The teacher shared a short story about a man who was up to his ears in debt and had no job. On his way to a job interview he saw a blind man begging with a sign that simply said, “I’m blind.” The man had nothing to give but offered to change the sign so that others would feel more compelled to give to the beggar. The beggar was skeptical that making a change to the sign would change the hearts of those passing by, but allowed the man to make the changes. In the end the man got the job. A few days later (or maybe the same day) he saw that the changed sign also brought about better luck for the blind beggar.
After the story our teacher asked, “Do you give money to beggars on the street?” I thought to myself that the most obvious answer would be, “Yes, of course! We all give to those who ask,” because giving alms is one of the five pillars of Islam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Pillars_of_Islam). But one by one students gave their reasons for not giving to beggars. Most reasons had one theme: They feared getting taken advantage of. One girl told her story of catching a “blind” man in his lie because behind his dark glasses she could see his eyes following the back and forth of the traffic before him. She asked, “If he was really blind why were his eyes moving, following the traffic?”
They also know that mothers and children are not the direct benefactors of alms; money is often taken from them and someone else benefits. They also agree that giving money to drunkards is not right and they don’t give to those who simply want another drink. They all know that there are people who are ready to take advantage of others. In this particular pillar of giving alms, it is stated that anyone who can work should work, and all people have something to give, whether it be in money or good deed. They all agree that whoever can work should and that many of those that they have seen begging should be working. The safe bet is to give to the elderly who receive their pension, because oftentimes the pension received is too little to pay for basic needs. These are the true deservers of alms.
I sat there a little relieved as they told their stories because I thought they would judge me, the rich American, for not giving to their needy. When the time came for me to answer I said that I agreed with the rest of the class and usually don’t give. The teacher smiled and agreed.