We crossed the road. “Where is your mummy?” I asked. He pointed her out on the other side, carrying a baby in front of the masjid with hand outstretched. I have seen her many times, wearing the hijab. The imam told us that they were Christians and their men have been seen idling their time in cafes while they send their women and kids out to beg. “Tell your mummy not to make you ask people for money, it is not right. Where is your daddy?”
“I don’t know where my daddy is.”
In a café? Or perhaps dead? Maybe they were Bosnians. Maybe his daddy was one of the many thousand Muslim men murdered in the Bosnian-Sebian war? I watched him as he answered me. He said it like he was telling me that the grass is green. Then he looked unsure.
My heart could not say no. I don’t think I could the first moment we met. I told him he had to come with me as I had to go and get the money because I didn’t have any on me. He asked where and I pointed to the shop up ahead, a few feet away. He said ok. I asked him to wait for me outside the shop and that I would be back. He said okay. He trusted me. Or maybe he didn’t have anything to lose. But I think it is the former. He is only about seven; I refuse to believe that he has lost his trust in people.
I ran up the stairs to get some money from my purse. A few coins, might have added up to £2. I did not want to give him the £5 note I had. Thought that would do more harm than good.
I did not want him to think that begging is good and that one did not need to work. As I ran back down I told Allah that I did not know if what I was doing was right or wrong, but to let this act of mine be one he would remember through the years and guide him to Islam when he grows up. I found him where I left him. My heart smiled.
I put the coins into the small palm. “Thank you,” he said. And he was grateful. I placed my hand on his shoulder and looked him seriously in the face. “You must not beg, it is not right.”
“When you grow up, you must work okay?”
“You must not ask people to give you money.”
“You must use your two hands and work for the money, then you will be happy.” I tried to tell him as simply as I could in our brief encounter. Looking at him, I did not want to let him go.
I wanted to instil in him that principle of life. I wanted to teach him all of life’s lessons, about morality and ethics, about Allah and Islam. I wanted him to grow up to be an honourable man who led a meaningful life. His English was not good. I don’t know if he understood me. I pray he did. And that my words will stay with him.
Now sitting at my desk, I wonder if I should have bought him some chicken and chips instead of giving him the money. What if he never benefits from it and those men take it and spend it on haram things instead? Why did I not think of this earlier? I am angry with his mum for using him to beg. I am angry that they are making use of his innocence. I am angry that a child should be exposed to rejection and disgust. I am angry that he is made to humble himself in front of creation. I am angry that his little heart is on the line. But more than anything I am afraid that his soul will not be able to remain pure, that his innocence will disappear. I am afraid that he may grow up a good-for-nothing, a man who stretches out his hand to ask of people instead of Allah. I pray that I did not help him along the way with my deed.
I know that his face and the sweet innocent way he looked at me will be with me for some time. I hope that his life will be filled with many blessings from Allah. I sincerely pray that Allah will guide him and make him grow up strong and brave, a man with a straight back, walking on the straight path.