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Poverty and Tassawuf

(Taken from Mukashifa-tul-Quloob by Imam Ali b. Uthman al-Jallabi aka. Hz. Daata GanjBaksh Ali Hijweri)




On Poverty

Know that Poverty has a high rank in the Way of Truth, and that the poor are greatly esteemed, as God said: “(Give alsm) unto the poor, who are kept fighting in God’s cause and cannot go to and fro on the earth: whom the ignorant deem rich forasmuch as they refrain (from begging). “* And again: “Their sides are lifted from their beds while they call on their Lord in fear and hope” (Qur’an, xxxii, 16). Moreover, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) chose poverty and said: “O God, make me live lowly and die lowly and rise from the dead amongst the lowly!” And he also said: “On the day of Resurrection God will say, ‘Bring ye My loved ones nigh unto Me;’ then the angels will say, ‘Who are Thy loved ones?’ and God will answer them, saying, ‘The poor and destitute.'” There are many verses of the Quran and Traditions to the same effect, which on account of their celebrity need not be mentioned here. Among the Refugees (Muhajirin) in the Prophet’s time were poor men (fuqara) who sat in his mosque and devoted themselves to the worship of God, and firmly believed that God would give them their daily bread, and put their trust (tawakkul) in Him. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was enjoined to consort with them and take dure care of them; for God said:”Do not repulse those who call on their Lord in the morning and in the evening, desiring His favour” (Quran, vi, 52). Hence, whenever the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saw one of them, he used to say: “May my father and mother be your sacrifice! since it was for your sakes that God reproached me.”

God, therefore, has exalted Poverty and has made it a special distinction of the poor, who have renounced all things external and internal, and have turned entirely to the Causer; whose poverty has become their pride, so that they lamented its going and rejoiced at its coming, and embraced it and deemed all else contemptible.

Now, Poverty has a form (rasm) and an essence (haqiqat). 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 (ba-fana-yi kull andar ru’yat-i kull ba-baqa-yi kull shitaft). 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 quiteism (rida).


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 darvesh said: “I have two slaves who are thy masters: covetousness and expectation.”

The Prophet said: “Poverty is glorious to those who are worthy of it.” Its glory consists in this, that the poor man’s body is divinely preserved from base and sinful acts, and his heart from evil and contaminating thoughts, because his outward parts are absorbed in (contemplation of) the manifest blessings of God, while his inward parts are protected by invisible grace, so that his body is spiritual (ruhani) and his heart divine (rabbani). Then no relation subsists between him and mankind: this world and the next weigh less than a gnat’s wing in the scales of his poverty: he is not contained in the two worlds for a single moment.

The Sufi Shaykhs differ in opinion as to whether poverty or wealth is superior, both being regarded as human attributes; for true wealth (ghina) belongs to God, who is perfect in all His attributes. Yahya b. Muadh al-Razi, Ahmed b. Abi ‘l-Hawari, Harith al-Muhasibi, Abu’l-‘Abbas b. ‘Ata, Ruwaym, Abu ‘l-Hasan b. Simun,* and among the moderns the Grand Shaykh Abu Said 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 and 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 and mutual resemblance, but the Divine attributes are eternal and the human attributes are created; hence your proof is false.” I, who am ‘Ali 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 effect 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 betowed 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 propserity; 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” (Quran, xiv,7), and also, “God is with the patient” (Quran, ii, 148).
The Shaykhs who prefer wealth to poverty do not use the term “wealth” in its popular sense. What they intend is not “acquisiton of a benefit” but “acquisiton of the Benefactor”; to gain union (with God) is a different thing from gaining forgetfulness (of God). Shaykh Abu Saidi* God have mercy on him!- says: “Poverty is wealth in God” (al-faqr huwa ‘l-ghina billah), i.e, everlasting revelation of the Truth. I answer to this, that revelation (mukashafat) implies the possibility of a veil (hijab); 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 need is incompatible with wealth; therefore that term cannot stand. Besides, no one has “wealth in God” unless his atributes are permanent and his object is invariable; wealth inasmuchas 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” (al-ghani man aghnahu ‘llah), because the term “rich in God” refers to the agent (fa’il) whereas the term “enriched by God” denotes the person acted upon (maful); 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 (baqqa) 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 acnnot be given to an attribute that no longer exists, and he whose attributes are annihilated cannot be called either “poor” or “rich”, therefore the attributes 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 Quran and the Sunnah expressly declare it to be superior, and therein the majority of Muslims 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 account (hisab) entails the hearing of the Divine Word, without any mediation, in the form of reproach (‘itab); and reproach is addressed by the Beloved to the lover. Junayd answered: “If He will call the rich the 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” (beg’an’gi) and reproach is contrary to unity (yagangat). 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 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.

* Quran ii 274
* See Nafahat, No 291, where his “name of honour” is given as Abu ‘l-Husayn.
*See Chapter XII, No 5
* Quran xxxviii, 29.44
* The celebrated mystic of Heart, who died in 481 A.H. See professor brown’s Literary History of Persia, vol ii p 269


Imam Ali b. Uthman (a.k.a) Daata Sarkar’s blessed grave in Lahore – famous Scholar Sufi & Saint n Sage