The Faqir – The essence and form of poverty in spiritualism “The letter faa in the word faqir stands for his annihilation for the sake of Allah and getting rid of his own description and attributes The qaaf stands for the strength of his heart that is with his Beloved Allah and his standing up for the sake of Allah is purely for His Good Pleasure The yaa stands for his hope in Him and his reverential awe of Him and he performs his duty as true devotion demands The raa stands for the softness of his heart and its purity and its return to Allah from its carnal desires.”
The above quotation is attributed to Shaykh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani (may Allah sanctify his secret). (www.iqra.net/articles/Jilani/jilani9.htm) by Motiur Rahman
The subject of poverty in tasawwuf (Islamic spiritualism) has been beautifully dealt by Shaykh Ali bin Uthman al-Hujwiri in his book Kashf-ul-Mahjub, which is thought to be the first book in the Persian language that dealt with tasawwuf or Islamic spirituality (some call it mysticism). His full name, Abul Hassan Ali Ibn Usman al-Jullabi al-Hujweri al-Ghaznawi or Abul and popularly known as Data Sahib, was a sufi scholar during the 11th century. He was born in in present day around 990 and died in in 1077 CE. Hujwiri belonged to the Junaydi school of Sufism. The following is an excerpt from this book I leave with you to read: (http://www.archive.org/stream/kashfalmahjub00usmauoft/kashfalmahjub00usmauoft_djvu.txt ) Now, Poverty has a form (rasm) and an essence (haqiqah). Its form is destitution and indigence, but its essence is fortune and free choice. He who regards the form rests in the form and, failing to attain his object, flees from the essence; but he who has found the essence averts his gaze from all created things and in complete annihilation, seeing only the
All-One he hastens towards the fullness of eternal life. The poor man (faqir) has nothing and can suffer no loss. He does not become rich by having anything, nor indigent by having nothing: both these conditions are alike to him in respect of his poverty. It is permitted that he should be more joyful when he has nothing, for the Shaykhs have said: “The more straitened one is in circumstances, the more expansive (cheerful and happy) is one’s (spiritual) state, “because it is unlucky for a dervish to have property: if he “imprisons” anything (dar band kunad) for his own use, he himself is “imprisoned” in the same proportion. The friends of God live by means of His secret bounties. Worldly wealth holds them back from the path of contentment (rida). Story. A dervish met a king. The king said: “Ask a boon of me? The dervish replied: “I will not ask a boon from one of my slaves.” “How is that?” said the king.
The dervish said: ” I have two slaves who are thy masters: covetousness and expectation.” … The Sufi Shaykhs differ in opinion as to whether poverty or wealth is superior, both being regarded as human attributes; for true wealth (ghiina] belongs to God, who is perfect in all His attributes. Yahya b. Muadh al-Razi, Ahmad b. Abi l-Hawari, Harith al-Muhasibi, Abu – Abbas b. Ata, Ruwaym, Abu l-Hasan b. Sim’un, and among the moderns the Grand Shaykh Abu Sa’id Fadlallah b. Muhammad al-Mayhani, all hold the view that wealth is superior to poverty.
They argue that wealth is an attribute of God, whereas poverty cannot be ascribed to Him: therefore an attribute common to God and Man is superior to one that is not applicable to God. I answer: “This community of designation is merely nominal, and has no existence in reality: real community involves mutual resemblance, but the Divine attributes are eternal and the human attributes are created; hence your proof is false.” I, who am All b. Uthman al-Jullabi, declare that wealth is a term that may fitly be applied to God, but one to which Man has no right; while poverty is a term that may properly be applied to Man, but not to God., Metaphorically a man is called “rich”, but he is not really so.
Again, to give a clearer proof, human wealth is an enect due to various causes, whereas the wealth of God, who Himself is the Author of all causes, is not due to any cause. Therefore there is no community in regard to this attribute. It is not allowable to associate anything with God either in essence, attribute, or name. The wealth of God consists in His independence of anyone and in His power to do whatsoever He wills: such He has always been and such He shall be for ever. Man’s wealth, on the other hand, is, for example, a means of livelihood, or the presence of joy, or the being saved from sin, or the solace of contemplation; which things are all of phenomenal nature and subject to change.
Furthermore, some of the vulgar prefer the rich man to the poor, on the ground that God has made the former blest in both worlds and has bestowed the benefit of riches on him. Here they mean by “wealth” abundance of worldly goods and enjoyment of pleasures and pursuit of lusts. They argue that God has commanded us to be thankful for wealth and patient in poverty, i.e. patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity; and that prosperity is essentially better than adversity. To this I reply that, when God commanded us to be thankful for prosperity He made thankfulness the means of increasing our prosperity; but when
He commanded us to be patient in adversity He made patience the means of drawing nigh unto Himself. He said: “Verily, if ye return thanks, I will give you an increase” (Kor. xiv, 7), and also, “God is with the patient” (Kor. ii, 148). The Shaykhs who prefer wealth to poverty do not use the term “wealth” in its popular sense. What they intend is not “acquisition of a benefit “but” acquisition of the Benefactor”; to gain union (with God) is a different thing from gaining forgetfulness (of God). Shaykh Abu Sa’id, God have mercy on him, says: “Poverty is wealth in God” (al-faqr huwa l-ghiina billah}, i.e. everlasting revelation of the Truth.
I answer to this, that revelation implies the possibility of a veil; therefore, if the person who enjoys revelation is veiled from revelation by the attribute of wealth, he either becomes in need of revelation or he does not; if he does not, the conclusion is absurd, and if he does, need is incompatible with wealth; therefore that term cannot stand. Besides, no one has “wealth in God” unless his attributes are permanent and his object is invariable; wealth cannot coincide with the subsistence of an object or with the affirmation of the attributes of human nature, inasmuch as the essential characteristics of mortality and phenomenal being are need and indigence. One whose attributes still survive is not rich, and one whose attributes are annihilated is not entitled to any name whatever.
Therefore “the rich man is he who is enriched by God”, because the term “rich in God” refers to the agent whereas the term “enriched by God” denotes the person acted upon; the former is self-subsistent, but the latter subsists through the agent; accordingly self-Subsistence is an attribute of human nature, while subsistence through God involves the annihilation of attributes.
I, then, who am Ali b. Uthman al-Jullabi, assert that true wealth is incompatible with the survival (baqa) of any attribute, since human attributes have already been shown to be defective and subject to decay; nor, again, does wealth consist in the annihilation of these attributes, because a name cannot be given to an attribute that no longer exists, and he whose attributes are annihilated cannot be called either “poor” or “rich”; therefore the attribute of wealth is not transferable from God to Man, and the attribute of poverty is not transferable from Man to God.
All the Sufi Shaykhs and most of the vulgar prefer poverty to wealth for the reason that the Koran and the Sunna expressly declare it to be superior, and herein the majority of Moslems are agreed. I find, among the anecdotes which I have read, that on one occasion this question was discussed by Junayd and Ibn Ata.
The latter maintained the superiority of the rich. He argued that at the Resurrection they would be called to account for their wealth, and that such an account (hisab] entails the hearing of the Divine Word, without any mediation, in the form of reproach: and reproach is addressed by the Beloved to the lover. Junayd answered: “If He will call the rich to account,
He will ask the poor for their excuse; and asking an excuse is better than calling to account.” This is a very subtle point. In true love excuse is “otherness” and reproach is contrary to unity. Lovers regard both these things as a blemish, because excuse is made for some disobedience to the command of the Beloved and reproach is made on the same score; but both are impossible in true love, for then neither does the Beloved require an expiation from the lover nor does the lover neglect to perform the will of the Beloved. Every man is “poor”, even though he be a prince. Essentially the wealth of Solomon and the poverty of Solomon are one.
God said to Job in the extremity of his patience, and likewise to Solomon in the plenitude of his dominion: “Good servant that thou art!” When God’s pleasure was accomplished, it made no difference between the poverty and the wealth of Solomon. The author says: ” I have heard that Abu l-Qasim Qushayri God have mercy on him! said: People have spoken much concerning poverty and wealth, and have chosen one or the other for themselves, but I choose whichever state God chooses for me and keeps me in;
if He keeps me rich I will not be forgetful, and if He wishes me to be poor I will not be covetous and rebellious. “Therefore, both wealth and poverty are Divine gifts: wealth is corrupted by forgetfulness, poverty by covetousness.
Both conceptions are excellent, but they differ in practice. Poverty is the separation of the heart from all but God, and wealth is the preoccupation of the heart with that which does not admit of being qualified. When the heart is cleared (of all except God), poverty is not better than wealth nor is wealth better than poverty. Wealth is abundance of worldly goods and poverty is lack of them: all goods belong to God: when the seeker bids farewell to property, the antithesis disappears and both terms are transcended. All the Sufi Shaykhs have spoken on the subject of poverty. I will now cite as many of their sayings as it is possible to include in this book. One of the moderns says: “The poor man is not he whose hand is empty of provisions, but he whose nature is empty of desires.”
For example, if God gives him money and he desires to keep it, then he is rich; and if he desires to renounce it, he is rich no less, because poverty consists in ceasing to act on one s own initiative. Yahya b. Mu adh al-Razi says: “It is a sign of true poverty that, although one has reached the perfection of saintship and contemplation and self-annihilation, one should always be dreading its decline and departure.” And Ruwaym says “It is characteristic of the poor man that his heart is protected from selfish cares, and that his soul is guarded from contaminations, and that he performs the obligatory duties of religion: “that is to say, his inward meditations do not interfere with his outward acts, nor vice versa; which is a sign that he has cast off the attributes of mortality.
Bishr Hafi says: “The best of stations is a firm resolution to endure poverty continually.” Now poverty is the annihilation of all “stations”: therefore the resolution to endure poverty is a sign of regarding works and actions as imperfect, and of aspiring to annihilate human attributes. But in its obvious sense this saying pronounces poverty to be superior to wealth, and expresses a determination never to abandon it. Shibli says: “The poor man does not rest content with anything except God,” because he has no other object of desire. The literal meaning is that you will not become rich except by Him, and that when you have gained Him you have become rich. Your being, then, is other than God; and since you cannot gain wealth except by renouncing “other”, your “you-ness” is a veil between you and wealth: when that is removed, you are rich. This saying is very subtle and obscure.
In the opinion of advanced spiritualists (ahl-i haqiqah) it means: “Poverty consists in never being independent of poverty.” This is what the Pir, i.e.
Master Abdallah Ansari may God be well-pleased with him, meant when he said that our sorrow is everlasting, that out-aspiration never reaches its goal, and that our sum (kulliyyat) never becomes non-existent in this world or the next, because for the fruition of anything homogeneity is necessary, but God has no congener, and for turning away from Him forgetfulness is necessary, but the dervish is not forgetful.
What an endless task, what a difficult road! The dead never become living so as to be united with Him; the living never become dead, so as to approach His presence.
All that His lovers do and suffer is entirely a probation (mihnai); but in order to console themselves they have invented a fine-sounding phraseology and have produced “stations” and “stages” and a “path”. Their symbolic expressions, however, begin and end in themselves, and their “stations” do not rise beyond their own gemis, whereas God is exempt from every human attribute and relationship. Abu l-Hasan Nuri says:
“When he gets nothing he is silent, and when he gets something he regards another person as better entitled to it than himself, and therefore gives it away.” The practice enunciated in this saying is of great importance. There are two meanings: (i) His quiescence when he gets nothing is satisfaction (ridd], and his liberality when he gets something is love (mahabbah], because “satisfied” means “accepting a robe of honour” and the robe of honour is a token of proximity (gurbat) whereas the lover rejects the robe of honour inasmuch as it is a token of severance; and (2) his quiescence when he gets nothing is expectation of getting something, and when he has got it, that “something” is other than God: he cannot be satisfied with anything other than God ; therefore he rejects it. Both these meanings are implicit in the saying of the Grand Shaykh, Abu l-Qasim Junayd: “When his heart is empty of phenomena he is poor.” Since the existence of phenomena is “other” (than God), rejection is the only course possible. Shibli says: “Poverty is a sea of trouble, and all troubles for His sake are glorious.” Glory is a portion of “other”. The afflicted are plunged in trouble and know nothing of glory, until they forget their trouble and regard the Author thereof. Then their trouble is changed into glory, and their glory into a spiritual state (waqt), and their spiritual state into love, and their love into contemplation, so that finally the brain of the aspirant becomes wholly a centre of vision through the predominance of his imagination: he sees without eye, and hears without ear. Again, it is glorious for a man to bear the burden of trouble laid upon him by his Beloved, for in truth misfortune is glory, and prosperity is humiliation. Glory is that which makes one present with God, and humiliation is that which makes one absent from God: the affliction of poverty is a sign of “presence”, while the delight of riches is a sign of “absence”. Therefore one should cling to trouble of any description that involves contemplation and intimacy.
Junayd says: “O ye that are poor, ye are known through God, and are honoured for the sake of God: take heed how ye behave when ye are alone with Him,” i.e. if people call you “poor” and recognize your claim, see that you perform the obligations of the path of poverty; and if they give you another name, inconsistent with what you profess, do not accept it, but fulfil your professions. The basest of men is he who is thought to be devoted to God, but really is not; and the noblest is he who is not thought to be devoted to God, but really is. The former resembles an ignorant physician, who pretends to cure people, but only makes them worse, and when he falls ill himself needs another physician to prescribe for him; and the latter is like one who is not known to be a physician, and does not concern himself with other folk, but employs his skill in order to maintain his own health.
One of the moderns has said: “Poverty is not-being without existence.” To interpret this saying is impossible, because what is non-existent does not admit of being explained. On the surface it would seem that, according to this dictum, poverty is nothing, but such is not the case; the explanations and consensus of the Saints of God are not founded on a principle that is essentially non-existent. The meaning here is not “the not-being of the essence”, but “the not-being of that which contaminates the essence”; and all human attributes are a source of contamination: when that is removed, the result is annihilation of the attributes which deprives the sufferer of the instrument whereby he attains, or fails to attain, his object; but his not-going to the essence seems to him annihilation of the essence and casts him into perdition. I have met with some scholastic philosophers who, failing to understand the drift of this saying, laughed at it and declared it to be nonsense; and also with certain pretenders (to Sufiism) who made nonsense of it and were firmly convinced of its truth, although they had no grasp of the fundamental principle.
Both parties are in the wrong: one ignorantly denies the truth, and the other makes ignorance a state (of perfection). Now the expressions “not-being” “annihilation” as they are used by Sufis, denote the disappearance of a blameworthy instrument and disapproved attribute in the course of seeking a praiseworthy attribute; they do not signify the search for non-reality by means of an instrument which exists.
Dervishhood in all its meanings is a metaphorical poverty, and amidst all its subordinate aspects there is a transcendent principle. The Divine mysteries come and go over the dervish, so that his affairs are acquired by himself, his actions attributed to himself, and his ideas attached to himself. But when his affairs are freed from the bonds of acquisition his actions are no more attributed to himself. Then he is the Way, not the wayfarer, i.e. the dervish is a place over which something is passing, not a wayfarer following his own will. Accordingly, he neither draws anything to himself nor puts anything away from himself: all that leaves any trace upon him belongs to the essence.
I have seen false Sufis, mere tonguesters (arbdb al-lisdn) whose imperfect apprehension of this matter seemed to deny the existence of the essence of poverty, while their lack of desire for the reality of poverty seemed to deny the attributes of its essence. They called by the name of “poverty” and “purity” their failure to seek Truth and Reality, and it looked as though they affirmed their own fancies but denied all else.
Every one of them was in some degree veiled from poverty, because the conceit of Sufiism betokens perfection of saintship, and the claim to be suspected of Sufiism is the ultimate goal, i.e. this claim belongs only to the state of perfection.
Therefore the seeker has no choice but to journey in their path and to traverse their “stations” and to know their symbolic expressions, in order that he may not be a plebeian among the elect. Those who are ignorant of general principles have no ground to stand on, whereas those who are ignorant only as regards the derivative branches are supported by the principles.
I have said all this to encourage you to undertake this spiritual journey and occupy yourself with the due fulfilment of its obligations.