By Mazhar Farooqui,
Sharjah : For weeks XPRESS has been on the heels of a suspicious middle-aged Arab beggar who targets worshippers attending Friday afternoon prayers at the Abdullah Ibn Abbas Mosque in Sharjah’s Al Majaz 1 area.
After collecting hundreds of dirhams in alms, he would hail a cab and head down to the parking lot of King Faisal Mosque, around two kilometres away.
Until last Friday, it’s here where the trail would invariably run cold. We used different cars and different reporters but each time the clean-shaven man would shake us off and slip away. Once he outmanoeuvred us at a traffic signal after getting the cabbie to drive around the nearby Sharjah Gold Souq  five times.
On another occasion, he abruptly changed route, got off on Immigration Road and entered a salon. He emerged an hour later after getting himself a Dh45 facial, but we lost him again as he disappeared into an alley.
Why he takes a cab from the Al Majaz Mosque to King Faisal Mosque remained a mystery. But last Friday we figured that out. Instead of following him, I went to the King Faisal Mosque ahead of him, discreetly parked my car near the entrance and waited.
Around 1.40pm the beggar showed up in a taxi, but appeared in no hurry to step out and remained seated in the front seat of the cab. As the minutes tickled by, I noticed through my tinted car windows that his gaze was transfixed to a solitary figure – an old bedraggled woman standing on the footsteps of the by-now largely empty mosque.
Suddenly, the cab door flung open and the beggar dashed out. He reached the unsuspecting woman in a few quick paces, seized her by the hair and pinned her to the ground and snatched her purse in one quick motion. It happened so quickly and unexpectedly that it couldn’t be captured on camera.
“Go away…. don’t stand here. This woman has been caught begging, it’s illegal,” the man shouted in Arabic as I mingled in a small crowd of curious onlookers and took pictures.
As it turned out the Asian woman was indeed a beggar. She pleaded with the man to return her purse, but he refused and threatened to call the police.
“Please don’t take my money, I am very poor,” the woman implored with folded hands
The man responded angrily: “You have broken the law and I will hand you over to the authorities.” At one point he even fished out a cellphone from his pocket and pretended to speak to someone in authority.
The charade was so convincing, the woman got scared and took flight. Even bystanders were impressed. “I think he is from the CID, because he often cracks down on beggars here,” said one of them.
As the man began to walk away with his daylight loot, this reporter alerted onlookers about his real identity following which some of them confronted the man and stopped him from leaving.
Left with no choice, the man grudgingly handed over the purse to the bystanders. It had around Dh60 inside, medicines and a visiting card with a cellphone number scribbled on its back.
“Don’t suspect me,” the man said annoyingly. “I am a responsible citizen and I was only stopping someone from begging. I have done nothing wrong,” he added, showing off an Emirates ID card.
But alms-seekers operating clandestinely around King Faisal Mosque dispute the claim. “He routinely snatches our earnings. At times he gets violent. Now I don’t stay back long after Friday prayers,” said a female beggar, who identified herself as Aamna.
XPRESS had been tracking the beggar after being tipped off by mosque-goers in Al Majaz. “He exploits the sentiments of people by pleading for help, but we have seen him coming him in a cab, which is quite unlike a beggar. He protects his territory fiercely and doesn’t let anyone else beg here, ” said Indian expat Faiz, 32.
Mosque-goer Javed Ismail said the man had been begging for years.
“I pitied him and often gave him Dh10-Dh15, but I stopped when I saw him enjoying shisha at a fancy restaurant the other day,” Ismail added.
Further investigation led us to the man’s house -- a seventh floor Dh40,000 2BHK apartment in Sharjah’s Al Qasimya area, not far from King Faisal Mosque.
Of course, he doesn’t beg there as he could be easily recognised. For now snatching other beggars’ earnings seems to be working just fine.