UAE's Ramadan dilemma of zakat and street beggars

Ramadan 2012: Official advice is not to give, but what if the need is genuine?

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ABU DHABI // Don’t give money to beggars, both the police and the fatwa advisers say. But the Prophet never turned away a beggar, especially during the Holy Month.

So what is a conscientious Muslim to do? Opinions are divided.

“Whatever the Prophet did, we try to follow, for his actions were sunnah,” said Umm Mohamed, a resident of Al Ain. “The fake beggars have ruined it for the needy.”

At the call centre of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment, a specialised mufti said begging was not allowed, but did not specify Islam’s take on it.

“You do not know if they are in need, or if begging’s a profession for them,” he said. “So a person needs to be careful.” If the beggar is in genuine need there is no reason not to help, otherwise, donors should turn to organised charities such as the Red Crescent Authority and the Zakat Fund.

“If you know people in debt, a poor family, one approach the end of the month and their money is running out, then you can give them zakat,” he said.

On Twitter, Dubai Police have encouraged residents to report beggars, and promise to be at the scene of any reported begging within 11 minutes. Between the start of the campaign in July and August 6, they arrested 131 beggars, 19 of them women.

If in the country illegally, they will be deported. Otherwise, they may face further prosecution or be forced to sign an oath not to beg again.

Police have found many beggars to be in possession of thousands of dirhams, and some enter the country on a visa solely for the purpose of begging.

Muslim scholars are divided on the correct response.

Sheikh Dr Mohamed Saleh Al Mungad, a Saudi scholar with more than a quarter of a million Twitter followers, suggested careful giving. “There are signs,” he said. “Usually if they tell their story in the mosque in front of people, they should feel embarrassed, but if you see them preaching confidentially, they are most likely to be professional beggars.”

He said in 2010 that people with a disability usually try to hide it, rather than parade it for sympathy.

When in doubt, he said, ask to see prescriptions or medical reports. “There is nothing wrong with asking for more details.”

And if still unsure, a person could always give to a beggar and hope to be rewarded for his good intention.

He noted that sharia encouraged people to work, “even if it is small work”.

He said that on Judgement Day beggars come with no flesh on their faces, for having gone through the humiliation of begging.

He said the act of begging is frowned upon as people should not complain about their problems to others, but rely on God, and not let go of their honour.