Observations on the Generosity of Arabs

I made a friend the other day. I passed by a Muslim girl who was eating alone by some trees in an isolated area (who later told me she doesn’t eat in public because someone once told her she looked ugly when she ate. We’re working on changing that…), and as I walked past her I felt like I needed to turn around and talk to her. So… I did. She didn’t know anything about me, aside from the fact that I was this weirdo intruding upon her privacy, but immediately she offered me her lunch. She insisted I take it despite my polite and persistent refusal.

Two days later we met up for lunch (in public!) and she wouldn’t let me pay. Now, Arabs always fight over who’s going to cover who, usually out of a pride complex, but this girl genuinely wanted to treat me out – not out of obligation, but out of pure kindness.

She soon opened up to me about her family’s financial situation. Her father is the only one earning an income for their family of 6. He makes 500JD a month (equivalent to $700). 300JD gets sent to her brother in Romania who is studying to be a doctor. That leaves 200JD. Her younger brother is autistic and requires special food and treatments, which are obviously very expensive. She’s a university student which in itself is incredibly costly and has to pay for 2-hour long transportation to school. I could only imagine how much leftover money they had to live on every month.

Yet here she was, incredibly sacrificial in offering me her food and paying for my lunch. She didn’t think twice about it. She didn’t hesitate at the cash register. (“Oh, you’re my guest, uh yeah sure I’ll cover you, no, don’t worry about it, yeah, yeah, I’m sure.” No… she asked me what I wanted before we entered the restaurant and took charge from there.)

She’s not the first person I’ve encountered who is like this, by the way. I would venture to say that every Arab I’ve met has offered to pay for me, treat me to something, or give me something, whether a family member, friend, or complete stranger. Taxi rides, a cafe drink, a meal, their food, etc.

It’s almost as if this generosity and hospitality is ingrained within the social constructs of Arab DNA – they don’t know how to act otherwise. Their mentalities are set on serving others, treating others, blessing others. All they know to do is give, give, give. (This is all too familiarly seen at relatives’ houses. Guests are served food and drink beyond their capacity to contain them!)

Most people here are in the exact same situation as this girl’s family. The average income per month is 500JD, and the average cost of rent every month is no less than 300JD. Not to mention most families have at LEAST 3 kids. So how do these people survive? Through nothing else but the generosity of their neighbors, their friends, and their family members.

If it weren’t for the 20JD this girl received every month from her aunt, she wouldn’t have money for clothing. If it weren’t for university assistance with transportation money, she couldn’t afford getting to and from school. If it weren’t for the high marks she received on her high school exam, she couldn’t afford tuition (the higher your marks, the cheaper your tuition). If it weren’t for her various aunts and uncles (who themselves don’t have much money) who have helped pay medical bills for her brother, he wouldn’t have had access to appropriate treatments.

This is the greatest paradox of this place: the people with no money are the ones who are the most willing to give. They know exactly what it’s like to have nothing and to be blessed by someone else, so they never hesitate to do so to others. It’s an enduring cycle of assistance, generosity, and hospitality, and it’s what makes their worlds go round.

It makes me wonder why we aren’t like this more back at home. Why do we hesitate to pay for our friend’s $4 cup of Starbucks? Why do we hesitate to buy our coworker lunch, or our colleague some coffee, or our brothers a random present (hehe…for you, R, D, & J), as if we can’t afford to lose $10 out of the abundance that we make? (And if you think you don’t make an abundance… I hope this post has changed your perspective.)

Generosity is contagious. The more we receive, the more we’ll want to give. And by nature of this cyclical effect, the more we give, the more we’ll begin to receive. (Not that receiving should be any incentive – we should be giving out of purely generous hearts!) After all, God’s told us to keep our lives free from the love of money, because He’s promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) – so why do we obsess so much over it? Why do we walk around with such tightly clenched fists?

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Proverbs 11:24

We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. Mark 12:43-44

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. Psalm 37:25-26

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