserving of it. But it also shows us the backwards nature of our time. A further point is made about materialism in our society. Why is money so preciously valued? You will not die because of not having your 3-4 meals (plus snacks) in a day but it is an unthinkable notion to go without one or two meals (except to save a penny or two).

Money is not going to disappear and be lost never to be seen again-it will return as all things come and go-until the day you die. Most of us are beggars in disguise. At our jobs we perform a task as meaningless and ‘unspecial’ as a beggar shaking his plastic cup and asking for money. Most of us do not contribute anything new to society. Most of us perform repetitious tasks lacking sacredness, let alone creativity. And in performing this repetitious task we show that we are really no better than the beggar on the street-who can be taught to become like you– and with a true beggar’s motivation-if not better.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdik ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk. Ameen.

–Dawud Israel out


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