Communities across South Africa are facing an increasing epidemic of beggars. Hardly do you pass an intersection except with a few individuals requesting hand-outs. While some beggars turn away with a shake of the head, others will persist to the point of harassment.
Islam encourages charity, generosity and kindness, but at the same time strongly discourages begging. Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam has stated, “Whoever is afflicted by poverty and then turns to people for assistance, his poverty will never end, but whoever is afflicted by poverty and turns to Allah for assistance, soon will Allah provide for him, immediately or after some time.” (Abu Dawud)
In another Hadith, Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam states, “Begging is not permitted for the wealthy, nor for those able to earn. It is only permitted for the one in desolate poverty or for the one with overwhelming debt. And whoever begs to increase his wealth, it will be scars that will line his face on the Day of Resurrection and boiling stones that he will eat in Hell. So whoever wishes may take less and whoever wishes may take more.” (Tirmizi)
Once an Ansaari came to Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam asking for assistance. Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam enquired, “Is there nothing in your home?” The Ansaari replied, “Yes we have a saddle blanket that we cover ourselves with and that we lay down for sleeping, and a wooden container from which we drink water.” Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam then instructed that Ansaari to bring those two items. When he arrived with them, Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam held them in his hand and said, “Who will purchase these?” One Sahaabi said, “I will take them for one Dirham (silver coin).” Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam asked again, “Who will double or triple this price?” Another Sahaabi said, “I will take them for two Dirhams.” Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam then sold him the items and took the two Dirhams. He then gave the Dirhams to the Ansaari and instructed, “Purchase food for one Dirham and give it your family. Purchase an axe head with the other and bring it to me.” The Sahaabi brought the axe head and Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam fitted the handle on with his own hands. He then told the Ansaari, “Go, cut wood and sell it and return after fifteen days.” The Ansaari then came (after fifteen days) and he had earned ten Dirhams from which he purchased clothing and food. RasulullahSallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam then remarked, “This is better for you than having to appear on the Day of Resurrection with your begging as scars on your face!” (Abu Dawud)
Islam as a religion is always about uplifting and empowering people. We need to consider seriously the manner in which we discharge our charity and whether it is helping to empower people or is it increasing the beggars in our society. An Aalim from Soweto recently remarked that our contributions are creating “Instant Hijaabis”; women with no affiliation to Islam that are now suddenly in cloak and scarf to receive hand-outs from the Muslim community. It is worth noting that while the religious sites of other faiths are generally free from beggars, our Masaajid and Eidgah entrances are lined with beggars.
Generosity and kindness is something to be proud of, creating a society of beggars is not.Consider carefully whether your generosity is helping our society grow or is it producing the reverse. The money that we daily pull out of our pockets will find more value if invested in programmes that put people on their feet rather than allowing them to live of others.
At the same time, remember the Quranic verse, “And as for the beggar, then do not scold (him/her).”If we do not give, do not insult and criticize. Be decent and civil in our refusal.
Islam takes us away from begging and towards self-sufficiency. It removes us from reliance on others towards self-determination. It eradicates worthlessness and grants dignity. Our actions should mirror the same