Arrogance and its Treatment

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Do not walk proudly

Do not walk proudly

This week’s Friday sermon at the mosque was about Arrogance in Islam. Hamza Yusuf addressed this beautifully in his book, Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart, so we decided to share this with you.

Boasting is counted among these peculiarities. It is defined as your praising yourself for good qualities.

You should deem its vertiginous mountain as insignificant—by which I mean, of course, arrogance. [Do this] if you desire it to collapse to the ground.

Do that by knowing your Lord and knowing yourself, for whoever knows these two is humbled and feels insignificant.

The station of arrogance negates the station of gratitude, just as humility, by its nature, engenders gratitude.

Avoid and beware of humiliation and lowliness; in fact, display pride with the affluent and arrogant one.

In the poem verses (145 – 149) above, Imam Mawlud speaks about fakhr, which is the loathsome practice of boasting.

Exceptionally odious is the practice of bragging about what one has not done or exerted any effort toward, like bragging about one’s ancestry and borrowing from some past nobility. Boasting is a problematic behavior that universally evokes objection and is considered a spiritual disease. No one likes a boaster, the person who walks with a swank and swagger, the person who cannot be in the company of others without speaking about himself or drawing attention to what he has done.

God Himself reveals His dislike of bragging: God does not love the arrogant and boasting ones.

The Arabs used to shout out, “I am the son of so and so!” claiming somehow that one’s pedigree suffices as a mark of one’s status and privilege, an ethic that loomed large in pre-Islamic Arab social structure. Instead, we should always strive to be among those whom others speak of with veneration.

“Be not content with stories of those who went before you. Go forth and create your own story” – Rumi 

Imam Mawlud mentions the force behind the culture of boasting, namely, arrogance (kibr). “Deem that mountain insignificant,” he says, “if you desire to sink it to the ground.” Arrogance comes from the same Arabic root that signifies growth, either in mass or age. With arrogance, what is alluded to is self-aggrandizing and the glorification of the self.

The most villainous beings in history were filled with arrogance and false pride: Satan, Pharaoh, the opponents of the Prophet (PBUH) and many nefarious tyrants since. The Prophet (PBUH) warned against arrogance: 

It was narrated from ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mas’ood (RA) that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “No one who has an atom’s-weight of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, what if a man likes his clothes and his shoes to look good?” He (PBUH) said, “Allah is Beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance means rejecting the truth and looking down on people”  [Sahih Muslim]. 

Allah (SWT) said, 

That is, God recompenses the arrogant ones by turning them away from understanding His Book, His prophets, and His signs placed in the horizons and in one’s own self.

God also says that He sets a seal upon the heart of every arrogant tyrant;

and, He does not love those who wax arrogant.

One of the attributes of God the Exalted is Al-Mutakabhir (the Proud), which is reserved for Himself. It is not becoming for anyone to have any of it in his or her heart.

Justice follows every vice. When it comes to arrogance, its possessors will end up being the most abject people in the Hereafter; they will envy those whom they once thought to be beneath them in honor and status, those who were patient, grateful, and humble in this life. There are many passages of the Quran and hadith that support this.

There are different qualities and kinds of arrogance. The first type is when a person deems himself superior to others. Imam Al-Ghazali said, “People of knowledge are in greater danger of arrogance than anyone else” because the knowledge they have attained may lead them to feelings of superiority.

The second type is arrogance displayed in a person who shows contempt and scorn to others. Once a man saw an old woman calling to the Prophet (PBUH) in a boisterous manner; the Prophet (PBUH) stopped to speak with her, showing no sign of annoyance. When the man saw the Prophet’s (PBUH) calm reaction, he said, “Muhammad is a man unlike the kings of other lands.” It is a marvel how some people act arrogantly because of their perceived piety, while the Prophet (PBUH) himself—”the best of creation”—remained humble.

The third type of arrogance is related to lineage. In some cultures, if one is aware of his “high birth,” he is obliged to behave nobly. The Arabs were that way. If a man was born into a clan known for generosity, it was mandatory for him to be generous. One of the blights of many societies is racism, when people feel and act superior simply because of their race.

The Quran lays waste to false claims of superiority and states that the only rank that matters relates to one’s relationship with God; Indeed, the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you. 

Many people are honored by having lineage traceable to the Prophet (PBUH) and his family. While this is indeed an honor in itself, it is something to be venerated when one’s actions are likewise honorable. It is said, “If your actions hold you back, your lineage will not speed you up.”

“No person of any consequence should respect or praise an ignorant man, even if he is of noble birth and virtuous ancestry. For to respect and praise such a person in his presence may have an adverse effect on him. It may deceive him concerning God, render him neglectful of proper behavior, and distract him from gathering provision for the Hereafter” – Imam Al-Haddad.

Treatment

As for the cure for arrogance, there are several aspects. First, we should remember our humble organic origins. As the Quran reminds us, we are created from a drop of semen.

One of the righteous forebears, to dramatize our humbleness, said, “A man carries between his two sides feces.” In other words, what is the source of a person’s arrogance? God says, Perished is man! How ungrateful he is! From what stuff did He create him? From a sperm drop He created him and proportioned him?

Let man reflect from what he was created. He was created from an ejected fluid that issues from between the loins and the ribs;

Has there come over man a time when he was nothing remembered. We created man from a sperm drop mixed in order to try him.

These reminders suppress any uprisings of arrogance and conceit.

In Islam, we have religious heroes for a reason. To study the personalities of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) is to study incredibly great people who were humble. Abu Hurairah—the illustrious repository of prophetic Hadith—once sat in the company of another person who immediately moved his feet away from Abu Hurairah out of respect for this august Companion of the Prophet (PBUH). But Abu Hurairah objected: “Why did you move your feet?” The man said, “Out of deference to you.” Abu Hurairah replied, “For someone like me? I do not see anyone in this gathering worse than me.”

A cousin of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (RA) asked him, “Who is better, you or Abu Bakr?” Ali answered, “Abu Bakr.” And when asked the same question about Umar, he answered, “Umar.” He then asked him, “What rank do you have.” Ali said, “I am a Muslim among many.”

It is astonishing to hear people nowadays, who do not come close to the stature, knowledge, wisdom, and piety of Ali (RA), who nonetheless are so easily offended when they perceive others have slighted them. And acts we perceive as humble today are often attempts at attaining the mere appearance of humility.

“If you’re aware of your humility, then you are arrogant” – Ibn Ata’illah.

But scholars say the following, “If you are not like the real people, at least mimic them.” It is better to simulate humility than to be an outright arrogant person.

“If one wishes to master calligraphy, then he must go to a master calligrapher and repeat what he does” – Imam Al-Ghazali.

The fourth aspect is arrogance owing to beauty. The cure is to realize that beauty can be the most illusory of things. Social conditioning impacts our sense of beauty more that we would admit. But even if we were to ignore this, why should beauty ever be a cause of arrogance, that obnoxious sense of superiority for something one had nothing to do with? First of all, God (SWT) is the Fashioner; it is He who gives all things their shapes and forms. Second, beauty wanes, as the pressures of age and stress tear down flesh. And what we are left with is what we should have focused on in the first place, the content of our character, our beliefs, and our deeds.

The fifth is arrogance due to wealth. The affluent are notorious for showing contempt to those of lesser means. This is not to say that all wealthy people exhibit this. There are generous men and women who recognize the source and responsibility of wealth. But they tend to be the exception.

The sixth is arrogance based on strength. A man once came up to the Prophet (PBUH) and challenged him to wrestle. The Prophet (PBUH) agreed, and twice the Prophet (PBUH) threw him to the ground. The man was astounded that the Prophet (PBUH) was able to do that. “I’ve never been thrown to the ground,” he said. The man’s arrogance was rooted in his personal strength, which he thought none could match.

The seventh is arrogance for having a lot of something, like a teacher having many students and then seeing himself as being better than another teacher. The same is true with those who boast of having many friends, especially those in so-called high places.

The eighth is arrogance for having knowledge. This is particularly insidious, given that knowledge is an honorable matter. A knowledgeable person may believe himself to be superior to others due to the veneration shown to him.

These are the various causes that sow the seeds of arrogance. God created humanity and has given it what He has not given to much of His creation. The intellectual and volitional capacities of humankind are great responsibilities. Ironically, these capacities have the potential of causing people to forget that every blessing we have is a gift from God and something that we are responsible for.

The Quran states, [God] has created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed;

Have We not given [man] two eyes, a tongue, and two lips, and shown him the two highways [of good and evil]? Yet he does not attempt the steep road [of good].

The steep road here is spending on the orphan, relieving the distressed, and all good acts that are difficult for the arrogant ones, who feel their wealth, strength, and prestige are born out of their own devices. People rejected the Prophet’s (PBUH) message not because they were not convinced. They knew that what the Prophet (PBUH) brought was the truth from God (SWT) Himself. But they rejected him out of arrogance. Many find the Muslim prayer objectionable because of its postures of humility and awe before God. What they struggle with is not merely the postures but their aversion to submit to God, being His servant. People have a problem with that, claiming that they are “free.” Astonishingly, these same “free” people are in bondage to their whims and passions.

Imam Mawlud says that the key to avoiding or removing this disease is to know yourself, your origins, and your ultimate return. The Prophet’s honor was entirely based on his servitude to God the Exalted—not wealth, lineage, power, or authority. Whoever is humbled for the sake of God, God elevates in rank. Haughtiness and gratitude cannot coexist in one vessel. Those who are grateful, God increases in goodness. The station of arrogance invites only humiliation.

Imam Mawlud says humility, by nature, leads to gratitude, for when one is humble before God the Exalted, only then does one see the vast mercy God bestows upon His creation, even upon liars and disbelievers.

Imam Mawlud’s conclusion touches upon the Islamic ethic of wasata, that is, moderation. In itself, humility is a praiseworthy virtue, but when carried out excessively it results in abasement. According to some classical Christian theological paradigms, abasement is praised. But in Islam, it is not. Imam Mawlud calls it dhul, not in the sense in which he starts his poem, where he speaks of dhul as humility required for proper courtesy with God. In this context, it is abject abasement before people. It is similar to the abasement that God the Exalted afflicted upon past communities because of their flagrant rejection of God, their derision of His apostles, and their mockery of His laws. Abject humiliation is disapproved of even in the face of tribulation. Those who face tests with dignity and patience are praised. And being humble is different from humiliation.

“Humility comes from the knowing about Allah and His names and attributes, and His greatness, venerating Him, loving Him and being in awe of Him; and also from knowing about oneself and one’s faults, and weaknesses. From that may develop the attitude of humility, which means feeling helpless before Allah, and being humble and compassionate towards His slaves, so that the person does not feel superior towards anyone, or think that he has any rights over anyone else; rather he thinks that others are better than him, and that their rights come before his. This is a characteristic that Allah bestows to those whom He loves, honors and draws close to Him” – Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim, Kitab Al-Ruh, p. 233.

Having dhul with respect to God is different from dhul with respect to creation.

“All the doors to God are crowded except for one: the door of humility and humbleness” – Imam Abd Al-Qadir Al-Jilani.

Having humbleness is one of the secrets of success, although it is hard on the soul. It is said, “Among the most noble things of this world is a rich man who is humble.”

The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Allah (SWT) says, He who is humble toward Me like this (and he lowered his palm to the ground until it was leveled with it, I will elevate him like this (and the Prophet (PBUH) raised his palm upwards facing the sky until it was high up)” [Sahih Hadith: Al-Albani]. 

Purification of the Heart

Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures

To continue reading about the other spiritual diseases of the heart, you can download the eBook, in full, here.

Some additions were made (by us) to the original extract from Hamza Yusuf’s book, they are as follows: 

– An extract by Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim, Kitab Al-Ruh, p. 233.

– The Prophet’s (PBUH) Hadith on humbling oneself toward Allah (SWT) [Sahih Hadith: Al-Albani]

Any benefit received from reading this is from Allah (SWT), and any mistake I and others have made in this article is from our own selves and Shaytan.

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