Penury, Both Contemptible and Praiseworthy
Source: Ain-al-Hayat, By: Allama Muhammad Baqir Majlisi
The Prophet of Islam (S) has said that the first to enter the Heaven will be the faqirs or the impecunious persons. When they are admitted to the Heaven, people will wonder why they were allowed to enter without any questioning. Then the faqirs would say that they needed not to render any account that they were neither king nor had any high ranks in the world. They had no wealth to be responsible for apportioning it. They were busy in the world supplicating to Allah and awaited their call.
One should know that faqr or penury is of two types. One is Faqr il Allah or Penury in the way of God; the other is faqr il annaas or penury to impress and take advantage of people and ask for alms. This faqr is despicable. This faqr makes a person avaricious. As people earn reward for expending their wealth in Allah’s way, similarly there is reward for those who spend their lives with patience and forbearance while in penury. The reward, in fact, is greater for such persons than for the rich and charitable. Because riches generally take one towards evil and mischief but faqr keeps a person’s attention riveted towards the remembrance of Allah. If Allah had not created faqr in the world, then the superior trait of patience and resignation would never have been practiced.
The question of faqr is very delicate to answer. Why Allah had to create faqr? Why has He given people the tendency to commit sin? If the instinct of sin was not there, then how would one get the reward for shunning sins? It is advisable not to delve in these thoughts. Even the Prophet (S) and the Imams (as) have advised people not to delve too deeply in the matter.
Penury and Opulence
It is narrated from Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (as) that the pious men of penury will see the Heaven forty years ahead of the pious opulent persons. The Imam then cited a simile that the impecunious and opulent persons will be like two boats anchored on a wharf. One boat laden with merchandise and the other void of anything. The person on the empty boat would walk away without paying any duties and taxes and the master of the boat with merchandise will have to give account of the goods carried on board before he is allowed to go ashore!
The Prophet of Islam (S) has said that man hates two things. One is the thought of death and the other is the scarcity of wealth. This, despite the fact that death relieves the person of all the cares of the world and the scarcity of wealth makes one less accountable on the Day of Reckoning!
Amir’ul-Mu’mineen ‘Ali (as) has said, “Two things kill a person. First, the fear of poverty and indigence and secondly, the desire for status and recognition.”
Imam Musa al-Kadhim (as) said: Don’t belittle the faqirs amongst the Shi’as of ‘Ali (as). On the Day of Judgment each one of them will intercede for so many persons that the number will be equal to the population of the two big tribes of Rabiah and Mudar.
It is narrated from Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (as) that “The hardships in this world are the Endowments of Allah. For the pious Allah has stored penury in His Treasury!”
One tradition says that penury is a trust from Allah. One who keeps his penury to himself, he will get reward equivalent to one who has fasted on all days and prayed throughout the nights all his life. One who expresses his impecunious position to a person who is capable of ameliorating his situation, but fails to do it, it will be tantamount to killing the person. It will not be killing someone with a sharp lethal instrument, but it will be killing him by way of hurting his psyche.
The stronger the faith of a person, the more his means of livelihood will decrease. The Imam (as) said: If men were not pleading with Allah with humility, even then He would have made it difficult for people to make the ends meet. Allah has created the world as a place of warning and trial for people to face hardships with equanimity.
In another tradition it is said, “Allah has not apportioned the false wealth for our Shi’as. He has provided sustenance for their maintenance. They shall not receive more than that. However much they travel in the West and the East.”
Then said, “On the Day of Judgment, Allah will give attention to our impecunious Shi’as as if He is commiserating with them.”
In another tradition it is recorded that the way a brother makes excuses to another brother, Allah too will commiserate with the people saying, “I have not made you impecunious in the world that I considered you inferior beings. You shall now see how I endow you! Whoever has been kind to you in the world, you may catch hold of his hand and lead him to the Heaven!” At that moment a faqir would say, “O Allah! The worldly people were enjoying themselves in the world. They were marrying pretty damsels, they were riding pedigree steeds, they ate sumptuous food, wore expensive apparel. Bestow upon us the same privileges now!” Allah will say in reply, “O faqir! You and your friends shall be endowed seventy times more than those people enjoyed!”
The Tale of a Faqir and an Opulent Person
It is narrated that a rich person dressed in expensive garments and visited the Prophet (S). Then came another person dressed in much worn clothes and sat near the first person. The person wearing expensive garments drew together his cloak and moved a bit away from the new arrival. The Prophet (S) noticed this and asked him, “Are you scared that the person’s penury would overpower you?” The man replied, “No!” The Prophet (S) asked, “Are you afraid that the person’s soiled apparel would soil your expensive clothes?” The Man replied, “No!” The Prophet (S) asked, “Are you afraid that the person would snatch away your opulence?”
The man replied, “O Prophet (S)! Not at all!” The Prophet (S) now asked, “Why then, you behaved the way you did?” The man said, “I have one very bad companion! That is my subconscious ego! It says that all my faults are virtues! As a penance I now bestow on the faqir half my wealth!” The prophet (S) asked the faqir, “Do you accept this offer?” He replied, “No!” The rich person asked him, “Why do you refuse my offer?” He replied, “I am afraid the wealth might inflict me with the same ailment that you suffer from!”
It is narrated in the traditions that Prophet Musa (as) received a Revelation from Allah, “O Musa (as)! When penury comes to you, welcome it as a trait of the virtuous! When opulence comes to you then ask it whether it is the punishment during the worldly life for the wrong deeds you had committed earlier!”
Muhammad bin al Husayn Khazar says that Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (as) told to him, “O Muhammad! When you visit the market, you see good quality fruits and vegetables on sale and you realize that you don’t have the means to buy them. Do you get a craving to purchase them?” He replied, “O Imam (as)! I do feel the desire to buy those good things!” The Imam (as) said, “For everything that you wish to have, and don’t get, an entry will be made in your account of good deeds for the Day of Judgment!”
Imam Musa al-Kadhim (as) said, “Allah observes, I have not made the affluent poor because they are contemptible in My eyes. I have not made faqirs rich because they are dear to me.’ The rich should brood over this fact. The faqirs are the instruments of test for the affluent. If the impecunious people were not there in the world, the rich would not have qualified for going to the Heaven.”
Imam Zain-ul-’Abidin (as) narrates that one day the Prophet (S) was travelling. On the way a person with a flock of camels met him. The Prophet (S) asked him to give some milk. The man said, “The milk that is in the container is for the use of my family in the evening and that which is in the udders of the camels is for use in the morning!” The Prophet (S) offered a prayer for the welfare and prosperity of the man.
After a little distance the Prophet (S) came across a man with a flock of sheep. The Prophet (S) also asked him to give some milk. The man presented the quantity of milk available with him, and arranged for milking some more animals, instantly. He also presented a sheep to the Prophet (S). He then asked the Prophet (S) if he wished anything else from him. The prophet (S) prayed for him thus, “O Allah! Bless the man with the livelihood he requires!” The companions asked the Prophet (S), “O Prophet of Allah (S)! The man who refused to comply with your request, you prayed for increase in his wealth and progeny. We too wish to be blessed in the same way.
But the man who complied with your request, you prayed for him differently, that we didn’t like.” The Prophet (S) said, “Lesser the worldly benefits for one is always the better! It is fine if the needs of a person are fulfilled. But if he gets riches in excess, they might make him forgetful of Allah!” The Prophet (S) then prayed, “O Allah! Give sustenance to Muhammad and his progeny sufficient for their upkeep. Give them the capability to refrain from haram (illegitimate) acts and give them wherewithal to meet their essential needs. Give more riches and progeny to our enemies!”
A mu’min sometimes feels sad that Allah has made him impecunious. He must know that his penury is the cause of bringing him closer to Allah. When a mu’min gets riches in plenty, he feels happy. But he is oblivious of the fact that the riches might take him away from Allah!
Allah says, “The mu’min, happiest, and closest to Him is one who performs good deeds, offers good supplication and who is not unpopular amongst his fellow men. He earns livelihood in accordance with his needs and leads a contented life. He leaves the transitory world early, leaves behind him little worldly legacy and has few to mourn his death!”