A fakir, or faqir (ɪər/; Arabic: فقیر‎ (noun of faqr)), derived from faqr (Arabic: فقر‎, "poverty") is a Sufi Muslim ascetic who has taken vows of poverty and worship, renouncing all relations and possessions. Fakirs are prevalent in the Middle East and South Asia. A fakir is thought to be self-sufficient and possesses only the spiritual need for God.[1]

Faqirs are characterized by their attachment to dhikr (a practice of repeating the names of God, often performed after prayers).[2] Sufism gained adherents among a number of Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 CE[3]). Though, Sufis have spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, originally expressing their beliefs in Arabic, before spreading into Persian, Turkish, Indian languages and a dozen other languages.[4]

The term is also applied to Hindu ascetics (e.g., sadhus, gurus, swamis and yogis).[5] These usages developed primarily in the Mughal era in the Indian subcontinent.

There is also a distinct clan of faqirs found in North India, descended from communities of faqirs who took up residence at Sufi shrines.


Photograph of a shrine of a Muslim Sufi fakir, Sultan Bahoo, Punjab, Pakistan.

During the 17th century, another noble and spirited Muslim scholar and saint, Sultan Bahoo, revolutionized Sufism and reinstated (with fresh properties) the definition of faqr and faqir.

Historically, the terms tasawwuf, faqr, and faqer (noun of faqr) were first used (with full definition) by Husayn ibn Ali, who was the grandson of Muhammad.[citation needed] He wrote a book, Mirat ul Arfeen, on this topic, which is said to be the first book on Sufism and tasawwuf. However, under Ummayad rule, neither could this book be published nor was it allowed to discuss tasawwuf, Sufism or faqr openly. For a long time, after Husayn ibn Ali, the information and teachings of faqr, tasawwuf and Sufism kept on transferring from heart to heart.[6]

In the 10th century, highly reputed Muslim Abdul-Qadir Gilani, who is the founder of Qadri silsila, which has the most followers in Muslim Sufism, elaborated Sufism, tasawwuf and faqr.[citation needed]

In the 13th century, Ibn Arabi was the first vibrant Muslim scholar who not only started this discussion publicly but also wrote hundreds of books about Sufism, tasawwuf and faqr.[citation needed]

In English, faqir or fakir originally meant a mendicant dervish. In mystical usage, the word fakir refers to man's spiritual need for God, who alone is self-sufficient. Although of Muslim origin, the term has come to be applied in India to Hindus as well, largely replacing gosvamin, sadhu, bhikku, and other designations. Fakirs are generally regarded as holy men who are possessed of miraculous powers. Among Muslims, the leading Sufi orders of fakirs are the Shadhiliyyah, Chishtiyah, Qadiriyah, Naqshbandiyah, and Suhrawardiyah.[7]

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines faqir as "a member of an Islamic religious group, or a holy man".[8] Winston Churchill is known to have referred to the peaceful resistance (satyagraha) promoting independence leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi, as a "seditious fakir".