Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)

Poverty (Faqr فقر)

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Chapter II

Poverty (Faqr فقر)

Poverty (Faqr فقر) occupies an exalted position in the Way of the Truth, and that the dervishes are generally honored. Allah has said:

لِلْفُقَرَاء الَّذِينَ أُحصِرُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ لاَ يَسْتَطِيعُونَ ضَرْبًا فِي الأَرْضِ يَحْسَبُهُمُ الْجَاهِلُ أَغْنِيَاء مِنَ التَّعَفُّفِ

“(Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (for trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want.” (Q 2:273).

ضَرَبَ اللّهُ مَثَلاً عَبْدًا مَّمْلُوكًا لاَّ يَقْدِرُ عَلَى شَيْءٍ

“Allah sets forth the Parable (of two men: one) a slave under the dominion of another. He has no power of any sort;” (Q 16:75).

تَتَجَافَى جُنُوبُهُمْ عَنِ الْمَضَاجِعِ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا

“Their limbs do forsake their beds of sleep, the while they call on their Lord, in Fear and Hope:” (Q 32:16).

Moreover, the Prophet (peace be upon him) chose poverty and said,

اللهم احيني مسكينا وامتني مسكينا واحشرني في زمرة المساكين

“O Allah, make me live lowly and die lowly and rise from the dead amongst the lowly on Resurrection Day!”

And Prophet (peace be upon him) also said that on the day of Resurrection Allah will say, “Bring ye My loved ones nigh unto me;” then the angels will say, “Who are Thy loved ones?” and Allah will answer them, saying, “The poor and destitute.”

There are many verses of the Quran and Hadith (Traditions of Prophet) to the same effect, which being commonly known, need not be mentioned here.

In the Prophet’s time, a group of poor refugees existed who to get benefited of the company of Prophet (peace be upon him) used to live in the mosque of the Prophet and had fully devoted themselves to the worship of Allah. They were free of all worldly activities and had firmly put their trust in the Real Provider and believed that He would give them their daily sustenance. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was enjoined by Allah to keep their company and take due care of them. For Allah said,

وَلاَ تَطْرُدِ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ

send not away those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His face.” (Q 6:52),


وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا

and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us,” (Q 18:28).

Hence, whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw any one of them, he would say; “May my parents be your sacrifice! Since it was for your sake Allah admonished me:”

Allah, therefore, has exalted the Poverty of the Dervishes and has made a special distinction of them. This is because they by renouncing all the apparent inward and outward causes and turning entirely to the Causer of the causes. The poverty becomes pride for them, so they grieve on its going and rejoice at its coming. They have adopted poverty in such a way that everything else has become worthless before their eyes.

Poverty has an outward form and a reality. Outward form is destitution, indigence and distress but its reality is fortune, success and satisfaction. He who contented and rested in the outward form, when fails to achieve his desire turns away from its reality also. And who has attained the reality of Faqr (poverty), averts his gaze from all created things, and in complete annihilation, seeing only the All-One, achieves fullness of eternal life. He who has adopted the outward of Faqr only he gains nothing, as the wise elder has said,

من لم يعرف سوي رسمه لم يسمع سوي اسمه

one who got stranded in the outward form of Faqr, he does not know any thing beyond its name.” 

The faqir فقير  (poor man) is, who does not have anything and nor ownership of things brings any change in him. He does not feel becoming rich by having anything, nor indigent by having nothing. The presence or absence of things is equal in his eyes, rather feels more joyful when he has nothing. The Sheikhs have said, “the more a dervish is poverty stricken, the more extensive is he in his (spiritual) state,” because it is harmful for a dervish to own material goods. He should not even have a thought of anything, so that he might not get captivated in love of that. The friends of Allah lives by means of His secret bounties. Worldly wealth holds them back from the path of quietism. Once a king met a dervish and said that he might ask him for some favor. The dervish replied that he would not ask a benefit from one of his slaves. On king’s inquiry he explained him that his two slaves i.e. covetousness and expectation, were king’s masters.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

الفقر عز لا هله

poverty is glorious to those who are worthy of it.

That which is glorious for the worthy is an embarrassment for the undeserving. It is glorious for the worthy because his body is divinely preserved from base and sinful acts, and his heart from evil and contaminating thoughts. His outward becomes trustee of manifested grace and inward of luminous visions, so that his body is spiritual and his heart divine. The mankind has no relations with him and neither people have any kinship with him, so much so, that he feels empty handed as regards to creation. He does not feel wealthy even if he is rewarded with the whole worldly assets. For him the wealth of the whole universe weigh less than a gnat’s wing in the scales of his poverty and both worlds may not be able to contain even his one breath.

The Sufi Sheikhs differ in opinion as to whether faqr فقر (poverty) or ghina غني (wealth) is superior, for true ghina belongs to Allah, who is exalted in all His attributes. Yahya b. Maud al-Razi, Ahmad b. Abi al-Hawari, Harith al-Muhasibi, Abu al-Abbas b. Ata,  Abu al-Hasan b. Simun, and among the moderns Abu Said Fadalallah b. Muhammad al-Mahani, all hold the view that ghina (wealth) is superior to faqr (poverty). They argue that Ghana غناء (wealth) is an attribute of Allah, whereas faqr (poverty) cannot be ascribed to Him, therefore, an attribute common to Allah and Man is superior to one that is not applicable to Allah. I say this kinship is merely nominal, and has no existence in reality. As real kinship involves mutual resemblance and equality, but the Divine attributes are Eternal and the human attributes are created, hence their argument is incorrect.

I, Ali b. Uthman al-Jullabi, declare that Ghana (wealth) is a term that may only be applied to Allah. The created are not worthy of this attribute. While term faqr (poverty), is an attribute of Man and it cannot be applied to Allah. Metaphorically when we call a man ghani (rich), but in reality he is not so, because effectiveness of man’s Ghana (wealth) depends on various causes, and we are rich only after accepting the causes, whereas the wealth of Allah, who Himself is the Author of all causes, is not due to any cause. Therefore, the partnership of Man with Allah in regard to this attribute is wrong and false. When nothing can be part of Allah, then how one can share His attributes, therefore, when it is impossible to be associated with His attributes, similarly, there cannot be any association with His names as well. As regard to call a man ghani, it is just phenomenal for reference purpose only and is used in a very limited sense.

The meaning of Allah’s being Ghani (rich) is that He is independent of and from everything. He does whatsoever He wills, as nothing in the universe can disobey, deny or divert His will. He is competent to bring together opposites in the creature, such He has always been and such He shall be for ever. The ghina (wealth) of Man on the other hand, is for example, a means of livelihood, the presence of joy and delight, being saved from miseries, and the consolation of comfort. All these things are of phenomenal nature and subject to change. There end is helplessness and baseness. Therefore, ghina when used for Man is with its outward form, but when used for Allah, it is with its real inward essence. As Allah has said,

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاء إِلَى اللَّهِ

O ye men! It is ye that have need of Allah:” (Q 35:15)

وَاللَّهُ الْغَنِيُّ وَأَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاء

but Allah is free of all wants, and it is ye that are needy.” (Q 47:38).

Some prefer the rich man to the poor, on the ground that Allah has blessed the former in both worlds and has bestowed the benefit of richness on him. They mean by ghana (wealth) abundance of worldly goods, attainment of desires and enjoyment of pleasures and pursuit of lusts. They argue that Allah has commanded us to be thankful for ghana (prosperity) and patient in faqr (adversity). Since patience is commanded on adversity, and thankfulness on prosperity which is better than the former, therefore ghana is preferred over faqr. But I say that, when Allah commanded us to be thankful for prosperity, He also commanded that thankfulness increases the prosperity,  but when He commanded us to be patient in adversity He made patience the means of drawing nigh unto Himself. He said,

لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ

if ye are grateful, I will add more (favors) unto you;” (Q 14:7)

إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

for Allah is with those who patiently persevere,” (Q 2:153).

This means that one who thanks for which has its origin in heedlessness, Allah will increase his heedlessness, whereas, one who shows patience on faqr (adversity) which has its origin in distress will be graced with proximity.

The Sheikhs who prefer ghana (wealth) to faqr (poverty) do not use the term ghana in its popular sense i.e. acquisition of worldly benefits but what they intend is “acquisition of the Benefactor”. Thus, the grace of union (with Allah) is different from gaining forgetfulness (of Allah). Sheikh Abu Said says,

الفقير هو الغني بالله

the one who’s ghana is with Allah, is a poor,

i.e. everlasting revelation which is based on contemplation of the Truth.

But I say that revelation is a temporary phase and it 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, then necessity arises which is contrary to ghana (wealth). The ghana as attribute of Allah is everlasting, eternal and real in its meanings. But being eternal ghana cannot coincide with the attributes of human nature, because the essential characteristics of mortality and phenomenal being are need and intelligence. Thus, one who is eternal with his attributes and remain eternal, only he is the Ghani and who loses his attributes is not worth to be called Ghani. Therefore “الغني من الغناء الله the rich man is he who is enriched by Allah” because the term من الغناء الله   refers to the agent whereas the term الفقير هو الغني بالله 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 Allah involves the annihilation of attributes. I assert that ghina has no relation with the existence of attributes, as it has already been said that human attributes are blameworthy and decaying. Similarly this term cannot be used when these attributes are non existent; because Fani (mortal) possess no name and when attributes are mortal they cannot be called either ghani or faqr. All the Sheikhs and majority of the people prefer faqr over ghana because Quran and Sunnah expressly declare it to be superior and majority of Ummah has consensus on it.

Once the matter was discussed by Junaid and Ibn Ata, and the later maintained the superiority of the rich. He argued that according to Hadith (traditions), at the Resurrection they would be called to account for their wealth, and that such an account entails the hearing of the Divine Word, without any mediation, may it be in the form of reproach: and reproach addressed by the Beloved is also endearing to the lover. Junaid replied that wealthy will be accounted for but poor will be asked for excuse and asking for an excuse is better than calling to account. There is a unique observation in it, for in true love to ask for excuse or to be excused is a sign of strangeness and reproach is contrary to companionship. Lovers regard both as blemish, because excuse is made for some disobedience to the command of the Beloved and reproach is also made on the same score. Therefore, both are out of the question in true love, because, under all circumstances patience is expected from the poor and thanks from the rich. In real friendship one neither demands anything from a friend nor disobeys his command. So

ظلم من سمي ابن ادم اميرو قد سماه ربه فقيرا

“whoever called a man rich, he acted wrongly, because Allah has called him faqir (poor),”

i.e. Allah has called Man Faqir (poor), may he be rich worldly but he would be called poor (faqir). Wrong is the one who calls a person rich, may the person be a king, because, before Allah Almighty he is faqir (poor). Reason for this is that rich is Sahib-i Sadqa (capable to dish out alms) and poor (faqir) is Sahib-i Sidq (Friend to the Truth), therefore, former cannot be placed equal to the later. Thus the Ghana (wealth) of Suleman (may blessings of Allah be on him) and the poverty of Salman Farsi (may Allah be pleased with him) are one. Allah said to Ayub (may blessings of Allah be on him) in extremity of his patience, and likewise to Suleman (may blessings of Allah be on him) in the plentitude of his dominion: “نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ how excellent in Our service! (Q 38:30,44). It means when Allah’s blessings are bestowed upon, it makes no difference between the poverty of Salman Farsi (may Allah be pleased with him) and the wealth of Suleman (may blessings of Allah be on him). I heard Abu al-Qasim Qushayri saying:

“People have spoken much concerning faqr (poverty) and ghana (wealth), and have chosen one or the other for themselves, but I choose whichever Allah chooses for me and protects me in. If He keeps me ghani (rich) I pray, He may not make me forgetful, and if He wishes me to be a faqir (poor) I pray not to be a covetous and rebellious.”

Ghana (wealth) is a gift but forgetfulness is its evil, similarly faqr (poverty) is also a gift but covetousness is its evil. Both conceptions are excellent, but their practice creates different results. Poverty is the separation of heart from all but Allah, and wealth is the preoccupation of the heart with that which does not admit of being qualified. When the heart is cleansed from all save Allah then neither faqr is superior to ghana, nor is ghana superior to faqr. Ghana is the name of abundance of worldly goods and faqr (poverty) is the name of scarcity of them. Since all belongs to Allah, therefore, when the seeker acknowledges it and forgoes its ownership the problem of partnership vanishes and he gets free from both the names. 

Sheikhs have described the inward and outward meanings of ghana and faqr, some mention of which is included here. One of the modern Sheikhs says:

ليس الفقير من خلا من الزاد انما الفقير من خلا من المراد

“The poor is not he who is free of provisions, but he who is free of Murad مراد (desire).” That is to say, if Allah gives him wealth and he cares for it, then he will be called ghani (rich) and if he renounces it, still he is ghani, because under both the circumstances he is interfering in other’s ownership. But faqr (poverty) consists in ceasing to act on one’s own prerogative.

Yahya b. Maud al-Razi says:

علامته الفقر خوف زوال الفقر

“The sign of faqr is that one remains scared of loosing it.”

The sign of the rightness of faqr is that one inspite of the excellence of Walayat (saintship), steadfastness of contemplation and attributes of annihilation, remains fearful of loss or decline of faqr. The sign of the excellence in faqr is that one gets independent from the fear of the loss or decline of faqr.

Khawaja Muhammad Ruwaym says:

من نعت الفقيرحفظ سره وصيانته نفسه و اداء فراءضه

“The characteristic of faqir (poor) is that he safeguards his inward secrets and guards his nafs (lower soul) from contamination, and is regular in performance of the obligatory duties of religion:”

The dignity of faqir (poor) is that he remains free from worldly gains, his outward is clean of evils and he is regular in performance of the obligatory duties of religion. He must not speak out his inwards meditation and whatever turns up on his tongue the heart must not be committed to that. He should be so overwhelmed by his state at this maqam (station) that nothing should affect him and this is the sign of the annihilation of the human wants and one is totally subdued to the obedience of the Truth.

Bashr Hafi says:

افضل المقامات اعتقاد الصبر علي الفقر الي القبر

“The best maqam (station) of this Path is to remain steadfast to endure poverty with patience till death.”

The patience and its belief are the maqamat (stations) of seekers. Since faqr (poverty) negates all maqamat, therefore, the resolution to be patient while enduring poverty demands negation of works and deeds and aspire to annihilate human attributes. This saying pronounces poverty to be superior to wealth, and expresses a resolve never to abandon it.

Shibli says:

الفقير لا يستغني بشيء دون الله

“The faqir (poor) is he who does not rest content with anything except Allah,”

because he has no other object of desire.

The apparent meaning of this saying is that no one can get rich without Allah. His attainment is actual ghana and richness. Our existence is separate from Allah and when ghana and richness cannot be obtained without attaining Him that means our existence is a veil for ghana and if one abandons this Path (of attaining Allah) then how can ghana be obtained? This saying is very subtle and obscure. The spiritualists have some different meanings of this and they say, “الفقير لا يستغني عنه  Faqir (poor) never gets satisfied with the proximity of the Truth (Allah).” i.e. he keeps on striving for further proximity and does not desire end to it. This has been elaborated by Sheikh Abdullah Ansari Harwi who said:

“Our sorrow is everlasting. Neither can we see our aspirations meet their goal (Truth) nor our existence can become non-existence may it be this world or the next, because for the fruition of anything homogeneity is necessary, but Allah is above to be a genus. Though turning away from Allah takes place because of forgetfulness of Him, but the dervish can not be forgetful. This is a permanent obedience and a difficult path. Our lover is that Whose presence is unattainable through effort and union with him is not Man’s destiny. Nothing is averted both in the state of Fana (dead) and in Baqa (living),  the fani (dead) never becomes living (baqi) so as to be united with Him and the living never becomes dead, so as to attain His presence. So the work of their lovers is very difficult and ever demanding, therefore, to console themselves they have invented a fine-sounding phraseology and have formed maqamat (stations), stages, and paths. These symbolic expressions are limited to themselves and their stations, stages, and paths are only related to their own states. Allah is exempted from every human attribute and relationship.”

Abu al-Hasan Nuri says:

نعت الفقير السكوت عند العدم والبذل عند الوجِود

“The characteristic of faqir (poor) is that when he has nothing he is calm and when he has something he spends it on others.”

And he also says,

الاضطراب عند الوجِود

He feels perturbed, when he gets something.

The practice pronounced in this saying is of great importance. It has two meanings, his calmness when he gets nothing is rida (satisfaction), and his liberality when he gets something is a proof of his love with Allah. One, who is satisfied with the will of Allah, is prized with a robe of honor, which is the sign of proximity (with Allah) but lover of the Truth is never desirous of robe of honor because the robe of honor indicates strangeness. His quiescence when he gets nothing is expectation of getting something, and when he has got it, that something is other than Allah; and he does not feel satisfied with other than Allah, rather gets disturbed and finds the liberality as way out to quickly get rid of something.

On the same subject Junaid says,

الفقر خلو القلب عن الا شكال

when his heart is empty of phenomena he is poor.

That’s why he is always quick to reject all other than Allah.Shibli says:

الفقر بحر البلاء و بلاء كل عز

Poverty is an ocean of trials, and all trials for His sake are glorious.

The honor is part of other because one who is right in the centre of trouble knows nothing of glory, until he forgets his trouble and regard the Author thereof. Then his trouble is changed into glory, which leads him to the nearness of Allah. His state of glory, changes into state of love and love changes into contemplation, so that the brain of the aspirant becomes wholly a centre of vision and he sees without the eyes, similarly, he hears the Divine voice without ears. Thus, among the human the real and truthful is that man who bears all affliction with patience, for affliction is honor and grace is blameworthy. The honorable thing is that which graces one with the proximity of the Truth and blameworthy is that thing which leads one away from His Court. The pain of the faqr is the sign of presence (before Allah), whereas, the comfort of ghana is the sign of remoteness and absence (from Allah). The one who is gainer of proximity and presence (with Allah) is honorable and he who is devoid of it is deprived and wretched. The affliction and trial which result into proximity of the Truth and vision of the Lover is in any case better and praiseworthy. Junaid says,

يا معشر الفقراء انكم انما تحرفون بالله وتكرمون لله فانظروا كيف تكونوا مع الله اذا خلوتم به

“O fuqara (poor), you are known through Allah, and are honored for the sake of Allah, see that how you behave when you are alone with Him,” i.e. when people honor you because of your being faqir (poor) and dervish, you also ensure that how you meet the obligations of the path of poverty. If people against your will call you by other names, do not show resentment because you are not justifying with your claim, for the basest of men is he who is thought to be devoted to Allah, but really is not. Glory to one whom people consider the Man of the Path and which he is actually. And still the noblest is the one to whom people do not consider a dervish but he is actually a dervish.

The former is like a physician who claims perfection in his trade and is busy in prescribing to patients, but since, he is a pretender to the profession, therefore, he makes their condition worse. And when he himself is sick, he needs another physician to prescribe for him. And one who is really a dervish and people also consider him to be such, he is like a physician who knows his profession and people recognize him be so, such person when get sick, can do look after himself. And the example of that person who is a pious devotee, but people thinks him not to be such, is that of a physician about whom people do not know, such person do not prescribes others, but himself enjoys with all the good feast and remedies and never get sick, and people remain unaware of his condition.

One of the moderns has said,

الفقرعدم بلا وجِود

faqr (Poverty) is nothingness and it has no existence.

This expression is incomplete because what is non-existent does not admit of being explained. The only explanation possible is that faqr (poverty) is nothingness. How this can be possible that all the saints agree on such a reality which is non-existent and transient in itself. It is also not correct to say that non-existent of faqr does not mean non-existent of faqr but it denotes the non-existent of affliction. All the human attributes are subject to affliction, so when afflictions are denied it would result into annihilation of attributes, therefore, human attributes are subject to affliction and the same attributes are the source of attainment. When these are made extinct, it would close the way to the Reality and it would be nothing but wretchedness. I happened to meet with a group of scholastic philosophers who, failing to understand the drift of this saying, laughed at it and declared it to be wrong. There is another group of pretenders who although acknowledged this saying but was unable to follow its root. Both the parties are wrong. First group ignorantly denies the truth, and the second was following it because of ignorance. 

Among the Sufis the meanings of such expressions “non-existence” and “annihilation” are the disappearance of a disapproved attribute in the course of seeking a praiseworthy attribute and not to get annihilated in the existence of the desired thing. Thus the word dervishhood is used here metaphorically and it apparently refers to poverty, but this is the route of the transcendent Divine of mysteries. So till the time he attribute his affairs and actions to himself, faqr (poorness) is ascribed to him, but when his affairs are freed from the bonds of acquisition, his actions are no more attributed to him. 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 away anything from himself. All that leaves any trace upon him belongs to the Essence.

I saw another group of chatty people. They being ignorant of the reality of this matter, negated its attributes altogether. It is a big deviation as negation of faqr leads them to contradiction of its attributes. They are utterly failure in their search of the reality of the faqr and that which denies the search of the Truth and reality they consider that as faqr (poverty) and purity. It looked as though they affirmed their own fancies but denied all else. None of them was in any knowledge of faqr, whereas the knowledge of faqr causes the perfection of saintship, i.e. to know its reality and its adoption is the cause of excellent maqam (station). Therefore, the seeker of this path 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 an illiterate among the elect.

Those who are ignorant of general principles cannot advance and those who are occupied with the derivative branches would remain entangled therein; and the one who is entangled there remains ignorant of its principles and loses his relations with others. I have said all this to encourage you to undertake this spiritual journey and occupy yourself with the due fulfillment of its obligations.

Now I will explain some of the principles and allegories and mystic sayings of Sufism. Then I will mention brief biographies of these holy men, and afterwards elucidate the different doctrines of Sufiism. In the next place, I will treat the Verities, Sciences, and Laws of Sufism. Lastly, I will set forth their rules of discipline and the significance of their “stations”, in order that the truth of this matter may become clear to you and to all my readers.


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