By: Asma Al-Mohatttwari
Though a familiar phenomenon all through the year in Yemeni society, street begging increases both in the weeks leading up to, and the weeks during, the holy month of Ramadan.
The story of a woman named Halima provides background for why Ramadan means begging for so many. She is a poor woman, with three children and an unemployed husband. Though she works for others, helping them with various household tasks throughout the year, in the weeks preceding Ramadan, she tends to knock on doors and beg for money from people.
“I’m the only source of income for my family, to supply them with food and life’s basics. I work all year in people’s homes and I receive money, but it isn’t enough and most of the money goes to my disabled son. So I am forced to go and ask people for charity money,” Halima said.
All beggars were forced to ask people for money because of the severe needs they have. However, Halima has a different motive. She says that even though she never thought she would be begging, people’s generosity – especially before Ramadan – encouraged her to do so. She used to receive charity from people, including clothes, food, money and different things and so she thought of asking other people in various places for their help, especially before Ramadan.
“People often provide me with charity, but sometimes they don’t, so I go myself to them and ask for it,” she said.
It could be argued that beggars exploit the sentiment of mercy of the holy month and people’s added tolerance with each other. Many citizens do their best to comfort those in need and help them with money , food and other things, regardless of whether the beggar is truly in need or a hustler.
In this regard, Dr. Mohammed, from Dhamar University, said that begging, especially during Ramadan, is a negative trend that strongly emerged in recent times; in his opinion, it is not the habit of Yemeni men to humiliate themselves so, and it gives a negative image of the country.
According to Dr. Mohammed, the main causes behind the phenomenon, both in the month of Ramadan and during the rest of the year, are unemployment and rising prices.
Academics, researchers and those interested in the phenomenon have said that women, children and the disabled are the best at generating charity money. These three groups are more apt than able-bodied men to receive sympathy from people.
Akram, seven years old, begs at Al-Rowaishan Intersection and said his father told him to go and beg every day because he receives more money than his older brother does.
Samera, a mother of four children, was recently found begging with a child on her back. She said, “The money which I receive during the month of Ramadan is more than what I receive during the whole year.”
During Ramadan, beggars find new ways to beg, such as knocking on the doors of houses in order to receive money.
Osama, a citizen of Sana’a, expressed his displeasure by saying “Wherever you turn, there are beggars waiting for you… it seems the public life of our country amounts to beggars. You find them everywhere: in the bus, at the door of the restaurant and in hospitals and parks.”
Speaking about the religious response, Dr. Al-Mortadh Al-Mohattwari said begging is forbidden in Islam and can lead one to hell. “Islam urged people to look for work. They should look for a job and get money by working,” he said.
On the other hand, one of the beggars the National Yemen spoke with said he considers begging to be his job, with which he feeds his family. According to him, a hard life and poverty forced him to beg.
“The financial benefits I received from begging are not that much, but it meets the requirements of my family and its simple life,” said the beggar.
Safa, a teacher, said the best way to eradicate the begging phenomenon is to not give anything. If they don’t find a gold mine in begging, which we are supporters of, they will stop.
“I’m not saying that we should not provide charity. There are very poor neighbourhoods, and relatives in need. But give to beggars?” she said.
According to Dr. Mohammed, one main reason behind the begging phenomenon is the absence of ways to combat it, whether through “awareness-raising, providing job opportunities for beggars, training and rehabilitation in facilities and specialized institutes… or through punishment for beggars who aren’t in need.”