fakir (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
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).