In Arabic, the word fuqara means literally poor people. Among Bedouins it signifies in addition, a shaman or a person endowed with supernatural powers, somewhat like the Indian Fakirs. Consequently, their arbitration is sought in tribal disputes, and they are believed to possess healing powers by the use of incense and herbs. The Fuqara constitute a branch of the Bedoul, but other tribes also have their Fuqara who are not necessarily related to the Bedoul.
The Fuqara, Mawasa, and Jamadat are closely related, but they come from different roots. The Fuqara are believed to have originated in Hijaz, from where they came to Mada’en Saleh (where a community still exists) , Aqaba, Humeima, and Petra, where they mingled with the Mawasa and Jamadat and came to be considered one family. Nevertheless, they only marry among themselves.
In view of their distinguished status among the Bedouls, the Fuqara are custodians of the shrine where Aaron is buried. This shrine used to be visited by all the people of Wadi Mousa wearing their best clothes as if for a wedding in November of each year. There they would slaughter sheep as sacrifices and cook them in huge cauldrons that could accommodate about ten sheep each. It is said that there are eleven or twelve of these cauldrons, which are the property of the custodians of the shrine. After the feast, the Bedouins used to have horse races until evening, then they would spend the night by the shrine. The following day they would cut a pieces of the cloth covering the grave of Aaron and wear it in their head-gear to gain his blessing.
One member of the Fuqara, whose name came to be remembered in history is Sheikh Abou Zeitoun, wanted to prevent Burckhardt from entering Petra. But Burckhardt had the permission of Ibn Rashid, the principal Sheikh of the Huweitat, and after intense negotiations, the Huweitat escorted the expedition into Petra, paying no heed to the threats of violence of Abou Zeitoun. To this day, the Bedouls pride themselves that Sheikh Abou Zeitoun had the courage to defy the Huweitat, but they admit that the Swiss visitor “contrived by unknown means to sneak into Petra.”
Part of the skills of the Fuqara is to prepare for the Bedouls talismans in the form of bracelets made of cloves, and necklaces made of Syrian Rue, which is central to their mythology.