Does Money Matter?  A Sufi View on Wealth

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Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Bahauddin Zakariya developed a notion of wealth that differed from the common perception of Sufis.

One of the glorious aspects of his mystic worldview that can illuminate the modern money-driven people was his dealing with wealth. (Representational image)

 One of the glorious aspects of his mystic worldview that can illuminate the modern money-driven people was his dealing with wealth. (Representational image)

Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya Multani — the founder of the Suhrawardi Sufi order in India — was a luminary Muslim mystic. A contemporary of the great Sufi saints like Baba Farid, Bahauddin Zakariya was highly venerated by both the sultans (kings) and dervishes (saints) of his age. Born in 1182 in Multan — a part of north-western India then — Zakariya was the most leading dervish in his time. His Suhrawardi spiritual order became the most prominent after the Chishti Sufi order in India.

One of the glorious aspects of his mystic worldview that can illuminate the modern money-driven people was his dealing with wealth. His reflections on retaining money for the purpose of cleansing greed and cultivating generosity can guide the Sufi practitioners and all the spiritually-inclined people today.

Bahauddin Zakariya developed a notion of wealth that differed from the common perception of Sufis. He believed that Sufis should not shun gaining material resources. Rather, they should be well-equipped to serve society in financial terms too. But Sufi Hamiduddin Nagauri, a disciple of Hazrat Khwaja Garib Nawaz — the master of Chishti tradition — could not reconcile with this idea. He sent a letter in which he expressed his disagreement with the view of Zakariya Multani. He wrote: “As treasure and serpent are linked in form, so, they are associated in the reality too. Thus, wealth is a serpent (a snake) and anyone who retains wealth actually rears a serpent.”

In his reply to Hamiduddin Nagauri, Zakariya Multani wrote: “Although wealth is a serpent, those who have learnt the incantation to overcome the venom, need not have any fear from the serpent.”

In fact, Zakariya Multani sought to inculcate the ethical and spiritual spirit in the material and financial affairs of life. He aimed at cleansing the mundane human greed for money and exhorting a divine approach towards wealth that results in abundant generosity for the less fortunate.

Zakariya spent all his family fortune that he inherited from his affluent father for those in need. Besides, he earned a lot more to increase his generosity with wealth. Soon after he established his khanqah (Sufi hospice) at Multan, he constructed numerous learning centres and madrasas, which housed not only the poor students, but also the shelterless people and needy travellers. He ran a large Langarkhana (kitchen in the Sufi shrines for the free distribution of food), apart from several water wells, canals and farm fields for the poor. His generosity became so great that Multan’s governor, Nasiruddin Qabacha, became jealous of him and later conspired against him. The governor made every possible attempt to discredit the Sufi saint’s image among his followers, but to no avail.

Zakariya taught his disciples that Sufi practitioners must earn a good livelihood on their own, but with the belief that the gain and loss of money makes no difference to their spiritual worldview. “Both existence and non-existence of wealth means the same thing for Sufis. They don’t feel pleasure in their possession of wealth nor do they regret over their loss.”

Once Zakariya asked his murid (disciple) to give all money from the container to beggars. But the money container was missing. Hearing this, Zakariya recited: “Masha Allah”. Soon after this, the same disciple turned up and reported that the container had been found. Zakariya’s words were the same: “Masha Allah”.

The writer is an alim (classical Islamic scholar), author and translator of several books in Arabic, Urdu and Hindi, and doctoral scholar with Centre for Media, Culture & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia. Contact him at grdehlavi@gmail.com. Courtesy: The Asian Age

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