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 God being the Sole
Object of Worship. It is not poverty as understood by ordinary people, nor does
it mean begging from people by 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 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.
As it is 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, since it 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 ce Ottoman
Do not despise poverty, O Nabi!
Poverty is the mirror where the independence of others is
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 mankind! You are poor in your
relation with God, while God is He Who is the All-Wealthy and Worthy of Praise
Who returns abundantly whatever is done for Him (35:15). As everybody
absolutely 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
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 there-fore to Him that one
turns. Even if such a person is materially poor, he or she feels no need for
anything or somebody 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 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 richness. For this reason we can
say, as Junayd al-Baghdadi did: Richness is no more than the final, perfect
degree of poverty.
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 by His Dignity.
We follow the way of contemplation, so
Whatever exists is a source of knowledge of God for us.