Publications  |  Readings in Sufism

Spiritual Poverty in Sufism

Spiritual Poverty is a cornerstone of classical sufi practice. The term faqir (poor man or woman) is often used as a synonym for 'sufi' and 'darvish' among the sufis. The first essay in this book documents the development of the meaning of spiritual poverty in Sufism, followed by two essays that explore diverse definitions of the terms 'darvish' and 'sufi' in Islamic mystical texts.

Chapters 4 and 5 constitute the only comprehensive study in English of the various gradations of mystical states (ahwal) and the hierarchical levels of spiritual stations (maqamat) by the sufis. The final chapters focus on the concept of the 'Eternal Now' (waqt) and discuss the significance of breath in the spiritual method of the sufis.

Excerpt from Spiritual Poverty in Sufism

The mansion of monotheism,
Divine Unity's house, was built
firmset on the foundation of spiritual poverty,
of ego-annihilation,
Only on such foundation
Should this structure be up-raised.

Maghrebi, Diwan

'Poverty' (faqr) signifies destitution, impoverishment, and neediness, as contrasted to 'wealth' (ghana) which connotes 'independence' and 'self-suficiency. Poverty is in reality a devotee's attribute, whereas wealth is an attribute of the Lord. In this sense, the Koran declares: "O Mankind! You are poor in relation to God, and God is the Rich, the Glorious". (XXXV: 15)

The term 'poverty' has various meanings:

1. Sometimes poverty implies straightened circumstances and material need. In this case, the word faqir ('poor one', 'pauper') means only a beggar, in contradistinction to meskin ('one who is lowly and destitute'). A distinction is often made between the two, insofar as a faqir is considered to be a darvish who has the ability to support himself and spouse for a few days, whereas the meskin is someone afflicted by extreme need and impoverishment.

2. Sometimes poverty implies an individual's spiritual impoverishment and need for God. In this case, the term faqir has different shades of meaning, as follows:

a) synonymous with the ascetic (zahed), who renounces the world to attain a reward in the hereafter.
b) synonymous with the sufi, who renounces both this world and the next to attain the Truth. Here, the term faqir is identical in meaning to the Perfect Man (ensan-e kamel) and the sufi who has attained total mystical reabsorbment (fana) in the Truth. All references to poverty and faqir in this book are with this connotation.

As Hafez in verse has sung:

O God, grant me
the riches of poverty
for in such largesse lies
my power and glory.

More Books in this Category