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Faqr and Ghina (Poverty and Richness)
Sep 1, 2014

For Sufis, poverty means that an initiate claims possession of nothing and is freed from all kinds of attachment toward worldly things, and that one feels total neediness and destitution before God in one’s relationship with Him, which is based on servanthood and the fact that God is the Sole Object of Worship. It is not poverty as understood by ordinary people, nor does it mean begging from people, displaying one’s privations.

The Sufi way of poverty involves severing relationships with all that is other than the Eternally Besought-of-All, and depending only on Him to meet one’s needs. For this reason, the more detached one is from whatever is worldly and temporary and the more annihilated one is in depending on the Divine Attributes and Essence, the more one has attained poverty and can repeat the saying of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings: Poverty is my pride.[1]

As stated in a blessed saying, when poverty becomes a dimension of faith and submission, one no longer depends on the help, will, and power of that which is not God. Even if such a person has enough wealth to fill the whole world, as the world is subject to decay and exhaustion, one does not depend upon it, but rather turns to God with all of one’s strength and feeling, conscious of his or her essential poverty and helplessness. How beautiful is the following couplet of Nabi, a seventeenth-century Ottoman poet:

Do not look on poverty with contempt, O Nabi!
Poverty is the mirror where independence of others is reflected.

Rumi made another fine observation about poverty:

Poverty is the essence and all else is form;
poverty is a remedy and all else the disease.
The whole world consists in vanity and conceit;
but poverty is the real core and meaning of existence.

Even if a person cannot discern his or her essential weakness and poverty with the light of belief, it is a reality that he or she is weak, poor, and needy. God Almighty declares: O humankind! You are all poor before God and in absolute need of Him, whereas He is the All-Wealthy and Self-Sufficient, the All-Praiseworthy (35:15). As absolutely everybody needs His act of choice, will, and decree to come into existence, His Self-Subsistent and All-Subsisting Existence is also needed at every moment to survive.

An individual’s poverty and neediness before the Almighty is not a means of humiliation; rather, one’s increased awareness of one’s poverty engenders higher degrees of dignity, for such awareness before the Absolutely Wealthy One is richness itself.

The believer becomes aware of his or her non-dependence on others, and acquires the consciousness of independence to the extent that one feels in his or her conscience that God is the sole source of power and wealth. His help is sought, and it is therefore to Him that one turns. Even if such a person is materially poor, he or she feels no need for anything or anyone else.

The believer is convinced that whatever or whoever exists, including himself or herself, essentially belongs to the Almighty, for all elements of creation are only shadows of the shadow of His absolutely independent Existence. This degree of conviction of God’s Unity is called annihilation in God, two steps ahead of which is subsistence with God. Concerning this, Hayali, another Ottoman poet of the seventeenth-century, says:

Hayali, cover your naked body with the shawl of poverty;
This is their pride, they know not of satin or silk.

Poverty is the goal of saints, the (natural) state of purified scholars, and the most manifest sign of love of God. The Almighty has placed poverty in the hearts of His friends so that those hearts may prosper through it. Poverty is a key of light to open the eye of the heart to the inexhaustible treasuries of God. One who has this key is the richest person in the world, for poverty is the door to richness. Those who pass through this door reach in their conscience the infinite treasuries of the Owner of all property and discover that poverty is identical with the real richness. For this reason we can say, as Junayd al-Baghdadi did:

Richness is no more than the final, perfect degree of poverty.[2]

When one is perfectly conscious of one’s essential poverty before God and one’s absolute dependence on Him, one is absolutely rich, for such a person no longer feels any need. This is what must be meant by the famous saying: The real richness is the richness of the heart. When one has attained this degree of richness, it is as if he or she has found a credit card that is valid everywhere. One who has such mysterious capital can be considered neither poor nor powerless. This is what is described in the following lines:

His is power, by which we are powerful.
We are well-known by His Name or fame.
We go beyond peaks and continue our way;
we overcome all difficulties with ease.
We possess nothing worldly, but are absolutely rich,
and are dignified and respectable with His Dignity.
We follow the way of reflection, so
whatever exists is a source of the knowledge of God for us.[3]

[1] al-‘Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa’, 2:87.

[2] al-Qushayri, ar-Risala, 273.

[3] M. Fethullah Gülen, Kırık Mızrap (Broken Plectrum), 38–39.