By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
30 Jan 2013
In most ‘Religions’ something similar to the Hadis’ saying that “Poverty is my pride” exists in terms of extolling the virtue of being ‘poor’. Poverty is believed by most religions to being saintly and promoted as akin to piety. In general, possessing little or nothing, without any worldly means and being poor is ‘closeness to God’.
The Bible for example, is full of references to poor, James. 2-5 “Listen, my beloved brothers. God chose the ones who are poor…” etc. Thus Poverty in religion is touted as being loved by God and thus poor people are his chosen people. Oh, Really?
Scant cladding and un-kept long hair and dirty nails, even begging for alms is the extreme manifestation of this belief’s display in religion as being meritorious. It should be asked then, if that is the main reason why many of the euphemistically called ‘developing countries are so dirt poor and ‘under-developed’?
Correspondingly, ‘charity’ practiced on individual basis by tossing haughtily a coin or two in the begging bowl is supposed to gain religious merit to the giver! The begging bowl itself, just as the rosary - worry beads - are the symbols of this poverty ridden religiosity Hence as the saying goes, it could be said that religious poverty is like cleanliness- “is next to godliness” only in Irish dictionary!
Strangely enough, when this ideology is contrasted with the ostentations and extravaganza of church and its clergy, for example the display of churches, and the clergy’s gold embroidered apparels and their ceremonial pomposity and extravaganza; one is left aghast at the gaudy exhibition of wealth by the very representatives of the ‘poor fisherman’ - Jesus Chris, the Lord of the poor!
With this colloquial dialectical meaning of the poverty, it is therefore believed, that in religion, in order to be meritorious, it is imperative to maintain both sides of the ‘give and take divide’, that is the rich and poor stratification of people in society; so that both can gain God’s favour, the one with indignity of want and begging and the other with Dignity of giving and excess of means. A very amicable arrangement for sure, to maintain the elitism of the religious hierarchy and the rich!
The poet Iqbal’s references then to al faqrufakhhri- poverty is my pride, and his Quranic interpretation is mindboggling to counter this religious mindset:-
samaan alfaqru fakhhari kaa rahaa shaan-e-imarat mey
bAab-o-rang-o-khhaal-o-khhat cheyh haajat ruey zebaaraa?
In short, what then is the necessity of indulging in all the gaudiness to enhance ones power and glory?
Among Muslims, in keeping with this religious ideology, the messenger of God Muhammad Rasullullah, is also propagated as having been an orphan, that is a home less poor child who lived a miserable, “poor and wanting” hermitic life in worldly and material sense in later life too.
The extreme presentations of this are the Apocryphal stories of his poverty ridden large house-hold’s existence, where it is said that it often survived only on few dates for days, and he often tied a rock round his belly to minimise the pang of hunger!
When this ideology is contrasted with the statements of Quran, one comes to the conclusion that the above is totally contrary to what the good Book says. His personal life though given as simple and unaffected, was by no means as propagated in legends of his poverty and depravation that is, that of the miskeen and faqeer in colloquial sense.
The fact that Muhhamad, the Messenger of God was an ‘orphan’yateem, having lost his father before he was born and his mother at a very early age as given in history, is vouchsafed by Quran. However this child was NOT left without loving guardians, affection, care and good richly-home. This precious orphan of a ruling family, by any stretch of imagination, was not left to be a street kid urchin:
93-6- Did He (God) not find you an orphan and give you shelter and care?
In later life too Muhammad, the Messenger of God was not left a destitute fending for himself and surviving on few dates a day. Quran along with the history too confirms his well to do circumstances:
93-8 and He (God) found you wanting and made you independent of all needs-ghani. There are many more of such statements to this effect in the Book. Particularly of interest is:
108-1 to you We have granted the fount of plenty, which good Muslims recite in their worship (namaz) at least once a day.
To say otherwise is not only to deny the statements of Quran, which the Muslims profess to be the ‘truth’, but also is being thankless to the numerous historic personalities in Muhammad’s own life. And for these, the Muslim community as a whole have utmost of regard.
If the myths of Muhammad’s poverty are to be believed, then starting from his first devoted rich wife Khatija, his right-hand friends abuBakar, Umar, Usman and Ali, and many more who gave their all for the fulfilment of his prophetic “mission”, are denigrated as hangers-on! This would be a great injustice to them and their contribution.
Acknowledging “Gratitude” is a virtue in any language and denying it is therefore is “ingratitude”:
55-60, Is there a reward for gratitude other than gratitude?
Where then is the problem with the ‘reported’ statement of the Muhammad that ‘poverty is my pride’? Was his pride the abject lack of subsistence and the means of survival of life; and even for his family?
The Arabic word faqr (root fqr) is given often in Quran, for example in the verses such as the one reflecting the pride of the capitalist who said :
3-181, indeed God is indigent, poor and we are rich!
To the sane and thinking person today, such a statement would surely make them ask as to how anybody can ever utter such an illogical statement that the -Lord of the kingdom of the Universe-3-189 would be a faqeer, wanting in anything?
The above when compared with a reference to Moses:
28-24, My Lord! Indeed of the good that you would bestow upon me, I am the needy one. Here the meaning of faqrshould be clear to mean that‘free of all the worldly dependence, yet one is ‘dependent upon the Almighty’. Dependent on Him, the God of Nature, for everything, and including guidance. Henceconverselyghani,would mean totally independent of worldly needs and Not poor. That is what the Messenger in essence was.
The problem therefore lies in translating and juxtaposing poor, miskeen and faqr, one dependent only on Almighty. For none is beyond dependence and free of His kingdom that provides everything that is essential for human existence and development of 'self'.
It is then that one comes close to understanding the crux of the verse:
17-70:-indeed We have dignified the progeny of Adam (that is all Mankind).
Compare the above with the Declaration of American Independence:-
“… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness…”; and also with UNO Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 1:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
But the responsibility of assuring that ‘dignity’, as in other worldly affairs, is put on mankind itself, that is the Society/State. This is better understood by the short antonym chapter 107 where the Code- ad-deen- is listed as to who are the people who reject and break the code:-
107-1 do you see those who profess to obey the Code but reject it in practice?
Poverty in the colloquial sense is Not Dignified and can never be an element of ‘pride’ in society. In fact it is degrading to mankind. No society should tolerate the indignity of poverty, lack of means and Elitism in its midst. Therefore the 99% in Muslim world, as in the West must rise up in protest against the 1% Elite, but for strange reasons the youth there did not participate!
The Quran, the Book Muslims profess to believe in, for sure abhors it, as much as it abhors extravagance and waste! To quote the poet’s one more stanza out of numerous ones, again:-
Mai aesey faqr say aei ehley ‘halqah’ baaz aayaa
Tumhaaraa faqr hai bey-dolatee wa ranjooree!
Spare me your kind of faqr oh, religious Elite,
You faqr is all ridden with poverty and grief!