The Correct Understanding of Being a “Miskin”


Question: In one of his prayers, the blessed Prophet said, “My God let me live impecuniously, die impecuniously, and resurrect me among the impecunious.”[1] Could you elucidate the meaning of this supplication and what are the lessons to be drawn from it?

Answer: The original word “miskin” comes from the root sa-ka-na. In terms of its dictionary meaning, miskin is a person who gives in to stagnancy, who makes no activity, who does not work, and who does not produce. But as a religious term, the word miskin refers to someone who has no property at all, in a way, whose bed is the earth and whose blanket is the sky. In this respect, the financial level of a miskin is lower than a poor one, because according to Islamic criteria, a person whose financial worth does not amount to the value of 80 grams of gold is regarded as “poor.” Namely, a poor person does have properties, be them little in worth, but an impecunious (miskin) person does not even own that. Therefore, an impecunious person is one who accepts zakah and other alms, and barely gets by with others’ help.

The Condemned Sense of Being “Miskin”

It first needs to be noted that the Messenger of God, blessings and peace be upon him, would never wish or consent to stagnancy, leading a passive life, being shriveled, and expecting from others. He waged war against begging, condemned it in many sayings, and averted his followers from it. For example, one day a poor man came to him and asked for support. The Messenger of God told the man to sell certain things from his home, to buy an ax with the money, and then sent him to the forest and told him to sell the firewood he cut and collect. After some time, the man prospered to the level of a giver from the level of a taker and came to the Prophet’s presence with the money he earned. The noble Prophet said, “This is better for you than coming on the Judgment Day with a stigma of begging on your face.”[2] In the same way, the Messenger of God referred to this issue with an expression to be taken both in a literal and figurative sense and said, “The upper hand is better than the lower hand.”[3] Thus, he implicated that believers should not bring disgrace to their human dignity by asking from others; rather, they should try to work to make their own living as far as their health allows, and he encouraged them to be the upper hand. Begging, however, is permitted if a person is in a state of need to the degree of risking death, owing to reasons such as hunger or thirst. The Qur’an even allows a person starving to death to eat some pork in order to survive.[4]

Muslims in the past grasped well what it meant to keep their hands low while giving alms to others, trying not to humiliate the poor. The stones of alms,[5] which were in use during the Ottoman times, are significant in terms of protecting the honor and dignity of the poor. Rich people would leave their alms in cavities of these stones. Later, poor ones would come and take only the amount that they needed. This practice also shows the purity of heart of the members of that society, and the prevalent feelings of helping and solidarity. It can be said that in that era, a society almost comparable to the angels came into existence. In spite of the many security forces in our time, we bitterly witness that they fail to maintain such a degree of law an order. There is no censurer in the heart as there should be; the thought of the Hereafter is out of consideration, and the consciousness of being called to account in hearts has been killed. What has really died, though, are the human heart and conscience themselves.

The Wish to Become a Servant Prophet

As it is understood from all of these explanations, the blessed Prophet did not wish to be impecunious in the sense of asking and begging from others, of course. Then what is meant by being impecunious here is leading a modest life or having a consciousness of one’s impotence and poverty before God. Poverty, mentioned by master Bediüzzaman as one of the essentials of his path, means recognizing our not being in true possession of anything and feeling one’s neediness for God. A person who truly has this feeling will pray as, “O All-Living, Self-Subsistent (Lord)! For the sake of Your Mercy I beg for help. Rectify for all my states and leave me not to myself even for the blinking of an eye!”[6] and thus continuously seeks refuge in God’s protection and care.

So the Sultan of the Prophets wished to live with these feelings, giving his last breath with them, and being resurrected among those who rise with the wings of impotence and poverty and who constantly seek refuge in God. In other words, the Messenger of God will be the guide and pioneer for the people who possess this feeling in the Hereafter as well, as he always lived as an ordinary person among other people, never giving up his humbleness and modesty. In the words of our mother Aisha, may God be pleased with her, at times more than two months would passed and as the third month began, there was still no pot of meal boiled in that blessed home.[7] Who knows, to some extent with a concern for protecting the rights of the people he is responsible for, some considerations may have passed the mind of the noble Prophet. Probably at such a time, a sound was heard; a sound was heard when he was together with Gabriel and a different angel descended and said, “God is asking: Do you wish to be a monarch Prophet or a servant Prophet?” The Messenger of God would already make the correct decision in response to this question. However, since the issue did not have tolerance for the slightest err, Gabriel said, “O Messenger of God, be modest against your Lord!” Upon this, the blessed Prophet said, “I wish to be a servant Prophet.”[8]

Indeed, the noble Prophet lived as an impecunious person and when he passed to the realm beyond, he left no property he could not account for. He gave every blessing he had its due, spent the goods God Almighty granted him for the sake of God again, and thus went to the Divine presence in a blameless state.

A Paragon of Chastity and Heroes of Chastity

Together with what has been said, the blessed Prophet never gave in to inaction throughout his life. He did not complain to anyone about the troubles he went through, did not look expectantly at anyone, and did not beg or accept alms from anyone. Indeed, it was forbidden for him to take alms and zakah from anyone.[9] He always distributed the gifts he received to others.[10] In order to support his family, he bought food from a Jewish merchant by giving his blessed armor in pawn. He gave his last breath and walked to the horizon of his spirit while his armor was in pawn.[11] The Companions probably did not even know about it. Had they known, they would have known exactly what needed to be done. In short, the Messenger of God spent whatever he had for the sake of God. He willfully lived as the poorest of Muslims, but did not ask from anyone and did not make the slightest hint in this respect. On the one hand, the neediness that he preferred needs to be understood as showing the nobility to opt for a very simple and austere life and, on the other hand, as not cherishing the slightest expectation from others like a monument of decency.

As the noble Prophet was a paragon of decency, the Companions who were treading in his footsteps also lived as heroes of decency. The Qur’an describes the first heroes of Islam who would not open their hands to ask from others and who would not stoop to begging, in spite of being seized in dire poverty as follows; “Those who are unaware (of their circumstances) suppose them wealthy because of their abstinence and dignified bearing, but you will know them by their countenance—they do not beg of people importunately…” (al-Baqarah 2:273).

When we study the lives of the Companions, we see that they are scrupulous in not asking from others, making their living by the sweat of their eyebrow. For example, Abdurrahman ibn Awf, who was one of the blessed Ten Companions, had to leave all of his wealth in Mecca and migrate to Medina. When he came to Medina, he took a rope, headed for the market, and began working as a porter.[12] With God’s permission, in a short time he became rich enough to donate seven hundred camels for the sake of God.[13] The blessed Companions knew that begging was disgraceful behavior and always sought to get by with personal labor and lawful earnings in spite of serious destitution. In this respect, I think even for those who spend their time in the way of God and serve on His path, it is shameful to expect others to support them with scholarship and financial aid. I wish they did manual labor worked as cleaners, if necessary, and always live on what they earned by the sweat of their brow. There are certain positions, however, certain services that do not allow for any other job. Only in such circumstances, is it possible to permit others to meet the basic needs of that person.

Personally, I always feel obliged constantly to question my own life in this respect. For example, before completing my military obligation, I served as an imam for three years and I received a salary. The money I took, however, was barely sufficient for a single meal to suppress my hunger because most of the money was spent on books or for services for the sake of God. Later on, when they suggested that I work as a preacher, I felt a need to ask someone whether it was acceptable in Islam to carry out the duty of guidance in return for payment. I asked about this issue to one of the disciples of Bediüzzaman who had been nearest to him. That great personage said that the same question was asked to master Bediüzzaman and he replied: “If they will not let you preach unless they assign you as a preacher, accept this duty. If you do not need this money, give it to someone in need. But if you do need it, then you use it yourself to the degree of meeting your need.” After hearing that, I began serving as a preacher. From the salary they gave for a preacher, I only took an amount sufficient to meet my essential needs and gave the rest to the needy for the sake of God. And when they began to bring me money for publishing my books, I demanded the salary to be spent for the needy without my touching it.

The volunteers of service in our time should also refrain from asking from others—so much so that others should run after them to meet their basic needs and say, “This is necessary for you to flourish in other fields and become fruitful elements for the society.” So in such a situation, you reluctantly accept the modest amount they determine for you. Otherwise, habitually depending on others for a living is considered disgraceful according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Human Is No Lowly Being to Be Bought and Sold

The volunteers of our time must be more scrupulous at this issue and show a great deal of care about being honorable and upright members of the society for a lifetime. They should not expect even a single coin from others and not come under any obligation to anyone. As heroes of decency, they must remain upright all the time. Otherwise, different circles of benefit can virtually enslave these people who serve on the path of faith and get them to make concessions in their religion.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing very bitter examples of this in our time. We bitterly see that so many people are bought and then manipulated in different ways. However, a human is not, must not become a being to be bought and sold. The payment for humans is Paradise, Countenance of God, and His good pleasure. Nothing other than these can be humanity’s due. No price can suffice for a human to be sold, not even being a great conqueror. A person must never consent to that because human dignity, integrity, and honor are loftier than all of these.

It will be unfair if we do not state that some people in this blessed circle have attained purity of spirit in this degree. However, we must strive to make everyone attain such a noble spirit. We must tell people the value of living by the sweat of one’s brow, protecting dignity, and living honorably. The fact that the noble Prophet chose to be a servant-prophet indicates that the path of serving faith, which represents the heritage of the Prophets, can always be represented by this very spirit.

After Bediüzzaman passed to the realm of eternity, I met most of his outstanding disciples. In all of Turkey, there were only a few apartments where his works were discussed. Austerity prevailed in those apartments. The meal was soup most of the time, and that without oil. Only some bread and cheese would accompany the breakfast tea. However, they had serious eagerness and enthusiasm for serving faith. Each one of them was ready to run with enthusiasm like a noble steed on the path of serving faith. In this respect, it is possible to say that they were the ones who truly served on this path and prepared suitable grounds for you. They tilled the ground, sowed the seeds, and then cultivated it. And then what fell to you was harvesting the crops.

For some it may be too difficult to live in such a degree of dignified austerity and decency. However, the volunteers devoted to sublime ideals for the sake of humanity must always endeavor to reach this level.

It should never be forgotten that if this exalted ideal is to continue, it can only be with such morality. Because—may God forbid—if you indulge in luxuries, people’s trust in you will be shaken and they will give up supporting you. And then very beautiful activities in a very wide geography—may God forbid—will come to a halt. Such services are offered to the entire humanity and will not continue if not for the countless sacrifices of countless volunteers. Today, some may be coming up with accusative questions such as, “Where does the water of this mill come from?” Some ask that out of ignorance and some purely out of jealousy, in spite of knowing the answer well. It is a reality that this mill does not turn with water or wind. Just as the magnanimous people of Anatolia made dizzying self-sacrifices for their struggle for independence, they once more make philanthropic sacrifices to make this mill turn. Thus, a volunteer should not engage in the slightest wrong to raise doubts in the minds of those magnanimous people and lead them to negative thoughts. This will be an unbearably grave sin for which God will bring us to account.

Surely a businessperson will engage in trade, work, and earn. May God let their trade prosper greatly so that they continue to work and earn. However, the devoted souls whose position requires leading a simple life should opt for an austere life, being indifferent to worldliness and totally dedicating themselves to serving faith and the Qur’an with their feelings, thoughts, minds, and hearts.

[1] Sunan ibn Majah, Zuhd, 7.

[2] Sunan Abu Dawud, Zakah, 26; Sunan ibn Majah, Tijarah, 25.

[3] Sahih al-Bukhari, Zakah, 18.

[4] Al-Baqarah 2:173.

[5] Rich people would leave their alms in the cavities in these stones. Later, the poor ones came and took from it as much the amount they needed.

[6] Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 101; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 5/42.

[7] Sahih al-Bukhari, Hiba, 1; Riqaq, 17; Sahih Muslim, Zuhd, 26, 28.

[8] Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 2/231; Abdurrazzaq, Al-Musannaf, 3/183–184.

[9] Sahih al-Bukhari, Zakah, 60; Jihad, 188; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 161.

[10] Sahih al-Bukhari, Badu’l-Wahy, 5–6; Zakah, 50; Riqaq, 20; Sawm, 7; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 124; Fadail, 50.

[11] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 89; Tirmidhi, Buyu, 7; Sunan ibn Majah, Ruhun, 1.

[12] Sahih al-Bukhari, Manaqibu’l Ansar, 3.

[13] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 6/115; Tabarani, Al-Mujamu’l-Kabir, 1/129.

This text is the translation of “Miskinliğin Doğru Anlaşılması.”