Fresh Sem Alms

I remember when reading “Beggar’s Strike,” I just remember being incredibly impressed by the prevalence of “almsgiving” in the Islamic culture. I remember learning in middle school that “almsgiving” was one of the five pillars of Islam. I think reading “Beggar’s Strike” and just learning more about Islam in general made me more aware of how important “almsgiving” and social justice was to the religion. At multiple times in the story, it is mentioned how some people quit/ exchange their jobs in order to become beggars which apparently generated a lot of income for them. For example, “Madiabel had two wives and eight children to feed and clothe, so one day he upped and left for the City and became a ‘battu-bearer’–without a battu –simply holding out his hand for alms. Business was much better and he was able regularly to send his family clothes and money for food” (10). To add to the example of the profit of the “beggar” occupation, a new character was introduced who had been in service as a maid-of-work, but had taken up begging as a career the day she gave birth to twins” (10).


I found the great treatment of beggars to be interesting because when I think about beggars, and more particularly the homeless, I know that especially in America there are so many negative connotations associated with them! I discussed the topic of “homelessness” when reading William Shakespeare’s King Lear in my senior year of high school because in the play King Lear goes from a powerful king to a homeless old man who has unwisely given away all his land and possessions to his children who kick him out. In class, we discussed the stigmas associated with homelessness, such as the negative stereotypes with homeless people being “lazy” or “drunk” or “drug addicts” when really most often homeless people are just plain old people falling under difficult times and circumstances. The idea of “homelessness” has recently popped up under my radar–recently there was a talk scheduled for December 9th in the Straus Common Room on Homelessness (although it has been rescheduled for the spring term). At first the idea of having “beggar” as an occupation and even how integral almsgiving is in the Islamic culture surprised me when I compare it to the Western culture I’m more familiar with, although now that I think about it it really shouldn’t. For one thing, if you really think about it, the Salvation Army and all other non-profit organizations that ask for donations are having the same job as “beggars” in a way that makes “begging” an occupation. Interestingly enough, people (in my opinion) seem to be more comfortable donating through a third party (i.e. the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc.) than donating directly to the people in need (i.e. homeless people on the streets). This is particularly evident to me as I see more homeless people as a resident of Cambridge (I grew up in a suburban town where there were not a lot of homeless people). I need to make a caveat here that I realize “beggars” and “homeless people” are not always synonymous although that is somewhat likely at least in American society.
One thing I wanted to incorporate in my art piece is to continue this thread of the “red line” that I originally brought up in my “Suns of Independence” artwork where I used the red line to connect all different cultures. Here, in my art piece, I wanted to more specifically connect the lines between two different concepts of “almsgiving” in the American society–one that is run through a third party non-profit organization such as the Salvation Army and one that is simply going through the person in need directly. As you can see through the two photos, the Salvation Army is greatly glorified (with the almost holy light shining on the Salvation Army volunteer worker) and the homeless person is not glorified and in some ways seen in a somewhat negative light. I used the red lines, this time having red lines all forming some sort of web and shooting form one common place in order to try to break down the negative stereotypes associated with homeless people. I tried to do this by drawing connections between the pristine, laminated, commercialized “Salvation Army” sign and the homeless man’s cardboard cutout sign. Moreover, I tried to draw connections between the “holy light” shining in the Salvation Army photo and the head of the homeless man to show that the homeless man is not any less needy than the people served by the Salvation Army. Finally, I connected the homeless man’s hand to the donation bucket in the Salvation Army photo to simply raise to question and call to attention the idea of donations and the stigmas surrounding homeless people in this modern day and age in the American society. I’m not entirely sure if I have a point/ suggestion for how to go about the negative stereotypes surrounding the homeless in America, but it just never occurred to me until recently that homeless people are synonymous to nonprofit organizations like the Salvation Army and, moreover, that “beggars for occupations” can be synonymous to organizations like the Salvation Army asking for donations. Therefore, “almsgiving” seems to be a big part of Western culture but usually as long as it is through some “legitimate seeming” organization. Donations, I believe, and “almsgiving” are important facets to Western culture but there are some hidden nuances about almsgiving in the Western culture that make it a very multifaceted and complex concept.