December 10th, 2014


In The Beggar’s Strike, the author illustrates an interesting contrast between the privilege of the elite class and the poverty of the beggars. The power imbalance between the two classes involves a relationship where one side legislates the actions of the other: In this case, to decree where the beggars may and may not work as part of the effort to “cleanse” the city. Yet, the beggars hold a relative degree of power over this elite class, exercised in their strike: By making themselves difficult to access or demanding high donations in exchange for blessings and promises, they revealed the degree to which the governmental elite rely upon them, and controlled the disposal of much of their income with their exorbitant demands.

In America, this is not the case: The “1%,” as the Occupy Wall Street movement declared, controlled much of government but had no obligation to the people. They argued that the close relationship between big money and government representatives destroyed the representativeness of American democracy because of the clashing interests of the rich and the middle class: The government could not adequately represent both, but because favoring the rich promised higher economic yield, they ignored the middle class. What is different about American society and the one in The Beggar’s Strike that causes this discrepancy?

Among other things, this could be the presence of Islam in the story. While America is increasingly secular, the society of The Beggar’s Strike was strongly Muslim, and this accounted for much of the relationship between the elite and the poor. The Qur’anic mandate to donate to the poor was fulfilled only by the existence of beggars, and facilitated by the ubiquity. A blessing from a beggar signified the fulfillment of the alms-giving duty, and in a society where religious duty plays a heavy role, this made the beggar’s continued existence an integral part of the elite’s life.

I chose to represent this idea with a black tapestry. Unfinished, and left yarn still hanging from it, it is changeable and remains with parts to be written, much like society today. The different streaks of color represent the different elements of society that are united and, unlike American society, not stratified: They intermingle because they are codependent. The integrity of the tapestry – woven in several pieces – depends upon the strength of these strands, which, only with support from one another, hold the tapestry together. In this way, the society in The Beggar’s Strike required help from the elite, the beggars, and all classes in between to fulfill religious duty and maintain their society, one which culturally depended greatly upon Islam.

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