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(fäkēr`, fā`kər), [Arab.,=poverty], in Islam, usually an initiate in a Sufi order. The title fakir is borne with the understanding that poverty is the need to be in relation to God. This term, along with its Persian equivalent, dervish, was extended in Western usage to Indian ascetics and yogis, and incorrectly used generally for itinerant magicians and wonder-workers. Each Sufi order (tariqa) traces its ancestry to a mystic teacher and, beyond him, through a chain of transmission (silsila) to the Prophet Muhammad and ultimately, to God. Sufi orders began to organize in the tumultuous 12th cent. although their histories claim to emanate from the formative period of Islam, with its ecstatic and literary Sufi figures. The oldest attested extant order is probably the Qadiriyya, founded by Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166) in Baghdad; it is currently one of the most geographically widespread. Other important orders include the Ahmadiyya (notably in Egypt); Naqshbandiyya (central and S Asia); Nimatullahiyya (Iran); Rifaiyya (Egypt, SW Asia); Shadhiliyya (N Africa, Arabia); Suhrawardiyya Chishtiyya (Asia); and Tijaniyya (Maghreb). A disciple (murid) is typically introduced to the order through an ahd, a covenant binding him to his individual teacher (shaykh, murshid, or pir) and follows an extensive regimen of initiation that might include seclusion, sleep deprivation, and fasting, with possible dispensations from the basic obligations of Islam. The religious service common to all orders is the dhikr, the "remembering" or "invocation" of God. Dhikr services vary in form: some involve heightened religious exaltations, such as the whirling of the Mawlawiyya (Mevlevis), often leading to criticism from scholastic religious leaders. The Sufi orders, by tolerating syncretisms, were instrumental in the dissemination of Islam through trans-Saharan Africa, S Asia, and SE Asia. See SufismSufism
, an umbrella term for the ascetic and mystical movements within Islam. While Sufism is said to have incorporated elements of Christian monasticism, gnosticism, and Indian mysticism, its origins are traced to forms of devotion and groups of penitents (zuhhad
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See J. S. Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A Muslim mendicant dervish.

(2) In India, in addition to the word’s basic meaning, a servant in an agricultural commune who performs Muslim rituals associated with the agricultural cycle.

(3) In certain contexts, a magician, animal trainer, mindreader, or soothsayer; it is in this sense that the word became common in Europe.

(4) In the circus and on the variety stage, one who demonstrates his body’s insensitivity to physical pain—achieved through prolonged training—or performs acts of prestidigitation.


Vadimov, A. A., and M. A. Trivas. Ot magov drevnosti do illiuzio-nistov nashikh dnei. Moscow, 1966.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


, faqir, fakeer
1. a Muslim ascetic who rejects wordly possessions
2. a Hindu ascetic mendicant or holy man
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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