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Last Updated: 2008/04/22
Summary of question
What is our duty towards street beggars?
question
Considering some reports published recently about begging millionaires what is the Islamic law regarding those who are begging out in the streets and public places? Each time I see these people, I start feeling pity for them but there is one thing I have always been thinking about: If I help these beggars, it is likely that the number of street beggars will increase in society. What is our duty towards them?
Concise answer

It is good to help every beggar even if he is not poor but it is necessary to focus our attention on priorities keeping in view the fact that our financial resources are limited. In the present time in which there are certain institutions tasked to identify and attend to the needs of the poor, it is more appropriate and more important to donate to those institutions rather than those who are not known to be poor or are even known to be needless. However it is not appropriate to insult beggars nor is it good to be apathetic to the feeling which exists within us. There are certain solutions to the problem mentioned in the question:

1. To help a needy individual by giving him an amount of money which is not too much an amount but it is a way to sympathize with the destitute.

2. We must not behave badly with any beggars. If we are not in a position to help them, we must fulfill our obligations by referring them to a rehabilitation center or to charitable people.

3. Insofar as we can, we should donate to charitable organizations or rehabilitation centers. By doing so, not only have we replied to the call of our conscience but we have also demonstrated our good intention.

Detailed Answer

A beggar is called “Saael al-Maal” in Arabic and there is a difference between a beggar and a poor person. A person is said to be poor when he does not have sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society. It does not make any difference whether he goes out begging in public or he does not. As for a beggar, he is someone who asks others to help him and it does not make any difference whether he has the means of his livelihood or does not.

When it comes to the way we should behave with the beggars and help them, we have a number of arguments which we will mention as under:

1. There are a lot of proofs which discourage us from turning down a beggar’s request for help. The Holy Quran addresses the Prophet (pbuh) as such: “And as for him who asks (beggar), do not chide (him).”[1]

The verse does not tell us how to behave with a beggar, rather it says that we should not repulse or drive him away. As was mentioned, a beggar could be needy and could be needless but there are many narrations which forbid us from rejecting the request of a beggar. For instance, it has been narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) that he said: “Do not disappoint a beggar by turning down his request. If some destitute people did not lie, whoever rejected them would be deprived of salvation." [2] It has been stated in some traditions that even if a beggar does not seem to be poor, again give him something. It has been reported from Imam Baqir (a.s.) that he said: “Give the beggar something, even if he is riding on a horse.[3] Being on a horse in this narration implies that he is not apparently poor to the extent that he could not afford to buy a horse which was a comfortable means of transportation at that time.

2. There are some narrations from which it is understood that one can observe certain limits in helping the poor.

It has been narrated from Ibn Subayh that he was in the company of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) when a beggar came along. The Imam gave him something and then another beggar came up and the Imam also gave him something. A third beggar also came to the Imam and begged him for help. The Imam gave him something. Then another beggar came along and the Imam did not give him anything. Instead he said to him: “May Allah grant you enough out of His grace.”…[4]

It has been said in another tradition that if you help three beggars everyday, you have fulfilled your duty and you can help more beggars, if you would like to.[5]

Given the fact that the resources which God has placed under man’s disposal are limited, it is not possible to help everyone who asks for help. These narrations seek to set a minimum limit for help recommending up to three people.

3. Some narrations restrict the first group of narrations forbidding us from helping some people. It has been narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) that he said, “Do not help everybody.”[6]

Else where it has been narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s) that he said we should help children, women, the weak and the old and we help not the mad[7]. There is also another narration which says that you should not help those who are hostile to the truth or who invite you to do an indecent and false act.[8]

4. If it is not known who the beggar is, one can help him. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) was asked about a beggar who approaches for help. What is an individual supposed to do? Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Help those whom you feel pity for?”  Then he said: “Give them less than one dirham.”[9] The narrator asks: “How much can we give them at the most?” The Imam answered: “Four quarters.”

5. Moreover, there are also narrations according to which, if you do not have anything to give to a beggar, you should drive him away politely and by uttering good words. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) has been reported as having said: God, the Exalted said to Moses, “O Moses, drive a beggar away by giving him something or behave with him properly because it so happens sometimes that people who come to you are neither human beings nor genies; in fact he who comes to you might be an angel that has been sent to test you with the situation I have created for you asking you to give a thing which I have given you. Then in that time you are being watched over as to what you may be doing?[10]

To draw up a conclusion, it is necessary to mention the following points:

a) Moderation in charity:

Keeping in view that being moderate is good in all aspects and matters of our lives even in giving charity and providing assistance to others, God, the Glorified has stressed on this saying: “And do not make your hand to be shackled to your neck.”[11] This verse makes a very delicate reference to the fact that one should be generous and be not like niggards and stingy ones who look like as if they are making their hands tied to their necks and are unable to give away anything in charity.

On the other hand, “do not stretch it (your hand) forth to the utmost (limit) of its stretching forth, lest you should (afterwards) sit down blamed, stripped off.”[12], [13]

As well, the Quran describing “Ibad al-Rahman” (servants of the Compassionate) says that they are the ones who keep away from any kind of extremes especially when it comes to giving of alms. It says, “Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just (balance) between those (extremes).”[14]

The Quran says that only that infaq (giving something out of charity) is which is a balance and which is neither considered to be stingy nor extravagance. Thus one should not give so much to others that his wife and children without anything to eat nor should he be so stingy that others do not benefit from him.

There is a narration in which “wastefulness”, “Iqtar” (tightfistedness) and moderateness have been interestingly described. It is said that when Imam Sadiq (a.s.) recited the above verse, he picked up a fistful of pebbles, held it tightly in his hand and said: "This is tightfistedness". Then he picked a fistful of pebbles with the other hand and opened his hand so that the pebbles entirely poured on the ground. Then he said: "This is wastefulness". A third time he filled his hand with pebbles and poured down some and the rest remained in his hand. Then he said: "This is moderateness."[15], [16]

b) It is appropriate of a person to meet the need of a beggar even if he is needless because such an act is a sign of munificence and it also promotes generosity. What has been excepted in this regard is giving help to the mad and those who are hostile to the truth or who even call to the way of falsehood.

c) In the present time in which there are certain institutions, the situation is very different from the time of Infallible Imams –peace be upon them. There is no doubt that there are poor people in society but there are also certain institutions tasked to identify and attend to the needs of the poor. Hence, it is better and more important to help those institutions rather than those who are not known to be poor or are known to be needless. These institutions are meant for better management of the affairs of the needy. However, the existence of such institutions does not relieve us of our individual, human and religious obligations towards the poor and the needy.

d) Given the fact that sometimes it happens that a needy (destitute) individual turns to us for help and we do not have enough means to help him, God tells us explicitly in the Quran how we should deal with the needy in such circumstances. It says: "And if you [must] turn away from the needy awaiting mercy from your Lord which you expect, then speak to them a gentle word" and if you can, promise to help them in future and do disappoint them.[17]

We read in the narrations that following the revelation of the above whenever someone asked the Prophet (pbuh) to give him something and the Prophet (pbuh) did not have it, he would tell him يرزقنا اللَّه و اياكم من فضله (May Allah grant us and you out His grace.)[18]

In any case, we must not behave badly with any beggars. If we are not in a position to give them something or to help them in a way, we must fulfill our social obligations by referring them to a rehabilitation center or to charitable people. In fact, by doing so, we have preserved their dignity and respect.

As was stated earlier, there are narrations from which it is deciphered[19] that one should not silence the feeling of mercy and sympathy which is provoked as a result of seeing some beggars because this is a valuable feeling, a feeling of philanthropy and humanness. For this reason, we must follow the strategies mentioned in the previous passages or do whatever we can to reply in the positive to this natural feeling. One of those strategies is that if we have an amount of money which we want to give to the poor, we should donate to charitable organizations or rehabilitation centers. By doing so, not only have we replied to the call of our conscience but we have also demonstrated our good intention.

 


[1] - Ad-Dhuha, 10.

[2] - Hurr Amili, Muhammad bin Hasan, Wasail, al-Shi’ah, vol.9, p. 418, Aalul-Bait (a.s.) Institute, 1409 A.H.

[3] - Ibid, p. 417.

[4] - Ibid, pg. 421.

[5] - Ibid.

[6] - Ibid, pg. 415

[7] - Ibid.

[8] - Ibid, p. 414.

[9] - One dirham was worth 200 Tumans in 1998. Extracted from Fazel Lankarani, Muhammad Jawad, Jami al-Masail, vol.2, p. 374, Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani’s official website: http://lankarani.ir/far/

[10] - Hurr Amili, Muhammad bin Hasan, Wasail al-Shi’ah, vol. 9, p. 419.

[11] - Al-Isra,29

[12] - Ibid.

[13] - Tafsir Namunah, vol.12, p. 91.

[14] - Al-Furqan, 67: و الَّذِينَ إِذا أَنْفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَ لَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَ كانَ بَيْنَ ذلِكَ قَواماً

[15] - The term "qewam" which has been translated as "moderateness" means justice  and middle way.

[16] - Tafsir Namunah, vol.15, p 152.

[17] - Al-Isra: [17] "وَ إِمَّا تُعْرِضَنَّ عَنْهُمُ ابْتِغاءَ رَحْمَةٍ مِنْ رَبِّكَ تَرْجُوها فَقُلْ لَهُمْ قَوْلًا مَيْسُورا"ً

[18] - Tafsir Namunah, vol.12, p. 90.

[19] - Narration NO.4

 

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