Mendicancy and the Moment

MENDICANCY (FAQR) HAS effects, signs, causes, and implications that the people of the path (the seekers after closeness to God) frequently mention.

One said: “The mendicant is one whose ambition does not transcend his present step,” that is, he is the son of the moment [vis-à-vis earthly possessions], and his concern is limited to the moment and does not go beyond it. It has been said: “The elements of mendicancy are four:

knowledge that manages him (yasûsuhu),

fear of sin that prevents him,

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certitude that carries him, and

remembrance that makes him feel at home.”

Al-Shibli said: “The reality of mendicancy is that one does not find satisfaction in anything but Allah.”

Sahl ibn ʿAbdullâh was asked about when a mendicant may rest. He said: “When he sees not for himself a moment other than the one he inhabits.”

Abû Ḥaf said: “The best of that which takes the servant to Allah is perpetuity of mendicancy to Him in all states; staying true to the Sunnah of the Prophet in all actions; and making a living in a permissible way.”

It was said: “The rules of mendicancy require that you have no desire left; and if one must have it, then let it not exceed one’s need.”

It was said: “The destitute is one who does not own nor is owned,” and better than that is to say that “he does not own, nor is he owned by, any earthling.”

It was said: “Whoever intends mendicancy to seek the honor of it dies impoverished. But whoever seeks it to abjure distraction from Allah dies in riches. Mendicancy has a beginning and an end, an exterior and an interior. Its beginning is humility and its end is honor. Its exterior is nothingness and its interior is affluence.”

One man said to another: “Mendicancy and humility?” The other answered: “No, rather mendicancy and honor.” He said: “Mendicancy and riches?” The other answered: “Rather, mendicancy and a throne.” Both of them were right.

The people of the path agree that perpetuity of mendicancy before Allah sprinkled with compromise is better than perpetuity of purity with a sprinkle of self-sufficiency and pride, for there is no purity with these two.

Mendicancy and Wealth

When you have known the meaning of mendicancy, you know that it is to seek adequacy and richness in Allah. There is no meaning to the question: Which is better, neediness before Allah or richness through Him? –for seeking riches in Him is precisely neediness toward Him. Mu ḥammad ibn ʿAbdullâh Al-Farghâni was asked about this, to which he said: “If mendicancy before Allah is sound, so is richness in Allah. If adequacy in Allah is sound, so is mendicancy [the original has ‘richness’ here, which appears to be a mistake] in Allah.” These are two [symbiotic] states. One cannot be complete without the other.

Concerning the much debated issue of which of the two is better, one who is patient in poverty or one who is grateful in affluence, the opinion of those who possess knowledge as well as inner awareness is that the preference does not lie in being poor or rich but rather in deeds, states, and realities. The question is invalid in itself, in fact, for ranking before Allah Almighty is only in piety and realities of faith, rather than in being poor or rich. For, as the Almighty said: The noblest before Allah among you is the most pious of you [Sûrat Al-Ḥujurât, 49:13]. Allah did not say ‘the richest’ or ‘the poorest.’

Signs of Being Honored and Dishonored

Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah sanctify his soul, said that mendicancy and affluence are trials for His servant from Allah, as the Almighty has said: As for man, whenever his Lord tries him, and honors him, and blesses him, he says, “My Lord has honored me.” But when he tries him and stints for him his provision, then he says: “My Lord has despised me.” No indeed… [Sûrat Al-Fajr, 89:15-16]. That is, not everyone whose provisions I have made abundant and whom I have given liberally have I honored, nor is it that everyone whose provisions I have made straitened and scant have I dishonored. For being honored by Allah means that He honors one with obedience, faith, love, and inner knowledge, and being dishonored by Allah means that He deprives a person of these.”

Ibn Taymiyyah, further said: “Superiority is not in [worldly] mendicancy or affluence, but in piety, and if the two are equal in piety, they are equal in their rank [before Allah].” I heard him say this.

Patience and Gratitude

When this issue was raised before Ya ḥyâ ibn Muʿâth he said: “Tomorrow [the Day Hereafter], it is not mendicancy or affluence that will be weighed, but rather patience and gratitude.”

Another said:

This question is impossible to answer from another perspective, which is that everyone, be he poor or affluent, must possess both patience and gratitude, for faith is composed of the two together: One half is patience and the other gratitude. It may be that the share of the affluent in patience is greater, for he must be patient while being capable. Thus his patience is more perfect than one who is patient simply because he has no other choice. And it may be that the share of the poor in gratitude is greater, for gratitude is to put forth effort in obeying Allah, and the destitute has more opportunity to put forth this effort than does the affluent.

Thus, neither can one’s scroll of faith stand except upon two legs: both patience and gratitude. True, what people do in this respect is to consider aspects of gratitude and aspects of patience and try to rank them. They imagine an affluent one who is generous, charitable, expending his wealth in seeking nearness to Allah, all the while grateful to Allah for it; and they imagine a mendicant, free to worship Allah, with supplications and litanies, all the while patient in his state of mendicancy; and then they ask which of the two is better and more perfect. The truth is that the more pious of the two is nearer to perfection—and if they are equal in piety, then their ranks are equal.

And Allah knows best.

Originally posted 2015-08-03 10:19:25.

Dr Ovamir Anjum

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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