Translation from Ibn Al-Qayyim’s Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) | The Station of Faqr (Mendicancy) | Part 1

AMONG THE STATIONS of iyyâka na¢budu wa iyyâka nasta¢în, You alone we worship and your help alone we seek [Sûrat Al-Fâti ḥah, 1:5] is the station of mendicancy (al-faqr, translated henceforth as mendicancy, poverty, or destitution).

To the people of the path, this is the noblest and loftiest of stations. Indeed, it is the soul, the secret, the essence, and the goal of every station. This can be appreciated if one knows the reality of mendicancy, and the particular meaning in which the people (of the path) employ it, in contrast with its original meaning.

Faqr’ in the Vocabulary of the Quran

The word ‘faqr’ appears in the Quran in three places.

  • First is the statement of Almighty: [Charity is] for the ‘poor’ (fuqarâ’ /sg. faqr) who are restricted in the way of Allah, and are unable to journey in the land; the ignorant man supposes them rich because of their abstinence [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:273].

The poor among the Immigrants [to Madinah] numbered near four hundred. They possessed neither homes in Madinah, nor kin. They were determined to struggle in Allah’s path, making themselves available for every expedition sent forth by the Messenger of Allah œ. They are known as the Companions of the Portico (or, the Bench, or, the Porch) (A|^âb al-ßuffa). This is one interpretation of their being restricted in the way of Allah.

Another interpretation is that the reference is to their self-restraint and obedience in the path of Allah.

A third interpretation is that their restriction is their poverty, which prevented them from struggling in Allah’s path. It has been said that when they opposed the enemies of Allah and struggled against them in Allah’s path they were prevented from freely moving about the land in order to earn a livelihood.

The correct opinion is that it means that due to their poverty, helplessness, and weakness, they were unable to move about the land to make a living. Yet owing to their exacting chastity and discipline, those who did not know their state would think them well off.

  • Second is the words of the Almighty: Charity is for the poor… [Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:60].
  • Third is the words of the Almighty: O people! It is you that are the poor and needy toward Allah [Sûrat Fâ~ir, 35:15].

Classes of ‘Poor’

The first reference is to the elite of the poor, the second, to the poor among Muslims generally, elite as well as masses, and the third, to the general destitution of the dwellers of the earth as to their standing before Allah, be they rich or poor, believing or unbelieving. The contrast of the poor mentioned in the first verse is with those free from poverty, handicapped in Allah’s path, and of the need to cover up their poverty.

The classes that contrast this first kind are more numerous than the corresponding classes in the second verse, which include any that are wealthy and resourceful, as well as those that are self-sufficient and those confined in Allah’s path. The third type has no exception to it whatsoever. Allah alone is needless, and all others are in need of Him.

Faqr’ in the Vocabulary of the Seekers

The meaning of ‘faqr’ employed by the people of the [spiritual] path is something far more specific than all this—and in this religious sense, it is more appropriately translated as ‘mendicancy.’

It is the realization of servitude and acknowledgment of the servants’ desperate need before Allah Almighty in all circumstances. This meaning is in fact nobler than the rubric faqr suggests. Indeed, it is the very reality and essence of service to Allah. It is one’s renunciation of the self that resists submission to His Lordship.

Ya^ ibn Mu¢âth was asked about [mendicancy]. He said: “Its reality is that one is not to be satisfied except in Allah. Its outer form is absence of all causes either by way of trust in them or by adherence to them.” This is as some of the Shaykhs have said: “[Mendicancy] is a thing Allah gives only to those whom He loves and whom He invites toward His pleasure.”

Ruwaym was asked about mendicancy, so he said: “Letting go of the self with respect to Allah’s commands.” In this, [the one] to be praised is only he who submits to Allah’s normative decrees and to those creative decrees that he has not been commanded to resist.

Abû ±af| was asked: “What it is that a mendicant presents to his Lord?” He said: “A mendicant has nothing to present to his Lord except his mendicancy.”

‘The Meaning of ‘His’ and ‘Not His’

The reality of mendicancy and its perfection is as someone had said when asked about when one deserves to be called a mendicant: “When nothing of him is left against Him.” He was asked: “How could that be?” He replied: “When what is his is not his and what is not his is his.”

This is among the best statements regarding the meaning of mendicancy intended by the people of the path, which is that all of the servant becomes Allah’s with nothing remaining that is under the control of his self and desire. For if something of him remains under the sway of the decrees of his baser self, then his mendicancy before Allah is impure and compromised.

He further explained this by saying: “What is his is not his,” that is, what is for his self is not for Allah, and if it is not under the sway of his baser self it is Allah’s. Thus the reality of mendicancy is that you are not hostage to yourself; neither does your self have anything of you, leaving you wholly free to be Allah’s. When you are owned by yourself, you have laid claim to ownership and self-sufficiency, which is the negation of mendicancy.

Can the ‘Poor’ Be Rich?

This mendicancy that they allude to does not negate possession of property, for messengers of Allah and His prophets possessed the loftiest station in this virtue despite their ownership of property, like Ibrahim, the Friend of Allah, who was possessed of wealth and cattle. The same is true of Sulaymân (Solomon) and Dâwûd (David). The same is true of our Prophet œ, as Allah Almighty said:

And He found you poor and made you rich [Sûrat Al-Ḍu^â, 93:8].

Neediness Toward Allah

They were rich in their mendicancy and mendicant in their riches. The true mendicancy, therefore, is perpetuity of destitution toward Allah in every state, such that the servant witnesses it in every morsel hidden or seen.

Thus the state of need is an essential, inalienable attribute of every servant.

Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah sanctify his soul, said:

Mendicancy is my inseparable attribute forever,

Just as richness is inseparably, forever, His.

To be continue Insha’Allah…

Written By

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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