[fuh-keer, fey-ker]
fakir, [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 Sufism.

See J. S. Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (1971).

A fakir or faqir is a Sufi, especially one who performs feats of endurance or apparent magic. Derived from faqr (فقر Arabic), Lit: poverty.

The word is usually used to refer to either the spiritual recluse or eremite or the common street beggar who chants holy names, scriptures or verses. Its current idiomatic usage developed primarily in Mughal era India, where the term was injected into local idiom through the Persian-speaking courts of Muslim rulers. When used referring to somber spiritual miracle-makers, fakir is applied primarily to Sufi, but also Hindu ascetics.

Many stereotypes of the great fakir exist, among the more extreme being the picture of a near-naked man effortlessly walking barefoot on burning coals, sitting or sleeping on a bed of nails, levitating during bouts of meditation, or "living on air" (refusing all food). It is also used, usually sarcastically, for a common street beggar who chants holy names, scriptures or verses without ostensibly having any spiritual advancement.

It has become a common Urdu and Hindi word for a beggar. When applied to Hindu mystics, the term is essentially a non-Indian word for Sadhus, Gurus, Swamis, or Yogis.


In the Fourth Way teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff the word fakir is used to denote the specifically physical path of development, compared with the word yogi (which Gurdjieff used for a path of mental development) and monk (which he used for the path of emotional development).

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