The word Faqr used by Iqbal has a peculiar significance. This word, in the Qur’an, stands for need, poverty, an attribute which men can possess while God is characterised by an attribute which is its opposite, viz, self-sufficiency. The Qur’an says: “O men, it is you that have need of Allah (fuqara’), and Allah is Self-Sufficient, the Praised One” (xxxv. 16).

Faqr, according to the Qur’an, then, is a state which man should avoid and fear: “The Devil threatens you with Faqr (poverty) . . . and enjoins you to be niggardly, and Allah promises you forgiveness from Himself and abundance . . .” (ii. 268). In other words, the state of Faqr is something that should be avoided while its opposite, called fadl, abundance, is something which is commendable and which God bestows on the righteous.

But gradually the significance of the word Faqr changed in the hands of the mystics, most probably under the influence of non-Muslim mystics, Christian and Buddhist, who were respected and honoured for their piety, renunciation of the world and devotion to their faith. As a reaction to the social and political upheavals in the first centuries of Muslim rule, mendicancy seems to have become a common practice among the mystics and, in spite of prohibition of begging by the Prophet, sufis not only approved of this practice but prescribed it for the novices and often went to the length of misinterpreting the explicit sayings of the Prophet. it was perhaps during this period that traditions eulogising Faqr became current.

The meaning of Faqr was further transformed in the hands of sufis in due course of time. It does not mean only need or poverty, but an attitude of detachment towards the world, of total indifference to social and political problems of the day, complete negation of the self, flight from the outward to the inward, from the exoteric to the esoteric. This transformation, unfortunately, played havoc with the ideological structure of Islam and laid the foundation for later quietism and negative mysticism.

Iqbal, however, brought about a wonderful metamorphosis and sought to invest this word with attributes more in harmony with the ideological background of Islam. Faqr, in Iqbal, does not signify only an attitude of detachment, selflessness and indifference to worldly life, which are all negative in nature. Iqbal’s Faqr is through and through positive. A faqir or qalandar in Iqbal is not only indifferent to vicissitudes of material life; he is a man of strong will, who has a moral stake in the social and political life of the people around him, motivated by the love for the ideal of moral and spiritual regeneration of mankind. In the attainment of this ideal, he is ready to sacrifice everything. It is this positive Faqr which Iqbal describes in this chapter.

We find a glimpse of this Faqr in Rumi. He says:

[The affairs of Faqr are beyond your comprehension
do not look upon Faqr with contempt.
Because dervishes are beyond property and wealth,
they possess abundant sustenance from the Almighty.
Is “poverty is my pride” vain and false?
No, there a hundred glories are hidden in it.]

Rumi describes different levels of spiritual men. At the apex “is the living Imam who is the Mahdi and the Hadi” and down-wards there are several grades of Faqr. He who undergoes greater discipline and passes through intenser fire occupies a higher position. It is the fire that purifies Faqr of all dross. He says:

[The faqir who bears hardship, is like iron
which under the hammer and fire is red and happy.]

[If thou desirest Faqr, that depends on companionship] 3

This positive concept of Faqr is found in Iqbal much later. The word Faqr is used first in a poem written in 1914 where he employs the hadith “Poverty is my pride” in the traditional poetic way, where poverty is contrasted with wealth.4 The word Faqr in its special sense in Iqbal is found first of all, perhaps, in a verse in Payam-i M’ashriq (published in 1923)

[ Faqr is also world-conquering and world-organising
to the faqir sitting along the path is bestowed the sword of sight.]

In Zabur-i ‘Ajam, published in 1926, the use of this word is more explicit. See, for instance, the following verse

[It’s nothing strange if two kings cannot be contained in a single kingdom,
Strange it is that a single faqir cannot be contained in two worlds.]

The following verse expresses Iqbal’s concept of Faqr beautifully

[When Faqr attains perfection, it is a sign of power;
search for kingly throne under a faqir’s mat.]

Faqr in Iqbal symbioses all those attributes which the Qur’an describes about a true Muslim and which were actualised in the lives of the Companions of the Prophet. They lived in poverty of their own choice and yet were in the thick of social life of the people, guiding and directing them towards the ideal of material and spiritual well-being.

[Do away with Faqr that brings nakedness,
blessed is the Faqr which bestows political power.]

In another place, it is said:

[Without the Qur’an, power is deceit,
the Faqr of the Qur’an is the root of power.
The Qur’anic Faqr is commingling of Remembrance and Reason,
I have never seen Reason perfected without Remembrance,]

Iqbal distinguishes two kinds of Faqr, one leading to supremacy and the other to base poverty, and acknowledges that for this concept of Faqr he is indebted to Rumi:

[Learn from Rumi the secret of Faqr,
that Faqr is envy of kings;
avoid that Faqr which
led you to (social and moral) decline.]

[Since khudi was cut off from supremacy,
it taught the art of begging;
from the intoxicated eye of Rumi I gained
exhilarating experience of the state of Almightiness.] 11

1.         Mathnavi, i, 2352 ff.

2.         Ibid., ii, 810 ff.

3.         Ibid., v, 1063.

4.         Bang-i Dora, p. 198.

5.         Payam-i M’ashriq, p. 206. For other references which the word Faqr and faqir are used, see Payam-i M’ashriq, pp. 7, 8, 191, 195, etc.

6.         Zabur-i ‘Ajam, p. 13.

7.         Ibid., p. 163.

8.         Javid Namah, p. 169.

9.         Ibid., p. 89.
10.        Armaghan-i Hijaz, p. 108.

11.        Ibid.