Monday, April 13, 2009

The Power of Chosen Poverty

The seventh valley in the system of Attar is “the Valley of Chosen Poverty and Annihilation.” With the advent of Prophet Muhammad, “chosen poverty” became the guiding principle of government. The Prophet himself lived on the simplest means. The first four caliphs continued the practice (three of them got assassinated because they refused to keep bodyguards). Collectively, the first four caliphs are called “Rightly Guided” (Khulafa-i-Rashideen).

Beyond them, Muslim rulers adopted hereditary rule, pomp and luxury. Yet, two points need to be observed.

Firstly, in the world of Islam there never has been an equivalent of the Western dogma of “the Divine Right of Kings.” The highest honor for a Muslim king was to be called “the leader of the faithful” (Amirul Momineen). Many were power-hungry and some went to the extent of devicing the title “Zilli Ilahi” (The Shadow of God on Earth) but any political treatise from Islamic history, if analyzed in depth, yields a very different premise than the one suggested by the Western dogma of the Divine Right (and this might be due to the significance of the “great sacrifice” of Imam Husain, the grandson of the Prophet, and the invisible work of Sufis whose real significance is yet to be understood).

Secondly, since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, we find a tendency of comparatively more egalitarian groups overcoming comparatively less egalitarian ones. Exceptions might be there, but usually we find that power shared among more people tend to triumph over systems where power is shared by fewer. Wikipedia should be sufficient for further reading on the following randomly chosen examples:
  • Tariq Bin Ziyad versus Visigoths in Spain, 707-11
  • Mongols of Genghis and Hulagu versus Muslim empires like Khwarizm and Abbasids, 1206-58
  • The First Battle of Panipat (Babur versus Ibrahim Lodhi), 1526
  • The Battle of Plassey, 1757
  • The Battle of Waterloo, 1816
Thinkers like Iqbal would have liked to interpret this tendency of “modern history” as a manifestation of the first of the two spiritual principles associated with the seventh valley. The principle is “chosen poverty” (faqr): victory is not the prerogative of Muslims but of any group or nation who knowingly or unknowingly adopts this principle up to any extent (Iqbal made it abundantly clear in his famous poem ‘The Answer to the Complaint’ ('Jawab-i-Shikwa').

The second principle is "annihilation" (fana). In the next post, we shall see how the ancient world was rolled up at the advent of the Prophet and what pattern seems to be governing subsequent calamities is what we shall see in the next post.

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