District Bans Begging Ahead of Ramadan

Adistrict chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulema on the island of Madura, East Java, has declared begging haram, or forbidden by Islam.

Speaking just days ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when tens of thousands of panhandlers descend on the nation’s urban areas to profit from the season’s spirit of generosity, Syafraji, head of the Sumenep district chapter of the council, known as the MUI, said on Thursday that a fatwa declaring begging haram was issued three months ago.

“We [ulema] argue that begging is the same thing as humiliating oneself, showing our own weaknesses, and in Islam begging is clearly not allowed,” Syafraji said.

He said that many of those living off other people’s generosity were not doing so out of economic pressure, but because it was an easy way to earn a living and had become a habit for some in the district.

In dry, parched areas like Sumenep, where jobs are scarce, begging had become a profession, a money-making business, he added.

District spokesman Nurdin said that authorities had found that begging was now an organized activity, with different groups of beggars appointing their own leaders.

Nurdin said that three subdistricts in Sumenep — Bluto, Batu Putih and Pragaan — were known for such well-organized groups of beggars.

“Even some people who are healthy and visibly physically sound are on the streets demanding alms,” he added. “This is the same as fraud.”

Nurdin said the leaders of the different groups of beggars usually oversaw about a dozen people, were very mobile and were hard to catch.

The fatwa, which prohibits begging for any reason in staunchly Muslim Sumenep, has so far resulted in only a slight decrease in the number of beggars trawling the streets of the district, he added.

Long before the fatwa was issued, local authorities had worked hard to reduce the number of beggars in the region.

But Nurdin said that eradicating the habit of begging was difficult and good cooperation was needed between the local government, religious leaders and law enforcers.

He said that local authorities regularly rounded up beggars and provided them with guidance so that they could leave the profession and find other employment, but most usually returned to the streets shortly after their release.

“We arrest them and then give them guidance,” Nurdin said. “But after their release, they go back to begging again, which is very unfortunate.” (Ronna Nirmala)

Sumber: Jakarta Globe, August 20, 2009

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