The illusions of independence, of possibilities, of control, can more often than not be an obstacle to realising ultimate truths.
I have nothing, and that is enough
Sometimes nothing is more. At times we face the emptiness of our poverty. No ideas, no solutions, no means, no clever talent to finesse oneself out of a scrape, no way out. To acknowledge, in turn, this haunting truth is the essence of devotion. This is called poverty (faqr). It is a station along the spiritual path. Only it is a station that stays with the aspirant all along his or her journey.
It is experiential by its very nature and its lesson drives itself home to the very marrow of one's existence. At times we find ourselves at the edge of the abyss, saddled with the stark reality of our own weakness. We realise that no amount of cleverness or money is going to help us without the grace of divine intervention. One doesn't control his own destiny. While he can do much to influence its outcomes, he can't micromanage it. When this utter state of need is witnessed, when it is experienced, one has no choice but to rely on God.
For some, the achievement of this station is much easier than others. When you really are poor, when you really have no material means, you're pretty much right there already. You don't need anyone to tell you that there are other forces at work determining the direction of your life, determining your success or lack there of. Without a surplus of material assets to distract or confuse things, the poor tend to have a more intimate knowledge of God. They are not deluded by the mirage of wealth. They are God's people. They are under no illusions as to where they stand in the totem universe.
People with more clutter about just tend to have a harder time of it. The illusions of independence, of possibilities, of control, can more often than not be an obstacle to realising ultimate truths. In fact, truth, is not a commodity in high demand amongst the world's wealthy and powerful. This is probably why it is said that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.
This is probably why, when Mohammed was given the choice by the angel Gabriel to be a prophet king or a prophet slave, he said: "Let me be a slave. I will go hungry on one day and be filled on another." He used to say in supplication: "God place me amongst the poor and resurrect me in the company of the poor." At other times he would pray: "God make the sustenance of the family of Mohammed just enough."
There are certainly many downsides to poverty, but delusion is not one of them. Ibn Ata al Sakandari said: "Nothing drives you along as though a flock of sheep like delusion." Material poverty and mortal fear are visceral. They cut through the fog of the game, of the image, of the hype. There's no hype when you got nothing. To taste the cold hard truth of need, despite the availability of resources, is the sine qua non of faith. It is the core of reliance on the Absolute Supreme Being. It is the only ship that can ferry you safely across the abyss.
Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi