c. 1600, from Arabic faqir "a poor man," from faqura "he was poor." Term for Muslim holy man who lived by begging, supposedly from a saying of Muhammad's, el fakr fakhri ("poverty is my pride"). Misapplied in 19c. English (possibly under influence of faker) to Hindu ascetics. Arabic plural form fuqara may have led to variant early English forms such as fuckeire (1630s).
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