Saturday, July 31, 2004

The road to Makkah I……
[Professional 100 Riyals panhandlers]

The road to Makkah is about 789 km from Riyadh and the drive took about 7 hours, give and take.

I had been planning for this trip for while, but was side stepped by a trip to London instead. Perhaps Allah knows me too well and he let me return to London to reassess my position in my life before inviting me again to visit Makkah. Well I feel privileged that I have been invited, because not everyone gets the opportunity to visit the Ka’abah and the Masjidil Haram.

The trip came about my chance, we were invited to the trip by two friends and was glad to have companions to go with. We wanted to set off early but did stop for dinner at a local Thai restaurant. One cannot travel on an empty stomach surely. And off we go.

The drive was pretty smooth except for the weekend traffic. Along the way we stopped at a rest area. We drove in, went past the petrol station and approached the local Eatery. As we looked for parking, we saw a car full of people watching us and then driving away. Two of our travel companions got off to use the washroom while I waited in the car with another friend. The car that drove away as we pulled in came back and parked right next to our car. The man sitting on the passenger seat next to the driver indicated to our travel companion on the back that he wanted to ask something. Perhaps he wanted directions, so he opened the door.

The man of Asian (read Indian or Pakistani) heritage asked if he understood English and he nodded yes. And thus the passenger began his story;

I am from Dubai and I am here with my family. We went to Riyadh to do some shopping and our handbag got stolen. We are now on our way to Makkah and if you can help me we will pray for you.

What does he want? My travel companion asked. Money of course I answered. So I reached for my purse and pulled out 3 Riyals. I told him to hand the money to them. He said 3 Riyals? That won’t be enough, so I handed another 10 Riyals. And so he got out of the car to give them the money.

They engaged in a few more minutes of conversation before my travel companion got back into the car.

What did they want, I asked him? And to my indignation, the occupants in the car apparently asked for more. He said the amount was not enough and that he wanted 100 Riyals at least.

Now, perhaps it is that I am stingy but it is not that I am not inclined to sedekah (give alms), but I felt that somehow there is something not quite right when one gives some money out of the generosity of one's heart (of the amount one sees fit) that you would ask for more. Plus I feel that where sedekah is concerned one should look after one's families first before looking after strangers. Granted if I see that they are strangers in need, I might have been moved, but I thought the car they were sitting in was pretty nice and they look like they have 5 meals a day on all counts. And they did say that they went shopping in Riyadh. Shouldn't they go to Makkah first before going shopping? I had to ask.

My companion told them that he was broke that month and could not really give them any more and that the car was not his and thus could not help him further.

The Husband came back from the toilet, and was wandering what was up. The guy in the passenger seat in the car signalled to him that they wanted to speak to him and I signalled to The Husband to quickly get into the car. And I promptly told him that the people in the other car wanted 100 Riyals and I retold him the story.

Although we did sympathize with those people in the car if their story was true, but somehow something tells us that these people were not asking for money because they were really in a fix but rather perhaps it is something they do, to prey on unsuspecting pilgrims to be.

We were rather worried for awhile that they will perhaps make our journey difficult for us for they parked their car right behind our, thus preventing us from driving away.

And then came a large water tank from the back. The water tank was on its way back to the main road and the other car was blocking the water tank’s way. And thus the big water tank drove the other car away. Perhaps it is a sign?

Our seasoned travel companion came back from the toilet and we re-told him the story once again. And he told us not to give money to those people as they are probably professional beggars. He said he was stopped and asked for money before along the same road probably near the same location and that these people were there to ask unsuspecting travellers for money.

And we drove on.

Were those people there sent by god to test us on our generosity? Or were they just opportunists who prey on unsuspecting would-be pilgrims? Well my conscience is clear, I gave them some money which I gave sincerely but when they asked for more, then its no longer a test of my sincerity but rather a test of my patience. I hope that if it was true they were victims of a crime (they said their wallet was stolen from them) then Allah would help them find their way home. And if not, well may Allah give them conscience.

No comments: