Poverty (الفقر) and Purity (الصفوة)
The practitioners of the Mystic Path differ on the merits of faqr فقر (poverty) and safwat صفوت (purity). Some opine that poverty is better accomplished in each respect as compare to purity, whereas some prefer purity over poverty. Those who prefer poverty, say that poverty is complete annihilation in which every thing (save Allah) extinct, and purity is one of the maqam (stations) of poverty. When aspirant gains annihilation, all stations fade away, as has been discussed in the preceding chapter on Poverty and Wealth. Those who set purity above poverty say that poverty is an existing thing and is capable of being named; whereas purity is getting bare hand from all existing things. Purity is complete annihilation and poverty is the essence of subsistence, therefore, poverty is one of the names of maqamat (stations), but purity is the name of perfection.
The matter has been disputed at great length in the present age and people have resorted to fanciful and surprising verbal subtleties. There is a lot of difference among poverty and purity on excellence and superiority. They all agree that display of beautiful expressions is neither poverty nor purity. The people have established their own sects just by following outward expressions and have not taken pain to go into their roots and lost the reality. It is just a war of words between them which denies them the Truth. Self denial they call negation of essence, and affirmation of self desire they regard as affirmation of essence. They in the presence of the evils of their nafs (lower soul) and wishful desires, existent and non-existent, have and have not, are all themselves. The path of Sufism is free and clean of their nonsense.
The flight of the Saints of Allah is so high where maqamat and degrees become extinct and where outward expressions fall from the underlying realities, so that neither spiritual delight is left nor taste, and neither sobriety nor effacement. After acquiring such a state when they try to seek names to express the reality, they do not find words because the Truth is far above to be given names. At this stage, in dealing with the ideas themselves, the question of superiority does not arise, and no one can claim the superiority of either. So after realizing it there is no need of further lucidity that it is useless to discuss superiority of either because to call either of the two superior effects on the priority of other. So to some people poverty seem to be superior and they prefer it because it speaks of renunciation and humility. And some prefer purity, and hold it the more honorable because it is related to denying and annihilating all the worldly and soul’s contaminations. They try to explain their own ideas through adopting these two names. Since it is difficult to get proper words to fully explain the reality, therefore they talk to each other in symbolism. So, when name is non-existent, from where the question of superiority arises. But when people through efforts produce names and words i.e. poverty and purity, then they start giving preference one to other. Amongst the Sufis it is the meanings which are discussed, whereas the ignorant linguistics is trapped in the gimmick of words and prefer one over the other. But who is manifested with the Truth, he makes it Qibla of his heart and then you may call him Faqir (poor) or Sufi, it is immaterial for him because reality is far above than the words.
This controversy dates back from the time of Abu al-Hasan Sumnun. He when in a state of revelation akin to subsistence, used to set poverty above purity and when in a state akin to annihilation, used to set purity above poverty. When the spiritualists of that time inquired why he did so, he replied:
“As my nature has attained the magnificence in the maqamat (stations) of annihilation and abasement, it has similar position at the maqam of subsistence, therefore, I prefer purity to poverty when I am in a state akin to annihilation, and I prefer poverty to purity when I am in a state akin to subsistence, for poverty is the name of subsistence and purity that of annihilation. In the later state I annihilate from myself the sight (consciousness) of subsistence, and in the former state I annihilate from myself the sight of annihilation, so that my nature becomes dead both to annihilation and to subsistence.”
These are just good explanations but in reality neither annihilation has subsistence nor subsistence can be annihilated because one who attains state of annihilation, is annihilated to himself and from here when he achieves the maqam-i billah (state of subsistent with the Truth), he is subsistent to himself i.e. he is back to his normal self. Annihilation is a term of which it is impossible to speak hyperbolically. For example it is wrong to say that annihilation will annihilate, because so long as any vestige of existence remains, annihilation is not complete and when it has been attained, the “annihilation” thereof is nothing but self-conceit flattered by meaningless phrases. In the vanity and rashness of youth I composed a discourse of this kind, entitled the “Book of Annihilation and Subsistence,” but in the present work I will set forth the whole matter with caution.
In spiritual sense this was the difference between Purity and Poverty, but when these terms are considered in their practical aspect, they denote removing one’s self from worldly things and casting away of all one’s possessions, and then the discussion matter falls in the category of poverty (faqr) and lowliness.
Some Sheikhs assert that the faqir (poor) are superior to the miskin (lowly), because Allah has said:
لِلْفُقَرَاء الَّذِينَ أُحصِرُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ
(Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), (Q 2:273).
The Lowly is that who possesses means of livelihood, but faqir (poor) is he who has nothing. Therefore, poverty is honor and Lowliness abasement, hence, on the Mystic Path, he who possesses the means of livelihood is considered worthless. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
تعس عبد الدار هم و تعس عبد الدينار و تعس عبد الخميصة و القطيقة
“Woe befall those who worship the dinar and the dirham, woe befall those who worship bag and purse!”
He who renounces the means of livelihood is honored and is better than who possesses worldly means, because, who has means depends on them whereas who has nothing depend on Allah.
But some declare miskin (lowly) as superior to faqir (poor), because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
اللهم احيني مسكينا امتني مسكينا واحشرني في زمرةَ المساكين
“Let me live lowly, and let me die lowly, and raise me from the dead among the lowly!”
Whereas, speaking of Poverty, he said,
كاد الفقران يكون كفرًا
“Poverty is near to being unbelief.”
According to this Hadith the poor are dependent on a means, but the lowly are independent.
Some Religious Scholars hold that the poor are those who have sufficiency whereas lowly are free from worldly cares. But some others hold the converse of this view.
The accomplishers of the maqamat have given name of Sufi to the miskin (lowly), and they are in agreement with the formers. And those consider the later view, for them purity is more honored than poverty.