On Arrogance and Humility

Arrogance is a state in which we are convinced that we have the right to be above others. Justified self-admiration without comparing ourselves to others and feeling superior is not the same thing. This is, at worst, vanity. Arrogance is unlawful in Islam. It is considered to be a disgraceful state. The opposite of arrogance is self-examination, with the intention of truly knowing ourselves. This is considered to be a virtue, one expected from a Muslim. Justified or not, whether truly in our hearts we believe that we are superior to others or not, if conceit is exteriorized, manifested, communicated to others by mind, word or deed, it is a sin. What is worse is when there is no justification for the feeling of superiority. One of the attributes of Allah Most High is The Proud One, the only One who is worthy of this name. The only occasion when the feeling of pride is not a sin is when it is manifested against an aggressive arrogant person or against a tyrannical enemy, when we are waging battle in defense of our religion or country. In fact, to show pride to an arrogant person is considered to be a good deed.

            Jabir (ks) related that the Prophet (saws) said, “The only state of pride Allah permits is the one shown in battle or while doing a generous act. . .” The meaning of pride while helping a person in need is the belittling of the generosity, while pretending that we are able to do much better.

            Modesty, to appear lesser than we are, is commendable. Yet, the exaggeration of humbleness to the extent of appearing abject, is a sin. Miraz ibn Jabal (ks) reported that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said, “Showing excess humility and appearing abject, reducing oneself to the state of a beggar, does not suit the character of a believer. The only exception is the humbleness of a student towards his teacher, seeking to receive knowledge. . .” Only knowledge is worth begging for, and worth humbling ourselves to receive.

            To illustrate the right and wrong way to manifest humility, imagine a totally coarse, ignorant person entering into the company of wise men. If these wise men show excessive respect to the newcomer, stand up to greet him, offer the best place, see him to the door when he is leaving, this is definitely wrong. On the other hand, if they show him kindness so as not to make him feel unwelcome, listen to and answer his questions at the level of his understanding (even if the questions are beneath them) and especially never think of themselves as better than he, doing all they can to make him feel he is their equal, then indeed their behavior is proper.

            Another example of unlawful humility in Islam is to beg if we have shelter and food, even if only enough for one day. To give someone a small gift with the hope of receiving a greater good is like begging.

            Allah Most High says, “Do no favor, seeking gain.” (Surah Al Muddaththir 74: 6)

To go to feasts without being invited is humiliating and a kind of begging. Abdullah ibn Omar (ra) reported the Messenger of Allah (saws) as having said, “If one does not accept an invitation he is revolting against Allah and His Prophet. If someone goes to a feast or a wedding without being invited, he has entered their house as a thief and left as a plunderer. . .”

            To befriend, visit, and frequent dignitaries, people in power, high government officials, judges, generals or influential rich people, with the hope of obtaining benefit from these relationships, is forbidden behavior according to our religion, unless these people possess the means of our receiving what is rightfully ours, and we are in real need of it. And when we are in the company of these people, to stay standing, to bow, to show excessive respect in action and speech, is demeaning, and the wrong kind of humility.

            To work hard, even far beneath our qualifications, to support our families, to help with the menial chores of our houses, shopping, cooking, cleaning, are commendable signs of true humility. To be ordinary in appearance, to wear inexpensive and worn clothes, to befriend the poor and disadvantaged, to eat simple food and not to throw away leftovers, to not seek reputation-building, self-glorifying jobs, not to consider it beneath you to be a shepherd, a gardener, a porter, carpenter or mason, these are true signs of humility. These kinds of manifestations of humility are worthy of great divine rewards, for they resemble the behavior of prophets and saints. But many people do not know this, and think of a life like this as reprehensible. They are the arrogant ones who do not know themselves.

            Arrogance becomes more dangerous when it is manifested and directed towards someone. Some are arrogant towards others. They are not any better that the accursed Devil, who refused to obey Allah, when He asked all the angels to prostrate to Adam (as). The Devil thought that he was created of fire, while Adam (as) was created of earth, and that fire was superior to earth. He did not know himself and he did not know Adam (as). Therefore, he was punished and rejected from Allah’s Mercy until the end of time.

            Some are arrogant toward Allah, like the Pharaoh who said, "I am your exalted lord.” Or like Nimrod, who said to the prophet Abraham (as), “Your Lord may be the God of Heavens. I am the lord of the world,” and dared to challenge Allah to fight him. Allah drowned the Pharaoh and his armies while they were chasing the prophet Moses (as) and the children of Israel. Nimrod was killed by a mosquito which devoured his brain.

            Some are arrogant towards the Prophet of Allah (saws), like Abu Jahl, who said, “Is this who God chose as His messenger? Couldn't He have revealed the Qur’an to a notable man of Mecca or Medina?”

            Allah seals the eyes and ears and hearts of the arrogant from knowing the Truth. He declares in the Holy Qur”an, “I shall turn away from my revelations those who are unjustly proud in the Earth. Even if they see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the right path to salvation they will not take it. If they see the wrong path to error and sin they will take it. This is because they reject Our messages and are heedless of them.” (Surah Al-A'raf 7:146)

            Abu Hurayra (ra) said that the Messenger of Allah (saws) reported from Allah Himself: “Grandeur is My shirt, majesty is My skirt; whoever compares himself to Me is arrogant. I throw him to the fire and I do not regret it.”

            Ibn Mas’ud (ra) relates that the Prophet (saws) said, “Whoever has an atom of pride in his heart will not enter Paradise.” Then one of his companions asked, “What do you say about someone who likes to dress in fine clothes?” and he answered, “Allah is beautiful and likes that which is beautiful. Arrogance is to deny reality and to consider others beneath oneself.”  

            Reported by Sawban (ra), the Prophet (saws) said, “A believer who dies free of debt, treachery and arrogance enters Paradise.”

            Anas ibn Malik (ra) reported that the Prophet (saws) said, “In hell the proud will be locked in coffins of fire and kept there forever.”

            Abdullah ibn Selam (ra) was seen in the market place with a heavy load of wood on his back. Someone said to him, “What makes you do this? Allah has freed you from doing such chores.” Ibn Selam answered, “I wished to rid myself of all signs of pride with this as I heard the Messenger of Allah (saws) say, “The one who has pride in his heart even as little as a mustard seed will not enter paradise.”

            Abu Hurayra (as) reports that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said, “There are three kinds of people Allah Most High will not address nor will He forgive on the Last Day of Judgment. They are the adulterers, lying rulers, and arrogant poor.”

            During his Khalifat, Omar ibn Hattab (ra) was marching upon Damascus with his army. Abu Ubayda ibn Jerrah (ra) was with him. They came upon a little lake. Hd. Omar (ra) descended from his camel, took off his shoes, tied them together, and hung them on his shoulder. He took the halter of his camel and together they entered the water. Seeing this in front of the army, Abu Ubayda (ra) said, “Oh the Commander of the believers, how can you be so humble in front of all your men?”

             Hd. Omar (ra) answered, “Woe to you, Abu Ubayda! If only anyone else other than you thought this way! Thoughts like this will cause the downfall of the Muslims. Don’t you see, we were indeed a very lowly people. Allah raised us to honor and greatness through Islam. If we forget who we are and wish other than Islam, which elevated us, the One who raised us, surely will debase us.”

            Ibn Tirimizi (ks) reports that the grandfather of Amr ibn Shuayb heard the Messenger of Allah (saws) say, “On the Day of Last Judgment, the haughty will be raised as small as ants but in their own countenance. They will be guided by huge hordes of horrors to a dungeon called Bulis. There they will be fed with poisonous human excretion like dirty blood and pus.”

            Muhammad ibn Zeyyad (as) reports that when Abu Hurayra (ra) was appointed the governor of Medina, he used to walk into the marketplace with a load of wood on his back and shout, “Open the way, let the governor pass!” and others would cry, “Open the way, let the people see their leader pass!”

            Imam Tirimizi (ks) relates that he heard Jubayr (ks) complain that people thought he was proud. He said, “I ride a donkey, I wear the coarse wool clothes of the poor, I milk my goats myself and I heard the Messenger of Allah (saws) say, ‘Whoever does [those things] is not proud.’”

            Seven qualities are considered to be the cause of pride: education, knowledge, religious piety, fame and nobility of one’s family and descendants, physical attractiveness, physical strength, wealth, achievement, and the number of one’s admirers and followers. In reality, none of these qualities need to be the causes of arrogance. On the contrary, they are positive values which every person strives for. The real cause of arrogance is stupidity, and the inability to comprehend what is offered as knowledge. Yet there is no other medicine but knowledge to cure stupidity.