Ramadan is traditionally a time for Muslims and Islamic countries to focus on helping the poor, giving back to the community, and respecting their families. Don’t try telling that to Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, who has been blasting homeless people for being free loaders and urging NGO’s to reform how they provide assistance.

Malaysia Ramadan

According to Ms. Karim many homeless people simply choose to live on the street. She provided an example of providing a low-cost house and work opportunities to a low-income family. Allegedly, the family chose to abandon the home and to go back to living on the street. Apparently the family thought it was more comfortable to live on the streets.

Ms. Karim was quick to emphasize that the government wants to help the homeless, but also wants to help them get up on their feet. Instead of providing handouts, the government would rather provide cheap housing and jobs. NGOs and others have long charged that many homeless people lack the capacities to hold a job, however.

NGOs Prohibited From Feeding Homeless in Downtown Kuala Lumpur

While Ms. Karim may have had some harsh words for the homeless, it’s the actions of the government that are drawing the most ire. Soup kitchens that feed the homeless have now been banned within one mile of the center of Kuala Lumpur and any NGO’s caught serving the needy will run the risk of facing heavy fines.

Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has decided to “clean up” the city by trying to get rid of the homeless. If the homeless can’t get food in the city, in theory, they should start to migrate towards the outside of the city-centre were soup kitchens can still operate.

NGOs and volunteers are flouting the rules and appear to be daring the government to press charges or launch a crack down. If anything, interest in helping the homeless is only increasing. Mr. Mansor’s comments riled up many citizens and forced them to open their eyes to the growing homeless problem in Kuala Lumpur. In a sense, it would appear that Mr. Mansor’s efforts to fight homelessness are working, though certainly not in the way he intended.

Interestingly, the Muslim government is choosing the month of Ramadan to launch its anti-homeless campaign, given that such a campaign would appear to be in direct violation of Islamic practices and the spirit of Ramadan.

Harsh Policies Fly in the Face of Islam

It is rather odd that the Malaysian government, obstinately a moderate Muslim government, is choosing Ramadan as a time to launch its anti-homeless campaign. During Ramadan Muslims restrain from eating and drinking water from sunrise to sunset. Muslims fast for many reasons as laid out in the Quran and Hadiths.

One of the key points to fasting is to develop empathy for poor people who often lack access to food and water. By fasting, a person can begin to understand their pain and understand what they go through on a daily basis. Instead of showing empathy, Ms. Karim appears to be showing little more than contempt.

At the same time Islam has a tradition of Zakat, or giving to the poor. Islam is very explicit in its call for those wealthy enough to give back to the poor, including people living on the street, disabled individuals, and street children. You know, just the type of people who would be served at a soup kitchen. Each year, non-poor Muslims are supposed to donate a small portion of their income, often set at 2.5%.

The government’s sudden and harsh efforts to curb feeding and assisting the homeless appears to fly in the face of the values and tenets of Zakat and Islam as a whole. For a government that is trying to portray itself as a moderate and modern Muslim government, it’s odd that they’d chose to launch an aggressive campaign against the homeless, whom are clearly protected under Islamic beliefs, and especially unsettling that they’d do so during Ramadan.