وَأَغْنِنَا مِنَ الْفَقْرِ
In the verses “Allāhumma aghnī kulla faqīr”1 and “Allāhumma sudda faqranā bighināk” we spoke about poverty at length. The apparent import of the above verse seems to be an emphasis on the previous verses. Besides, the context of this verse bears a witness to that too. Nevertheless, in order to summarize the main kinds of poverty, I have chosen to discuss the verse from another angle.It should also be noted that this particular supplication reveals the states of the Prophet (s) in his supplication. And appreciating the remoteness of this servant from the lofty station of the supplicant, it would not be easy to accurately define the motive of these verses. Therefore we would suffice ourselves in this chapter with an infinitesimal drop of the ocean.
Considering the article اَلْ “al” that accompanies al-faqr, the word al-faqr can have different meanings. One of these is to denote a specific kind of faqr (poverty).
Briefly, after having gone through the Holy Qur’ān, authentic traditions, and words of wisdom of authorities in philosophy and Islamic theology, we conclude:
There are two general kinds of poverty:
1. al-faqr al-mamdūh (the recommended poverty).
2. al-faqr al-madhmūm (the abominable poverty).
Any kind of poverty that is an advantage either for the path or the goal of human perfection comes under the category of recommended poverty. Some of Almighty Allāh’s servants have been deliberately made to suffer the problems of poverty so that they can attain perfection after they bear the difficult situations with patience and thankfulness. Almighty Allāh knows the state of every servant of His, and thus provides according to His Plan.
The poverty that is achieved at the end of the journey to Allāh is highly praised in our traditions. It is the state of being utterly poor to Allāh. Some authorities, in order to be more accurate, say that we are not poor (faqīr) in this sense, but rather ‘poverty itself’ (‘ayn al-faqr). This is because we do not have any independent essence that is needy. In other words, it is incorrect to say that we are independent beings who are needy. No one has any share of independence whatsoever. Our beings that we conjecture to be independent entirely exist and subsist by the permission of Allāh. Therefore our beings are not poor, but poverty itself. In terms of philosophy, there are no three entities when it comes to causing a creation. We do not have the Conferrer of grace (mufīd) and the object of grace (mufād ‘alayh) and the grace itself (fayd). Rather, we only have the Conferrer of Grace and His Grace- which we, due to our limited comprehension or remoteness from the Beloved, consider as an independent entity. Therefore the ‘creation’ or ‘creatures’ are grace (fayd) itself.2
Āyatullāh Khumaynī in his Chehel Hadīth (40 Traditions), alluding to the reality that the dependent existents are sheer poverty, says:
…و هيچ موجودى را از خود استقلالى نيست و صرف تعلق و ربط و عين فقر و تدلّى به ذات مقدس حقّ على الاطلاق است...
…No being has any independence of its own and everything is sheer dependence, relation, poverty, and attachment to the sacred being of the Absolute Real…3
Although such poverty always exists in every being, only one who “realizes the same” through the vision of the heart, after self-purification, can be qualified to be known as poor in this sense. In his commentary on the Du‘ā’ al-Sabāh, Mullā Hādī Sabzawārī says:
وَالْفَقِيْرُ الْحَقيْقِي مَنْ لاَ يَمْلِكُ فِعْلاً وَلاَ صِفَةً وَلاَ وُجُوْداً وَيَشْهَدُ أَنَّ الْمُلْكَ لِلٌّهِ الْوَاحِدِ الْقَهّارِ…
“And the really poor one is he who does not own any action, attribute, or existence, and witnesses that the kingdom is solely Allāh’s, the All-Paramount.”4
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) is reported to have said:
الفَقْرُ فَخْرِيْ وَبهِ أَفْتَخِرُ.
“The poverty is my pride and I am proud of it.”5
Imām al-Sajjād (as) in his supplication of seeking asylum with Allāh says:
يَا غَنِىَّ الأَغْنِياءِ: ها نَحْنُ عِبادُكَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْكَ، وَاِنّاَ افْقَرُ الْفُقَراء إِلَيْكَ.
“O the Affluent of the affluent ones, here we are, your slaves, before You… and we are the neediest of the needy toward You…”6
Therefore this kind of poverty is highly recommended and thus we do not seek emancipation from it in this verse. Rather, we eagerly ask for it and although it is known as ‘poverty’, no affluence and self-sufficiency can be compared to it. In other words, although near Allāh, the All-Affluent, this state is absolute poverty, it is the state of being ‘All-affluent by Allāh’s permission.’
There is a beautiful allusion in the well-known Du‘ā’ Jawshan al-Kabīr about this. We pray:
يَا غِناَئِي عِنْدَ افْتِقَارِي!
“O my Affluence in my poverty…”7
The Holy Prophet (s) is also reported to have prayed:
أَللٌّهُمَّ أَغْنِنِي بِالاِفْتِقَِارِ إِلَيْكَ، وَلاَ تُفْقَرْنِي بالاِسْتِغْنَاءِ عَنْكَ.
“O Allāh: Make me needless by becoming needy of You, and do not make me poor by being needless of You.”8
This is the poverty from which we direly seek release. If poverty obstructs us from availing ourselves of the basic necessities of life, that can enable us attain nearness to God, it is indeed something that we detest. If poverty makes us forget the Hereafter instead of making us alert about the Creator, then it is something that we should seek refuge from. Any poverty that separates us from the path or the goal is abominable. It is from such poverty that we should seek emancipation. Following are allusions to such kinds of poverty:
1. The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said to Imām ‘Alī (as):
يَا عَلِيُّ: لاَ فَقْرَ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْجَهْلِ.
“…O ‘Alī, there is no poverty more severe than ignorance…”9
2. Safwān bin Mihrān al-Jammāl is reported to have narrated from Imām al-Sādiq (as) that he said:
…لاَ فَقْرَ أَحَطُّ مِنَ الْحُمْقِ…
“…There is no poverty more degenerate than silliness (humq)…”10
One reason for this may be that ‘silliness’ deprives one from both material as well as spiritual progress.
3. The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said:
أَفْقَرُ النَّاسِ الطَّمَّاعُ.
“The poorest among the people is the greediest.”11
This is because such a person is never satisfied, and instead of employing the means of livelihood for the main aim behind his creation he engages in the world and forgets the Hereafter. It is from such an attitude that we always seek refuge after our zuhr prayers when we say:
أَللٌّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ نَفْسٍ لا تَشْبَعُ.
“O Allāh, I seek refuge with You from the soul that does not get satisfied.”12
4. Imām ‘Alī (as) is reported to have said:
رُبَّ غَنِيٌّ أَفْقَرُ مِنْ فَقِيرٍ.
“Many a time there is a rich person who is poorer than a poor person.”13
5. Emphasizing the poverty that is really abominable, The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said:
أَلفَقْرُ فَقْر الْقَلْبِ.
“Poverty is the poverty of the heart.”
The Holy Qur’ān also alludes to this fact when it describes the Judgment Day as:
يَوْمَ لاَ يَنْفَعُ مَالٌ وَلاَ بَنُونَ. إِلاَّ مَنْ أَتَى اللٌّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ
“…the day when neither wealth nor children will avail, except him who comes to God with a sound heart.”14
Hence those who are spiritually affluent are really rich, for they cannot separate from their noble traits and pure heart, and thus would come with real provisions in the Hereafter.
We cannot ignore the great disadvantage of material poverty, however, for every human being would like to live a life independent of other than Allāh. At times, as we understood in the earlier verses of the supplication, it is the human being himself who creates impediments for his sustenance and thus is deprived of it. Sometimes however, Almighty Allāh, out of His Abundant Mercy limits the sustenance of His servant only to test and elevate him more. In such a situation, one cannot blame the poor believer for his misdeeds. Following are some traditions that shed light on this issue:
1. Imām Abū al-Hasan al-Kāzim (as) is reported to have said:
إِنَّ اللٌّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَقُولُ: إِنِّي لَمْ أُغْنِ الْغَنِيَّ لِكَرَامَةٍ بِهِ عَلَيَّ، وَلَمْ أُفْقِرِ الْفَقِيرَ لِهَوَانٍ بِهِ عَلَيَّ، وَهُوَ مِمَّا ابْتَلَيْتُ بِهِ الأَغْنِيَاءَ بِالْفُقَرَاءِ، وَلَوْلا الْفُقَرَاءُ لَمْ يَسْتَوْجِبِ الأَغْنِيَاءُ الْجَنَّةَ.
“Indeed, Allāh (the invincible and exalted) says: Indeed I did not enrich the affluent one due to a nobility in him, nor did I make the poor needy due to his insignificance; [Rather] I tried the affluent ones with the destitute; and were there no poor people, the rich ones would not deserve Paradise.”15
2. In his noble ascent to the heavens (al-mi’rāj), it is reported that Almighty Allāh addressing the Prophet (s) at one point said:
...وَإِنَّ مِنْ عِبَادِيَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ مَنْ لاَ يُصْلِحُهُ إِلاَّ الْغِنَى، وَلَوْ صَرَفْتُهُ إِلَى غَيْرِ ذٌلِكَ لَهَلَكَ، وَإِنَّ مِنْ عِبَادِيَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ مَنْ لاَ يُصْلِحُهُ إِلاّ الْفَقْرُ، وَلَوْ صَرَفْتُهُ إِلَى غَيْرِ ذَلِكَ لَهَلَكَ...
“Indeed among My believing servants there are believers whom nothing save affluence (al-ghinā) can reform, and were I to change their state to other than that, they would perish; and indeed from among my believing servants there are those whom nothing save poverty can reform, and were I to change their state to other than that they would perish.”
In order to determine which boat we are sailing in and to which category among the two kinds of poverty we belong, it is important for us to have a yardstick for distinction. How can we determine whether we suffer from the abominable poverty or the recommended one? There is a tradition narrated from Imām ‘Alī (as) as follows:
لِلٌّهِ تَعَالـى فِيْ خَلْقِهِ مَثُوْبَاتُ فَقْرٍ وَعُقُوْبَاتُ فَقْرٍ، فَمِنْ عَلاَمَةِ الْفَقْرِ إذاَ كَانَ مَثُوْبَةً أَنْ يَحْسُنَ عَلَيْهِ خُلُقُهُ، وَيُطِيْعَ رَبّهُ، وَلاَ يَشْكُو حَالَهُ، وَيَشْكُرَ اللٌّهَ تَعَالـى عَلى فَقْرِهِ. وَمِنْ عَلاَمَةِ الْفَقْرِ إذَا كَانَ عُقُوْبَةً أَنْ يَسُوْءَ عَلَيْهِ خُلْقُهُ، وَيَعْصِي فيْهِ رَبّهُ، وَيُكْثِرَ الشِّكَايَةَ، وَيتسْخّط القَضَاء، وَهَذَا النَّوْعُ مِنَ الْفَقْرِ هُوَ الَّذِيْ اسْتَعَاذَ مِنْهُ النَّبيّ صَلّى اللٌّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآله.
“Allāh, the Exalted, has rewards and punishments of poverty in his creation. Among the signs of poverty when it is a reward is when one has a beautiful character, obeys His Lord, does not complain about his poor state, and thanks Allāh for his poverty; and among the signs of poverty when it is a punishment is when one is of unpleasant character, is disobedient of his Lord, frequently complains about his situation, and is not happy with what Allāh has ordained for him. And this is the kind of the poverty that the Holy Prophet (s) sought refuge from.”16
Although we have many traditions indicating how the pious believers would undergo poverty and face difficulties in life, one should not consider ‘the state of poverty’ always as a distinction for them. The criteria to judge what is good for whom, is Allāh’s decision and choice. Therefore, even if one was able to bear the difficulties of poverty, he should not consider it always recommended for him. Consider the following tradition:
وَقَدْ وَرَدَ: أَنَّ الإِمَامَ مُحَمَدَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ أَلْبَاقِرَ (ع) قَالَ لِجَابِرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللٌّهِ الأَنْصَارِي - وَقَدْ إِكْتَنَفَتْهُ عِلَلٌ وَأَسْقَامٌ وَغَلَبَهُ ضَعْفُ الْهَرَمِ: كَيْفَ تَجِدُ حَالَكَ؟ قَالَ: أَنَا فِي حَالٍ أَلْفَقْرُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِنَ الْغِنـى، وَالْمَرَضُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِنَ الصِّحَّةِ، وَالْمَوْتُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِنَ الْحَيَاةِ. فَقَالَ الإِمَامُ (ع) : أَمَّا نَحْنُ أَهْلُ الْـبَيْتِ، فَمَا يَرِدُ عَلَينَا مِنَ اللٌّهِ مِنَ الفَقْرِ وَالغِنَى وَالْمَرَضِ وَالصِّحَّةِ وَالْمَوْتِ وَالحَياةِ، فَهُوَ أحَبُّ إِلَيْنَا. فَقَامَ جَابِرٌ وَقَبَّلَ بَيْنَ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَقَالَ: صَدَقَ رَسُولُ اللٌّهِ (ص) حَيْثُ قَالَ لِي: يَا جَابِرُ: سَتُدْرِكُ وَاحداً مِنْ أَوْلاَدِي اسْمُهُ اسْمِي، يَبقُرُ العُلومَ بَقراً.
“Once Imām al-Bāqir (as) is reported to have asked Jābir bin ‘Abdillāh al-Ansārī while the latter was not well and the weakness of old age had overtaken him: ‘How do you find your state?’ Jābir said: ‘Poverty is more lovable to me than affluence, illness is more lovable to me than well-being, and death is more lovable to me than life.’ Thereupon Imām al-Bāqir (as) said: ‘As for us, the Ahlu’l Bayt (as), however, we love whatever comes to us from Allāh, whether poverty, affluence, sickness, well-being, death or life.’ Jābir thereupon stood and kissed the Imām (as) between the two eyes and said: ‘The Messenger of Allāh said the truth when he said to me: ‘O Jābir, you will soon meet one of my offsprings, his name is my name, he would split the knowledge a thorough splitting.’’”17
There are numerous traditions that outline the criteria for identifying a true follower of the Holy Prophet (s) and his infallible household. Due to the limited scope of this work, all this cannot be analyzed here. However, due to the relevance of the subject, we would like to quote one such tradition that clearly reveals what kind of relation a true Shī‘ah has with regard to his believing brethren. Al-Kāfī narrates18 a tradition from Abū Ismā’īl who is reported to have said:
وعَنْ أَبِي إِسْمَاعِيلَ قَالَ: قُلْتُ لأَبِي جَعْفَرٍ (ع): جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ! إِنَّ الشِّيعَةَ عِنْدَنَا كَثِيرٌ. فَقَالَ: فَهَلْ يَعْطِفُ الْغَنِيُّ عَلَى الْفَقِيرِ؟ وَ هَلْ يَتَجَاوَزُ الْمُحْسِنُ عَنِ الْمُسِيءِ وَيَتَوَاسَوْنَ؟ فَقُلْتُ: لاَ. فَقَالَ: لَيْسَ هَؤُلاءِ شِيعَةً. الشِّيعَةُ مَنْ يَفْعَلُ هَذَا.
“I said to Abū Ja’far (as): may I be made your ransom; surely there are many Shī‘ahs among us. He said: ‘And do the rich among them have a soft heart for the poor, and the good-doer forgive the faults of the evil doer, and do they have concern for one another? I said: No. Thereupon he (as) said: These are not our Shī‘ahs; our Shi’ahs are those who do all that.”