I had a slightly unsettling experience an hour ago. We’d been for our early Friday morning walk, and then enjoyed a large hotel breakfast. I then went out to the local supermarket for the weekly shop.
As I was putting the shopping bags into the boot, a youngish Asian man approached me and asked if I spoke English. He then showed my a piece of paper with three items listed with their prices, and underneath a total of 169QR. He explained that he needed money for medications for an injury he had on his forearm. He showed me a somewhat septic wound that had been professionally stitched, but now showed clear signs of infection. 169QR is, a significant sum for this man, as labourers salaries are as little as 700QR to 1,000QR a month.
I am not used to quite such a direct approach when asking for money. In the UK the standard line is ‘can you spare some change’, but it’s from someone sitting on a piece of cardboard on the pavement with a dog on a string, not from someone at eye level with a specific need.
I knew I didn’t have the required 169QR in my wallet as most of my cash had just been spent in Mega Mart. I pulled out two 10 Riyal notes and gave them to him. He said that God would bless me and turned and walked across the car park. I packed my groceries and began the 5 minute drive home.
I hadn’t gone that far when I was hit by a sense of guilt and a moral dilemma. Only that week I had donated $50 (a little more than the 169QR) to three of my work colleagues who had grown ridiculous moustaches for Movember. Our breakfast that morning had cost 120QR.
Giving to Movember was for prostate cancer research but I would have no idea how my small donation was going to be used. A similar amount could have directly helped this man. I realised I should not have considered giving money but taken him to the pharmacy and bought the medications. Of course it’s now too late to go back and try to find him. Maybe he managed to get the extra 149QR he needed.
Giving to charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are encouraged to give in charity (Sadaqah) according to their means. While my stance is entirely secular, I know I will react differently if a similar situation ever happens.