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Can I Give Charity to a Thief, a Prostitute or a Non-deserving Person During Ramadan?


By Farahnaz Zahidi

Published in Huff Post Religion on July 9, 2014

Pakistan is internationally known for many things. For the surge of extremism. For the footballs we supplied to the World Cup. For an often exaggerated emphasis on the “miseries” of its people. But it is lesser known for being one of the most charitable nations in the world. It is amazing how much the people of this country give and share. The sense of giving back to one’s community is deeply ingrained in our system. We give whether we are rich or poor. We share whether we ourselves have enough or not. If you are in Pakistan in Ramadan especially, on every signal you will be handed over boxes of dates and bottles of water. Outside homes, on sidewalks or in mosques, makeshift feasts await you. At a recent journalism moot in Mexico, a friend from South Africa nailed it when she said “I think it has a lot to do with how much Islam stresses charity.”


This is true. We take the idea very seriously that charity washes away sins, wards off bad luck, wins us the pleasure of Allah and lands us in Paradise. In Ramadan, the reward, as per our belief, is multiplied into 70. So Ramadan is when all good causes like education, public health and food insecurity make enough money to last the next 11 months.

Yet, in the same country, I have witnessed communities waiting for hand-me-downs and food, with not a rupee of charity flowing towards them. The reason has been nothing but misplaced judgment.
More than once, my research as a journalist led me to the most infamous red light district in Pakistan. Heera Mandi, in Lahore, has since the time of Mughals housed courtesans, dancers and commercial sex workers. But time has been unkind to the people here. Today, most of them have moved away to better, more lucrative localities as escorts. What remains is a ghetto of very poor women, runaway or orphaned children and some scattered members of the marginalized transgender community. And no one wants to give charity to the people of Heera Mandi.

“We are dirty. We are in the filthy business. So no one gives us anything,” said a disgruntled 20 something sex worker when I visited. It was a Friday, the holy day of the week for Muslims. Incense burnt in her shoddy apartment to create an ambiance of purity. The woman had bathed and prayed that day. Ramadan was a few days away. “I wish someone would give me enough food or money that I can at least not have to do this work in Ramadan. I need a break, too to pray to God.”
On my return, I asked around if anyone wanted to donate for them. No one opted.

This attitude is not reserved for sex workers only, and not specific to Pakistan. Neither is this brand of judgment or ostracization specific to Muslims. A friend from Manchester shared that a project trying to collect donations for inmates in jails got a similar response. “They would say, ‘will our charity go towards feeding a killer or a thief?'”

For years, as both a student and teacher of Islamic Studies, I have wondered why we pass judgments on the ones we give charity to. Is their “good character” a pre-requisite to give them charity?

Thus, in giving, we place ourselves on a pedestal of piety. And this idea is not in synch with what the Qur’an endorses or what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practically did.

There is a prophetic tradition narrated in the Saheeh Bukhari that tells us that there was once a man who decided that that very night he would give charity. Accordingly, he set out with his charity and gave it to a thief. The next day people began to say, ‘Last night a thief was given charity!’ So the man supplicated, ‘O Allah, to You belongs all the praise. I shall give some more charity again.’

Once again he set off with his charity and gave it to a prostitute. The next day people began talking, ‘Last night charity was given to a prostitute.’ So the man supplicated again, ‘O Allah, I praise You for enabling me to give charity to even a prostitute; I will give some more charity yet again.’

He set out again with his charity and this time put it in the hands of a rich man. The next day the people talked again, ‘Last night charity was given to a rich man.’ The man supplicated, ‘O Allah, all praise is Yours, I thank you for enabling me to give charity to a thief, a prostitute and to a rich man.’
Then, in a vision he was told, ‘The charity you gave to the thief might persuade him to stop stealing; your charity to the prostitute might persuade her give up her way of life. As for the rich man, he might learn a lesson from your charitable giving and start to spend from the Bounty that Allah has given him in charity.’

In the Battle of Badr between Muslims and the pagans of Mecca, the Muslim camp won and ended up with 70 prisoners of the pagans. These were people thirsty for their blood. But the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted the Muslims to treat the prisoners well. So much stress was placed on showing compassion that the captors would give the captives their own bread, even at the risk of going hungry themselves.

What I have learnt from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) is simple. That when I give, I give, without judging whether that person is deserving and pious, or not. It is not my place to do that. It is only God’s right to judge. Because my Merciful Lord continues to give me, whether I am deserving or not.

“You Look Hot!”…..Thanks! But There’s More To Me

Ice breakers – the first few sentences you say to someone when you meet them. To make them comfortable. To warm up a social interaction.

So what are the first few things women say to other women in a social gt (leaving out the men for now)? Typically, after the salaam or hi, it’s about “you look lovely”, “where do you get your hair done?”, “relaxing karaee hai baalon kee?”, “which lawn is this?”, “nice handbag!! LV?”. And honestly speaking, I myself often do this. Don’t know what else to talk about for starters of a social meet-up. Also, no other way is such sure shot popularity-gaining methodology….nothing works like praising a woman about how she looks. Also because unconsciously, I know that this is what I like to hear as well when I go somewhere. Somewhere, as women, our self-esteem is tied up to how we look, not who we are or what we do. And the brightest, the smartest, the humblest and the most down-to-earth of us also fall into the vanity trap.

Apart from the obvious disadvantages of excessive vanity, one of the problems is that the actually more important parts of your personality take a back seat. We hardly know many of our friends in reality. We know what they look like, but not who they are or what they do.

What made me think over it more today was this brilliant blog by Lisa Bloom in Huff Post titled “How To Talk To Little Girls” in which Bloom traces it back to our childhood. What is the first thing you say to a 3, 5 or 7 year old? Unknowingly, we perpetrate this conditioning in little girls who will be women tomorrow by talking to them about “ooooh how pretty is your frock” and “did mom do your hair?” or “where do you get these shoes?”. While in itself, there is nothing wrong with complimenting a little girl or a woman on her looks, there is something seriously wrong with making it the pivot of the conversation, the ONLY thing we seem to notice, and reiterating to the other person (a female) that “hey, how you look is the most important part of you. That is who you are!!!”

Listen to what Bloom says in her blog: “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”

When we become used to, as girls, that everyone compliment us on our appearance, how we look becomes our core value even as we grow older. We judge ourselves according to how we look, hot or not, and not on the basis of who we are.

When we have been subjected to this, the same attitude is then transferred to the men in our lives. Mostly sons. For I do believe that behind every “superficial ogler who wants Miss World as biwi (not to forget she should be able to make qeema bharay karelay)”, there are mommies and chaachis and aapis and cousins who have conditioned him to think that “LOOKS” is the single most important currency when it comes to women. No doubt, physical attraction is a natural pre-requisite when you choose someone for your (life) partnership, but it being the only one is just sad. And this sadness is reflected in matrimonial advertisements to the fullest.

The media doesn’t help….it milks every social attitude to it’s advantage. And so, “shaadee” is synonymous with “Khilee khilee ranaai” and “Goree rangat”.

So here we are. In a world where we are actually beginning to believe in “Kill me, but make me beautiful”.

My point here is not to undermine physical beauty. I am not implying that one should appear unkempt and disheveled. I am a proponent of maintenance of everything – your house, your car, your relationships, your brains… well as your looks. Work on it. Look good and feel good. But don’t make it the core of your existence. There is more to you.

So next time, girls, let’s talk about more than LOOKS!

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